Making the Most of Your One Life: Guest Post by Pat Abercromby, author of “Just One Life”

The first thing about my life you might want to know is that I have been on the planet for seventy two years and hope to be around for at least another twenty years of active and healthy life.

I have been extraordinarily lucky as I have been able to pursue several varied, interesting and very fulfilling career pathways. These include medical research, journalism, recruiting agency business, holistic massage therapy, establishing a training school for teaching acupressure chair massage, setting up a First Aid training company and just recently starting up Wellbeing Direct with my business partner Davina. We have a team of therapists going into corporate companies offering chair massage treatments.

I have no intentions of retiring which I think helps you to forget the rapid passing of the years. Occasionally, when I wake up feeling a bit stiff  I do feel ‘finite’ then.  My weeks just fly in with a variety of activities. One day a week I visit my husband in his nursing home where he has been for just over two years. He had a massive stroke ten years ago and for the first eight years I was his full-time carer which was tough for both of us. Now he has dementia as well and needs residential nursing care. I suppose in some way, I want to claim those lost years back. Just One Life was written as a result of going to a creative writing class and being encouraged and inspired to expand my first 10,000 word effort into a novel. I have a non-fiction book and another novel in the pipeline. Maybe I will end up like Barbara Cartland still writing in my nineties, but not reclining on a chaise longue swathed in pink chiffon! I am more comfortable writing in a tracksuit and T shirt!

Every morning regardless of the weather, I walk Molly my little Schnauzer who is 14, for almost an hour in the nearby fields and woods. I still go to a creative writing class once a week as it keeps my ‘writing brain’ tuned up and I enjoy the company and stimulation of my fellow writers in the class. I belong to two book clubs so always have a couple of novels to read and discuss at our meetings (in the pub, very convivial). I am very blessed to have a few good friends living locally, so I usually meet up with one of other of them every week for a coffee and catch-up chat. Another old friend is in a local retirement home and I visit her once a week or take her out walking if the weather is fine. I have Glaucoma and had to give up driving about ten years ago, so I go everywhere by bus. My husband’s nursing home is two bus rides and a long uphill walk away. The bus pass is useful!

I treat a few private clients at home which is very fulfilling as they always leave feeling loose and relaxed, all the muscle tension eased out. The acupressure chair massage is a great treatment as it is done through clothes and only takes 20 minutes to do a full session which does not tire me out!

These are my own personal tips for making the most of what is left of my life. They work for me, but everyone is different of course.

Friendships are unbelievably precious, nurture them and be sure to let your friends know that you care about them. Keep in touch with your long distance friends and family, preferably by phone ( isn’t WhatsApp great!!) or if you must, by Facebook. Don’t get addicted to Facebook, it can be a terrible time waster watching videos people have posted of cute animal antics etc.

Laugh as much as you can, laughter releases wonderful endorphins in the brain (although so does eating chocolate!) Reminiscing with old friends on earlier funny experiences is always a good way to have a laugh. Shared laughter is the best kind)

I am a vegetarian because I don’t like the taste of meat or chicken (never have) but I do eat fish and lots of fruit and vegetables every day. My best kitchen accessories are my Nutribullet, my soup maker and my steamer.

I walk every day, often ride my bike and do pilates and yoga (I confess I have just started the latter two but already feeling the benefits)

Getting out in nature. Water, woods, trees, fields, mountains.  All uplifting. I went to the bluebell woods at Easter. Acres and acres of them. Absolutely stunning. Tending my garden gives me a lot of pleasure and satisfaction.

I am not lonely now living by myself. I have a lovely family, two daughters and grandchildren. Sleepovers for the grandchildren sometimes, love their company but nice to have the house quiet again when they leave.

I love classical music and go to concerts as often as I can with a friend. I usually have Classic FM on but still enjoy listening to some of the old pop favourites from my early years as well.

I try to be ‘a cup half full’ person and stay optimistic in spite of the personal and global challenges facing us these days.

I am saving (might take a while) for an overseas trip to America, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand to visit friends and family while I am still young enough and fit enough to travel. As I will be gone for a few months, I may have to wait until Molly, my 14 year old dog passes on. Not too sure what to do about my husband… but I can’t wait too long before I go, so I will have to risk it, knowing that my girls will take on the weekly visits for me.

PatAbercromby_AuthorPhotoAbout the author: Living in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Pat Abercromby has enjoyed a varied career – from recruitment consultant to journalist in Saudi Arabia and massage therapist – eventually setting up a training school for Seated Acupressure Massage. Today she continues to work within the field of corporate wellness with her business partner Davina Thomson with their joint company Wellbeing Direct. She also co-wrote and published Seated Acupressure Massage with Davina Thomson in 2000. In her spare time, Pat enjoys being an active member of her local creative writing group, classical music and the outdoors.

Just One LifeJust One Life

When you realise you have just one life left to live, how do you make peace with the mistakes of your past?

Fran should be looking back on her life with pride. She’s risen to the top of the job ladder, having left behind a council housing estate in post-war Glasgow, to forge a colourful, fulfilling career and enjoy all the trappings of success.

But instead, Fran is consumed by regret. A shocking revelation has cast her life, and her thirty-year marriage, asunder. She finds herself the full-time carer for her husband, a man she now accepts, she has never loved. The sacrifices she has made, the personal freedoms she has lost, have left Fran crushed. Her free-spirited friend Iona is her one salvation. Their friendship has survived the storms of conflict and loss since childhood, their deep affection for one another the only constant remaining in Fran’s life, a life she no longer recognises as her own.

Her husband’s new brush with death will give Fran the chance to reflect on what she has left, the choices she has made and the two men she has loved and lost.

Can Fran find a way through the ruins of her marriage and find inner peace, to make the most of what remains of her life’s journey?

Amazon UKhttps://www.amazon.co.uk/Just-One-Life-Pat-Abercromby-ebook/dp/B06XXZ7BP7/

For our review of Just One Life go here.

 

No Place Like Home: Guest Post by Fiona Mordaunt, author of “The Frog Theory”

Reading Armadillo by William Boyd as a teenager excited me in large part because he mentioned Fulham, where I grew up – a tangible connection to my own experiences. It made sense to set The Frog Theory there, too, where the characters were born, and where I started writing their stories at the age of fifteen.

‘When I see those mountains I feel a little leap of excitement and I know I’m nearly home!’ said a woman in a pub in Scotland. I looked out of the window with her at the stunning view and wished I felt like that about somewhere.

Not long afterwards, I spent a stint living in Australia and when I came back, I felt that leap for the first time. Oh, that’s what she meant. But I don’t get it with mountains, I get it when I know I’m approaching London – London is my home! I thought. There was something alluring about the idea of roots and connection.

I am now conscious of that same excitement every time I go to London. Memories pop up like forgotten photographs – remember this, remember that, myriad emotions jostling for space. I enjoy seeing cranes pecking like robotic dinosaurs at some new building project; art galleries; theatre. I walk through More London for our pilgrimage to Dim T (sharing platter, dim sum, other delicious things) and stop halfway when Tower Bridge is perfectly framed. I turn around on the spot and look at The Shard; I do it again. Old. New. Old. New. Just once more in the imaginary time machine.

Sometimes there are small children making their way diligently up and down the moat. My daughter has been one of them, incongruous amongst the business people striding up and down on their mobile phones, smart in their slick office clothes. I wonder whether the architects knew how much children would enjoy the area too and how they would slot in so happily?

While I am in town, there is always time for Borough Market and for Jose on Bermondsey Street; the food and the wine calls so sweetly – tapas fit for gods. I may even pay a visit to House of Fraser, just over London Bridge, fondly known as ‘Hoff’! So re-named by my great friend, Moira.

At this point I feel the urge to mention Balham. ‘Places connect us,’ I said to someone here in Gaborone when they first arrived,

‘I used to live in Balham, too! For eight years. I had a little workshop there with a garden… and frogs, in the conservation area.’

‘No way, which street?’

‘Bushnell Road, do you know it?’

‘Know it? I was just around the corner!’ And so we went on for a happy hour or more. It is our way of establishing connections, of finding things in common.

I am well used to coincidences of this sort, they happen all the time, but here’s one that amazed even me: I was in London and I hailed a black taxi from Waterloo to Wandsworth. The driver asked me where I lived and I said, ‘You might not have heard of it, but we live in Gaborone right now.’

‘Funnily enough, I have! My best mate from school days moved there with his wife, you might know him.’

There are 231,592 people in Gaborone, 8.6 million in London, but it’s always worth a try, isn’t it? They are my next door neighbours! His wife is actually in my book club. Out of 22,000 black taxis I got into his. He even had photos of them together at their leaving do on his phone.

As for Fulham, I do return. It is precious for me but I would not want to live there. Too much history and too many memories which make me feel sad; my mum is not there anymore and I miss her.

Why should we have roots like a tree, deep in the earth, calling us back to one place, anyway? I think of orchids with their floating roots above the ground, closer to the sun, settling high in mystical forests, full of birds and animals, the babbling of water never far away. That image is so much more versatile; it suits. I edit out anything that bites. Or stings. And I add a treetop pub or two. There! Perfect! There’s no place like home.

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After attending school for model-making, Fiona Mordaunt started Image Casting in 1998, specializing in customized body castings. Over the course of 13 years, she worked on such films as Atonement and The Wildest Dream, as well as for personal clients like Lionel Richie. In 2012, she relocated to Botswana with her husband and daughter where she currently resides.

http://www.fionamordaunt.com/

 

 

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Tragedy and comedy in perfect proportion.

Kim and Flow are the best of friends, living on a council estate, making money selling drugs.

Just around the corner in a smarter part of Fulham is Clea, a well-heeled young woman coping with a violent home life at the hands of her twisted step-father.

The Principal runs a famous college for problem teens. Fostering guilty secrets which distance her from her own children, she resists the advances of a man she sees on the train every day.

When Kim and Clea meet by chance, Kim is smitten but worried about her. Using the anecdote of the frog theory — that it will jump straight out of boiling water and live, but stay in and die if heated slowly from cold — he wakes her up to the dangerous situation she’s in at home.

Serendipity and a cake-fueled food fight that goes viral will bring Kim, Clea, Flow and The Principal together in weird and wonderful ways in this frenetic, laugh-out-loud story about love, conscience and lion-hearted nerve.

For our review of The Frog Theory go here.

A Story of Hope, Love, and Faith: Guest Post by Author Monika Jephcott Thomas

It’s the eighth of May, 1945, and Word War Two has come to an end. The doorbell rings. Two American  army officers carrying riding crops step up to the door and one of them speaks, his manner and his tone both extremely commanding, ‘Within the next few hours, you must clear out your flat.’ Just like that. There is absolutely no opportunity for discussion or question. I am heavily pregnant and expecting the birth of my first child within a matter of days. I hurriedly gather up all of our possessions, and pack them into boxes, which we then stack at the front of the house. Now, I am literally sitting on the street with my in-laws.

This is an extract from my mother’s diary. I was born in Germany in 1945 a few days after this entry was written. My father was a POW in Siberia, so I didn’t meet him until I was four. The first years of my life were spent in occupied Germany. We lived in Mengede, Dortmund, in the North-West of the country. Allied troops wandering around the streets of my hometown were a familiar sight. The bitterness and resentment they had for the German people was palpable. The ransacking of homes and the rape of German women was rife. Germany in the months after the end of the war was a dangerous place. But it was all I knew. To me it was normality.

Then he was coming home. My papa, the man I had heard about and had seen in photos but had never met, was coming home. Mum seemed to be very busy getting things ready, with banners for his welcome and decorating the house with flowers. The local press were informed that this war hero was coming back, and then the morning arrived. We all went together to Mengede Station – Oma and Opa, Tante Änne, my Mum and myself. We were not allowed to go on to the platform so we stayed at the entrance where we were expecting him to emerge. I stood beside my Mum, waiting for him to appear, holding the little bunch of flowers I was going to give him. And suddenly, there he was! This man in his army uniform, looking very pale and thin, walking towards us. He stopped in front of us and nobody quite seemed to know what to do. So my Mum whispered to me “Give him the flowers and say hello.” I did, and I expected him to scoop me up in his arms and hug me, kiss me and tell me how much he loved me and how he had missed me… but he didn’t. Instead, he took a round brown Bakelite container out of his rucksack and gave it to me, saying “This is for you.” I opened it and it was full of sweets, such as I had never had before and I was sure my Mum would not allow me to have. However, it made me forget that he had not done all the things I had expected him to do, including not hugging my Mum or his parents.

We all walked back to my grandparents’ house and I held hands with them while Dad and Mum walked together, arm in arm. Once we were inside, after he had been shown around and we all had some ‘Kaffee und Kuchen,’ my grandparents suggested I went out to play with my friends so I took the brown container with me. However, as soon as I was out of sight of our house, I opened the container and stuffed myself with sweets. Then I went to meet my friends and, because I felt guilty for having eaten so many, I handed the sweets round to everyone, obediently doing what I had been taught – to share – keeping the empty box to play with later and to take home as evidence of my generosity. When I got home for supper, my Papa asked me where the sweets were. I held the empty box and opened the lid, showing him proudly that I had none left because I had shared them with my friends. I thought he would praise me but, instead, he became very angry with me for giving them away.

Of course, there was no way I could possibly understand then how many sacrifices he had made in order to give me that present, for how long he had deprived himself of even the horrible food they had to eat in the labour camp, how many people he had bribed to give this ‘treasure’ to me.

This first meeting between me and my father inspired a central moment in the last chapter of my novel Fifteen Words. How two young lovers, such as my mother and father were during World War Two, can be ripped apart by war, separated for such long and debilitating times, and then how they begin to repair the inevitable rifts that have formed between them, is the subject of the novel – one which, despite the bleak backdrop of war, is a story about hope, love and faith in all its forms.

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Monika Jephcott Thomas grew up in Dortmund Mengede, northwest Germany. She moved to the UK in 1966, enjoying a thirty-year career in education before retraining as a therapist. Along with her partner, Jeff, she established the Academy of Play & child Psychotherapy in order to support the twenty percent of children who have emotional, behavioral, social, and mental health problems, by using play and the creative Arts. A founder member of Play Therapy UK, Jephcott Thomas was elected President of Play Therapy International in 2002.

fifteen-words-cover

Two young doctors form a profound and loving bond in Nazi Germany; a bond that will stretch them to the very limits of human endurance. Catholic Max – whose religious and moral beliefs are in conflict, has been conscripted to join the war effort as a medic, despite his hatred of Hitler’s regime. His beloved Erika, a privileged young woman, is herself a product of the Hitler Youth. In spite of their stark differences, Max and Erika defy convention and marry.

But when Max is stationed at the fortress city of Breslau, their worst nightmares are realized; his hospital is bombed, he is captured by the Soviet Army and taken to a POW camp in Siberia. Max experiences untold horrors, his one comfort the letters he is allowed to send home: messages that can only contain fifteen words. Back in Germany, Erika is struggling to survive and protect their young daughter, finding comfort in the arms of a local carpenter. Worlds apart and with only sparse words for comfort, will they ever find their way back to one another, and will Germany ever find peace?

Fifteen Words is a vivid and intimate portrayal of human love and perseverance, one which illuminates the German experience of the war, which has often been overshadowed by history.

Available on Amazon.

For Grandma’s review of Fifteen Words, go here.

Your Fortress of Solitude: Five Steps to a Power Desk

Guest Post by author Leslie Nagel, The Book Club Murders

So you’ve managed to carve out some precious writing time from your busy schedule. Fantastic. You’re now ready to tackle the next major hurdle: work space. The first logical question that presents itself is: Do I need a dedicated space for my writing? The short answer is simple.

YES. YOU DO.

There are two reasons why. The first connects logically to our earlier discussions. You are busy. For that reason, you don’t have time to set up all your junk every time you get a free moment. If you have to pack up your notes, your laptop, your favorite mouse pad and so on, and then unpack it all and arrange it before you can get anything done, odds are you’ll never get to the good stuff. The goal is to reduce or eliminate all the wheel-spinning so you can focus on writing.

The second reason has more to do with head space than geography. We’ve all read studies that show students do better on tests if they sit in the same seat they learned in. Research has proved that the territorial instinct supersedes most others, even the urge to reproduce or eat. Many animals will literally wither away while defending their lair or nest. Heavy psychology aside, if you’re going to build an imaginary world of any complexity, you’ve got to be able to come back to the same physical place, your place, day after day. Doing so reduces distractions from fresh sensory input and makes it easier for you to return to that imaginary world and concentrate on what happens next.

If you don’t have the luxury of converting an extra bedroom, den or finished basement into an office with a door, all is not lost. But that doesn’t mean you can settle for balancing your workspace on top of a filing cabinet. At a minimum, you’re going to need a desk sized surface. It can be a kitchen counter, but you’ve got to insist on at least four linear feet—six is better—that you claim as your own, that you can set up and keep set up, and that NO ONE ELSE MESSES WITH. If you are truly serious about having a writing life, then this is an absolute must.

Properly organizing your work space is essential. A quick Google search of how to do so only produced about twelve hundred hits. I read every single one, condensed all that knowledge, and it is my pleasure to present Leslie’s 5 Steps To A Power Desk:

  1. Keep it to the bare essentials. For a modern writer, the list is actually pretty short. Here is what I have on my desk right this moment:
    1. Laptop
    2. Mouse pad and mouse
    3. Lined legal pad
    4. Coffee
    5. Pad of sticky notes and stack of lined note cards
    6. Three “on deck” stickies: one with a brief plot fix, two with dialog ideas
    7. Cup with pens/pencils
    8. Desk lamp
    9. Cell phone (muted and upside down so I don’t see those flashing push notifications)
    10. ONE framed family photo
    11. Stapler (I also teach school off this desk)
    12. Dish of paper clips and rubber bands
  2. Anything you don’t actually use in the writing process belongs someplace else. If you start allowing soccer schedules and grocery lists to creep in, you’ll be distracting yourself with tasks that belong outside your writing time. TIME AND SPACE. Defend them vigorously. All my school related things go into hanging files while I’m writing. I can pull out 2 files, do the school thing, then refile and rehang in about 5 minutes. School time is school time, and I don’t let it eat into to my writing time. That took practice, but as I’ve said, disciplined focus on your writing is a habit worth cultivating.
  3. Include vertical space. Can you claim a wall near your desktop? You’re going to need it for outlining, and for those start up task reminders. I have a white board that I use for laying out plot points or sticking my endless stickies. (The three on my desk? I’ll be tackling them first thing, so I moved them right next to my laptop.)At the moment I’m also sketching a map that will appear in my next book. The plot hinges on local geography, and the only way to keep myself oriented was to draw a picture. You gain so much more work space when you go vertical.
  4. Annex a shelf. Reference books, extra paper, office supplies you don’t have room for, all of it needs to be out of sight so it stays out of mind during writing time. This could actually be in a different room, so long as it doesn’t infringe on your desk space.
  5. Purchase a trash can. This often overlooked item can be invaluable, provided you actually use it. Once you’ve completed a task, such as modifying a character name and then spell checking it from start to finish, THROW THAT NOTE AWAY. I am an inveterate list maker. Nothing makes me happier than crossing things off my list. The secret is to circular file those old lists the moment you draw a line through the last item. Scary, but liberating, I promise you. If you honestly think you might need that five page story outline from three revisions ago, create a folder and shelve it (See #4).

And that’s it. Once you’ve ordered your environment, you will free your mind for bigger things. Now off you go. I’ve got three sticky notes screaming for my attention. Can’t wait to throw them away.

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Leslie Nagel is the author of The Book Club Murders, the first novel in the Oakwood Mystery series. She lives in the real city of Oakwood, Ohio, where she teaches writing at a local community college. After the written word, her passions include her husband, her son and daughter, hiking, tennis, and strong black coffee, not necessarily in that order.

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The Bookclub Murders

In a charming cozy mystery series debut, Leslie Nagel’s irrepressible small-town heroine finds that her fellow mystery book club members may be taking their Agatha Christie a bit too literally—and murder a bit too lightly.
  
Charley Carpenter has poured heart and soul into her clothing store, Old Hat Vintage Fashions. She’ll do anything to make it a success—even join the stuffy Agathas Book Club in order to cultivate customers among the wealthy elite of Oakwood, Ohio.

Although mixing with the most influential women in town has its advantages, Charley finds the endless gossip a high price to pay. But after two women with close ties to the Agathas are brutally murdered, everyone falls under threat—and suspicion. When key evidence indicates that both murders are the work of the same hand, Charley realizes that the killer has arranged each corpse in perfect imitation of crime scenes from the Club’s murder mystery reading list. She uses her membership in the Club to convince Detective Marcus Trenault to use her as an inside informant. Not that he could stop her anyway.

Intelligent, fearless, and every bit as stubborn as Marc is, Charley soon learns the Agathas aren’t the only ones with secrets to protect. Passions explode as she and Marc must race against time to prevent another murder. And if Charley’s not careful, she may find herself becoming the killer’s next plot twist.

Amazon | B&N | Kobo | ibook

For Bella’s review of the The Book Club Murders go here.