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Writing because words are the essence of my life.


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Last Post from The Bunker

This is my last post from The Bunker. That sounds more dramatic than it actually is. The Bunker is the name I gave to our Bungalow when we moved in here 16 months ago. It was a nickname entirely lacking in affection, because I didn’t particularly like the house, or the area where we hurriedly found ourselves after being given notice unexpectedly by our previous landlord. The place seemed unappealing to me – atop a huge hill, and several degrees colder than the rest of Devon, with unadopted roads, and miserable squat grey houses. Bunkers.

As I type this, everything is packed with the exception of the dogs and the teabags. I have my laptop but no pens. A washing machine but no line. Most of our stuff has already been moved. We have a bed for example, but no bedside cabinets. The freezer is defrosting; the oven is sizzling away in some toxic chemical that will miraculously remove the grease inside allowing me to wipe it all clean with one single piece of kitchen roll. 

We have finally achieved what we have waited for, for over three years. When I was made redundant in 2012, I set in motion a chain of events that triggered my husband leaving his job, and us selling our lovely house in Derbyshire so we could finance buying a business in Devon, that would obviously pay us enough so that I could write full time and sell all my novels and live happily ever after. Fairy tales.

We thought that in no time at all we would be back on the mortgage ladder. But none of that happened. The gap between the cost of housing in Derbyshire and that in Devon is beyond ridiculous. It’s been a struggle. All of this time we dreamed about having our own place again, where we could paint the walls whatever colour we chose and put all our art back on the walls instead of storing it in bubble wrap in the loft. We wanted somewhere secure to live, where the landlord can’t chuck you out on a whim, or announce an inspection just because, or hike the rent up higher than a family would pay out in monthly mortgage payments.

And here we are! I should be ecstatic but I’m not. Almost but not quite.

The new house is lovely. It’s sunny, it’s airy; it has the most magnificent views of the rolling countryside around here, and if you sit at one spot in the garden you can actually see the sea. It’s beautiful. The garden is so magically overgrown that when you stand at the back door, because we’re on a hill, it’s a bit like being above the tree canopy. The hill falls away into the valley and then rises once more on the horizon. I’ve decided to nickname this house, ‘The Treehouse’.

But as I sit in The Bunker typing this final Bunker blog, my thoughts return again and again to a furry grey fellow who came into this house with me in good faith. This was never meant to be the last place that Herbie lived. He should have been seeing out his last years (always 5 or 6 more in my mind) in The Treehouse; steadily and gently declining, with grace and love, and my soft hands to guide him. We were robbed.

I am loathe to leave The Bunker, because the weather is still nice enough for me to sit on the back step and remember how he and I cuddled up when I knew his time was closing in. As the glorious days of summer grew bleaker, infused as they were with his horrible final illness, I sat on the step and watched him with love and a deathly fear of his loss. He meandered around the shrubs and trees, doing his deeds, sniffing and patrolling and setting the world to rights. And I’ll always remember how he came back to me for reassurance, looking up at me with such love and trust, always living in the present. I made it a ‘thing’, a ritual that had to be performed every evening while he was ill. Without fail. As soon as I arrived home from the shop. Until the night that I sat alone and wept when he’d been gone just 8 hours, and I couldn’t hold his soft furry head again or smell his warm scent, or bury my face in the fur on his neck.

I’ve been dreading this final day here and now it’s upon me. I know I’ll never be able to sit on that blasted step again and conjure him to me. I’ll never spend any more time in that garden. I’ll never know what he looked like next to that bush or that tree, as he lifted his head and sniffed the wind. From now on Herbie will always be a ghost in my mind, a memory replayed over and over, a name I still can’t say without a sudden hitch in my breathing. I can’t see him in the new garden because he has never visited it.

But I learned a lesson years ago, when I was in India with my then soon-to-be husband. A wise man told us, “The Gods will provide,” and that has become the mantra that my husband and I live by. When the time is right good things happen. We’ve have been waiting 6 long months to complete on our little house. In February when we applied for the house, Herbie had a bit of a cough. I wasn’t worried. But that nagging illness spiralled. If we had completed the house on a normal schedule, we would have been trying to move when he was at his most poorly in June. The ‘Gods’ held us up. They waited for Herbie to live his life, calmly and quietly, and cross the Bridge. They waited for me get through the worst of my grief (if I even have) so that I could organise the move and put the requisite amount of energy that was needed, into it. And they waited until I could fully appreciate the beauty of The Bunker, and the land of clouds and forest, before they let me move on.

I could never have written my novel, Crone, anywhere else but here, and while so far publication has been elusive, I believe this is a novel that will see the light of day, and people will come to know the countryside that spawned the story, and love its mystical qualities as much as I have. Just this week I had my #PitchCB rejection through from Sophie Lambert at Conville and Walsh. She said, “There’s a rather wonderful mystical and lyrical quality to the prose here and there’s a very intriguing core to the narrative”. Of course it was accompanied by a ‘but’, but I’ll take that feedback with sincere gratitude. I believe in Crone, because it is a story born of East Devon and it is rooted here, and it has a truth.

So, I’ll save Crone to yet another memory stick, and I’ll bubble wrap my memories of Herbie in the garden, and hold them to me just as tightly as any of my other possessions, and carry them with care. And I’ll count my blessings for all that The Bunker has gifted me. Tonight as the gloaming settles around me, I’ll pause to reflect on my precious boy, and I’ll cry, of course I will. But I’m allowed to, I loved him. I loved him here. It will be the Last Post for Herbie.

And onwards then … Let’s see what transpires in The Treehouse, with The Writer’s Apprentice, shall we?

 

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A lament for my lost writing partner

The landscape of my life has changed. As I write this, my beloved BFFF (best furry friend forever) has been gone for 8 impossibly long days and nights. It’s not the first time I’ve lost a dog, and it won’t be the last, but this loving and gentle soul, this communicative, intelligent boy … he was a kindred spirit.

Herbie Longfellow, a Bedlington Terrier x Collie Lurcher, was just 8 weeks past his ninth birthday when I decided to have his teeth sorted out. He had a general anaesthetic, and that night he developed a cough. I took him back to the vets and we started treatment that didn’t work. Gradually after a battery of tests we found a deterioration in kidney function, a heart murmur, and then a few weeks ago, the Big C, a massive tumour in his chest blocking his airway and squashing his lungs – that turned out to be the thing that had been causing the rotten cough all along.

The vet admitted later that she considered letting him go as soon as she saw the mass on the scan but she said she always treats the animal, not the disease. That was her gift to us. She said we would need to let him go within 48 hours, but while he was under she decided she would do a chest drain. That actually gave us another three wonderful weeks to love him as much as we could.

Herbie was obviously ecstatic to be home. I became his personal nurse. I changed his food, I altered his exercise pattern, and I spent every available moment with him. I second guessed his needs. What Herbie wanted, Herbie got. For a time I could ‘forget’ (ha! I didn’t!) but the deterioration was persistent. I couldn’t let him suffer. Three weeks after that initial chest drain, my husband and I did a series of ‘lasts’: last dinner, last sleep, last cuddles, last walk, last drive to see our vet.

Instead she offered another chest drain, and again my soul soared to have him with me, but we were marking time. By the end of the week he was off his food, didn’t want to walk and couldn’t get comfortable. It was time. No going back.

My vet, and the two nurses that work with her, are phenomenal, and because of the issue with squashing his windpipe and frightening him, we elected to have him standing, supporting him as the injection went in. I spoke softly to him all the time. He sank into our arms and slipped out of this world, in peace, surrounded by love. I can still feel the weight of him in my arms, and sometimes that’s a comfort, and sometimes it’s a horror, a reminder that he died, and I OK’d that.

Dealing with grief, especially when it’s a pet, is difficult. That’s an understatement, isn’t it? Animals aren’t people. You don’t say you’re bereaved. In fact the limitations of the English language when it comes to pet death are quite stark. You can’t even say you’ve lost someone, you have to say you’ve lost ‘something’. Herbie was not a thing. He wasn’t a possession. He was a vibrant being, with feelings and intellect and humour and a great capacity to learn and love.

Fortunately for me, on the whole my friends ‘get it’. My family certainly do. I’ve been given plenty of space to grieve and to talk about him, and no-one seems to mind that I randomly start to weep. When I’m with my husband I can sob. When I’m alone I can howl.

I had spent the few days before Herbie’s last day writing a short story and concocting a few tweets for #PitchCB on Friday 29th July (pitching contest to attract an invitation to query two of the best UK agencies with my novel). When I arrived home alone from the vets I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I had the worst headache imaginable and I felt like I’d been anaesthetized. I sent my #PitchCB tweet and checking back a few hours later I had a like! Normally I would have run round the block a few times whooping and hollering, but that day, I sat at my laptop and let the tears roll.

My output this week – for clients and for myself – has been negligible. My creativity is down the Swanee, quite frankly, and my ability to write coherently, has largely struggled. This is problematic given I’m freelance and I have a massive vet bill, some of which will be recovered through insurance, but some of which will not. I have a deadline for a short story next week, and I think I’m going to miss it. It’s not great.

I found a Wiccan ritual for a lost pet, and my husband and I performed that on the night after Herbie passed. It was helpful because we could vocalise how much he meant to us, and therefore mark his life, but also for me, it gave me a chance to tell him why I made the decision that he must go in spite of the fact that I loved him and he loved me.

Having the power over another creature’s life does not sit easily with me. I don’t have a God complex. Who am I to choose who lives and who dies? I don’t like the idea of capital punishment, I don’t believe in an eye for an eye. I am much more a live and let live kind of gal. But finding that moment when the suffering of one you love is too great, and being able to gently take that pain away, that kind of feels right. It kind of feels ok.

That’s not to say I don’t have guilt, and worry that I let him down.

It comes in waves, that grief. I let it take me. Small things set me off: a line in a song, the sight of his collar, my husband calling one of our other dogs by his name. This morning I took the Bonio box out of the cupboard and was catapulted back to when Herbie had noisily demanded his treats.

And that’s the thing …. He was my writing companion. He’d learned that if he came to my left hand while I was writing, I would still stroke his head while typing with my right hand. He lay as close to me as he could, often right on or beside my feet under the desk. He would make his presence known at 11 and at 3.30 ish – break time! He woke us in the morning (hated that the alarm doesn’t go off at 6 on a Sunday, he made sure that we never slept past that time so it might as well have been), he sorted us out for walkies and breakfast. In the evening he would sit in front of the TV if he wanted treats or dinner. He could tell us he wanted water by slightly tipping our glasses. He would yip at 10, cue evening wees and time for bed. He’d try and stay on the bed and be shooed off into his basket. Then he’d wait until we were asleep and stealthily creep back up. He was there when I awoke and would give me a knowing look.

We had such a strong connection, Herbs and I. He loved others, of course he did, but he and I were the best of pals, soul friends.

I miss all that. I want him here. I yearn for him. My left hand tingles when I think of him. He was a wonderful, warm, funny, intelligent, loving, bouncy, happy boy – my shadow and writing companion – and he stole my heart.

In loving memory and eternal love: Herbie Longfellow 09.09.2006 – 29.07.2016

 


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The joy of joining Twitter’s writing community

Twitchpit

Twitter for writers!

Up until a few months ago, my Twitter account was sleeping. I had once used it for my online business (hence my username @thecushionlady) which is now defunct, but I read somewhere how important social media is when you’re querying and publishing your work and figured I needed to prod it awake.

I am so glad I did. Over the past few years I have written two and a half novels and numerous short stories. This year I have focused on editing my second novel, Crone, and I’ve had three short stories accepted for publication. I am finally at the stage, of submitting Crone to agents and publishers.

This is a huge and nerve-wracking step – certainly for me anyhow. I also find it a slow process because I research the agents first. I need to know I would trust them to nurture and sell a novel that is quite precious to me. You’d think that any writer would jump at any opportunity to be published, but I feel I need to get it right. With that in mind I spend ages writing a covering letter, tweaking the synopsis and the requested number of chapters and agonising over everything I’m sending.

What a comfort Twitter is then! There are writers galore going through exactly the same thing and you can learn so much from them. By seeing their tweets on my timeline I’ve found out all about how to post snippets from my #WIP (work in progress) and about twitter pitching.

Let’s take sharing snippets first. Most days there is a way of sharing what you’re writing. My preferred three are #2bitTues #1lineWeds and #Thurds. There is generally a theme posted and you scan your #WIP for lines that match. I have come to see this as excellent editing practice. Trying to get a sentence into 140 characters can be a real challenge and you quickly recognise words that are redundant, and how you can make things more succinct and to the point.

Twitter pitching contests are actually great fun. Again there are a variety, and they pop up every few weeks or so. The idea is that you pitch to interested agents and publishers, again using 140 characters, along with a genre identifier, and age (so in my case #A #H = adult and horror).

The first one I did was for #PitchCB – a British literary agency and I was ridiculously nervous. I had high hopes and great expectations but they sadly came to naught. That was my first lesson.

I had a look at pitching techniques though and quickly learned some useful stuff. I will write more about that at some stage.

After that I tried a few US based pitching contests, and some of these are exciting – I’ve really enjoyed them on the whole. It’s important to check out the guidelines of course, as there are rules. You can usually post several tweets, and then sit and watch as reams of other writers’ tweets articulate a book’s heart and soul in a tiny amount of space. It’s fascinating and occasionally I think “Wow! I want to read that!” There are so many talented writers out there, you know? I’ve been lucky. I have had a few bites, and Crone is now out there querying in the USA following interest from US based agents and publishers, which I’d never considered before!

I use the Twitter pitching alongside my normal querying – but again sporadically. I think Crone is currently out with a combination of 8 agents and publishers. I don’t want to send the novel here, there and everywhere. I’ll take a break and consider any feedback I get (if I get any) and then try again.

The final point about using Twitter as a writer is that most writers are happy to share the love. You can like and retweet any genius you come across, and they will respond in kind when you nail a tweet about your #WIP. I’m loving it and I’ve made some great new friends. Give it a try and feel free to follow me!