Reflecting on June (2017)… The Tangled Web of ‘The Darkwood Mysteries’…

BEHIND THE WRITING DESK_optBack at the laptop writing feels good! Jumping into a work in progress was a helpful way to get a feel for writing again, but it’s also been a testing experience. It’s been over a year since I last worked on ‘The Disaster Man’ for ‘The Darkwood Mysteries’ and what I want to do with this tale has changed since. It’s actually the second ever Darkwood mystery I wrote after ‘The Thief of Faces’, and was a complete and finished tale. I wrote it as a submission for the Horror Addicts podcast’s anthology book ‘Horrible Disasters’, which was rejected over my other story submission, ‘London Peculiar: The Secret of the Fog’, so it was very short and streamlined. I always felt it to be a little rushed, and having it for myself gives me the luxury of letting the events within it breathe and to expand on the story.

Being a tale about a man cursed with disaster which puts London–his latest destination–at risk, the scale of the danger is pretty epic for ‘The Darkwood Mysteries’, and deserves to be a longer story than it once was. It also lends itself nicely to being a finale for the next run of stories. I’ve planted some seeds in the next set of tales which will develop the characters of Darkwood and Hobbs and their world. I’m conscious that while I love having a couple of heroes to play with, I want a sense of realism thrown in there too.

Darkwood is clever, and Hobbs both tend to sweep in and solve the mystery and move on, with similar beats throughout–Darkwood is clever and usually one step ahead, Hobbs is loyal and a little submissive, Darkwood studying to be a doctor, having support and backup in her investigations through Scotland Yard, Darkwood is rich and has her station which gives her some sway, always with Darkwood leading and Hobbs following. I didn’t want this series to become predictable and stale, so while the tales will always be about fighting supernatural and criminal evils, and generally being victorious, I really wanted there to be consequences to this life. I introduced an element of that with  ‘The Darkwood Mysteries (8): The Spindly-Snatcher’, with some details of the future of Darkwood and Hobbs very much a short cut to that end, but with my new stories I wanted a few tales where they get a wake-up call around what they are doing.

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Why You Do What You Do… (and are unhappy with the outcome)

WYDWYDEvery day we make choices around what we will and won’t do from situation to situation. Within our personal issues and the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) self-help approach, these behaviours are our actions or inactions influenced by what we think and feel in response to the situations we find ourselves in.

Behaviours can be self-expression, sulks, shoves, comfort eating, facing our fears, shrugs, self-harm, shouting, using alcohol or recreational drugs, crying, sabotaging relationships, swearing, facial expressions, withdrawing, sex, taking ourselves out of difficult situations–or, as most of us do–avoid the situations and experiences we find difficult.

As you will have learned from my posts introducing CBT and normalising what we feel, we experience personal issues in part, or in full, through the way we think. In this post we will be looking at why we do what we do and how these behaviours often lead to our difficult experiences in situations, support our unhelpful thinking, and keep us stuck within our cycles of unhelpful thoughts by preventing us discovering different perspectives and learning different problem solving and coping techniques. A good place to start in understanding why we do what we do is to identify our behaviours in the first place.

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Making The Biscuit Barrel Great Again!

DVDOMPSsmallAh, 2017. A year that will be long remembered in our home, for it was the year of the great and terrible vegan biscuit purge. Gone were the chocolate digestives, the all butter cookies, even the plain digestives which were just there to make us feel a little better about our choices. All gone. Well, eaten. And for the last time.

With loss comes emptiness–and an empty biscuit barrel and tummies with room reserved for biscuits. We thought the biscuit barrel would be filled with uncanny valley vegan fake biscuits–biscuits that look like a biscuit favourite, smell like them, even feel like them–and then turn to tasteless dust in the mouth. Maybe a funky aftertaste if they used fake chocolate. But, there was a new hope… One biscuit remained after the great vegan biscuit purge. The humble gratuitous double-stuffed Oreo biscuit.

Yes, a mainstream biscuit that we could eat! And eat them we have. In fact, most Oreos (check the ingredients) are accidentally vegan! Woohoo, unintentionally ethical biscuits! Awesome.

We hit the biscuit aisle and read lots and lots of labels. And then read them again. And then found ingredients the other had missed (whey–I didn’t really know what that was, but it’s not vegan, and honey–not in bold because it seems no one is actually allergic to honey). We have now begun the great biscuit restoration. Yes, some biscuits are irreplaceable, and the biscuit barrel is different to what it once was, but we have guilt-free treats that hit the mark! Well, when I say ‘guilt free’ I mean no animal suffered was required for the biscuit. I’ll start our list of our picks with the star of the show…

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It’s OK To Feel Your Feelings… (we all have them)

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We all have feelings—happiness, anxiety, stress, unhappiness—and we feel them every day to varying degrees. Regardless of your age, gender, race, sexuality, status, strength, class or education, you could also experience emotional difficulties—too much of these feelings. Personal problems do not discriminate. In the UK, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. You are not alone in experiencing your difficulties—it’s not just you.

Why do we feel the way we feel?

Our feelings can be influenced by hormones, our chemistry, illness, side-effects of medication, stimulant and relaxant foods/drinks/drugs, but largely because of what we’re thinking.

Situations themselves are not emotional. It’s what we think—our interpretation or perception—about the situation and the meanings we draw from them which upset us. To understand that more, and for an introduction to the self-help approach of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) then check out my first blog post Think Better To Feel Better.

So, just what are feelings?

Feelings are the emotional reactions that we have and the physical symptoms that accompany them. Emotionally, there are four types of feelings; happy, sad, angry and scared. Every emotion—no matter how colourful our description—can be reduced down to these four. This can be helpful to remember as it makes recognising and communicating what we are feeling easier. Symptoms are the sensations and reactions of our body that help us know what emotion we’re feeling. These can often be unpleasant, especially with anxiety and stress attacks. A feeling is not an interpretation, an opinion, a guess, or an explanation—these are characteristic of thoughts.

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Reflecting on May (2017)… Writing The Darkwood Mysteries (18): The Disaster Man…

BEHIND THE WRITING DESK_optMay saw me return to writing after a very long break. I have started writing a series of blog posts to support my self-help book ‘Get Over It’, which I’m enjoying. On the fiction front, I decided to return to ‘The Darkwood Mysteries’ as it’s  a comfortable place to be.

I have been reading ‘City of Sin’ by Catherine Arnold–a nice bit of history around London’s relationship with sex over the centuries, and ‘Sins of the City of the Plain’ by ‘Jack Saul’ (probably not actually by him), which is a contemporaneous account of the notorious rent boy, Jack Saul’s experiences. Essentially Victorian gay smut. So, some titillating reading.

No, Darkwood and Hobbs are not suddenly going to have a series of sexcapades (disappointingly for them), but sex is a big part of all our lives, and it’s often when we’re at our most honest, and reading about what the Victorians got up to behind closed doors is sometimes much more informative than the dry accounts reported in newspapers and diaries, especially socially and use of language. While some of the sexy talk seems a little juvenile by today’s sexy talk, a time-travelling sexplorer would be able to have just as much fun in 1800s London. A fun return to research! But, on the actual writing side of it all I decided against a blank page…

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The Dairy Free Milk of Human Kindness…

DVDOMPSsmallAt the start of our 40s, my partner and I have decided to give up breast-feeding. I’m too squeamish to keep doing it. We just can’t stand the thought of drinking the secretions of a cow anymore. I’ve always been a bit squeamish about milk because of the thought of where it comes from, but like most of us, I didn’t think about that very much, and somehow was able to put it out of  conscious thought. I also don’t like the creaminess and the way it coats my tongue and throat. Ugh. Gross. There’s no way I could’ve ever downed a glass of milk straight—not without seeing it again. Thankfully milk was often just an ingredient in my diet and flavoured and disguised by other things—on a day to day level as a functional splash on my cereal and in my regular cups of tea through the day, and the holy transmutation into thick milk shakes and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. I would’ve been going ‘mmmmmm’ at the thought of Ben and Jerry’s before watching Simon Amstell’s Carnage, and seeing what cows have to go through for our tastes. Even if I could be ok with breast feeding, the methods and practices of the dairy industry is offputting enough. Watching that, my squeamishness around milk was triggered and reinforced, and I knew I wanted milk out of my diet.

Watch this and make your own mind up about dairy.

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