Monday, 31 December 2012

A personal view of 2012

Another year

‘This will be the year to make some big changes,’ I said to myself just before we all arrived in 2012. The little voice inside (the one that all writers and most other people know too well) said: ‘Maybe you won’t, maybe you can’t.’

‘Maybe I won’t, but embracing change is the over-riding maxim for the year, whether you like it or not, little voice,’ said I. ‘Let’s just see what it brings.’

At the end of 2011 it was coming up to three years since the event that was completely beyond my control shattered my life and changed everything forever – the sudden death of my partner. We had been together 20 years and we had dreams and had made great plans to make some big changes to our life together.

Now it was time to move on and invent my own new life. And as I approach the fourth anniversary of that event that changed everything, I see there is no longer any space for the little voice of dissent within. I have a whole new life and the enjoyment of change is my constant companion.

Taking stock of that bold resolution to trash the fear and make changes, I am thinking ‘WOW, I did all that!’  The little voice didn’t get a look in.

So, what did I do in 2012? Most important, I accepted all invitations, (well nearly all). I went to many events on my own that I would never have gone to before; I left my full time job to go freelance again; I resigned as a Trustee from three local charities.

And I started to take my own creative writing more seriously, which has had the effect that other people have started to take my work more seriously too. That decision to spend more time on my own creative writing has been the most rewarding, and really many of the other changes were made to allow me to make the time to write.

As I have said before, allowing oneself the space to be creative is one of the greatest gifts we can make to ourselves. (

Although there has been a lot of throwing out of the old, I have retained the many friends I have made through my previous job and through involvement with the charities and other local organisations;  and I have made some fabulous new friends too, many of them also writers.  I would never have met them if I hadn’t made that initial decision to make big changes.

So, the resolution for 2013?  Get the novel started, get the poetry collection together;  and somehow stay sociable too.  But most important, I will keep allowing change into my life -- that little voice will just have to talk to itself.

Happy New Year to you all.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Christmas Night 2012

The work I do at the dog rescue home, which takes in plenty of boarders as well as caring for unwanted and ‘unrehomeable’ animals, provides a complete contrast to my writing life.

That’s obvious really, but that work does have an effect on my creative ideas. I find that the time I spend out in all weathers working with the animals somehow grounds me - and supports what I do elsewhere.

These are the lines I wrote after the evening feeding rounds on Christmas Night, 2012.

Feeding the dogs

Eyes shining in darkness -
orange, or yellow, or lapis lazuli.
That is all I can see as
I take the evening meals to the dogs.

They wait in quiet expectation,
just watching as I work my way along
… up the line with my weighty load.

Most devour the food,
lick bowls clean -
and grateful looks follow.
I watch their faces in the beam of the head-torch.

Some need help or encouragement
and I feed them by hand,
gathering the food and offering it
with kind words.
The nervous ones take their meal gently,
thankful for my patience.

The smell of hay rises around warm bodies
as the animals gradually settle with their full bellies.

I have to make one more round –
the calming, quieting time,
reassuring any remaining nerves.

I hand out their night-time treats
from my bucket of biscuits;
muzzles soft to my hands in the darkness,
tender talk bids them to hush.

They lie together in their comfy beds,
I shut them in, secure the pens …
all safe and warm.

While I wait for the last two to eat
I turn the head torch off .. .
watch the watery moon and the few stars
that show between the shadow-clouds.
Outlines of winter trees stand out.
All is quiet … tranquil-still,
an owl calls … but there is no answer.
The last two dogs bed down, I close their door.
Silence …. all are safe…
And I am content - thanks to them.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sad loss of charity

Very sad to hear the news this week of the demise of a great little local charity that has helped thousands of people with terminal illness, and their carers, in my home area.

The Beacon of Hope, which ran a hospice-at-home service as well as providing much help, support and respite for carers, has gone into voluntary liquidation with the loss of 17 full and part-time jobs.

The charity was founded in 2000 by retired teacher Elizabeth Murphy. It had offices in Aberystwyth, Cardigan and Machynlleth.

While liquidators PKF, said Beacon of Hope's collapse would have ‘no impact on its patients and they had been placed in health officials' care’ there are also real concerns for the many people who care for relatives with terminal or life-limiting illnesses.

The love, care – and yes, hope – given by the workers and volunteers at Beacon of Hope cannot be replaced.

Mrs Murphy’s  work as founder was recognised in 2008 with an MBE for services to the community in Ceredigion.

PKF said the charity relied heavily on donations and had cashflow problems:

"Whilst Beacon of Hope nursing services were funded by the health authority and the Welsh assembly, its ancillary services were unfunded and relied upon public donations.

"Unfortunately these had proved insufficient to cover the outgoings and, despite a public appeal for donations and the support of the dedicated and hard-working staff, the company's directors were left with no alternative in the face of the resulting insolvency but to place it into liquidation.

"However, in the prevailing economic climate many organisations have suffered, no matter how worthy the cause, and it is regrettable that despite the excellent work being done in Beacon of Hope's name it has had to cease all activities."

The Beacon of Hope was the nominated charity of the Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University for 2012/13.

When the announcement was made earlier this year the charity’s  chair and founder, Elizabeth Murphy said: “Many hospice charities receive support from large industry. There are few large private sector companies based in Ceredigion, and the opportunities for funding are limited. So the announcement that the oldest University in Wales is supporting the smallest hospice in Wales was a great boost to us all.”

Alan Axford, the charity’s voluntary medical adviser said of the Beacon of Hope: “Conventional NHS care is very much focused on the patient and not so much on the carers who often provide support in very difficult circumstances.  Their dedication can mean they become socially isolated and this is where the services provided by Beacon of Hope were so valuable, and the support of organisations such as the University so important.”
The Beacon of Hope  -- and its dedicated and hard working staff and volunteers --will be sadly missed by many.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Palestine, November 2012

A girl holds a candle next to a photo of three-year-old Ranan Yousef Arafat, who was killed in the Israeli strike on Bethlehem's Manger Square, where Palestinians had gathered to mourn victims of the slaughter.

  People gather in Manger Square to mourn.
One-hundred-and-forty were murdered last week.
More than thirty of the dead were children.
In Gaza, Jabaliya, Rafah, Beit Lahiya …
Hundreds of families have been decimated.

They have no escape from this Hell.
A mother weeps in the devastation that was her home,
There is nowhere to go.
There is no escape.

Those who are left come to remember their dead,
And Israel makes sure they will never forget.

Monstrous new airstrikes massacre these mourning crowds.
Three-year-old Ranan Yousef Arafat dies.
Jumana and Tamer Eseifan, both under four, die.
One-year-old Iyad Abu Khoussa dies.

There is no escape from Hell.

We should remember them all,
but we do not know their names.

Israel does not want us to know.
They bomb the media centres
and slaughter the journalists.
Truth may be the clich├ęd first victim of war,
But we will not stay down.
They cannot suppress news of this carnage.

The realities, the facts, all the names will be known…
… estimated 1,643 missile strikes over the last six days…
Many dead, more injured, medical facilities failing...

Mourners around the bodies of the al-Dalu family at their funeral -- four adults, four children

The bodies of Jumana and Tamer Eseifa carried by mourners

We are ashamed to be human…. 
But we are compelled to act.
We will not stay silent.
They cannot kill compassion.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The house of imagination

In praise of writing groups...

As a writer there is nothing like the immense buzz you get when a new idea forms. Inspiration works in many ways – but it can be less of a solitary experience than many people may think.

The hint of an idea for a new story or poem can just wink at you from somewhere unexpected, or the concept for a whole novel can hit you right in the face. Sketches of outlines and great detailed plans emerge from the least likely places. It can happen anywhere, anytime.

Sometimes solitary walks on deserted beaches work for me, but I have found that writing workshops in groups with others can also be productive places for ideas.

You never know where these things will take you.  A visualisation exercise in one I attended recently introduced me to the House of My Imagination.  I was very surprised by what I found there.

Standing before the closed front door I was scared, would there be anything inside? Might the place actually be empty?  

At the same time I was slightly annoyed that I was being told by the workshop leader that my imagination is contained in a building, albeit an imaginary one -- because I felt walls would constrain ideas and inspiration.

Wrong on both counts. Fear keeps the door closed.

Cold walls of granite face me, no sound escapes, no light. Turn the handle, open the door….

I found myself in a large hallway – I walked straight into a huge party with loads of people, music, laughter, dancing. And I saw that I could walk through all this into quieter spaces, full of light, if I chose. I could make it all whatever I wanted, or simply watch what happened. And plenty happens there.

This is a place to dance and to play, to laugh and to rest and wait, all in the same moment. It is whatever you want it to be. It is the home of the fire of your ideas – and we all have one of those. Finding the door and daring to open it is the important part.

We were told in this visualisation exercise to bring just one object out of the house with us. I couldn’t do that either without resisting the leading voice – I wanted two items! But because this was the house of my imagination I could do what I liked, of course, and I brought two objects back.

One was a stone jar, the kind my Dad once used for preserving vegetables and fruit. It is an empty vessel, that can hold all the ideas I choose, a source of endless inspiration.  The other item was a beautiful crystal glass, empty but flashing in the sunshine, sending light rays in all directions – ready to spark off new ideas.

So, maybe fear is the only constraint.  You simply have to imagine your imagination  -- and it is there.
You alone can give that imagination permission to do exactly as it wishes….