Posted in Family, Personal life, Travel

The Silver and the Gold

In the wake of our national preoccupation with platinum, my thoughts have turned to silver and gold.

When I was eight years old, my family moved to the USA for a year to be with my father in his new job. I boarded the plane with Tiny Tears and Teddy in my arms, ready to embrace my new home and school with enthusiasm and an open mind.

While my older brother and sister refused to take part in the classroom flag salute with which every school day began, I got stuck in, hand on heart:

I pledge allegiance to the flag, and the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

A strange substitute for our comfortable daily religious assembly back home, sandwiching a quick prayer between two familiar hymns, but I wanted to fit in.

Before long, I’d made my Girl Scout Promise: “On my honor (sic), I will try to do my duty to God and my country, to help other people at all times, and to obey the Girl Scout laws.” Although I had to recite it only once, I remember the words far better, maybe because they chimed better with the gentle, apolitical hymns I was used to in assembly. Our school birthday hymn ended, “We hope you will be healthy and strong all the way; Strong to do right, slow to do wrong; and helpful to others all the day long.”

Another thing I learned as a Girl Scout was to sing this simple song in a round:

Make new friends, but keep the old;
One is silver and the other gold.

I rated my Girl Scout friends as silver, while my classmates back in England, at the school I rejoined a year later, were very much gold.

Six years later, we moved for four years to Germany, where I attended the Frankfurt International School with students from over sixty countries. It was time again to make silver friends. I kept in touch with the golden ones at home via numerous twenty-page letters handwritten on lurid stationery. Well, this was the 1970s.

In those days, long-distance friendships relied on such old-fashioned methods of communication. As we progressed through life, it was too easy to lose touch. Then along came the internet. Whatever else you think of social media, it’s a great means of tracing old friends. Thanks to Facebook, around the time of the Platinum Jubilee, I was able to welcome to my home here in the Cotswolds my old Canadian friend Debra, a classmate from Frankfurt International School.

We hadn’t seen each other in real life since the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

photo of Debbie and Debby
With Debra Esau, friends reunited this summer after 45 years

What the Girl Scout song neglects to mention is that the alchemy of time eventually transforms silver friends into gold, and that meanwhile your hair may turn silver. But that’s a price I’m happy to have paid.

This post was originally written for the July/August edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.

Posted in Personal life, Self-publishing, Type 1 diabetes, Writing

International Friendships & Chance Meetings Online

FIS logoA post about making new friends and keeping old friends all over the world via the internet

As the former pupil of an international school, one of the reasons I love the internet is that it has enabled us to reconnect, decades later, wherever we now live.

I spent four of my teenage years at Frankfurt International School (FIS), which in those days was attended by children of around 60 nationalities. Not only did I make friends from countries I’d never visited, I even discovered some new countries that I’d never heard of, and some, in those Iron-Curtained days,which didn’t even officially exist. Yes, Estonia, I’m talking about you. Kudos to Paul who in the school yearbook stated his nationality as Estonian, even though I suspect his passport was either American or Russian.You can take the boy out of Estonia, but…

I asserted my own national status equally proudly, retaining my British accent when my few fellow countrymen in the school acquired the American twang dominated the classrooms. All lessons were officially taught in English, apart from French and German.

Opening International Doors

The author graduating from her American-style high school in 1978
As valedictorian at the 1978 FIS graduation ceremony: “And in 30 years time, I’ll come back and tell you how I became a writer”

Despite spending most of my first 14 years in a sheltered London suburbia (Sidcup, to be precise), passing the next four years in an international community made it second nature, once the internet had been invented, for me to make new international friendships online, as well as renewing old connections from my schooldays.

I get a particular thrill when friends from different parts of my past hook up with each other online, such as a Becky, former neighbour befriending Janet, a past Californian classmate, and Katherine, a Sidcup schoolmate meeting – yes, meeting in real life – Jacky, a newer friend from recent years. They’d got into conversation while replying to my Facebook posts and something just clicked between them, if you’ll excuse the IT pun.

I now look out for and encourage such connections, loving the feeling that the internet is turning the world into a village. As an optimist, I prefer that rosy view to the more cynical notion that the internet’s turning global citizens into international spies. (Don’t get me started about Google Earth…)

Publishing Connections

Glu logo

Decades after leaving school, my career and family developments have caused me to join many new networks. Occasionally these also spark serendipitous connections. Just lately, in my role of commissioning editor of The Alliance of Independent Authors’ blog, I was pleased to receive a request from Christine Frost, a self-published author who’d written a blog post for me about the Boston Book Festival. She now invited me to write for the website of a US-based online community called GLU aimed at those affected by Type 1 diabetes.

Cover of "Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabte
Now out in ebook – paperback to be published later this year

I’d had no idea that Christine had any interest in diabetes, but she’d noticed my ebook, Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes. Long story short: the result was the publication earlier this week of my article on Glu’s website. Being a British writer, I was very pleased to have this opportunity to reach a largely US audience, and also to find out about this interesting diabetes-related website that otherwise might have passed me by. Thank you, Christine, for this opportunity – another fine example of serendipitous connections on the internet!

Global Presence

My friend Norio in front of Mount Fuji with my book
Our man in Japan, near Mount Fuji

For any author, getting your books into foreign parts is always a thrill, and I couldn’t close this article without thanking Norio, a former classmate and good friend from my FIS days, for taking my first book on his travels, like some kind of global ambassador. Thank you, Norio – old friends are pure gold!

  • Who have you connected with from your past on the internet?
  • What’s the most obscure place the internet has helped you reach?
  • Do tell, I’d love to know!




Posted in Writing

Blog Chain: What Am I Working On?

Brooch in the form of a typewriterToday I’m pleased to be taking part in a blog chain. 

Don’t worry, it’s not one of those dreadful chain letters that does the rounds on the internet, imploring you to forward an email to umpteen friends to earn good luck or ward off a curse.  A blog chain is simply a blog post written on a set topic, at the end of which you nominate a given number of bloggers to do the same. Put a lot of them together and – ta da! – you have a chain.

The blog chain is a cousin of the blog hop, which requires a quantity of bloggers post simultaneously on the same topic, including links to each other’s posts. You may have spotted a recent hop that I took part in: Helen Hollick’s excellent Winter Solstice Blog Hop.

I wonder what the collective noun for a group of bloggers is, by the way? Feel free to make suggestions via the comments box at the end!

Why Bloggers Like Blog Chains & Hops

Bloggers like to take part in blog chains and hops because:

  • chains provide a ready-made idea for a post
  • they help bloggers reach new readers via the other links in the chain
  • they’re fun!

But you can have too much of a good thing. A blog with a disproportionate number of chain-linked posts can be dull. But once in a while, I’m happy to take part, because it’s an opportunity to work with author/blogger friends whose company I enjoy and whose work I’m sure will interest my readers.

Passing the Baton to Me: Sally Jenkins

Sally JenkinsThe first of these is the English writer Sally Jenkins, who kindly nominated me in her post a week ago. Sally is a highly experienced, talented and generous writer of short fiction. Two of her story collections have been published on Kindle (I enjoyed them both!) and she is currently tweaking her 2013 NaNoWriMo script into shape. Find out more about Sally  on her excellent blog, on which she often shares useful tips and information about writing:

As Sally’s post explains, the theme of this chain is “What Am I Working On?” Participants are required to answer these four questions about their writing (or at least whichever ones they wish to answer!):

  1. What am I working on?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
  3. Why do I write what I do?
  4. How does my writing process work?

Being the garrulous type, I’m happy to answer all of them! I write in two different genres, non-fiction and short fiction, so each of my answers will be in two parts.

What am I working on?

  • Non-fiction I’m just putting the finishing touches to a book in support of ALLi‘s Open Up To Indies campaign, and then – new year, new book! I’m just starting to write  The Author’s Guide to Blogging, to be published by SilverWood Books. Over the summer I’ll be revising my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, also a SilverWood Original, ready for an updated second edition to be published in the autumn. Other plans include: an extended paperback edition of my e-book Coming To Terms With Type 1 Diabetes, with lots of new material, and Travels with My Camper Van, based on my many blog posts about our family’s travels.
  • Short fiction My first fiction project of 2014 is Quick Change, a collection of short stories and flash fiction on the theme of transition. Then I’ll be pressing on with Tuning In, a volume of short stories inspired by misheard snippets of BBC Radio 4. (I published a taster story as a Christmas ebook, The Owl and the Turkey.)

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

  • Non-fiction My self-help books for authors are exceptionally friendly, positive and supportive, and my readers enjoy my optimistic, encouraging tone. My memoir writing combines my strong sense of fun and of the ridiculous with poignant observation.
  • Short fiction The same combination, really – my writing reflects how I am in real life: sensitive but daft! My stories are also very positive. I don’t “do” sad – I’m an optimist but also  a realist. Readers often remark that they enjoy the “light touch” of my writing, whether addressing serious or light-hearted issues.

Why do I write what I do?

  • Non-fiction Self-help books for authors: because I have a lot of knowledge and experience that I can easily share, and I want to help other writers become more successful. The travel pieces: because wherever I travel, I find inspiration, and writing about it is my instinctive response. Memoirs: because I want to capture the memories for my daughter and the rest of my family, and because I worry that one day I won’t remember them myself.
  • Fiction I’ve always wanted to write fiction and now at last, after a long full-time career in the real world, I have the time and leisure to fit fiction writing in to my daily life – although since I gave up my day job, my non-fiction writing and related freelance work has taken up most of my time.

How does my writing process work?

When I first get an idea, I plan a rough outline on paper (chapter headings for the non-fiction books, scribbly random notes for the rest) and let them simmer for a while. I keep a notebook by my bed and in my handbag to capture odd ideas as they occur, for later development. Occasionally I’ll write the first draft of a short story longhand, but I can do it much faster on my netbook or PC. However, this might change soon, as my friend the writer, poet and creative thinking coach Orna Ross has just recommended to me a voice-activated writing software package that sounds a great way of speeding up the writing part.

Once the first draft is down on paper or screen, I redraft and edit, over and over again, until the words are so familiar that I can do no more. If there’s time, I’ll leave the manuscript to one side for a few weeks, but I don’t always have that luxury with blog posts in particular.

 I write best first thing in the morning, preferably in my pyjamas, and better still, in bed, but I rarely have the leisure to do that, as the school run calls. I write best of all when I’ve been in bed ill for a few days, when new story ideas emerge fully formed from my rested brain. I’m definitely at my most creative first thing, and my plan is to spend at least a couple of hours every morning doing creative writing, with the non-fiction work, marketing and related chores saved for the afternoon. I also like to blog as much as I can, but there’s never enough time to do everything – there are as many unwritten blog posts still stuck inside my head as there are online (and there are around 400 posts online across both my websites just now). In the evenings I prefer reading to writing. Every writer should be reading daily and widely.

Passing The Baton On…

So, now to introduce my three nominated writers. I can’t wait to read their answers to these questions! 

  • Canadian novelist Francis Guenette

Francis and I became friends on Twitter on the night of the last papal election, enjoying the banter on Twitter about this historic occasion. When it turned out that the new pope was also to be named Francis, I knew this friendship was meant to be! I have just been bowled over by her debut novel, Disappearing in Plain Sight, published early last year. (Read my review here.) Here’s Francis’s bio:

Francis GuenetteFrancis Guenette has spent most of her life on the west coast of British Columbia. She lives with her husband and dog and finds inspiration for writing in the beauty and drama of their lakeshore cabin and garden. She has a graduate degree in Counselling Psychology from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. She has worked as an educator, trauma counsellor and researcher. Disappearing in Plain Sight is her first novel.  Find out more about Francis at her always interesting author website and blog:

  • English historical novelist Helen Hollick

I first met Helen at the launch of my book marketing handbook for authors, Sell Your Books! Helen and I share a publisher, the author services provider SilverWood Books, and we’ve since become good friends, although we live a hundred miles apart. The first book in Helen’s pirate fantasy series kept my spirits up during a pre-Christmas bout of bronchitis, and the sequels are now on my to-read list. Here’s my review of Sea Witchone of my top reads for 2013. She’s also one of my mum’s favourite authors! Here’s how Helen describes herself:

Helen HollickHelen Hollick started writing pony stories as a young teenager. She moved onto science fiction and fantasy and then discovered the delight of writing historical fiction. Helen is published in the UK and the US with her books about King Arthur and the 1066 Battle of Hastings, officially making the USA Today best seller list with her novel Forever Queen. She also writes a series of historical adventure seafaring books inspired by her love of the Golden Age of Piracy. As a firm supporter of independent authors, publishers and bookstores, she has recently taken on the role of UK Editor for the Historical Novel Society Online Review for self-published historical fiction produced in the UK. Helen now lives in Devon with her husband, adult daughter and son-in-law – and a variety of pets, including a dog, two cats, and four horses. Her website is at and her blog is at

  • American novelist Amira Makansi

Amira Makansi with a copy of The Sowing I met Amira via the Alliance of Independent Authors, whose blog of self-publishing advice I edit, and I was interested to hear about her debut The Sowing, which was co-written with two other authors – her mother and sister. Following her article about the experience on the ALLi blog, I’ve been following her progress with interest – she’s a lively, energetic and talented author and blogger who I’m sure is going to go far. She kindly asked me to be a guest on her blog before Christmas (here’s my post on her blog), and I’m delighted to have the opportunity to return the favour now. Here is what Amira has to say about herself:

Amira loves nothing more in life than reading and writing, except maybe hot wings. As an artist, she’s interested in pretty much anything except the real world. Give her science fiction, fantasy, or even a good historical fiction and she’ll love you forever. Her debut novel, the first book in the Seeds trilogy, co-written with her mother Kristy and sister Elena, is a science-fiction dystopia that explores what happens when corrupt politicians control the food system. She’s also got a bad case of wanderlust and has yet to ‘settle down’ like most normal people her age. You can find her in the hills and mountains of Oregon, the vineyards of France, or the streets of St. Louis. She’s currently working on a reader-driven blog serial in the dark fantasy or paranormal genre, which you can find here , the second book in the Seeds trilogy titled The Reaping, and an in-between novella set in the same world, as yet untitled.

Hop over to their websites now to find out more about them – and if you visit them again this time next week, you’ll find out more about what they’re working on too.

So, back to my question at the start of this post, what IS the collective noun for bloggers? Answers in the comments section please!

Posted in Family, Travel

New Beginnings and Old Friends in Ancient Cities

The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey (photo: Wikipedia)

Although Bath is known for its elegant architecture and very smart shops, I am surprised to spot quite so many beautifully dressed people walking down Milsom Street on Wednesday as I head for the Roman Baths with my young American visitor in tow.

It’s just an ordinary weekday afternoon, but half the population appears to be on its way to a wedding. And not just any old English wedding. There are some exotic costumes in evidence, such as jewel-bright saris, with gold trimming glinting in the unexpected afternoon sun.

Then a beaming  young lady walks past me wearing a mortarboard and academic gown, and the penny drops. It’s Degree Day. As we descend down Union Street, we see more soon-to-be-graduates, flanked by proud parents, ebbing down towards the Abbey. I’m glad for them that the sun is shining: it’s an auspicious start to the next stage in their lives.

Behind their broad smiles, the gowned ones look a little nervous.  I know how they are feeling: recognising the end of a relatively carefree era and apprehensive about what the future might hold. I recall sitting in the back of the white van in which my brother collected me and three years’ worth of accumulated belongings. As we pulled away, I watched the porter’s lodge recede behind us. I was reluctant to turn round and face the way we were going: I did not want to acknowledge that university and York were now just a part of my past.

Bath university academics enter the AbbeyA little later on this sunny Wednesday in Bath, we’re emerging from the Pump Rooms after a fascinating tour of the Roman Baths. As we step out on to the pavement, a policeman extends his arm to halt our progress. And so we just avoid bowling into a procession of Bath’s brainiest and best in all their academic finery – presumably the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Dean and senior dons in full formal regalia. It’s a brilliant-hued collection of medieval robes and caps, all velvet, brocade and long feathers. The big double doors of Bath Abbey are flung open in front of them, and they being to process inside to confer degrees.

As we watch their slow progress, I’m taken right back to another such ceremony which I chanced across in Oxford exactly 23 years ago. By coincidence,  I was  showing round another American girl that day – my old schoolfriend Cindy. We had been at an international school in Germany before returning to our home countries. I don’t remember how Cindy came to be in the UK, but she was, and she had a  day to spare, so I blagged a day off work to take full advantage.

Procession of Oxford dons in formal academic dressAt that time I was living in Tring, Hertfordshire, but even so we headed for the Cotswolds, always my spiritual home, and broke the journey at Oxford. Strolling through that ancient city, we turned a corner and almost bumped into a long, double line of colourfully dressed academics. It was a vision  as sumptuous and historic as the display I’ve just witnessed in Bath (though this being Oxford, they’d probably have considered that academically they pulled rank). We even spotted  some famous faces – I think Magnus Magnusson might have been one of them.

I can be precise about the date because it was just a month before my first marriage. I  told Cindy all about the plans for our big day. We developed a running joke about the inequality of our match, because whereas I had acquired a new dress, bag and shoes for the day, my future husband was economising. He’d recently bought two new suits to start a new job in Bristol, and he was to wear one of those. All that he needed was a button to replace one that had fallen off. So whereas I got a whole new outfit, all he would be gaining was a button. This thought sent us into paroxysms of mirth for the rest of the day. It probably accounts for our broad grins in the photos we took of each other in front of various Cotswold landmarks. (Unfortunately I can’t find them to publish them here.)  Cindy was yet to meet her match, but our lives were full of promise. I think she may have been about to start a new course at university.  It wasn’t just the Oxford graduates who were heading towards a new beginning that day.

The author graduating from her American-style high school in 1978
Speaking at my high school graduation in Germany

Since that lovely sunny day, Cindy and I haven’t knowingly been on the same side of the Atlantic. She’s now settled in Florida, I’m in the Cotswolds. We’re over our new beginnings; you might say we’re  somewhat advanced in our middles. We’re each married with a beautiful daughter who lights up our lives.  (By chance, my current American guest is the daughter of a treasured mutual friend from the international school). We’ve done ok. And I’m sure that if we met up again tomorrow, that button would still make us laugh.

Congratulations to all those who are graduating this month, and may the sun continue to shine on your new beginnings. 

Posted in Family

My Kodak Moments

English: An antique Eastman Kodak camera in th...
Are my photos history? (Image of an antique Eastman Kodak camera via Wikipedia)

When the purchase of a new computer this month prompted me to transfer the files across from my old one, I realised with a start just how many digital photos I had accumulated.

The advent of digital photography instilled in me the blithe hope that I’d banish the growing stack of shoeboxes stuffed full of ancient snaps, teetering in a corner of my study. These pictures witness not only my progress from birth to adulthood but also the evolution of photographic technology over the last half century.

The earliest photos, of me as a baby, were taken on the family’s old box-style Kodak, where you had to peer down into the top of the camera at a reflected image rather than holding it in front of you.

English: A flashcube fitted to a Kodak Instama...
How to burn your fingers without really trying: rotate the flashcube after use (image via Wikipedia)

By the time I was old enough to master that camera myself, they’d invented Instamatics. Chunky, detachable, flash cubes could be plugged into the top, rotating after each shot.

When I was about 30, the compact camera arrived on the scene. These made film changes easy. Instead of connecting a film to a spool inside the camera, you just dropped in a cartridge. Once the film was developed, the negatives came back in the same cartridge for easy storage.

"A Kodak Camera advertisement appeared in...
RIP Kodak Cameras (Image via Wikipedia)

I remember being buttonholed on a plane by an enthusiastic Kodak rep a few months before these cameras were launched: “Our new invention will change the course of photography for ever!” Famous last words: earlier this year, Kodak filed for bankruptcy protection, the pioneer of film-based photography vanquished by the digital age.

Laura Young at Puxton Park
My little bunny

I got my first digital camera not long after the birth of my daughter Laura. Only the first year of her life is captured on traditional film, the rest is trapped inside my computer. Every time I open the My Photos file, I flinch, half closing my eyes to avoid recognising just how many there are. There are simply too many to manage. Of course, there is the handy facility to change the image names and sort them into useful folders – far better than writing on the back of a print with a biro – but does anyone exist who is really that organised? Certainly not in my household.

And yet with the thousands of photos that I have available at the touch of a button, apart from my wedding photos (taken by a fabulous local professional), I still only ever print and look at the few pictures that struck me at the moment of taking as instant classics. My favourites include an informal shot of my baby daughter and me taken at a party without our knowledge, the two of us laughing on top of a Welsh hill, and a cute shot at a farm park of Laura with a bunny on her lap.

English: Grand Central terminal in New York, N...
Grand Central Station, New York (Image via Wikipedia)

But to be honest, the images I value most are not even in digital format: they exist only in my head. My grandma standing at her front door laughing at a joke we shared joke just before I ran off to school; my daughter lying in her hospital cot the night after she was born (I stayed awake all night gazing at her, convinced she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen); my lovely old friend Joe, blowing kisses and waving as I left on the airport bus from New York’s Grand Central Station for my journey home. As he receded in the distance, I willed that image to stay in my brain. If this was the last time I ever saw him, I mused, that would be a great way to remember him. I had no idea how prophetic that was: he died suddenly, unexpectedly, before I could see him again.

It’s like the old saying that radio beats television because the pictures are better. Or maybe I’m just bad at photography. Perhaps in future I should leave it to the experts – and hope that my brain doesn’t run out of storage space any time soon.

(This post was originally written for the Tetbury Advertiser, March 2012)