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

HAVE A VERY HAPPY CHRISTMAS.
SEE YOU IN 2021 WHERE HOPEFULLY I WILL BE PUBLISHING NEWS OF MY FIRST PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER.

Second #Lockdown in the UK

London during Lockdown source CNBC

Oh well, here we go again. We’ve turned the full circle and with COVID-19 gaining the upper hand, we’ve been forced into lockdown for a second time.

My gut feeling is the government didn’t want to do this but in a worst case scenario, do we really want to see our NHS stretched to breaking point with a deluge of COVID patients before Christmas?

The way things are going, numbers have soared this autumn yet the 3-tiered system is not working. Scientists have warned the virus will spread, working its way gradually down south, so why make towns in the north suffer alone? We are all in the same boat, so it makes sense – and if the whole of the UK can buckle down for one month, let’s pray we can get the infection rate down again.

It is sad but unavoidable so what can we do?

For me personally I have to look at this as an opportunity. Our work has dried up but there is still plenty to do around the house and garden. For example, I never did get around to painting the kitchen but it really needs doing and it would be great to get another DIY project ticked off the list. I also want to look at gardening websites and YouTube videos, to adopt some new practises for my own garden. Growing Dahlias for example. Inspired by a trip to West Dean Gardens and their fabulous display of dahlias, it would be a dream to establish such healthy plants but all this requires a little work and planning.

Dahlias at West Dean Gardens

Christmas will be different this year but I like a challenge. I am already considering what home made gifts I can come up with and getting creative in the home can be very therapeutic.

Yes, it will be harder for others but my advice is it’s essential to keep yourself busy during lockdown. Long periods spent dwelling, wishing you could do things that you can’t are not good for your health. You are allowed to exercise so get out and about even if it’s just for a walk. I’ve seen many people take photos, write blogs and channel anxiety into something good. So here are some photos I took at Leonardslee Gardens yesterday afternoon, a last minute treat before the countdown started and I shall cherish the memories.

But this brings me onto the more negative side of lockdown.

Mental Health

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown has triggered a sense of fear and anxiety around the globe especially among young people. Much of this is down to loneliness during lockdown and in particular, a lack of physical contact with friends and family, boredom and the frustration associated with not being able to engage in activities that have been a part of their lives.

I try to put on a brave face and stay positive but some mornings I wake up with this paralysing fear – not only of the virus but the thought of losing loved ones. It has been touch and go with some family members; one elderly relative admitted to hospital with heart problems and another with Crohn’s disease (an auto-immune condition which has a tendency to flare-up in times of stress). Both are okay, but vulnerable and have to shield, since the effects of contracting COVID could be devastating. 

The true cost of COVID-19 on mental health however, has not yet been realised and something happened last week that hit me very hard.

I heard on the grapevine a friend of a friend had died. I met Graham last year and only as a result of some research I was engaged in for my current novel. I have my friend, Dan Jones, to thank for introducing us, an author who I met via Chindi (local network of independent authors in Sussex). Dan worked in a number of children’s homes in the 90s. Yet he was happy to share his experiences with me.

As the book is centred around a group of fictitious children’s homes, I was intrigued by what he could tell me, until ultimately his best friend came into the discussion. Graham was in the care system through the late 1990’s and Dan met him when he was homeless. Regardless of his problems, he turned his life around and after completing a degree in social work, ended working in care himself, looking after troubled youngsters in homes. He also won an award for being someone in care who had achieved something.

As Dan said (and I quote) “He would have stories to tell you, spent time homeless, missed education, mixed with all sorts of people, yet turned things around. So he knows what the scene was like here in Bognor during the 1990’s for teenagers in a difficult home environment and in the care system.”

I feel blessed he agreed to meet me and within the space of an hour, gave some fascinating insights into the feelings of kids being brought up in care or fostered (thank God I kept the recordings). His answers provided the last pieces of the puzzle and not only that. He shared some amazing stories and in manner that was humorous and colourful. I would even go as far as to say he was the inspiration behind Joe, one of the main characters, a great guy who turned his life around and left a lasting impression.

But I wish I had got in touch. If only I had told him how much his little anecdotes helped me and out of respect, I am definitely going to include a tribute.

News of his death weighs down heavily but brings it home to me how temporary and fragile life is, especially in the era we are living in now.

Do you know anyone who might be affected? Make contact to check they’re okay and stay in touch. It might make all the difference.

To end on a positive note, I am still in the process of editing my novel and 50% through so it is all coming together very well indeed. I would also like to say a few more words about Dan, who’s heartache is unimaginable.

So for those who are feeling anxious, suffering from stress and have trouble sleeping, Dan creates therapeutic relaxing sleep stories for adults and you can check these out by subscribing to his YouTube channel

I have a few favourites of my own, one being Lake Of Inner Discovery 😴 SLEEP STORY FOR GROWNUPS 💤

Stay safe and stay sane in the second UK lockdown.

HM Government poster to protect the NHS during the Coronavirus pandemic

Coming Out of #UKLockdown

Tributes to the NHS during the coronavirus pandemic

What’s been happening with UK Lockdown?

24.6.2020 Well, it’s been 3 months but some of us were getting quite used to this new way of life. Piece by Piece however, the Government started lifting some of the restrictions and by the middle of May we were finally allowed out into the countryside.

Fortunately, this has been the hottest, sunniest May I remember for years, the flowers and tree blossom prolific: foxgloves in various shades, vivid red peonies and the plumes of mauve and white wisteria flowers on our cottage a feast for the eyes.

Crowds and Queues

Brighton Beach during Coronavirus outbreak
Source: Sky News 23.5.2020

With weather this glorious though and a first phase of getting our freedom back, it was inevitable people would be out in droves. Nothing suffered the deluge quite like the beaches. West Wittering had to restrict numbers of visitors to their car park (you had to book a week in advance) while pictures on the news showed other beaches packed to the gunnels with social distancing measures well and truly ignored.

Queuing to enter shops has become something of the norm now (but I am getting through many audio books in the process); at least there are no shortages any more. With a reasonable supply of flour now, my husband has been making lovely bread , while I continue to experiment with new recipes.

The Good Life

The weather has been so gorgeous, we have enjoyed our garden more than ever as have the rest of the family. At the beginning of May I got my hanging baskets planted, seeds in the greenhouse, resulting in a very bountiful vegetable patch. The rain has been scarce but in June, we finally got some rain. Now everything is growing like crazy, we have a very overcrowded vegetable patch, not to mention an abundance of strawberries and even a few cherries, while my Mum’s is like the Garden of Eden.

In fact every facet of nature seems amplified; clear skies with barely a cloud, the sea bluer, the flowers beautiful, the bird song clearer and the air sweeter. These were my observations for the rest of Lockdown and before the month ended, we had two more walks: Halnaker Windmill and Pagham Harbour, all within easy reach.

Halnaker Windmill in Sussex

Acceptance or Denial

As time marches on however, it seems the coronavirus is here to stay and the world might never go back to what it was. But there are two types of people; those anxious about COVID-19 (which is most of us) who accept the situation for what it is and do what we can to prevent the spread. We must protect the care workers and the vulnerable.

But some think the coronavirus is no worse than flu, social distancing laws are completely over the top and “how dare they take away our freedom!” I have even heard conspiracy theorists preaching this is some sinister plot; that governments engineered this entire scenario on purpose to enslave us indoors and control our lives.

I like to keep an open mind but I personally think it’s crap. How incredibly disrespectful to all the grieving families who’ve lost loved ones, not to mention the relentless, untiring efforts NHS workers but enough said… All most people want to do is survive.

Oriental Poppy in the garden

Moving On

So finally the shops have started opening again for non essential items such as clothes. I admit I do feel very sorry for workers who are suffering financial hardship, companies on the brink of going bust and the grim possibility jobs may be lost. No one wants that and yes, the economy has to start moving again. It was good to see NEXT in Bognor getting ready for opening. For the past 12 weeks it had a forlorn look, clothes on the rails but no customers, the store swamped in darkness and windows covered with bird poo. Getting read for the grand re-opening on June 15th, most stores now have footprint stickers on the floor (2m social distancing still in place) and hand sanitising stations.

And Finally

On June 23rd, Boris Johnson announced the next phase of relaxing the measures. To be honest I am a little surprised the pubs, restaurants and hotels are opening. Good news for youngsters who want to get out socialising again, relatives such as my husband’s brother and his family who run 2 wonderful restaurants, (The Boulevard and The Riviera in Sussex). But for gyms and beauty salons, the news is not so good and they are to remain closed, people like my sister (Cariad Beauty) who did the COVID-19 training, invested in all the PPE gear in readiness to return to work and is now told she can’t!

In other words you can go out boozing but you won’t be able to get back to a regular health and beauty regime? Does this Government have its priorities right?

It’s good to see the country shrug itself back to life and let’s hope the worst of this era has passed (fingers crossed). This will be my last post on the Coronavirus Pandemic for a while unless there is anything newsworthy. Now back to writing my new book, which is going quite well.

From Life Changing Fears to Simple Pleasures

Hyacynths at West Dean Gardens

28.03.2020: Today feels strange. Was it a week ago Mum and I were enjoying a walk around West Dean Gardens? With fear of the coronavirus spreading, they shut the shop and café but kept the gardens open for visitors to enjoy free. Thinking it was the last chance we might get out for a while, we made the most of it. I wasn’t wrong. A week later the UK went into lockdown. 

14.03.2020: Two weeks ago, the face of Britain was changing rapidly. Panic spread fast, people went out in droves to stock up on essentials but it led to an explosion in panic buying. Mum loves shopping and at 85 years of age, it is one of the highlights of her week. So picture us in M&S Food hall, my sister and I pinging texts back and forth, to check what’s available. We were able to get her a chicken and some hand wash but despite trying 5 different food stores, she could not get her hands on pasta or paracetamol and not a single toilet roll to be found anywhere!

Panic Buying and Stockpiling Week

16.03.2020: No one needs to be told how bad it was but my God! Anyone on Facebook must have seen the images of empty shelves; videos of grabbing arms like some big greedy octopus had descended; photos of smirking hoarders, multi-packs of loo rolls piled high in their trolleys. I was ashamed to be a member of the human race, imagining the poor souls who ended up with nothing. These would have included old age pensions, working families and NHS employees. Did these hoarders have no shame? Apparently not.

18.03.2020: Thus as word spread, people drove to Sainsbury’s earlier to beat the rush (and yes, even I was driven to desperation). But you should have seen the queues. They stretched all the way around the car park. Like many in the same boat, I was banking on getting just one or two essential items, having never imagined that by the time I inched my way into the store, there still wouldn’t be any sodding loo paper! But within 15 minutes of the store being open, the shelves fully stocked, they had already been stripped bare.

Toilet Roll Jokes

19.03.2020: You’d think it was a joke right? And yes, we had to laugh. Even my 91-year-old mother in law donated their local newspaper with the parting words, “I thought Peter might like to read it unless you need it for toilet paper.” Looking back though, I never imagined that fraught weekend prior to all this, would be the last time I would be taking Mum out food shopping for the unforeseeable future. It was beginning to feel surreal like something out of War of the Worlds.

Next Came Lockdown

23.03.2020: Day by day we were adapting to more change, measures that would ultimately be essential if we were to prevent the spread of the invisible enemy COVID-19. Only now  do I appreciate how lucky we were to enjoy our West Dean Gardens trip. It was Mother’s Day that weekend too. My brother in law and his family run two restaurants, Mothering Sunday one of their busiest days. But both had to close, as did all diners and pubs. We couldn’t take our mothers out either as vulnerable people were advised to stay indoors. I visited my mum very briefly to give her a box of chocolates and a magazine but we weren’t allowed to hug. I cannot describe the emotional wrench I felt at the time.

The open parkland at West Dean Gardens
The open parkland at West Dean Gardens

25.03.2020: Since the Prime Minister’s speech everyone must be feeling the pinch now. With the whole country suspended, work has ceased, the knock-on effect on businesses is yet to be realised and this is only week 1. My sister, a beauty therapist, has seen a dramatic drop off in bookings but like many in this business, is temporarily closed now. As web designers, maybe we have a slim chance of surviving but even our work is dwindling.

I didn’t want this post to be depressing just something I can look back on, if and when the world recovers. In some strange way though, I cannot help but wonder if this virus is Mother Nature’s way of fighting back. It has after all, confined people indoors, stopped us flying, reduced traffic, reduced CO2 emissions and forced us to appreciate the more simple pleasures in life. Our deepest fear is the threat of losing loved ones, but maybe a time to express how much we love them and will do anything to keep them safe.

Image of the Mulberry on Aldwick beach
An evening walk along our local beach.

In my next post, I’ll think of something cheerful to write, maybe a long list of what we’ve being doing with all this extra time on our hands…

 

#Giveaway #Audible #Promotion for St Patrick’s Day

As coronavirus sweeps the globe, the Irish government has called on pubs and bars to close from Sunday to help tackle the spread.

The closures, (which came into effect at midnight on Sunday), were announced ahead of St Patrick’s Day, one of the busiest days in the year for these establishments, especially in locations such as Dublin. Sadly, 40 new cases of coronavirus were confirmed by the government, bringing the total in the Republic of Ireland to 169. This must come as a huge disappointment to those who enjoy celebrating St Patrick’s Day, myself included. But don’t be dispirited. Get some Guinness in the fridge and have a virtual celebration instead.

It so happens I chose St Patrick’s Day to run a book promotion, as my newest title has a strong Irish theme running all the way through with a colourful cast of characters.

Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories

This collection of gripping stories follows the lives of three abused teenagers. With snippets of social history from the 70s to the 90s, these are the personal journeys of ordinary citizens who never had a voice but I wanted to give them one. Focusing on the Irish connection, orphans, Bessie and Peter are separated by the Catholic Church, their lives about to twist down very different paths.

Bessie (later known as Beatrice)

Six-year-old Bessie overhears a conversation between novice, Sister Maria and the Mother Superior. Taken in by the nuns, she is far from happy in the Convent but at the mere hint of being torn from her homeland to be adopted, she panics.

Photo used for book cover 'Rosebrook Chronicles, the Hidden Stories"
This picture from 123RF.com of a frightened little girl seemed just right to depict little Bessie on the book cover.

What of her parents?
They say they went to live with the angels.
And where is her dear brother, Peter?
They tell her he was chosen by God but where is St. Benedict Orphanage?
It’s not impossible he is in Ireland somewhere. If only she could see him…

Leaving Ireland, Bessie’s tragic life starts to unfold where fate will throw many obstacles in her path, from family estrangement to poverty. How will she survive?

Irish actress Dorothy Duffy
With beautiful Irish features, actress Dorothy Duffy is how I imagine Beatrice would look as an adult.

Peter

Peter is an intelligent boy but with good looks and a quiet, pensive nature, he catches the eye of Father O’Brien. He is the most senior priest at St Benedict Orphanage.

Actor Billy Boyd
Billy Boyd (who played Pippin in Lord of the Rings) has just the Irish features I imagine Peter to have.

Peter is destined to study for the priesthood but all is not what it seems. Within a few years his life is turned into a living hell. Desperate to go searching for his sister, he embarks on a daring escape only to land in England with the law on his tale. But he clings the hope he will find Bessie, his letter to her a talisman to guide and inspire him.

Dear Bess, dearest little sister. Where did you go? I been wanting to write a letter to you for ages and pray I am not too late.
It feels like thunder and lightning struck at once. An almighty storm blew down from the Heavens when one minute we was together fore the angels swooped in and parted us.
Lord knows what happened to the others so bout you, Bess?
You was my only hope, the only one left in Ireland.

Actor Billy Boyd
If Rosebrook Chronicles was dramatised, it would be amazing if Billy Boyd was cast as Peter.

There is a third character, Robin, who weaves in and out of the plot. No one can possibly know the influence he will wield over these two naive youngsters as the story rolls through the decades. It is not light read but a book that will make you think. Not everything in society is rosy but it is how people deal with their emotional traumas that mould them into the people they become.

This novel can be read as a standalone, a mix of domestic noir and suspense, rich in social history from the 1960s to the 1990s. A book that will immerse you in the stories of these three troubled characters as they strive to find love, success and happiness.

Promotion

Rosebrook Chronicles is on a Kindle countdown promotion for 99p/99c
(March 17th – 21st).

Rosebrook Chronicles The Hidden Stories by Helen J Christmas

Or if you are a fan of audio books, you can hear the musical Irish accents of my characters come to life in an audio version, narrated by Paul Metcalfe.

I have 10 codes up for grabs. Download the Audible app from Amazon, enter your promotional code and enjoy the experience for FREE.

Two ways to get your free audible code

Audiobook Rosebrook Chronicles the Hidden Stories

Leave a comment on this post and will contact you with details on how to claim your free audiobook (open to readers in the UK and the US)
Or
Use the ‘FREE audiobook’ form to send me an email.
No personal data will be harvested from this promotion and once I have sent your code I will discard your details.

Reviews

K T Robson
This was such a powerful read – Helen Christmas has managed to navigate the complicated worlds of abuse, politics and religion expertly, weaving the stories of her three main characters seamlessly together.

Terror Tree
This story was well researched, with the historical facts running through the book, you really feel as you are following these characters throughout their lives

Jessica Belmont
Gripping, dark, and emotional, Rosebrook Chronicles is an incredible novel. The sensitive material is handled well, and the stories merge beautifully together. I highly recommend reading this.

HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY!

A pint of Guinness