My first blog post of 2023 is the column I wrote for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News – a very important institution in the life of a little Cotswold village like mine!
I’m the kind of optimist who not only sees the glass as half-full, but is jolly grateful to have a glass, and assumes it must be made of the finest crystal.
That’s not to say I’m oblivious to darker times. But when life seems grim, I unleash a handy collection of mantras that make me feel better.
“Better to light a candle than curse the darkness”, I tell myself. (Clichés are clichés for a reason, you know.)
“If winter comes, can spring be far behind?” (Thank you for that one, Percy Bysshe Shelley – especially handy as winter is my least favourite season.)
If I’m in a musical frame of mind, I simply channel D:Ream and play “Things can only get better” on a loop in my head.
But as this new year dawns, I’m feeling wary. For the last few years, I’ve started every January thinking, “This has got to be a better year than the last one”. Then along comes something worse.
What a run of disasters we have had lately: Trump, Brexit, Covid, moreCovid, the war in Ukraine, and all the economic and political fall-out those crises induced. Not to mention ever-stranger weather, indicative of frightening climate changes.
With apologies to Samuel Johnson, who described second marriage as “the triumph of hope over experience,” experience is threatening to triumph over hope.
Yet my inner optimist will out, and as I list those disasters, over which I had no control, bar the right to vote and to get vaccinated, I realise it’s still within my power to make 2023 a better year in small ways.
So 2023 will be the year that I will vow never to run out of teabags, or milk for my morning tea…
or the cats’ favourite treats, Dreamies:
And if I’m setting the bar that low, doesn’t that mean things can only get better? Let’s live in hope.
Wishing you a new year full of whatever makes you happy.
In my next post, I’ll be reviewing my writing achievements in 2022 and sharing my writing plans for 2023.
PS My new year’s resolution is to publish a new blog post every Wednesday! Let’s see how that goes…
There’s a reason the flurry of self-improvement articles published at the turn of the year fizzle out by February. Whatever resolutions you pledge on New Year’s Eve, by the end of January, life is likely to have got in the way, shattering your illusions of autonomy.
THIS YEAR’S EXCUSES
Diversions from my good intentions began even before Big Ben chimed in 2022. On the morning of 31 December, noticing inflammation in my jaw, I booked a GP appointment, not wanting to wait until the practice reopened on Tuesday 4 January.
Despite returning with antibiotics to treat a glandular infection, the left side of my face and left were soon reminiscent of Rudolph’s nose. For the first week of 2022, antibiotic-induced brain fog scuppered my New Year’s Resolutions, and I planned a fresh start in the second week of January.
UNINTENDED CONSQUENCES OF A TRIP TO IKEA
Then came a head injury from a close encounter with the sharp corner of my car boot, an unforeseen hazard of a trip to IKEA. Fortunately the damage proved superficial, but for the following week, pain and exhaustion put paid to vigorous movements and loud noises. No bellringing practice for me!
When metaphorically dining out on my mishaps in a private Facebook group of close friends, I was looking for laughs rather than sympathy, so I was taken aback when several chums remarked on my bad luck. A Pollyanna by nature, I’ve always thought I lead a charmed life and am grateful for every blessing.
I also think everything happens for a reason. Cancelling my social life while I recovered gave me more thinking and reading time than my hectic lifestyle normally allows. The regenerative power of lying fallow applies just as much to people as to fields.
The net result is that I abandoned my New Year’s Resolutions, instead adopting principles learned in two very different books I read during my recovery: time management guru Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method and Vita Sackville-West’s novel All Passion Spent. (A testament to the healing power of books – more about that phenomenon In Other News below.)
Carroll suggests a great way to assess your life and your goals: write two versions of your own obituary, the first as if you lived the life according to others’ expectations and in the line of least resistance, and the second as if you took the road less travelled.
Sackville-West’s heroine only learns in her old age to be true to herself.
My new plan for 2022 is therefore to live the life I’d like to see in my obituary (although not just yet).
In the meantime, my sense of gratitude is intact. I am grateful for the NHS and for antibiotics, especially having discovered while awaiting an ambulance that before the age of antibiotics, bacterial infection was the chief cause of death in the developed world. I’m also thankful that IKEA’s cinnamon buns taste just as good even after a blow to the head.
I was thrilled to hear that this week’s BBC Radio 4 Appeal is in aid of the fabulous children’s reading charity Read for Good (known as Readathon while I worked there from 2010 until 2013).
Read for Good harnesses the tremendous power of books and reading to make children in hospital feel better – and their parents and carers too – by providing free books and professional storytellers to every children’s hospital in the UK. Hear what a difference their work makes to families all over the country by listening to this account by the mother of teenager William during his treatment for cancer:
Justine Daniels, Read for Good’s chief executive, explains further: “We all know the power of a good story, but in hospital, for children like William, this becomes magnified. Transporting children in hospital to imaginary worlds can help them process trauma and relieve anxiety, supporting their mental health and wellbeing at the most difficult time. This BBC appeal, and the support of National Book Tokens and the Booksellers Association will help us to continue to provide comfort and escape at a time and in a place where a little distraction goes such a long way.”
If you’d like to donate to help Read for Good provide more books and storytellers to children in hospital, you can do so now here: https://readforgood.org/radio-4-appeal/. Every donation, no matter how small, will help a poorly child escape into a story and bring joy and relief to their parents and carers.
New Charity Audiobook
You may remember that last autumn I contributed a short story, “Christmas Ginger“, to a new charity anthology called Everyday Kindness, edited by the bestselling thriller writer and philanthropist L J Ross, and published in hardback and ebook on World Kindness Day in November. Each of the 54 stories, all by different authors, were (no surprises here!) on the theme of kindness.
LJ Ross and her Dark Skies publishing company has now teamed up with audiobook specialist W F Howes to turn the anthology into an audiobook, which was launched yesterday. I was thrilled to learn that the narrator for my story is the wonderful British actress Celia Imrie.
The audiobook is now available to download and is currently topping the Audible chart of literary anthologies. Here’s the buying link: https://geni.us/EverydayKindness
My column from the January 2017 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News
Given that change has become the new normal in the last twelve months, at least in terms of politics, I wonder whether New Year’s Resolutions will prove easier to keep this month? Research shows that it takes twenty-one days to establish a new habit, so if you’re struggling with your resolutions by the time you read this, don’t give up. I have a new invention that might help you: the Resolution Calendar.
A slightly smaller cousin of the Advent Calendar, it should contain twenty-one little doors, one for each day until your new habit has taken hold. Behind each door would be a suitable small reward such as the traditional chocolate, to be redeemed only if you get through the day with your resolution intact. (Unless of course your resolution is to eat less chocolate.)
Alternatively you might take my husband’s unusual approach to what was his first ever Advent calendar last month. Rather than opening a door each day, he saved them all up for Christmas, announcing throughout December as my daughter and I ate our daily chocolates just how many he’d had left on Christmas Day when all ours were long gone.
Whatever your New Year Resolutions, I wish you a happy and healthy 2017.
When my author friend Jessica Bell asked friends on Facebook the other day to summarise their creative intentions for 2017, my reply made me realise that this year I’m hoping everything will be coming in threes:
the first three novels in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series (one two drafted, started the third already, but much editing needed before publication)
the first three short chapter books in my new Teashop Twins series
three collections of short stories (to be written as palate-cleansers between the novels)
I’m also adopting the classic writers’ habit of morning pages – three sides of A5 first thing on waking, to help me keep in touch with my subconscious and decide where I want to go next
And finally, I have one one-off ambition: to sustain a tidy, clean house that I don’t feel I have to apologise to visitors for. But on the other hand, the housework can wait. I can always just lower my standards some more.
Whatever your plans are for 2017, I wish you a happy, productive and peaceful one.
Every month, I write columns for two local magazines – the Hawkesbury Parish News and the Tetbury Advertiser. Both of these publications are lovingly put together by hugely experienced volunteers for the benefit of the local community.
The papers combine articles by local people and community groups with affordable advertising opportunities to help local businesses attract new customers. Both publications plough back any profit into local good causes and charities. They contribute significantly to the well-being of their local communities, both by enabling effective local communications accessible to all (and not just to those on the internet) and by improving local facilities and services – factors which are particularly important in rural areas such as ours. Such magazines may also be significant and much-needed customers for local print companies.
Serving The Whole Community
Impressively, they manage to keep the cover price of both papers low – Hawkesbury Parish News costs just 40p an issue (which includes free delivery by hand to your home) and Tetbury Advertiser is free. Thus not even a housebound pensioner on a small fixed income with no internet access need ever miss out on feeling a part of their local community. Even if they never get out to take part in any of the many local activities featured in these pages, they will still feel like they are part of the community. If I were in charge of the New Years’ Honours List, the volunteers who dedicate an extraordinary amount of time and effort into putting out these publications would not go unrewarded.
Every Household’s Favourite Read
One might be forgiven for wondering whether in this internet age, which threatens the viability of so many local and national newspapers, such magazines might be on the wane. A few years ago, working for a local private school that was trying to discover the most effective advertising media , I undertook a survey of the school’s current pupils parents to discover which were the best read newspapers and magazines in their households.
I expected to learn that upmarket newspapers and glossy magazines were their favourite – The Times and the Financial Times, perhaps, plus Country Life, Country Living and Tatler. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the papers of which they were least likely to miss an issue were local community magazines such as Hawkesbury Parish News and the Tetbury Advertiser. It’s not surprising that both of these publications have been gaining size, strength and readership year on year.
As you’ll have guessed, I’m proud to support and write for both of these great publications. To make my articles available to a wider audience, including the Hawkesbury and Tetbury diaspora, I post them up on my author website a week after each print issue will have landed on people’s doormats. To suit the interests of their readership, these articles usually relate either to the time of year or to local activity in our part of rural Gloucestershire. So here’s my first column for HPN in 2014, which manages to do both at once.
New Year, New Strategy
In an old notebook, I recently discovered a list of New Year Resolutions that I’d written down about 15 years ago. Although I don’t remember making the list, the resolutions were familiar, being pretty much the same ones that I make every year.
Why the repetition? Because like most people, I never manage to keep my New Year Resolutions beyond the end of January – though as an optimist, I never fail to make some.
But this year will be different, because I’ve hit upon a cunning plan: my 2014 list will be comprised of things I DON’T want to achieve. That way, by breaking them early on, I’ll reach my true goals. Thus:
“To spend more than I earn each month” will enable me to amass regular savings
“To consume more calories each day than I burn off” will precipitate steady weight loss
“To avoid training 3-4 times each week to prepare for the HU5K* Run” will ensure that I’m able to run it with ease, in a respectable time
Writing this column mid-December, I see no flaw in my lateral thinking, but will it actually work? I’ll tell you on Saturday 14th June as I cross the HU5K finishing line…
Happy New Year to you all, however you resolve to spend it!
* HU5K is the Hawkesbury Upton 5K Fun Run which I help organise to raise funds for the village school. It takes place the Saturday before Father’s Day each year, and 2014 will be the third annual event. For more information, please visit its website: www.hu5K.org.
My Previous Years’ Posts About New Year Resolutions (which, by chance, all have a connection with running!)