Category Archives: Friends

A year on…

One year and one day ago, I woke early and looked at Twitter – horrified by the news from Manchester Arena. I spent the day with friends, counting my blessings.

It was a gloriously sunny day and, as more news emerged about the victims, I reflected on how I’d feel if someone I loved had been involved. How would you feel if you’d had an argument then never got the chance to make up? Or, perhaps worse in some respects, you’d parted on perfectly fine terms but never got to tell them how much you loved or respected them?

That was when I decided to start writing to friends for no other reason than to tell them how much I loved them. My friend Emily, who moved home to the US, and I had been corresponding the old-fashioned way for a little while but that attack in Manchester made me realise that although I spend lots of time with my friends, I don’t tell them how much I appreciate them – because it’s implied. Well, I decided to make it explicit.

All we seem to get in the post these days (oh, how I’m showing my age) is bills and junk but when someone receives a heartfelt message in the post, it makes them feel valued. Ever since then, I’ve sent card and postcards and letters in the post and the feedback I’ve had has been lovely. People have reciprocated, of course, which was never the plan – I but it is a glorious feeling, knowing someone has taken the time to think about you then put pen to paper.

To me, a letter (or postcard or even an email) shows that the writer has thought about this. They have not just hugged you because you were standing in front of them, they are writing to you because they were thinking of you when you weren’t even with them. They have taken time out of their day to write to you.

I am not a tactile person – quite the opposite, in fact – but I am able to express myself with words far better than I ever could face-to-face. On the odd occasion that I found myself on the wrong side of my parents when I was a child, I would write a letter to apologise. Weird, I know.

I know some people wouldn’t feel able to express themselves fully through writing. To this I say: choose whatever works for you and do it.

Emma Whitehall once said to me that Elementary Sisterhood was partly borne out out of the support she had felt from receiving messages of support and encouragement through the post.

Yesterday, I had a massive wobble. Something inconsequential happened but it really threw me for a loop. However, when I messaged the sisterhood to tell them, the words of love and understanding I received heartened me. The people – in the sisterhood and beyond – who rushed to tell me what they felt for me and how I’d helped them really made me see the positive impact I’ve had on others.

So, in short, the message of this post is: if you feel something, say something.

Vic x

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A Love Letter to The Garsdale Retreat

When my friend Stephanie encouraged me to attend her writing retreat at the Garsdale Retreat, I decided it was a good time to concentrate on my own writing and that this would give me the ideal opportunity – away from distractions and the pressures of every day life. 

As the time grew nearer, I began to get cold feet. I’ve always suffered from homesickness to varying degrees and I was concerned at being away from home for four nights. It must sound silly but it’s the truth. 

My journey there was particularly dramatic but that’s a story for another time. Once I arrived at the retreat – thanks to the help of the wonderful Rebecca and Hamish from the retreat, a resident of Garsdale called Paul and Mr Middleton, a farmer – I was greeted like an old friend, even by the women I’d never met before. 

One of my concerns about the retreat was the menu. It’s a fully catered place with all of the meals being vegetarian with some fish and I am a fussy eater (although I am way better than I used to be). However, Rebecca’s home cooking was a total delight. We were treated to home-baked biscuits and cakes every morning and afternoon. The meals themselves were amazing – the variation and flavours never ceased to amaze me. We had all sorts from soup to pasta, Indonesian stews to salads. I even brought a couple of recipes home! 

Another concern I had was whether I could actually write. One of the first exercises Stephanie asked me to do was highlight the things I was good at, where I wanted to be and what I needed to do to get there – that was so challenging and I had to ask for advice on what to put as achievements. OnceStephanie reminded me about the awards I’d won, the MA I have and the support I provide others, I was able to see the value in what I do.

Each day was structured perfectly, with two workshops in the morning then in the afternoon independent writing, one-to-one tutorials and the opportunity to drop in for some advice and guidance if required. We came together every evening for a pre-dinner drink and chat in front of the log fire. I tumbled into bed each evening full of delicious food and exhausted from thought-provoking discussions with like-minded people. 

I woke every morning to a beautiful view and enjoyed being able to go for a short walk in the fresh air at least once a day. 

On the day where we had a brief field trip to the train station up the road, Rebecca drove those of us who couldn’t manage the hill – yet another example of what incredible hosts she and Hamish were. When our cars were covered with snow on the morning that we were due to leave, Hamish was out there sweeping the snow away so that we could drive home safely. 

Stephanie was an incredible facilitator and, despite having participants at different stages in their writing, every exercise challenged and encouraged us in equal measure. The amount of resources and stationery were mind-boggling. From the ‘washing line of wisdom’, filled with quotes about writing, to the envelopes we were encouraged to leave messages for one another in, Stephanie had every base covered. 

On our final evening, we were encouraged to create our writing manifestoes. Here’s mine: 

I think it shows how much of an impact the time I spent at the Garsdale Retreat on my writing – and my self-esteem. 

Stephanie encouraged us to take a quote from the washing line of wisdom which resonated with us, then we shared them after dinner on our final evening. She then gave us another one that, to me, seemed hand picked for each of us. As each person read their quotes, I found my eyes filling up. But that was nothing compared with my reaction when I opened my envelope on returning home. I only spent four days with these women but the messages they had left for me filled me with joy and love. 

So, inspired by the retreat – and mainly Rebecca’s baking – I baked a cake while adopting the Agatha Christie method of plotting (allowing the mind to roam while occupying yourself with a completely unrelated task). 

I missed my husband, and wished he was there with me, but I didn’t feel homesick because Garsdale felt like home. 

Garsdale Retreat inspired me in so many ways: it reminded me of the innate kindness of people, the healing power of food and how, even when you don’t believe in yourself, there is always someone who does.

Vic x

Very Inspiring Blog Award

V inspiring blogger

Thanks to Gerry McCullough for nominating me for the ‘Very Inspiring Blog Award’. Gerry has written several great books which you can find on her Amazon Author Page.

So, here are the rules:

  1. Display the award logo on your blog.
  2. Link back to the person who nominated you.
  3. State 7 things about yourself.
  4. Nominate other bloggers for this award and link to them.
  5. Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

OK, so now I have to open my heart up to you guys and tell you 7 things about me that you don’t already know. Hmm, tough one…

  1. I used to be a city swimmer and one of my records (set almost 20 years ago) still stands today. 
  2. I wrote a play aged about nine or ten at school for drama club but my friends’ dad said it was too sensitive as the main thread of the story was about a character’s grandma dying. Apparently, I’ve always had a knack for writing stories that aren’t exactly light-hearted!
  3. Two weeks ago I finally revealed to my brother that the letter he received from Chessington World of Adventures after writing to them, aged five, regarding a new roller coaster he designed was fake. My dad had been kind enough to mock-up a letter in response to my brother’s design. I thought my brother already knew and I was absolutely devastated when I saw his face drop in realisation.
  4. I’m terrified of fish and pictures of fish. I don’t suppose I’ll ever do any diving or snorkeling.
  5. I have very strict rules about how I eat food. For example, I only allow myself to eat certain flavours of crisps depending on the sandwich filling. If I’m eating a salad or a roast dinner, I am only allowed to eat veg together in the same mouthful (E.G. potato and carrots on the same forkful are ok but I wouldn’t add meat into this).  I can’t bear the thought of a tuna melt as cheese and tuna, to me, seem completely wrong. I have to separate M’n’Ms and Skittles into colours, I couldn’t eat a mixture – that would just be bizarre.
  6. Throughout my life, my dad has potentially told me hundreds of lies (as a joke, nothing too serious) and I’m still just finding out the truth regarding some of them. For example, he told me that eating raw mushrooms would kill you. 
  7. I once asked The Boy Wonder if ‘The Simpsons’ were yellow because they had been affected by the nuclear power station in Springfield. According to him, it’s just because they’re a cartoon. 

So, now I’ve revealed myself to be a terrible big sister, an idiot, an OCD eater and  a depressive writer from a young age, it’s now my turn to pick my top blogs. Here they are (in no particular order):

  1. Gemma Wilford. Gemma’s blog ‘Missuswolf’s StoryLand’ is about sharing her reading and writing with the world. Like me, Gemma is on a mission to publish her first novel before she is thirty. I worked with Gemma on the second ‘I Am Woman’ anthology and am a big fan of her writing.
  2. Mark Taylor. According to his blog: “Mark occasionally has too much time on his hands and thought he’d share his love of watching random nonsense with a world which doesn’t, and in fact shouldn’t, care.” That is not true – I care, as should the rest of you!
  3. Maria Smith. Maria is a writer of dark fiction, urban fantasy and paranormal stories. Why do I love her blog? She has a weekly “goal list” and reviews her targets from the previous week. However, the best thing about her blog is her monthly Small Pleasures – a lovely idea.
  4. Rachel Cochrane. Rachel runs Listen Up North, a website based in North East England, featuring audio drama, short stories, poetry, extracts of novels and interviews. Rachel also had her poem ‘Sisters’ Away Day’ featured in the first ‘I Am Woman’ anthology.
  5. Allison Davies. Allison is a very dear friend of mine who is not only an amazing script writer but a philanthropist too: she runs a fair trade jewellery business with two friends. You can read more about that at Danusha. To read more of her wonderful writing, please check out her blog, Found Poet.
  6. Claire McGowan: The author of ‘The Fall‘ (a great book I read last year) incorporates her blog into her full website. With handy hints for writers and debunking writing myths as well as some interesting articles on relationships and more!

OK, I cheated and chose six. My thanks again to Gerry McCullough, I had a great time writing this post.

Vic x