Resolved and Resolute

happy-new-year-2017

No new year resolutions, but three inspiring initiatives to share…

First of all I’d like to wish all the readers of the blog a Happy New Year and to thank you all for your loyalty, interest, likes and comments.

This year I haven’t made any traditional resolutions as such – no promises to myself to get slimmer, fitter or wiser. Although if any of these come to pass I’ll be delighted.

However, there are three New Year related initiatives that have caught my attention and they’re all ways of bringing a little joy into our own and other people’s lives – something much needed after the battering of 2016. So let’s hear it for the power of positivity and individual action in 2017…

#ScotSpirit of Kindness

kindness-1197351_640

Firstly, I’m quite taken by the idea of 21 days of kindness being proposed by Visit Scotland.

The idea of the 21 days came from the fact that on the 25th January Scots, and indeed many non-Scots, celebrate the birth of Scotland’s national poet and bard, Robert Burns and in 1788 Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne, a song still sung nowadays, often as part of the New Year celebrations and other celebratory occasions. The song praises the value of friendship, and one of the lines in the song is we’ll tak a cup of kindness yet- a lyric which expresses a promise to be kind.

Visit Scotland is suggesting that on each day from the 5th of January until Burns night on the 25h people commit to doing one random act of kindness per day and sharing it with the hashtag, #ScotSpirit. Suggestions include complimenting a stranger, feeding the birds in your garden or paying for the coffee or bus fare of the person behind you in the queue. Apparently it takes 21 days to change a habit or form a new one, so the hope is the kindness will persist after the challenge itself is over.

Happiness Jar

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The second suggestion that I like the sound of is the setting up of a Happiness Jar. Again it could be a good way of defusing stress. The idea here is to write down one thing each day that has made you happy and to put the note in a jar. So you not only take a moment to focus on the positive every day, but you can also recall all these moments at the end of the year when you re-read them.

Reflective Reading Challenge

bookshelf

And the third suggestion is the 2017 Reading Challenge. There are a few of these challenges around, but I particularly liked the sound of this one as it’s ‘only’ 26 books and doesn’t necessarily require a commitment to read more. It’s more about reflecting on one book per fortnight over the 52 weeks of the year and then to ‘inspire your world’ with your reflections. The full list of suggested categories is below and it comes from Hannah Braime at hannahbraime.com So I hope to inspire you as members of my blogging world with my own reflective recollections.

The 26-book 2017 reading challenge

  • A book you read in school
  • A book from your childhood
  • A book published over 100 years ago
  • A book published in the last year
  • A non-fiction book
  • A book written by a male author
  • A book written by a female author
  • A book by someone who isn’t a writer (think Paul Kalathani or Richard Branson)
  • A book that became/is becoming a film
  • A book published in the 20th Century
  • A book set in your hometown/region
  • A book with someone’s name in the title
  • A book with a number in the title
  • A book with a character with your first name
  • A book someone else recommended to you
  • A book with over 500 pages
  • A book you can finish in a day
  • A previously banned book
  • A book with a one-word title
  • A book translated from another language
  • A book that will improve a specific area of your life
  • A memoir or journal
  • A book written by someone younger than you
  • A book set somewhere you’ll be visiting this year
  • An award-winning book
  • A self-published book

 

Have you made any resolutions for 2017 – perhaps reading, writing or reflecting related? Have you considered any of the above initiatives? Do share in the comments below.

Bring on 2016: Diamond Year

              photo via Shutterstock © Love the Wind

I’m back at my desk today after a two week, festive season break from all things writing. I’m keen to get going on my 2016 writing plans and projects and to share these with readers of the blog as the year unfolds.

Yes, it’s going to be my diamond year, in the sense that it will be my sixtieth birthday in 2016 and I’m borrowing the ‘diamond’ tag from wedding anniversary classification. But more of that later.

But for this first post of the new year, I thought I’d pause to do a quick look back at 2015 first and then finish with how I intend to approach 2016.

The Year Just Ended

On a personal level, 2015 was the usual mix of ups and downs, both at the desk and in real life, but I’d definitely say the ups won and it was a good year. It was my first full year of being retired from teaching and working instead as a full time writer.

My writing life was busy and varied during 2015, the main highlights being:

  • Attending the stimulating and interesting Scottish Association of Writers annual weekend conference in March and having my second novel awarded runner-up prize in the independently published category.
  • Attending a master class in editing with novelist Allan Guthrie.
  • Publishing The Silver Locket, my first novel for children.
  • Being invited to be a participating author in the Skye Book Festival

 

                         ‘Our’ bookshop – The Open Book

But it wasn’t all work and no play. In March, me and the husband enjoyed a fortnight away in Wigtown (south-west Scotland) where we were volunteer booksellers-in-residence at the Open Book, bookshop. This was an exciting project to be involved in as the people of Wigtown attempted to keep this small independent bookshop open. I blogged about it here.

In May we had a week away in sunny Cyprus during which we attended our son’s wedding – an altogether perfect day. Then in the autumn we went to beautiful Galway in the west of Ireland. And of course I also made sure I had regular grandma time with my two lovely grandchildren and timeout with friends and family.

Christmas week was spent down in Edinburgh with our children and grandchildren. High winds, flooded roads and a broken Forth Road Bridge made for challenging driving conditions but it was worth it.

During the year I read and enjoyed lots of books in lots of genres and reviewed many of them here.

I also had several trips to the cinema – I do like the big screen experience – and my favourite movies of 2015 were Interstellar – it starred Matthew McConaughey (what’s not to like?) and told an intriguing time travel story; Macbeth – a convincing and original take on the play and starring lots of Skye scenery – our island was one of the film’s major locations; Spectre – second only to Skyfall in my Bond chart and with Daniel Craig (again, what’s not to like?); and then there’s, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, squeezed in on Christmas Eve. Unlike the husband, I wasn’t a big fan of the earlier films in this series, but went with an open mind and really enjoyed it.

I even managed two outings to my beloved Lyceum Theatre in faraway Edinburgh where I saw two marvellous plays. These were Waiting for Godot with astoundingly good performances from veteran Scots actors, Brian Cox and Bill Paterson; and the theatre’s beautiful Christmas production of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with a small but very talented and versatile cast.

                                       Seapods by Jan Hendry

While in Edinburgh at Christmas, I managed to go to a three art exhibitions, two on the Jacobites – a part of Scottish history close to my heart and, of course, relevant to The Silver Locket and another organised by the Scottish Society of Artists and featuring a piece entitled Seapods – two little baskets woven from seaweed, by my friend and fellow blogger, Jan Hendry.

And that’s not all, me and the husband went to the city’s wonderful Museum of Childhood. This is a museum I’ve loved since my own childhood. My grandmother took me there every summer while I was at primary school and it was a highlight of the school holidays. And on this most recent visit I was delighted to see so many of my favourite exhibits from the 1960s, such as the dolls’ house collection, were still on show. I was also amused to see toys from my children’s childhood in the 1980s, such as the Fisher Price phone, now included as museum pieces. There was a bonus, too, in the form of the 26 Winters Exhibition. The museum had picked out twenty-six toys from their collection which represent memories of childhood winters and invited twenty-six Scottish authors to write a sestude – a sixty-two word response to the one toy allocated to them. And there amongst the writers’ contributions was one by anther fellow blogger, writer Helen Mackinven, who had written a charming and funny piece in response to a sledge.

The Year Ahead

Image via Shutterstock © Jakub Grygier

As I said at the top, 2016 is the year I turn sixty. I can’t quite believe it as in my head I’m only around thirty-four. But I do know I’m grateful to have made it this far. And I do look forward to whatever life post sixty holds – there’s a whole post for later in that sentence.

Yes, in the ‘big picture’ sense life can seem a bit daunting at times, what with extreme weather conditions, people in areas of conflict forced to flee their homes, and the threat of terrorist attacks just about anywhere. And all the while there’s the feeling that the people in charge are neither committed to, or up to, the task of putting any of it right.

But I do believe there’s hope. I do believe each of us can make a difference even if only in a small way and I do believe there’s a lot of good in the world – but, yes, that’s another post for the future.

For now, suffice it to say, I have no new year resolutions as such, other than to try to maintain perspective and equanimity, with whatever my writing life and life in general throws my way.

At the desk the big project will be to get adult novel number three written. It’s a sequel to Displacement and I’m enjoying being back with Jack and Rachel again.

And here on the blog I plan to do lots more writing, reading and reflecting.

Have you made any new year resolutions?

Happy New Year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015- Bring it On!

 

Keeping Away from the Comfort Zone

image via shutterstock.com
image via shutterstock.com

So, first post of the new year is here. But you’re okay, this will be a resolution free zone.

I’ve done the usual looking back, looking forward thing that January’s two-faced namesake, Janus, seems to impose on us. It’s as good a time as any to stop and reflect on the good and the bad in our lives, to be grateful for all the positives and to accept, or at least come to terms with, the negatives.

However, keeping reflection and resolve to a once a year activity, dictated by a number on a calendar doesn’t really work for me. And setting big annual goals for radical changes to your life just seems to be setting yourself up to fail.

That being said, I do believe in making small beneficial changes, and I do believe in setting myself challenges. I do take time to reflect on my life and to plan, just not on a January-only basis.

Small changes have more chance of becoming new habits and can on a cumulative basis become big changes. For example, let’s say you want to get fit, but are starting from a level of (in)activity that a sloth can only aspire to. Deciding to take a brisk walk for half an hour  once or twice a week is more likely to be doable, and to lead to more frequent and intense exercising as you become fitter, than deciding to take up running several miles a day from a sitting start from the first of January.

The challenge in the above example should be to improve fitness levels from where they are now and the changes are small, possible and cumulative.  Nothing hinges on one big event such as running your first marathon and there’s room for degrees of success. It’s not the all-or-nothing that New Year’s resolutions tend to be.

Of course there are always the challenges we don’t choose, ones thrust upon us, ones which floor us. But even in these circumstances it tends to be the small resilience-building steps that get us through and out the other side. More than ever it’s important in dark times not to impose a rigid timetable for recovery or improvement but to value the smallest of steps and the shortest of respites.

image via shutterstock.com
image via shutterstock.com

My one over-riding, self-imposed challenge is the one I set up many years ago following kicking cancer’s ass, and one which I hope will persist for many more, and that is to opt wherever possible to take the road less travelled.

In a literal sense this has seen me travel all over the world, several times on my own, and not always to places on the tourist route. And in more figurative sense, it has seen me give up a secure, promoted-post job and family home to move to a completely different environment i.e. to no job and from city-living to relatively isolated island dweller. It all worked out, me and the husband both got jobs and flourished. And I began to write. Ten years on, no regrets and once again contemplating a move and beginning another new phase.

Taking the road less-travelled in 2014  has seen me once more resign from a teaching post. This time to take early retirement from my thirty-six year career in order to be a full-time writer. I have a children’s book to publish, I have a new adult novel to start and I want to continue to build the blog.

My long term health challenges continue to be to improve/maintain my physical and mental health. I will continue to fight the anxiety demon and to manage the chronic fatigue. To do this, I’ll keep going with the yoga, something I began last year and absolutely love, and with trying to live more mindfully. I will cultivate the art of appreciation, continue to visit art exhibitions, go to plays and concerts, enjoy music and working in my lovely garden. I’ll keep up with the regular walks, and  I’ll go to talks on all sorts. I’ll enjoy the company of family and friends and play with my grandchildren. And I’ll read, read, read.

And as well as all that, in 2015, I have a working holiday, a writers conference (details of both  in later posts),  and our son’s wedding to look forward to.

image via shutterstock
image via shutterstock

But, if forced to make a resolution for 2015 and beyond, it would be to keep heading for the crossroads, to keep choosing the less-walked-on path and to perch only momentarily in the comfort zone. It’s the way to keep growing, creating and LIVING!

And you can hold me to account on that as I’ll be posting on most of the above throughout 2015.