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Sunday, 6 December 2015

NO PRESENTS THIS CHRISTMAS



Right at the end of the telephone conversation my son, who clearly had not been relishing telling me, announced:
‘N’s father has decided not to give presents this year, so we’ve decided the same. Are you OK with this?’
‘No presents?’ I heard myself repeat in a voice choked with disbelief, ‘What? No Christmas presents? Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents….’
‘Well,’ he struggled to find something with which to mollify his spoilt mother, ‘maybe think about it and talk it over with M? We’re all skint anyway, so it’s a great help.’ He added little more in this vein other than to leave it to me to break the idea to his grandmother and uncle.

Much to my amazement, the other members of my very small family were in agreement. Well, at least the male members were.  At eighty six the matriarch of us is very frail now, and it was felt that we must of course give presents to her.  At this point I should explain that we have no children in our family and the youngest of us is thirty five, so Christmas has become a much less exciting time of year than it might be for larger families. Its religious significance is also rather lost on us, and we are simply left with days in which good food is planned around odd medical conditions and shortage of funds, the hope that none of us falls ill and the exchange of… well… presents.

I am sorry to say, none of us is keen to give the money we might save to good causes. This has already been done for us by a rather sanctimonious aunt, who when she died left hundreds of thousands of pounds to good causes. We were all slightly miffed by this, and as a result whilst we do what we can for charity shops and poppy sellers, it ends there.

But this article is not about the virtues or failings of our attitudes to charity. I am relating the story because of an unexpected side effect, and this is the relief we have all felt at having the burden of Christmas-present-buying removed from us. It is quite extraordinary how much more enjoyable these weeks before Christmas become when life is so much simpler. There is time to stand around and listen to Christmas carols, brass bands and general merry-making in the town. Time to talk to shopkeepers about how they are doing, to sympathise and agree with what is happening to them. I have time to make (knit) some presents for well-deserving people, and to write letters which contain more news and opinions, and less ‘annual tripe’ than usual. I’m not dreading writing out my Christmas cards, and the planning of meals is a far more relaxed and agreeable task.

In a way, this Christmas-without-presents is an experiment. If we hate it, we can revert to a ‘normal’ Christmas next time. I am not sure we will, because I’m feeling a great deal more ‘Christmas Spirit’ by concentrating on the things which really matter at this time: taking time to talk, to listen and to love one’s family and friends. They won’t be with us forever.

Season’s Greetings!

Thursday, 5 November 2015

A DOOR OUT OF DEPRESSION


I’m trying to help three people at the moment. Let’s call them A, B and C. At the same time I have been working on my second novel ‘Stopping Time’. I say working, but in fact it is thinking which takes up much of a writer’s time. A recent visit to a timeless and uplifting place on Dartmoor called Brentor, led me to want to post a photograph on this blog. So the photo which you see here is the view from the doorway of the small church which is perched on top of Brentor.

If you have read my first novel, ‘Losing Time’, you will know that doors are important to me. In the book doors can be portals across time and sometimes across dimensions.  I often look at doors and wonder where they lead to, whether they might in some strange way prove a physical entrance to a life-changing experience, or instead a mental change in crossing the threshold of a memory or thought. So the minute I saw this doorway into – and out from – such an unusual place, I knew that it might be somewhere I could use in my writing.

When I started thinking along these lines, I was worried about B. B is suffering from depression and going through a very bad patch at the moment. Many members of our family suffer and have suffered from this terrible illness, and I am well aware of the dark-induced chemical change which the brain suffers. An attack of depression is almost like the onset of a cold, because the minute you recognise it, you know that there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. It will creep insidiously upon you, whispering softly into your mind: I’m back…

November is a bad month for depression. The low autumn light and the dying trees, together with the acrid smell of bonfires all conspire against the greatest of optimists. I am drawn, in the late afternoon, to make tea and hot toast, draw the curtains against the failing light and switch on cheerful lamps. B is not so lucky. B is probably still at work, struggling to maintain the status quo and the everlasting pretence which accompanies this condition. B won’t be able to leave the desk and make a quick mug of some hot beverage, without being observed by everyone else. B, in a sudden onset of paranoia, daren’t go home until everyone else has gone. By then it will be dark and the glare of streetlamps  and flashing car lights will have replaced natural light.

I don’t have any wonderful remedy for depression. I can only listen on the end of a phone and tentatively suggest optimistic things: daylight lamps, good food, and plans to look forward to. I must include visits to – or if this is impossible, pictures and memories of – some of the best places where someone depressed has felt happy and uplifted. Brentor is certainly one of these for me. There are a few others, usually high places where the sun shines and the air is like champagne.

In the current book, I have a character in a very dark place indeed. I hope to rescue him before long. Perhaps a door will open into his miserable world and invite him back on to the top of a moor, in Summer, when all is green.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

LOSING TIME: CHANGED BLOG ADDRESS


Please be aware that I have changed the link for the LOSING TIME blog. If you have arrived at this page and you were searching for it, then you have succeeded in finding it - I apologise if you have experienced difficulties! If you have landed here by accident, then I hope you enjoy it.

The new link is: http://prfordwriter.blogspot.co.uk/

Friday, 23 October 2015

LOSING TIME

The publication of LOSING TIME as an E-book has taken me completely by surprise. A feeling of unreality was followed by the onset of a migraine - blessedly only a short one - and three days later I am beginning to feel like a 'proper' writer. The burden of the unfinished book has been lifted and I can begin work on its sequel which had become lost under a pile of e-rubbish.

Like everything else in the creation of this work, the cover page fell together almost by accident. I am very proud that so many members of my family were involved in this.The watch belonged to my late father, who would have been astonished to see the way my son and I have manipulated a photo of it - which was originally taken by my brother. It was not my original choice, but I kept going back to it, as though it nagged me to use it. When, like a forgotten word, the title 'Losing Time' appeared in my mind, using the photograph of the watch was a no-brainer!

The most difficult part was undoubtedly the description of the story. How on earth could I condense 100,000 words into a short paragraph which might tempt readers to try it? This is no simple story, and I have ended up with a few sentences which attempt to convey its essence:

People don’t vanish without a reason. They may be trapped in another time or a strange place, or not on Earth at all; but why would all of these happen to one family?
Helen’s father failed to return from a day trip he made to Oxford in 1984. Twenty one years later Helen travels to Ireland following a clue to his disappearance, but her mundane life as an accountant ends abruptly when she falls through a trans-dimension portal and finds herself in a fortress on Dartmoor.
Behind the confusion someone is hunting not only Helen, but the child her father was trying to bring home: her twin brother Leo. And the eccentric alien people who befriend Helen are also under threat.
So when Helen reappears in her workplace with a stranger, things begin to spiral out of control…


Here is a link to Amazon UK where the book may be purchased: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B016X4HXCE - for anyone tempted to give it a try. It is available on Amazon worldwide. I hope you enjoy it.




 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

MY FRIEND



She could be stubborn, even infuriating, but if you knew her she was deeply sincere, loyal and a wonderful friend. Her tongue was one of the sharpest I have ever known – I always dreaded being on the wrong side of it – but when you needed her she would be the kindest and best of friends. She kept her life simple, living to a few basic rules, two of which I try to follow myself. The first: “if you can’t do someone a good turn, don’t do them a bad one!” was what made her so completely honest. Her candour could at times be absolutely cutting, even humiliating if she thought you were wrong. She never denied that she would tell you to your face what she thought, even if sometimes her caustic words seemed cruel – it was not meant.

The second rule: “as long as you’ve got your health and strength...” kept her going right to the very end of her life. She died as she lived: quietly, efficiently and in her own time. I honestly think she had made up her mind that it was time to go – and so she went.

In writing this I cannot omit the one quality which drew people to her: a wonderful dry sense of humour. How many of us have fallen about laughing at one of her chance remarks dropped innocently into a conversation or story, followed with a little smile?

It is a long time now since Michael and I were married at Morchard Bishop, but she played quite a part in the events leading up to it, and loved to reminisce about that time. She hosted the groom, best man, bride’s aunt uncle and cousin, as well as a host of people crowding in and out of her warm kitchen – never once flustered by it all. She always laughed at the episode of the day before, when she and I were making sure my wedding dress fitted properly when Michael turned up at the door. She was horrified, highly superstitious that the groom must not see the dress, and rushed out to tell him in no uncertain terms to keep out!

Her absence from my life, after thirty two years of her indomitable presence, will be a huge, gaping hole which only time will ease. I will adapt, and she would scold me for writing this and tell me to get on with my work. I will, Mrs Snell. But first I’ll have a cup of tea. And sit for a little while...

E.D.S. 29.11.21 - 05.01.15