Posted in Family, Personal life

Just Rewards – A Proposal for a New Way to Keep New Year Resolutions: The Resolution Calendar

A calligraphic card of a traditional New Year's Resolution from 1915

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.

Smiley face made of empty Lindor wrappers
All that was left of my Advent calendar by Christmas Day
Posted in Personal life, Writing

Three by Three: My Writing Plans for 2017

graphic of noah's ark with dove and olive branch
I think I’m going to need a bigger ark… (Image by Prawny via Morguefile)

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)
  • to make the third Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival the biggest and best year (Saturday 22nd April, folks – write it in your new diary now!)
  • 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.

To be one of the first to know whenever I’m about to launch a new book, join my Reader’s Club here.

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Writing

In Praise of Community Magazines

Sample copies of Hawkesbury Parish News & Tetbury AdverEvery 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!)

Posted in Family, Type 1 diabetes

Run, Rabbit, Run

Year of the Metal Rabbit
Image by OnTask via Flickr

January 1st was a rotten time to make New Year Resolutions.  The excitement of Christmas was over, the decorations were losing their charm, and the mornings and evenings seemed darker than ever.  Relentless advertising for the post-Christmas sales rubbed in the fact that it was an awfully long time till payday. It’s no wonder that January 24th was officially designated the most depressing day of the year.  This January had only two highlights for me: the opportunity to write cheques dated 1/1/11 or 11/1/11 and, a week later, my birthday – though, goodness knows, the novelty of birthdays wore off for me a very long time ago.  So this year I decided to be realistic about New Year’s Resolutions: I resolved not to make any.

But then, a few weeks into the New Year, something wonderful happened: I looked up into the sky at 5pm and realised it was not entirely dark.  A tiny tinge of blue was still hovering behind the impending night sky, a promise of the spring to come.  It was enough to make my personal sap begin to rise. Then I spotted in my diary the fact that we’re on the brink of Chinese New Year.  We’re entering the Year of the Rabbit.  It wasn’t too late to make those New Year Resolutions after all!  Before I knew it, I found myself signing up to run the Bristol 10K.  A leaner, faster, fitter new me is just around the corner of 2011…

But it won’t only be me that benefits.  I’ll be fundraising for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.  Every £60 I raise will pay for an hour of research to find a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.  This horrible disease has blighted the life of my husband and my small daughter, through no fault of their own. (Type 1 diabetes is not related to lifestyle choices).  100 years ago, their diagnosis would have been shortly followed by their death.   Decades of research has made it possible to live with diabetes, provided you submit to constant and costly medical intervention, including multiple daily injections or the use of an infusion pump 24/7, plus half a dozen or more blood tests every single day.  The next ambition of researchers is to make it possible for Gordon and Laura and millions like them to live without it.  At present, there is no cure.

So, with my resolve strengthening as the daylight hours are lengthening, I’ve signed on the dotted line for the 10K charity run.  I just wish I had a Chinese bank account.  Because then, when I write the deposit cheque, I could take enormous pleasure in dating it for the first day of the Chinese New Year: Rabbits Rabbits Rabbits / Rabbit.

(This post was originally written for the February edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.)

Posted in Uncategorized

A Life Less Resolute

“2011 will be the year in which I ….” Resolve hangover cure

Can you complete that sentence yet?  Chances are, you can neatly slot in an answer inspired by your New Year’s resolutions.

Not me.  It’s not that I don’t have ideas for resolutions.  I’m certainly eligible for all the usual suspects:  eat less, drink less alcohol, go to bed earlier, exercise more.  But last year I didn’t actively make any resolutions, yet 2010 turned out to be one of the best years of my life.  It’s a formula I’m happy to repeat.

How did it happen?  Well, a radical resolution actually came at me from out of the blue, several days into the new year.   It was as sudden and unplanned as Newton’s apple falling on his head and, in my small sphere, about as revolutionary. I was in the first meeting of the year with my boss when I suddenly heard myself calmly tendering my resignation. It was unprovoked by her: we hadn’t had a row or a punch-up.   But in a light-bulb moment, I suddenly realised what I really wanted the new year to bring:  a better and less stressful work-life balance.  Amidst the sturm and drang of the Christmas break, spent caring for a very poorly daughter, this idea must have been churning away in my subconscious, but I simply hadn’t noticed.   I’m not sure which of us was the most surprised at my resignation – me or my boss.  But both of us recognised, several months down the line, that I was a happier, healthier person for this impulsive decision, and I’ve not had a single regret since.

So this year, I’m going to take the same approach.   Though I love the new beginnings and the promise that a new calendar brings, I don’t think New Year’s Day is the best time to make resolutions.   In any case, for most people in the UK, the word “RESOLVE” is inextricably associated with the commercial hangover cure of the same name – and probably quite a lot of them have consumed it today.   This doesn’t exactly create the most positive vibes.  Far better to let the freshness of the new year permeate the subconscious and see what surfaces at its leisure.

So watch this space.  Anything could happen in the next 365 days…

Happy New Year!