War Diary October 1915 – Edith Cavell

It is almost one hundred years since the execution of Edith Cavell, a brave nurse from Norfolk who served in Belgium during World War One, and I am reblogging a War Diary in her honour. Scant information is given here, and the matter of fact statement about her death does nothing to give us a picture of how she must have suffered – no matter how brave she appeared – as she wrote letters to her colleagues giving instructions about domestic matters as she waited in her cell for her final moments to arrive. During her trial, Edith revealed that she had helped 200 allied soldiers to escape capture by the Germans, in the full knowledge that in doing so she ran the risk of being court-martialed and executed by firing squad which, indeed, she was at 7.00am on 12th October 1915. It is her bravery, together with that of all the other nurses and medical personnel who served in The Great War which inspired my novel A Nightingale in Winter, and I am proud to live in the same county she was born in. I shall be attending the displays and memorial activities that are to take place here in Norwich this month with great interest and a sense of pride.

ANiW Final Cover

Norfolk in World War One

War Norfolk
German aircraft deployed on the Western Front

The German Fokker comes into service on the Western Front, able to fire forward through the propeller German air superiority is achieved.

Music Hall in Norwich

High Class Vaudeville entertainment comes to the Theatre Royal in Norwich as it changes name to ‘The Empire Music Hall’.

Execution of Edith Cavell

Norfolk-born nurse Edith Cavell is executed by the Germans in Brussels as a spy and for aiding escaped Allied prisoners.

New Social Housing

The master of the rolls declared open for occupation a block of residential flats in Recorder Road, Norwich. Built by Miss Ethel M. Colman and Miss Helen C. Colman, in memory of the Right Honourable James Stuart, they were built as social housing with low rents.

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Consulting an Oracle to help with decision-making

Do you ever wish you could consult an oracle when you need reassurance that you’re on the right path in your life?

Back in my single, childless days when I lacked confidence and was pretty much drifting and dreaming my way through life, I used to frequently consult the I Ching , the ancient Chinese book of changes, when I had a question about my life. Hundreds of years ago, people consulting the I Ching threw yarrow sticks, but my book suggested throwing three coins six times, the combination of the heads and tails making a pattern or hexagram.

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Coins thrown, I would read the relevant page in the book for that hexagram, trying to interpret the poetic language that described the answer to my question. Almost invariably the ancient, translated words felt uncannily wise and right, if only because they helped me to tap into my intuition and gut reactions.

Recently, an article in The Guardian newspaper reported that the actor Mark Rylance had consulted the I Ching in 1987 in order to decide between working with Stephen Spielberg or at The National Theatre. Quite a decision to have to make, eh? He chose the theatre, and has done very well for himself. I’d forgotten all about the I Ching until I read the article, but now I clicked a link in the piece which took me to an I Ching Website. No need to even throw coins these days, let alone yarrow sticks, whatever they are!

I posed my question: “What is the best way to proceed with my business?” The judgment was instantaneous and, thankfully, encouraging.

This blog is moving!! To read the rest of this post, please go to:

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk/blog/consulting-an-oracle-to-make-decisions While you’re there, why not subscribe to receive an email whenever I post on my blog? It would be lovely to have you!

Cheers!

Celebrating Being Unemployable – Here’s to an Entrepeneurial Life

Today I’m celebrating being unemployable. Yay!

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What’s so good about that, I hear you ask? Don’t you need to earn a living? Well, yes, of course I do. But it’s not going to be in a clock-watching nine-to-five job.

As an author, every now and then I become a little insecure about depending on my creativity to make a living, and manage to convince myself I need a ‘proper’ job – a steady income I know will be paid into my bank account at the end of the month. I find my ‘muse’ can suffer if there’s too much financial pressure put upon her, and I sometimes feel isolated, just working at home on my own the whole time.

So, when this mood strikes, I apply for jobs. However, a recent humiliating interview with a team I used to work for, proved to be the impetus for a complete change. The interview was for a lower-paid, lower-prestige role than the one I’d had previously, but my former team were ready to welcome me back with open arms. They needed people urgently, and were really pleased to hear from me. They also knew – because they’d seen me in action before – that I’d easily be able to fulfil the role. However, half an hour after I left the interview – HALF AN HOUR! – I received a phone call to say I’d been unsuccessful. My not wanting the job – the fact that I had convinced myself to go for it against my will – had shown through in every stilted answer, every fumbled response about how I would respond in various scenarios.

My heart – in the form of my subconscious – knew better than me, and wasn’t going to succumb quietly, despite my best efforts to gag it.

Clearly, a major life rethink was required.

So I took a long look at my skills, my passions and my experience. I also considered the core themes of my novels. Almost invariably, they’re about the pursuit of self-confidence, usually by women. My female characters become stronger as they face challenges. They may be in a contemporary fiction novel, a historical novel, a romance or a thriller, but that quest for self-confidence is what interests me.

Ping, an idea was born. As an experienced author and adult education tutor, I’ve taught both creative writing and confidence building. Why not put them together in one course? After all, creative writing is well known for being beneficial as a part of therapy. I would call them WriteUP Courses, and they would combine creative writing with confidence-building skills. But would it work? There was only one way to find out – by trying it out. I set about planning the course material and organised a pilot, mainly targeting women who were getting over broken relationships.

WriteUp banner 3

One bleak January Saturday, eight women turned up to try it out at No. 8 Thorpe Road, The Business Rooms, my friend’s wonderful new business and training premises in Norwich. It was everything I’d hoped for – I enjoyed the day so much. The women were all lovely, and they produced some excellent work. We did exercises and writing designed to help us get to know each other and to get to know the way we see ourselves. Some exercises were designed to be cathartic, while others were a celebration of optimism and enthusiasm, making us plan for a more positive future. The women really bonded as a group, possibly in part, because they’d had the same motivations for attending. The feedback sheets they completed tell me how much they enjoyed and benefited from the day, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I’m so excited about this, and it feels so great to have found a way to combine my two great passions – writing and confidence-building. I’ve now set up a full programme of courses, and the evening class starting on 26th February is fully booked. I also have plans to develop E courses. After all, why just stick with my local area? Being an entrepreneur is so exciting; why not go for global domination?

All it takes is faith, energy and enthusiasm. I have an abundance of energy and enthusiasm, and as for faith, whenever that falters, I’m fortunate enough to have a whole array of friends, advisers and role models to keep the fire burning. And it is a fire – a blaze of ideas and plans and dreams.

fire

Not that I’m about to give up writing. With my new novel A Nightingale in Winter coming out this year, I’m gong to be kept very busy. But busy’s fine. Busy’s good. And I’m definitely not going to be clock-watching, except to make sure I don’t get so absorbed in my work I forget about the school run.

To find out more about WriteUP Courses, visit the WriteUP Courses page on my website, or the WriteUP Course Facebook Page.

Calling All Goddesses

Happy New Year!

I haven’t been a very regular blogger in recent months. This is because I find it uses the same muscle as writing fiction – or at least a very similar one – and I have been absorbed in my writing. But I don’t want to give up on blogging, so I won’t. Amongst other things, I’ve been working on a short prequel to my novel The Goddess Workshop, called Calling All Goddesses. Calling All Goddesses tells the story of how my four female characters – Janet, Estelle, Reenie and Kate – ended up on a course promising women ‘A Garden of Earthly Delights.’

When I wrote The Goddess Workshop, I must have written at least three different beginnings until I decided that the right place to start was on Day One of the workshop where the four women meet each other for the first time, as well as their inspiring workshop leader Jade. But those other beginnings were always in the back of my mind; I was very fond of them because I felt they revealed the characters with all their insecurities and foibles. So, I’m really glad I’ve found a use for them in Calling All Goddesses!

Calling All Goddess no shabby font

Click here to download the story from Amazon.

A Writer’s Toolbox – The Art of Selective Vision

When I am not writing, I don’t feel like myself. I am fidgety and restless, aware that now I have the time to do all the sensible stuff that has been neglected while I’ve been writing my novel – housework, the redecoration of the house, and of course, marketing my books. There’s no excuse not to do any of these things now – after long months slaving over a keyboard, I’m finally free!

washing up

Except that I still don’t have much enthusiasm for any of those tasks. I go through the motions, being a good grown up girl and doing what is expected of me, while not really feeling like me at all. I much prefer the me who’s immersed in writing a novel, hearing my characters speak to each other inside my head, my imagination busy at work planning what will happen next, making links and thinking of clues to leave for the reader. In this world I develop selective vision, and don’t see the places in my home that need cleaning or redecorating.

paint-and-decorating-london

Not that it’s all plain sailing while I’m writing. Inevitably, there comes a time where I start to doubt the quality of what I’m producing. Is it as good as my last book? Is it too different to my last book? Are the characters really coming to life? Is what I’ve written in fact, just a pile of poo? Once I start to get self-conscious, my confidence wavers. Rosalind Brackenbury likened this to the experience of looking in the mirror when you’re just about to go out and deciding you don’t like the way you look. You have to go out anyway if you don’t want to miss the bus or the start of the play.

To keep going with my writing, I have to try to ignore feelings of doubt and self-consciousness when they arrive. Sometimes it helps not to write the novel in its sequential order, but to focus on the parts that really grip and obsess me. I identify these by splurging them all out onto index cards, which act as touch stones to take me through to the end of the novel. And I always know the ending of the book – it’s there all the time like a light at the end of a tunnel I’m mining my way through. Some writers don’t need to be able to see this light, but they’re braver souls than me. I’m afraid of the dark.

Speaking of the dark, tomorrow evening I’m going to a highly scary Halloween event called PrimEvil. There will be hosts of actors in hideous costumes lurking in mazes, the sound of chain saws and screams. And it will be dark. Very dark. The friends I’m going with will have to be my touch stones to get me through; the pub at the end of the evening my light at the end of the tunnel. Actually, housework and redecorating suddenly don’t seem so bad after all…

primevil

 

The Dare Club – when life imitates literature

THE DARE CLUB cover 2

Question: what do you get if you combine a novel featuring an abseiling woman on the cover, good weather, good friends and a deserving charity?

Answer: The Dare Club abseil challenge in aid of Keeping Abreast, which took place on Saturday 21 June at Aid Rope Access in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

It was a fabulous day – everyone was so brave. Quite a few of the ladies taking part were terrified of heights and were literally shaking as they climbed the steep steps to the top of the 20 metre abseil tower. There were 3 different heights to abseil from, but everyone went from the top, which was a real achievement.

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The 20m abseil tower at Aid Rope Access

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Me with my fellow Dare Club organisers – The Amazing Abseillers. Love them all!

There were 3 different heights to abseil from, but everyone went from the top, which was a real achievement. One of my friends said she was cursing me since it was my idea, but she did it anyway and felt amazing afterwards. But then I already knew she was brave, because she maintained a steadfastly positive outlook for the whole time she was being treated for breast cancer recently. She was also more than happy to help me with my research when I was writing The Dare Club, in which one of the characters – Colette – has had breast cancer.

As for me, I’d been fairly blasé about the whole thing right from the start – I went up the tower before the event and enjoyed looking at the views and the feeling of the wind in my hair. I’ve never had a problem with heights, so I wasn’t scared as I posed for photos before I began my ascent to the top.

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Posing before climbing to the top with the book that inspired it all!

But then I was actually standing at the open hatch with the distant view of the ground below and… well; let’s just say things were suddenly different. I still wasn’t scared of heights, but I was scared of imminent death. But of course that was never a possibility! The guys at Aid Rope Access who hosted the event were amazing, and our safety was never in doubt. And it had to feel scary, or else what was the point? People needed to be impressed to be inspired to donate, and donate they did. We raised almost three thousand pounds for Keeping Abreast, a charity that helps women who’ve had breast cancer by running support groups and providing information about reconstruction surgery.

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Coming down!! Eek!!!!!

And so, my novel about a dare club has inspired the existence of a true life dare club, and our inaugural event was a big success. “What’s the next event?” people kept asking me on Saturday. “Cliff diving,” I answered, deadpan. For just a fraction of a section, some of them believed it, but don’t worry, you won’t get me up there on top of a cliff. Now, white-water rafting, maybe.

cliff diving

Any takers for cliff diving?!!!