Monthly Archives: January 2016

Toutes Directions

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Toutes Directions

“3rd exit on roundabout

Slight left

Slight left

Turn right

Turn left

Turn right

Turn left

2nd exit on roundabout

Slight right

Turn left

Turn right

Slight left”

These directions represent a mere 4.7 miles worth of instructions from Google maps for the unknown part of a journey I made the other day, after I had exited the M25 at Junction 8. Thankfully I was able to avail myself of the use of a Satnav, in which I placed my implicit trust and I found my destination without any difficulty – which would certainly not have been the case had I been trying, on my own, to follow said instructions on a map or my phone. I suspect I would still have been driving round in circles!

This week turned out to be one of elucidation on a variety of levels. The difference between floundering around with a set of largely useless directions and being guided by the accuracy of the Satnav reflects in some respects the utterly confusing journey of grief. So many twists and turns! – backwards and forwards your emotions run in the early days. How do you find a straight road through the mire of confusion and uncertainty that exists, seemingly to thwart you and send you into blind corner after blind corner? It is only the passage of time that reveals a route which becomes largely forward-facing, although even after many years, the occasional U-turn will be experienced. And who is the Satnav that guides you through the whole process? He, or collectively they, will be made up of many navigators to show the safest and least painful way to traverse this new territory. The signposts for the grief road are many and varied. There is no right or wrong route, but in my experience it is not a linear journey from point A to point B: that would be far too simple.

I frequently refer to Elisabeth Kubler Ross’s stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance as they are recognised as a benchmark for the grieving process, but they are not as neatly packaged as one might expect, or indeed hope. And I will always challenge the notion of the final stage, acceptance, in relation to the loss of a child.

I was further reminded of grief’s progress when I collected a new pair of glasses this week. I have suddenly acquired an almost startling clarity of vision with my new specs. In fact it has led to an unusual enthusiasm for cleaning dusty corners, for with my improved visual acuity, I can see the dust that passed unnoticed before. And suddenly, it feels as though not only has everything been brought into sharp focus, but the time is right for it to be so. I am ready for the scales to fall from my eyes and to face the permanent reality of my loss; a loss which is now over ten years old.

It really has taken me this long to reach the point where I can say, “I feel comfortable living with this grief”.

I have not given up on the grief journey, nor will I, for it is not a finite thing. I am constantly seeking out new ways to explore the ability to live with and comprehend the process and that has not changed. But what is changing, is my level of vision; a vision that no longer feels clouded by the rawness of early loss, and today I feel I have sufficient strength to examine my feelings and emotions without being dragged back downwards to the blind alleys.

It would appear that all my senses are being tweaked at present. I like to listen to the radio on ‘catch up’ on a tablet device, but the sound quality is not very good A friend recommended an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker and it is a brilliant piece of kit – producing a sound that is rich, true and well-rounded. Bluetooth is a bit like magic, to my non-technical mind. How is it that there are no wires or cables and the speaker can be placed some distance from the tablet, and yet the sound comes across, clear and true?

Perhaps this is another reminder that just because we cannot see our loved ones, does not mean that they are not there, we just can’t see the connections …

So … in a week that felt as though not very much happened, suddenly my senses have been awakened in unexpected ways. I find myself being guided along new pathways, able to see more clearly and hear more acutely. Not a bad week after all!

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Pitch Perfect

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People often ask me, “how are your book sales going?” and I rarely have an informed reply for them, as my honest response is that it has never been about the numbers. However, recently I received an email from Perfect Publishers, the self-publishing company who released Into the Mourning Light on my behalf in January 2014. I was pleased to see from the royalty statement that the book is selling steadily, although not in high numbers.

But … including the sales through e-books and direct sales which I do at occasional events, the book is averagely finding a new reader around once a week.

This is extremely gratifying. The release of a largely autobiographical book is an emotional experience. It is one thing to write intimately about grief, quite another to share it with a public who essentially do not know me or anything about me. Into the Mourning Light is intensely personal, being about the loss of my son, and my emotions and feelings surrounding that loss, along with contributions from others who have experienced the death of a child. My intention for the book was always for it to find its way to those who need it and this seems to be working. It is not a misery memoir, it is a supportive, positive grief resource and I am delighted that it is achieving the aims that I have for it. It is also an important part of James’ legacy and a positive outcome from the tragedy of his passing.

If you are a self-published author, how do you go about publicising and marketing your book? How do you bring your book to the attention of the audience that you want to read it? How do you take out the emotion from the commercial act of selling your words?

Is word of mouth the best recommendation?

As an amateur in the world of publishing, I have learned much over the past two years. Here are some key points, which are all my own observations.   I hope they are helpful:

  •  Selling is difficult. In particular, selling a non-fiction book is difficult. Selling a non-fiction book that is about death, loss and grief ramps up the difficulty rating to the maximum. BUT there is hope in all this. If you emphasise that the book is telling a positive story, despite its content, then it will appeal to a wider audience.   Although as my lovely daughter said to me, “It’s never going to sell like Harry Potter, mum!”. In other words, you are selling to a niche market, which automatically limits your readership
  • Feedback from those who have actually read your words is very valuable. There is no substitute for personal recommendation. Reviews are always welcome, even if they are not universally complimentary. A one-liner, such as “thank you, your writing really helps me” is sufficient to really lift your day and make it all worth-while. You learn much from being pulled up on your errors, too. If you have done things wrong with the first book, surely you would really prefer not to repeat those mistakes in the second…
  • You would be naïve to think that writing, editing and publishing the book is an end to the process. In many ways it is just the beginning. Writing is addictive and the urge to keep producing material is strong. Everything you write is fodder for subsequent publishing … if you want it to be.
  • Social media is a very useful, largely free tool for keeping your name in the frame. One of the great joys of blogging is the freedom to write about your passions with no restrictive parameters and hopefully to provide an interesting and helpful grouping of words with each post.  Persistence and repetition keep your book at the forefront of people’s minds.
  • You may find, like I do, that it is surprisingly enjoyable to write about the process of writing and to describe the conception and evolution of your book. For myself, pitching articles at various magazines led to the publication of a feature piece in the national ‘Writing’ magazine – and I even got paid for that. There is no place for being a shrinking violet when it comes to self-promotion, even if it goes against the grain of what you would normally do.
  • A short bio that appears wherever your book is mentioned is useful too. I write my own when required but it does make you cringe a bit to sell yourself. If you find it too difficult, ask someone who knows you well and don’t be embarrassed by praise. Writing about yourself in the third person can also help to get your point across without sounding too egotistical.
  • Above all, being clear and concise about your book’s content and more importantly, its message is the best way to sell it. Don’t sell yourself short. Never say anything negative about your book. You are telling a story that no-one else has lived, no-one else has heard. It is YOUR story that YOU have chosen to share.

Come on! – you have had the courage to put your words out there in the world. You are sharing your innermost thoughts and emotions. That takes a deal of pluck. Be proud of what you have achieved and go for it!

 

Seeking out the good stuff

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When I am getting ready for work in the morning, I often turn on the TV in the kitchen. Although I am not really watching it, it provides a backdrop to my breakfast preparation, loading the dishwasher etc, and I get to see the news headlines so I feel a bit more informed and connected with the outside world at the start of the day.

This morning, I noticed for the first time, that as I switch on the television, a message flashes up on the screen. It says Life’s Good ­ which is not so much a message aimed directly at me as the brand motto of LG, the company which made the TV.

But I prefer to think … how lovely it is that my electronic device is sending me a daily reminder, of something which it is all too easy to forget.

In particular at this time of year, the days are still short, grey and rather wet, and it is difficult to shrug off the need to follow new resolutions and to muster enthusiasm for whatever may lie ahead. I was further reminded of this when I attended a Cygnus café meeting at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary earlier this week. The presenter was Jan Dayton, a well-known and respected healer and medium. Jan’s theme was light, colour and rainbows. Through interactive discussion and guided meditation she reminded us of ways to find lightness in our lives, recapture the colour in our existence and to seek out the positive. All these admirable attributes enable us to move forward in our lives in a calmer, better balanced way and I subscribe wholeheartedly to the ethos, whilst accepting that putting it into practice can certainly be a challenge.

We all lead such full lives. It is easy to become blind to the signposts that exist all around us. We need to take time to reconnect, reflect and bring ourselves back into the moment that is now – not yesterday, not tomorrow, but the here and now which is our current place and state of being.

After my visit to the Sanctuary, I tasked myself with listing three things that gave me lightness and enhanced my day and thought of these just before I went to sleep. As Jan said, if we fill our minds with positivity at the end of the day, surely our nights’ rest and dream state will be better than if we spend time fretting about all the things that go wrong throughout the days.

For the record, my three things were

  • seeing daffodils in flower at the sanctuary
  • the view from the sanctuary of the mist lifting over the Surrey hills
  • an unexpected visit from a friend in the afternoon

This is an easy enough practice to adopt on a daily basis, it feels achievable and worthwhile. Why not give it a try?

Another signpost for optimism greeted me when I opened my diary today, in the form of a quote by author Louise May Alcott:

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them, and try to follow where they lead.

Rather than trying to keep resolutions, this year I am going to focus on aspirations. Resolutions feel as though they set you up for failure and the potential to be hard on yourself if you do not succeed, whereas aspirations are to be sought and achieved, fulfilled and completed, which to me represents a far more positive and attainable route.

Here’s to a motivational, aspirational and inspirational 2016!

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