My Life in Music: 1982

I attended Stanley Park Junior High School in Kitchener, Ontario for grades 7 & 8, from September 1981 to June 1983. Junior High was quite a different experience for me, going from junior school where we all spent all of our time in the same classroom, with the same teacher, to a much bigger school where as a class we would troop down the corridors to visit other teachers in order to have lessons from them. This was all new territory – as the eldest child I had no older siblings to prep me for new experiences, and I was still finding Canada a strange new world.

The photo is my official school picture from Grade 8 – taken at the beginning of the school year, this would have been taken in September 1982, when I was about a month away from turning 13.

Many eventful things happened to me during 1982, not the least of which was puberty hitting. Puberty brings with it many horrible things – acne; overactive hormones; moodiness; the need to shower everyday. Then there were these new and interesting creature in my life. They had always been there, as it happened, but up to that point I had spent my time trying to avoid them. These creatures were collectively known as ‘Boys’. For the first time, I became interested in their existence. But most of them seemed not to notice mine, which was a source of great anxiety.

In Grade 8 I had an English teacher – a marvellously eccentric Welsh lady called Mrs Riepert. She was the first teacher to spot my potential as a writer, and her encouragement of my writing, in those early days, should not be underestimated. Apparently she was singing my praises as an exceptional writer to her students for many years to come.

It was in her class we were given an assignment to write a horror story. I wrote a very long story called ‘Terror in Tanner’s Field’, which I later rewrote into a novel. Between that and my happening to discover Stephen King in the school library – checking out first DIFFERENT SEASONS and then CARRIE – that year I became a bona fide fan of, and writer of, horror fiction.

The other major thing to happen to me in 1982 was my first viewing of ‘Star Wars’ – a film I had turned down the opportunity to see in the cinema upon its release in 1977 because I dismissed it as ‘a boy’s film’.

In 1982 VCRs were still a new and novel discovery, and not everyone had one. A lady in Kitchener had a little business going where she would rent out a VCR, plus ten movies, for a short period of time. Thinking back I am now sure this must have been a pirate operation – all the videotapes were in plain covers, with the titles of them typed on labels. And she had two separate lists of films – one list of ‘adult’ films, the other more family-orientated.

One weekend in the summer of 1982, towards the end of August, our family rented a VCR and ten films (from the family list of course – we were a family of five with three kids). One of the films was ‘Star Wars’.

Perhaps the timing of the first time I saw ‘Star Wars’ was crucial to its impact on me. Coming as it did at a time when my adolescent hormones were raging, I fell madly in love with Luke Skywalker, and a lifelong obsession with all things Star Wars was born at that moment.

At the same time music became a lot more important. I think music speaks loudest to you when you are a teenager, and what you listen to then informs your life going forward. It was at this time I started to become interested in spending my pocket money on records – buying 45s, or ‘singles’ as they were known then. In those days they had a round hole in the middle, which meant you had to have a circular attachment on your record player in order to be able to play them.

And the song I’m going to leave you with was a big hit this year, and it’s one I did actually buy. I remember dancing around to it, playing it on the little record player I mentioned in the last music blog post.

Here’s “Gloria” by Laura Branigan. It’s still a song that makes me happy when I listen to it.

Sixty-Nine Weeks Later

Is this thing still on? **tap tap**

OK, so the global pandemic has changed the world. The UK formally went into lockdown in March 2020 – exactly 69 weeks ago tomorrow. I know the week count, because I have been keeping score, making a note at the top of my notebook every time I go into a new week working from home.

Technically England comes out of lockdown tomorrow, with all social restrictions removed, and the wearing of masks becoming voluntary, not compulsory. But several supermarkets and retail chains have already announced that they expect their customers to carry on wearing them, and London and several other major cities have also declared that mask wearing will still be compulsory on public transport. I am specifying ‘England’ here because the other nations of the United Kingdom have announced different rules.

But the pandemic is by no means over, and the uncertainty we’ve all had to live with for the last 18 months or so continues. We’ve all struggled in various ways. I have found it difficult to write during the pandemic, and I have neglected this blog. Dealing with the real world has been stressful enough – trying to work out what to write about seemed too much.

However, no matter what happens in the future I want to try and regain some focus on the writing. I have recently completed the second draft of the fourth book in the Shara Summers series. I enjoy writing about this character, but I am not sure what the future holds for this series. The first two books, previously published by Muse It Up, are currently unavailable since the publisher recently closed its doors. The third book is looking for a home and currently unpublished, and the fourth book nobody else has read but me.

I intend to self-publish the first two, once I get the rights back. It would be nice to find another publisher for the rest of the series, but I am uncertain if publishers are happy to pick up a series in the middle, and it seems no one wants to take on previously published work these days. Self-publishing might be the way forward, but that seems like a minefield that will be intimidating to navigate.

On the horror fiction side, things are even more uncertain. I have a very short first draft of a sequel to OUTPOST H311, which was a struggle to write – I found it difficult to write about an apocalypse when it felt like we were living through one. Sooner or later I do want to go back to this and finish it, but I’m not in the right head space for it at the moment.

Maybe it’s time to start something new. But I am short of new ideas at present. Dealing day-to-day with life in a pandemic seems to be sucking up most of my mental energy.

As England heads into what is being called ‘Freedom Day’ there is still a lot of uncertainty. I am still working from home and will be doing so for the foreseeable future, since there is no word yet on when we’re expected back in the office, and foreign holidays, which I have been sorely missing, are still off the table. It has been four years since I last visited my family in Canada, a place I was used to visiting at least once every two years, and since Canada’s borders are closed to non-nationals I have no idea when we’ll be able to get over there. And by the time they open up their borders, the UK might well be back in lockdown.

But I do intend to at least pick up the blog again, with a new post at least once a week. This, at least, gives me a modicum of control in a world that seems out of control.

Till next week, then, I wish you all the best in whatever it is you are doing. Even if that is just getting through the day.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

The UK formally went into lockdown on 23 March 2020. Which wasn’t actually a hundred years ago. It just feels like a hundred years.

In July and August things started to open up again – pubs and restaurants, shops, hair and beauty salons, sports centres and gyms. In August, when the government messaging changed from ‘work from home if you can’ to ‘go back to the office if you can’, our office in Westminster opened up again (albeit briefly), and we were taking it in shifts go in, one or two days a week. There were only ever a handful of us in at one time, and things were a bit strange, but it did feel like a shift back to normality. But then the government message changed once more, and the office closed again. We were told that we should go back to working from home again, and be prepared to do so for perhaps another six months. But we had the ‘rule of six’ at that point, which meant people could meet in groups of no more than six indoors or outdoors, and that meant we could start running round-the-table D&D games again with some extra safety precautions (individually wrapped snacks, for instance, instead of everyone dipping into the same big bowl).

But now England has a ‘3-tier’ system depending on the number of cases in an area, and from today all of London is in Tier 2, which means you can’t have anyone in your house who doesn’t live there, and you can’t meet your friends in a pub or restaurant. or anywhere indoors. Some parts of the north of England are in Tier 3, which has further restrictions, and in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of the rules are different again.

It’s all very confusing, and as well as no more D&D games this means I will no longer be able to go out for dinner with friends to celebrate my birthday next weekend, as I was planning to. The only person I am now allowed to go to a restaurant with is my husband, since we live together. So I guess it’s going to have to be just him and me celebrating.

Over the last six months of lockdown, there are a few things I have learned about myself.

  1. I don’t really like working from home. It was OK for a couple of weeks, and it would still be OK if it were one or two days a week, but five days a week with no face to face contact with anyone I find really isolating. It’s making me seriously question this lifelong ambition I always had to be a full-time writer. It won’t suit me. It’s too lonely. Which leads to…
  2. I am not an introvert. I always assumed I was, since I spent a lot of time alone when I was young, but this was mostly because I had trouble making friends. Truth be told, I like talking to people. Being alone I find exhausting. Over the years I’ve attended many conventions and gatherings alone because I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, and if it was something I really wanted to do I would just go, confident that once I got there I would find plenty of people to talk to. And I have made friends that way, so I would recommend it.
  3. I really like swimming. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise of all forms, but since the pools opened up again I have been swimming three mornings a week and it has greatly improved my mental health. Swimming is actually the only form of exercise I do enjoy, and I hadn’t realised how much until I wasn’t allowed to do it.
  4. I am really struggling to write during this crisis. Particularly horror. I am working on a sequel to OUTPOST H311, but I’m finding it really difficult to write an apocalyptic book when it feels like we’re in the middle of a real-life apocalypse. I think perhaps I am not alone in this – there seems to be a collective anxiety about the coronavirus crisis that is affecting creativity for a lot of people.
  5. I don’t like surprises. I like to plan. I did already know this about myself. I set myself up at the start of the working day with a list of things to do, and another list of things to achieve by the end of the week. I like to put conventions, and gigs, and weekends away, in the calendar. I like to know what I am doing tomorrow, and next week and next month, and even this time next year. Covid-19 has taken all that away. All the things we had planned for this year have been cancelled. We can’t plan any trips away, or even an overnight stay in the UK because everything is changing so fast and we don’t know where we’ll be this time next months, or even next week. The move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in London was announced with just over 24 hours’ notice. There is still talk of Tier 3 if Tier 2 doesn’t work, or even another ‘circuit breaker’ full lockdown for a couple of weeks when the schools break up. How can one make plans to do anything, under all of this?

In an attempt to find some balance, I am now going to try and list some positives that have come out of the last six months:

  1. We are saving a lot of money by not having to pay for train fares every day.
  2. We are both getting more sleep, since going into London for work required getting up a lot earlier.
  3. Hubby and I are actually having conversations with each other during the day, whereas when we were both in the office all day, we’d just communicate via email. We are also getting to eat lunch together every day, which is sort of nice.
  4. I have actually learned to cook. A bit. Although I am still largely hopeless, there are now a couple of recipes I can make for dinner, and they actually turn out quite well. I just have to make sure I make a point of buying the ingredients in my weekly shop, if I’m planning on making one of these recipes.
  5. I still have a job. A lot of people I know haven’t any more, and every day it seems there’s someone else in my social media sadly announcing they’ve been made redundant, so maybe I need to be grateful about the fact I am still earning a regular wage.

I am reaching a bit here, because on the whole I am waking up in a rather dark mood every morning and struggling to find reasons to be cheerful. With everything I was looking forward to this year cancelled, and not able to book anything for next year because of uncertainty, there’s nothing to look forward to.

I also hate this time of year, because I hate the dark and the cold weather and I really struggle with depression in the winter. I brought my anti-SAD lamp home from the office and I start each morning at my home working desk under its very bright light for two hours. It does seem to help for a while – until I start thinking about the state of the world again.

At the moment shops and retail service providers are still open, I am still able to go swimming, and if Hubby and I fancy a night out we can still book to go to a local restaurant, as long as we follow their Covid-19 rules. So I guess we should be making the most of these things while we can, as we may well go into full lockdown again with everything closed at some point.

But by God, I can’t wait for this year to be over. There has to be an end to all this eventually. I struggle to see that far ahead, but I guess all any of us can do is get through this terrible year as best we can, and hope that better times will eventually come.

Public Information Films

In the days before mobile phones, the Internet, and even 24-hour TV channels, even very young kids used to spend a lot of time outside, unsupervised, playing in places it wasn’t advisable to play. The adults decided the best way to stop kids from playing in dangerous places was to employ scare tactics – thus the age of the Public Information Film was born.

Anyone who was a kid in Britain in the 1970s will remember these. As far as I am aware they were a uniquely British phenomena. They were all pretty scary, but the one that traumatised me most was a film called ‘The Finishing Line‘, that was all about the dangers of playing on railway lines.

The film in its entirety doesn’t seem to be available on YouTube. The full film is 20 minutes long and starts with a young boy fantasising about what might happen if his school sports day featured fun activities like running across a railway line, throwing rocks at moving trains and so on. It was commissioned by British Rail, since apparently vandalising trains and kids playing on railway lines and being hit by trains was a big problem in the 1970s. The video below is the first five minutes or so. Beyond the retro images of 1970s fashions, you might notice the nurses lining up a bunch of stretchers. In the first ‘game’ – involving running across the tracks into the path of a moving train – there is one casualty, which the nurses bundle into one of stretchers. The film goes on with other ‘games’, each one producing more casualties, and at the end of the film, pretty much all the kids are dead.

It was released in 1977 – at which point I was seven years old – and it was broadcast several times on TV, and taken into schools.

I remember a retired train driver coming to our junior school (in those days junior school was for kids age 7-11, and was between primary and secondary school), and showing us slides of damage to trains, and the injuries he suffered to his face when someone threw a rock at his train and the glass from the shattered window got into his eyes. He also told us about the kids he ran when he was driving his train, and how many pieces they got cut into. He told us he wasn’t going to show us those slides – that was for the older children.

As I recollect I didn’t see ‘The Finishing Line’ at school on that day. My memory is that I watched it on TV, where it was shown to an audience of kids and there was a televised discussion afterwards. Right after the film one young boy felt so sick he had to be taken out of the room.

The scene that really traumatised me – and this is the one I can’t find anywhere on the Internet – was the final ‘game’, where all the school kids have a race through a train tunnel, and they get hit by a train. All the dead and bloodied kids are lined up on the tracks in the final scene. There’s a long range shot of that on the film poster on the IMDb entry.

There’s no doubt that the ‘scare them silly’ tactic employed in the 1970s to deter kids from hanging around places where they might get hurt was effective. After nearly 30 years of commuting by train to work, I still worry about standing too close to the edge of the platform when waiting for my train. But every once in a while I also lie awake at night thinking about this film and remembering the trauma of watching it. Given that it’s been over 40 years since I saw it, the tactic was clearly a bit heavy-handed. Apparently I’m not the only one to think so – the film was so controversial, and caused so many kids distress, it was banned in 1979 and replaced by a less gruesome film called ‘Robbie’.

Hopefully we have slightly more subtle ways of discouraging kids from playing on the railway lines these days, and subsequent generations don’t carry around the psychological trauma we Generation X-ers do from growing up with Public Information Films.

Lockdown

Well, what a strange world we currently find ourselves in. In the UK we are now in the seventh week of lockdown. I think. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what day or even what month it is.

The beginning of March started ordinarily enough. Covid-19 (which I refer to as the C-virus) was in the news every day, but no one seemed particularly worried about it. On 7 March we flew off to Argentina for what was going to be an amazing two-week holiday. It was amazing, but we had to cut it short. For about a week or so everyone in Argentina was incredibly relaxed about the C-virus, and they are a very tactile people, with men and women alike greeting each other with hugs and cheek kisses. But then, on Sunday 15 March, we got an email from the airline to say our flight the following Thursday was cancelled. We somehow managed to get seats on the last flight to London from Buenos Aires the following day. There’s a lot more to this story and I will save it for another blog post. The day we left Buenos Aires, I noticed that the locals were no longer greeting each other with cheek kisses – they were using elbow bumps instead.

The short version is, we got back into London the morning of Tuesday 17 March. Since that day, our house has not been empty. The UK wasn’t in lockdown at that point, and we had not been told to self-isolate having been out of the country, but we tried to stay home as much as we could. We did have to go out foraging for supplies. Panic buying was in full swing. There was no toilet paper to be had anywhere, no fresh fruit or veg, and most places had sold out of bread. Over the course of three days, with the two of us taking it in turns to visit as many grocery stores as we could get to, we managed to find enough food to keep us going for a week or so.

I was in contact with my colleagues, who had heard about Argentina going into lockdown and worried we got stuck there. I reassured them I was safely back in the UK. Initially I was going to go into the office to pick up my laptop so I could start working from home the following week. Things were changing so quickly it was soon decided to courier my laptop to me so I wouldn’t have to go in.

Hubby’s office had already decided to close down their London office, and he keeps a laptop at home anyway, for home working. So the week of 23 March saw us both setting up work spaces at home. He was working from the dining room table. I moved my personal laptop out of my writing den and set up my work laptop there, on the strength that I had a desk and proper chair in there, and I know from experience that if I spend hours working on a laptop on a stool or dining chair, I get backache. And so, ever since then, this has been the arrangement. It has taken some getting used to. This is a new way of life.

There are some positives. I am not on the train every day to work so I don’t have to get up so early, and I am saving a lot of money by not having to buy rail passes every month. Hubby and I have actual conversations during the day when we have lunch and tea breaks together. In pre-lockdown life we would largely communicate by email during the day. We are both still working, and largely able to carry on our jobs from home, although adjustments have been necessary. A lot of people are out of work. There are two of us, and we have a four-bedroom house so there is plenty of space for us both to be able to work without disturbing each other. We are spending less money, because there’s nowhere to go to spend it.

But on the whole, it’s been difficult to adjust. I miss not being able to go out and meet friends in a restaurant or a bar for a meal or a nice glass of wine. All the things I was looking forward to this year – weekends away; gigs; open mic nights; conventions – have been cancelled. Although we were lucky enough to get our holiday to Argentina, or most of it – a lot of people have lost their holiday completely and are still struggling to get the money back.

I am particularly missing my swimming. I had a good routine going, and I had finally found an exercise routine I could stick to. I am probably eating too many cakes and drinking too much wine because these are the only pleasures I seem to have left in lockdown.

It’s been over two months now since I was last in the office and I am finally starting to get used to this new routine. I am going out for a walk on a daily basis. We go grocery shopping once a week, and put up with the socially distanced line that is necessary in order to get into the supermarket. Generally it’s me that goes to the grocery store while Hubby cleans and vacuums the house. I am OK with this arrangement. I hate grocery shopping, but I hate cleaning the bathroom more. We are buying a lot more food. In our pre C-virus life we generally both ate breakfast at lunch at work, so the only meal we’d have at home was dinner.

But as well as struggling to maintain physical health, mental health is a struggle as well. I found this article from the Harvard Business Review online in the first week, and it helped me realise that the feelings I was struggling with were a form of grief. Mourning for the life I used to have, that is probably gone for ever. I’ve also been having a lot of really weird dreams. Apparently this is common amongst people trying to cope with lockdown as well. It’s our brains trying to deal with the general anxiety of the situation. Some days I end up feeling really down and crying for no particular reason. Some days I am OK. This week, I feel I should add, I have been largely OK.

But the writing has been non-existent. In the first week of lockdown I got up at 6:30am and attempted an hour and a half writing session. I managed less than 700 words in that time, and each one was a painful struggle to get down on the page. I’ve been avoiding writing ever since. Six weeks now, and I haven’t written a word. And that really bothers me.

The government in the UK is now talking about ending the lockdown. We need to be cautious, no matter how desperate we all are to regain some semblance of normal life. It’s going to be a long time until places like bars and concert venues will be able to open again, and there is no doubt that even when we achieve some degree of normality, life will not be as it was. I will certainly be continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, as our Chief Executive has already informed us all that she expects it to be ‘several weeks, if not months’ before the office can open again. It’s the getting to the office that is problem – most people in the London office travel by train or tube, and you can’t social distance when you are in a carriage so crowded your nose is in someone’s armpit. And I really can’t see a solution to that any time soon.

So, like everyone else, I am doing what I can to get through lockdown. We are spending our evenings watching a lot of films and TV shows. We are looking for fantasy and escapism; we have discovered that right now we can’t deal with anything that features a dystopian world (like The Walking Dead, for instance). Last week we went through the entire Lord of the Rings extended DVD trilogy (that’s nine hours of viewing). Video chats with friends on Zoom and other forms of video calls are really helping. I can’t meet my friends for a glass of wine, but we can talk to each other while we drink wine at home. We are even running our D&D games using video calls – not ideal, and you have to shout a lot at the screen to make sure everyone hears, but it’s better than not playing at all. And everyone needs the escapism of being in a fantasy world for a while.

I’ve also been wasting a lot of time on social media, enjoying the rather ingenious lockdown videos created by people with far too much time on their hands. I leave you with this rather ingenious stop motion Lego creation, to the tune of Abba’s ‘The Day Before You Came’.

This, too, will pass, and one day we will all be able to see each other again. But until then, stay safe, friends.

My Life in Music: 1981

At the beginning of 1981, my family moved to a different part of Kitchener, which meant I changed schools. Partway through the school year, I found myself in Mr Hennig’s grade 6 class at Smithson Public School.

Mr Hennig has the dubious honour of being the worst teacher I ever had. When we left Canada, I had been in the very early stages of learning cursive handwriting. Canadian kids, at least at that time, learned this in grade 2. So the first assignment I handed in to Mr Hennig, he asked me why it wasn’t in cursive script, why was I still printing? I explained that I hadn’t learned that at school in England. He said, “you ought to know this by now. I don’t have time to teach you. The letters are on the classroom wall. Figure it out for yourself.”

So at age 11 I had to teach myself how to write cursive script. It’s one reason why my handwriting is so appalling even I can’t read it. Being left-handed doesn’t help either.

Me in 1981

Then we were given an assignment to write a story – always my favourite thing to do in school. I scribbled away with my story, and at the end of the lesson handed in ten pages. “What’s this?” Mr Hennig asked. So I explained it was my story. He said, “this is way too long. I don’t have time to read this. You need to write shorter stories.”

I don’t know what Mr Hennig was doing with his time, but evidently he wasn’t spending it teaching. I was glad to leave his class at the end of the school year, and move to Stanley Park Junior High to start grade 7.

The picture included here is the standard school photo for grade 6.

The other thing that happened in 1981 is that my youngest sister was born. So we were now three sisters – oldest, middle, youngest. The 11-year gap between me and my youngest sister means I have very clear memories of being woken up in the middle of the night by the baby crying, and it was this that first made me think that babies were hard work and I didn’t really fancy any of my own. My opinion did not change over the years. At least now, at age 50, I no longer get people telling me I’ll change my mind. I never did.

Our little record player looked rather like this

The two-year gap between me and Middle Sister meant that, at that point at least, we didn’t mind spending time together. That changed as we moved into teenage years. But back in the very early 80s we were both getting interested enough in music to buy singles of our favourite songs. And in those days, we had similar enough tastes in music to pool our allowances and buy records jointly (that, again, would change in later years).

One Christmas – and I think it was Christmas 1981, but it could have been the following year – we were given as a joint Christmas present a portable record player, the kind that folded up into a carrying case. The plastic turntable was just big enough for a ’45 (for those of you old enough to remember those). In addition, this little record player had coloured lights on the front that used to flash in time to the music. I went looking online for a picture, and I think the one I have included here was pretty close. My sister and I used to turn out the lights and dance to our records, pretending we were in a disco. One of the singles that we bought together, that we particularly enjoyed dancing to, was “Mickey” by Toni Basil.

I present it here, with the original video, as the song for 1981.

Best Books of 2019

At the beginning of each new year, I like to look back at the books I read in the previous one and highlight the ones I considered the best.

In 2019 I set a Goodreads challenge to read 70 books. I actually managed 72. Eight of those I gave a five-star rating to, and they are as follows:

The Woman in Black – Susan Hill
The Island of Doctor Moreau – HG Wells
The Trespasser – Tana French
The Princess Diarist – Carrie Fisher
The Fifth Elephant – Terry Pratchett
Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett
The Secretary – Renee Knight
The Memory – Lucy Dawson

This year’s list is considerably more eclectic than usual, as it features two horror novels, two psychological thrillers, two comic fantasy, one crime novel and one non-fiction book. Further details about each book can be found below.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK
My horror book club had this one as a discussion book. One of those books I thought I’d already read, because the story was familiar, when I sat down to read it I discovered I hadn’t. It’s a classic creepy ghost story, of the sort of calibre that is rare.

THE ISLAND OF DOCTOR MOREAU
Another one I read because the book club had it on its list. My only knowledge of this beforehand had been a Hallowe’en episode of ‘The Simpsons’ that parodied it. Part science fiction, part horror, a young man ends up shipwrecked on an island where he discovers the mysterious Dr Moreau is doing genetic experiments on animals to make them more human. Something of an undiscovered classic, for me, but I am glad I read it.

THE TRESPASSER
Book 6 in Tana French’s ‘The Murder Squad’ series had me utterly gripped. I haven’t been following this series chronologically, but I really should because every time I read one of them I really enjoy it.

THE PRINCESS DIARIST
I felt genuine grief when Carrie Fisher died. Although I never knew her, as Princess Leia she’d been a big part of my life. This biographical book deals with the affair she had with Harrison Ford during the filming of the first ‘Star Wars’ film. She was 19, and rather naive and inexperienced – he was 34, married, and really should have known better.

The Carrie Fisher we have come to know and love over the years is a survivor – witty, blunt, and down to earth, but reading this book you are reminded of how she really has been to hell and back, and come out the other side. Her writing is engaging and witty, but reading this also made me sad because it reminded me how much we lost when Carrie Fisher left us.

THE FIFTH ELEPHANT
I have been re-reading all the Discworld books in chronological order and this one, as with the previous one, I gave a five-star rating to. This is one featuring Sam Vimes, and seems to be a social comment on Brexit. Which seems oddly prophetic, as it was written years before Brexit even became a thing.

CARPE JUGULUM
This Discworld book mostly features the Witches, who I love. But it’s also the first to feature vampires. I really enjoyed it.

THE SECRETARY
I was sent this book to review for Shots e-zine, and there is a link to my review above. Maybe it’s because I work as a secretary in the day job, but I found this psychological thriller about a secretary whose misplaced loyalty to her boss causes her to lose her family and her integrity unputdownable.

THE MEMORY
This is a psychological thriller involving two families. Events that happened years ago have far-reaching effects that encroach into present day, and as is the norm with psychological thrillers, nothing is as it seems.

For this year, I’ve decided to play it safe and aim to read 70 books again. Most of my reading is done on my commute to and from work, but for 2020 I am trying to make a point of going to bed early to read a few pages before sleep, as well.

If you’ve set yourself a reading target, do get in touch. And if anyone wants to connect with me on Goodreads, you can find me here.

Happy reading, fellow book-lovers! Whatever you choose to read this year, I hope you discover new worlds and new heroes.

Year in Review: 2019

Another year has gone by, and it’s time to look back at the goals I set at the end of 2018 and see how well I did.

With regard to the exercise and healthy eating, that has gone reasonably well. I am still doing my personal training session, 25 minutes once a week. I still don’t enjoy it, but I do it, and I am now seeing the benefits. I have more strength in my upper body, my arthritic knee doesn’t hurt as much, and I have more flexibility in my body generally. I am also still doing the swimming, and I can now swim 40 lengths (which is 1km) in 30 minutes. I’ve never been a big fan of exercise, but I am starting 2020 fitter than I’ve ever been before.

I’ve been following Weight Watchers since June last year. Progress is slow. The system has changed again, and although it is slightly easier to follow, it’s a lot harder to lose weight now I’m older than it used to be. The last time I was on Weight Watchers, I was back into the size 12 clothes after six months. I am not anywhere near getting into the size 12s now, although the size 14s fit a bit better than they did when I started.

Of course I haven’t weighed myself for about three weeks now, with all of the Christmas chocolate and such around. On Monday I have to go back to the Weight Watchers meeting and face up to just how many pounds I’ve gained over the Christmas period.

I also pledged to keep in touch with friends. I haven’t done as well on this as I was hoping. There are still people I wanted to see last year that I didn’t. But there were some that I did, and most I have at least made contact with, so this is a work in progress.

I have not done so well on the writing either. I made a start on the sequel to OUTPOST H311, but I didn’t plot it first. I got about 15,000 words in, realised what I had wasn’t working and gave up. That will teach me not to plot. But I haven’t managed to get a handle on the plotting either, so that book has gone nowhere.

The fourth Shara Summers novel sits on my laptop, about 35,000 words into the first draft. The third Shara Summers novel does not currently have a publisher, so I stopped writing that series to work on OUTPOST H311, which does have a publisher. But since I’m struggling with the sequel, maybe I should just go back to the Shara series. Just to be writing something.

So, here are my goals for 2020:

1. Get back to a regular writing routine, aiming for 3000 words a week. What I write isn’t important, as long as I’m writing something.

2. Keep up the exercise routine. Aim to have improved my personal best of swimming 1km in 30 minutes by the end of the year. It would also be nice to fit into those size 12 clothes by the end of the year as well, but those menopausal hormones do keep making it very difficult to lose weight.

3. Aim to declutter. I have a house full of stuff, everywhere, and I never throw anything away. This year I want to go through things, bit by bit, to tidy up my personal space. And if I can learn to organise my brain as well (which is also full of stuff, flitting from one thing to another at record speed), all the better.

It seems appropriate to finish with an image from the table-top game Cyberpunk, which we played a lot of in the early 1990s and which was set in 2020. Let’s hope it doesn’t turn out to be too prophetic.

Happy New Year, everyone. Hope you achieve your goals for the year.

End of a Decade

There’s a thing going around social media at the moment inviting people to summarise what they’ve achieved in the last 10 years, as we approach the end of the 2010s and get ready to move into the 2020s.

When I thought about this I decided it warranted a blog post, as it’s actually too big a topic for a

Misty & Misha – 1996-2012/13

tweet.

So, here we go. Here are the things that have happened in my life since 2010.

 
  1. We said goodbye to our two cats Misty and Misha, and took on two rescue kitties Alia and Cassie. Three of those four were named after characters in various D&D campaigns.
  2. I became a published novelist. This is actually a huge deal, as it achieves a goal I set my sights on in childhood. In the last 10 years I have had five novels (three horror, two crime) and one short story collection published. I feel very confident that as far as achievements go, this decade of my life will always come out on top. And because I can’t let this moment go without a blatant plug, here are the Amazon links to my books (UK and US).
  3. I started learning to play the bass guitar.
  4. We met a lot of role players. Hubby and I met playing D&D and it’s always been a big part of our life, but for quite a long time we were gaming with the same crowd. We now have three different groups on the go. Hubby runs the game for all of the groups, and I am a player in them all. Two of the groups have more women than men. Two of the groups consist of players around our age, and one of them consists entirely of people under the age of 35. We try and play once a month with each group, so we do a lot of gaming these days, but each game has a different atmosphere and we always have a lot of fun. And it’s good to have met so many new friends through gaming.
  5. We moved house once, from a three-bedroom 1970s terraced house to a 100-year-old four-bedroom semi detached house. I have to admit I am totally in love with this house. We have spent a lot of money on improvements since moving in, seven years ago. Every time I walk through the door it makes me happy, and it feels like home.
  6. Another one of my life ambitions since childhood has been to travel. We have taken some amazing holidays in the last ten years. Places we have travelled to include: Fiji; Berlin; Borneo; Vietnam; Bali; Mauritius; Guam; New York; Thailand; Cambodia.
  7. On a sadder note, two close family members have passed away: my father-in-law, and my stepfather. We have also had to grieve a couple of friends.
  8. I started the decade a size 12, after following a weight loss plan. I finish it a size 14, once more following a weight loss plan. The whole weight loss thing has been a lifelong struggle, to be honest. I am far too fond of sugary treats, and harbour a dislike of healthy food and exercise. I have spent most of my adult life trying to lose weight, only to have it all come back again. However, thanks to a personal trainer (who I have now been seeing for a year) and a regular swimming routine, I feel I am finishing this decade fitter than I’ve ever been, despite the weight loss struggle, and despite the fact that when one gets older, it becomes much harder to lose weight.
Alia and Cassie at 12 weeks old – June 2013
Guam, March 2019

Since I was born at the end of a decade, as each one ends I celebrate a Big Birthday. Hence, this year has marked the end of my being a 40-something, and I move into the 2020s as a 50-something. Sometimes when I think about that it seems painfully old. But one can’t stop the passage of time, and writing this blog post has made me look at the achievements of the past decade, and realise there was a lot to celebrate.

None of us know what the future holds, but I am hopeful that at the end of the next decade I will still be here to highlight more things to celebrate.

Halong Bay, Vietnam – 2011
Bali – 2014

 

Turning Fifty

When I turned 40, I embraced it. I felt good. I was a lot more confident and ‘together’ than I’d ever been before, I had a novel coming out, and I felt ready to face the world.

2009 Sara

Me in 2009

That was 10 years ago. In a few days I hit 50, and I don’t feel quite so enamoured about that number.

The main difference between 40 and 50 is the reality of having to face my own mortality. I always looked to my grandparents as the genetic marker of how long I had, biologically, to live on this earth. They all lived well into their 80s, but none of them made it 90. In addition, I am not aware of anyone in my family who lived long enough to get that birthday card from the Queen. So logic would dictate that I now have more years behind me than I have in front of me, and that’s a somewhat sobering thought. There is also the unescapable fact that age does tend to catch up with you. Every time I look in the mirror I see more grey hairs and more lines on my face. I have arthritis in my knees, and when it’s cold and damp they ache. I am firmly in the midst of the perimenopause, a life stage that royally sucks and I really wish there was more discussion around this, instead of it being hidden away as a taboo subject.

Being 50 seems to mark a significant life change. I am most definitely middle-aged. I move into the age range for Saga holidays and the ‘over 50s’ funeral plans, the ones with the appallingly patronising adverts on TV with Michael Parkinson. But I am unable to stop time from marching on and this birthday will arrive whether I like it or not.

There are some significant changes I’ve made over the last couple of years to try and deal with impending old age. One of them is to start an exercise routine that involves a personal trainer. Exercise and me are not friends, as I’ve often said. But one of the undisputable facts of getting older is that you get to a stage in life when your body starts punishing you for not looking after it properly. Exercise – like vegetables – is necessary for good health, and I endeavour to tolerate both. But apart from swimming, which I do try to do on a regular basis, I hate all forms of exercise and find any excuse not to do any. So now I have a weekly 25-minute one-to-one session with a personal trainer, and I have to go because she’s expecting me. I still don’t enjoy it, but it’s only 25 minutes. And I have to say after nearly a year in, I am seeing some benefits. My knees don’t hurt quite so much. I am able to take stairs a lot easier. I have a bit more flexibiity – something as simple as doing up a dress with a back zip I used to struggle with, and now I find I can reach behind my own back in a way I couldn’t before.

2019 Sara

Me in 2019

I am also once more on the Weight Watchers plan, in an attempt to lose a few of those excess pounds. My sweet tooth is most definitely my downfall, and sometimes I feel like I’ve been playing ‘hide and seek’ with the same twenty pounds all of my adult life. I successfully lose those pounds. Then somehow I slip back into the old habits and they find me again. So I get on the wagon once more and lose them. Well, you get the idea. Since re-joining WW in the summer, I am down about ten pounds. So roughly halfway there. I have to say, it’s taking a lot longer than it used to to lose the weight this time, and not just because the Weight Watchers plan has changed – that’s another consequence of my changing middle-aged body.

But, gradually, I am getting there. For the last twenty years I’ve had a ‘thin wardrobe’ (UK size 12) and a ‘fat wardrobe’ (size 14). It’s time to go back on the diet when I struggle to get into size 14 clothes. I am not yet at a point when I can fit into my size 12 dresses, but the size 14s all fit a lot better.

However, despite feeling rather old some days, I am actually hitting my fifties healthier than I’ve probably every been, and I will be celebrating with a big party. Music, dancing and food. And alcohol. Lots of it. If I must enter this decade, I will do so with fanfare.

I bought the party dress back in June, as I found it on sale and decided it was The One. It actually didn’t fit at that point. I tried on the size 16, which was slightly too big, and the size 14 was too small. I bought the size 14 and pledged to myself I would get into it by October. I tried it on the other day and it’s now a perfect fit. This might be a small win, but it’s something else to celebrate.

50 is round the corner. I see it there. I am facing it down and saying, come and get me, then. I am ready for you.