Light at the End of the Tunnel

Christmas is going to be different in 2020 but as a 2nd wave of coronavirus recedes and we enter a new tier system, one of the first things you notice is how much earlier people have been putting up their decorations. It’s been a horrible year for so many and for those who believe the pandemic was a huge Government conspiracy, take time to consider the 60,000 unnecessary deaths that occurred in the UK alone and what it feels like for millions of mourners across the globe who lost loved ones. So whatever we can do to inject a little cheer and love into this world, we should embrace it.

With a vaccine around the corner, finally there is hope. This must come as a great comfort to those who are shielding, such as the elderly but with Christmas around the corner we need to be there for each other like never before.

Writing Update

For the past two months I have been editing my book like crazy and love how it’s all coming together. I struggled with the first half for over a year but during the first lockdown, it finally began to take shape. I am days from finishing it now, and about to write the epilogue, before handing it over to an editor.

But in my last post, I also pledged to include a tribute to Graham Lovell, a local resident whose stories gave me much inspiration. I am pleased to say last weekend I wrote that tribute, a process that evoked heartache, more so when I saw Dan’s tribute on YouTube, snapshots of a friendship which lasted 23 years. It is a beautiful film and very moving, it captures the person Graham was, so I hope he won’t mind me sharing it.

Invisible Illness

With the impact the pandemic has had on mental health, it seems ever more important to recognise it. It can strike at any time, sometimes with devastating consequences. Anxiety, depression, insomnia, paranoia and panic attacks are things I have known in my own life and I feel blessed to have conquered them, through mindful practices such as positive thinking, keeping busy, creative hobbies (especially writing) and have the support of my loving husband and family.

There are people in our world who carry terrible sadness inside, but it is not always obvious until it is too late; a reason to keep in touch with each other, especially in these strange times. We might not be able to meet face to face, but we can still call each other, network on social media, Face time or zoom. Yes, it feels a bit weird and there was a time when I couldn’t imagine life would ever get back to normal, but at least there is hope. I would like think we will come out of this a more compassionate species and that somewhere, at the end of a very dark tunnel, a glimmer of light shines at the end.

Stories that tackle mental health issues

To end the year, I’d like to include some favourite books and as an avid reader have ploughed through some excellent novels but I especially want to concentrate on those that tackle mental health issues.

The Faerie Tree by Jane Cable
Deals with family bereavement, self-blame, depression and guilt.

Beast by Matt Wesolvski
Deals with the exploitation of vulnerable people with complex metal health issues

Spare Room by Dreda Say Mitchell
Tenant Lisa finds a hidden suicide note. The story is who wrote it and why?

I Found You by Lisa Jewell
A man is discovered sat on a remote beach in a fugue state. Deals with trauma.

The Secret by KL Slater
A story of how the burden of adult conflict and secrets can affect a child.

Sunset on Bognor Beach 2020


Reflections of Christmas 2017

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat,
please put a penny in the old man’s hat.

Winter Sunset taken outside our house

There is something a little extra poignant about that song, which I can’t define, Christmas being the one time of year that stirs mixed emotions.

On the one hand, it’s a wonderful time of year to catch up with friends and relatives, send each other cards, exchange gifts and enjoy a traditional celebratory end of the year feast. On the other, it strikes me as being very commercial, with retail giants rubbing their hands with glee at the thought of how they can maximise their profits.

I wrote this blog to ponder over a bit of both…

Seasonal Weather

The weather really leant itself to the season; crisp cold walks, a sparkle of frost on the ground and beautiful winter sunsets. We were lucky this year to have an skating rink in Bognor, an absolute treat for families where even the more senior folk took to the ice.

Ice skating rink in Bognor

December, I also found myself coming to the end of a long edit of second novel, Visions. Filled with reminiscences of the 80’s, such memories provided inspiration for a Christmas scene, in which younger character, Elijah, found a visit to London quite enthralling:

“They were mesmerised by the window displays in the West End, the streets hugged by tall Regency buildings, not to mention the pretty street lights.”

It got me thinking how nice it would be to go back, after a 30 year absence. So on December 16th, a week before Christmas, my husband and I took a train and enjoyed an entire day mooching around London with friends. Despite the crowds, we immersed ourselves in a spectacle of sights, sounds and smells from live acts in Covent Garden to hot chestnuts in Oxford Street, also famous for its magical Christmas Lights.

Our Itinerary: (for those thinking of a tour)

Google Map of central London showing the highlights of our walk.

1. Covent Garden: bursting with character, live entertainment, shops, markets and eateries, this is a great place to start, have a coffee and soak up the atmosphere.

Some of the best bits in Covent Garden, this Christmas

2. Trafalgar Square: street artists, living statues and buskers fill this iconic place, flanked by the National Galleries and dotted with an array of monuments.

Trafalgar Square, London Just around the corner from Trafalgar Square, walking up towards Soho

3. Moving on to Soho: before we got there, we discovered an amazing Danish bakery for lunch. Ole and Steen in Bedford Avenue offers a delicious choice of breads, cakes and pastries, including a mouth watering focaccia with gruyere.

Ole and Steen Bakery in Bedford Ave, London

From there, feast your eyes on the bright city lights of Soho and wander into Chinatown.

China Town, London

4. China Town filters its way gently into Leicester Square, filled with theatres and famous for its West End shows such as Les Miserables.

China town leading into Leicester Square

5. From Leicester Square wander into Piccadilly but are the streets lined with gold? Just past the theatres of the West End, the shops are expensive, possibly the most exclusive to be found, including the Ritz and Fortnum and Mason, finest of all food halls.

The food hall at Fortnum and Mason

Various shop window displays and Christmas decorations in London

6. and 7. Short cut through the back streets: we stumbled across a craft fair, a peaceful church and a park, not to mention beautifully decorated shop windows and Christmas trees; a welcome diversion from the crowds.

One of the many pretty restaurants in London's west end. One of the many pretty back streets in London's west end. London christmas trees

8. Oxford Street: starting from Marble arch and moving east, the lights got better and better; a kaleidoscope for the eyes, before the tube station at the junction of Regent Street marked the end of the day and the start of our homeward journey (9).

Selfridges in Oxford Street Stunning Christmas lights in London, Oxford Street Regents Street in London and the spectacular Christmas Lights

Treasure the High Street!

Thinking back to that day in London, I cannot emphasise how much I enjoyed the tradition of shopping in the High Street. The local towns of Bognor and Chichester too, provided endless inspiration for gifts and put some ‘people power’ back into Christmas. I blatantly boycotted Amazon this year. I’ve seen hundreds of traditional retailers sinking under the swelling mass of online giants and if we’re not careful, this quintessential ingredient of British culture could be lost forever.

Don’t let it happen! High Street shopping is a far more personal, interactive experience, it supports local businesses and keeps our town centres alive.

Gotta love shopping in the High Street!

A Final Word

Before I round off my post, I’ll finish by saying this was a very special Christmas for me, but at the same time I want to spare a thought for those less fortunate. On Christmas Day, I read a most heart-warming story in which 200 homeless people in London tucked into a free Christmas dinner served by volunteers: (source: i newspaper 25.12.17). The article describes how “Euston Station opened its doors for the festive treat, thanks to a partnership between charities and Network Rail.”

My message for 2018 is, the world can be a better place if we all do our bit. Enjoy yourselves and have a happy new year; be thankful for everything you’ve got but most important of all, be kind to others.

The Season of Goodwill – 25th December 2012

Since I began writing my series, ‘Same Face Different Place’, I have enjoyed depicting special events such as Christmas. As there is much emphasis on family life and people in my stories, it is important to highlight occasions which bring people together, even in times of heartache and hardship. To bring a little festive cheer into the big wide world of literature, I would therefore like to share a couple of Christmassy extracts from the first and second books.

Book 1 – Beginnings (currently available on Amazon) 1973

As Christmas was the one season which brought London to life, Rosemary agreed to drive both girls into the heart of the Capital, where they had arranged to meet the boys over in the West End. From the busy streets, emerged a lovely atmosphere – from the warming fragrance of hot chestnuts and toffee apples sold by street vendors – to the shop windows decorated with fake snow and pretty lights. Somewhere in the distance, echoed the haunting sound of a Salvation Army brass band playing Christmas carols. And as the evocative melody of ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ rang into the air, Eleanor felt the tears pricking her eyes – but blinked them back, refusing to allow her melancholy to surface in the midst of such a comforting scene.

So they mingled amongst the crowds which thronged the pavements, pausing every so often to peer into shop windows. Eleanor, wearing a fluffy white hat borrowed from Alison could not prevent the occasional sideways glance, as her eyes scoured the streets for enemies – it had become second nature – even though they were far from the menacing streets of East London. The chance she might bump into any of Theakston’s thugs, seemed incredibly slim – but she hadn’t overruled the possibility that she might see someone like Whaley. A man like him could turn up anywhere, as he had done in Holborn and with his immaculate outer veneer and well-cut suit, would blend into any crowd unnoticed. In truth, she felt uneasy just wandering from shop to shop – so as an extra precaution, chose to buy all her presents from one department store.

With Alison accompanying her to help her choose, she picked out an ornamental glass decanter, filled with lavender scented bubble bath for Rosemary and a box of herbal soaps. Upstairs in the menswear department, she found a striped black and grey shirt for Luke, knowing he loved clothes, especially stylish ones. Lastly, she took a chance – she shooed Alison away for a few minutes, in order that she could sneak back to the gifts section to buy her a lovely vintage hairbrush and comb set she had spotted earlier, knowing it would look perfect on her dressing table.

By the time they left the store, it was completely dark – but the busy pavements were illuminated by the gleam of lanterns emanating from shop windows. In the fraction of time they had left, before meeting the others, Eleanor dashed into a record shop to buy Joshua a Rolling Stones album which he had been wanting for ages called ‘Exile on Main St.’ After which time, they proceeded to fight their way through the crowds, towards the corner of Oxford Street where sure enough the boys awaited them, wrapped in scarves and woolly hats, breathing great clouds into the crisp night air. Eleanor felt elated – it had been a hugely enjoyable venture and she now cherished the thought of returning home to start present wrapping.

Book 2 – Visions (in progress and due out soon) 1986

Eleanor was completely oblivious to the undercurrent of dark whisperings. In fact, she had barely stopped thinking about the sensational Christmas she had shared with Charlie’s family – made even more special, by the comforting embrace of their new home, where every corner had twinkled with fairy lights and the flicker of candles. Their visit to London had been just as enthralling. Both Margaret and Elijah had been mesmerised by the window displays in the West End – the streets hugged by tall Regency buildings and planted with trees, glittering with a harlequin of lights… (continued).