Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Confidence, Determination, Patience and Self Belief

Life's tough when your confidence and self esteem have been stripped away from you. You feel like a nobody, someone who's soul has blackened and died, waiting for the moment when life will finally take away your earthly body.

My confidence was stripped away while I was at university and this unfortunate trend has continued until fairly recently. There were always more negatives than positives which made me question everything. At times, it felt as though I could do nothing right whether at work, home, or with my friends. Life was a monotonous cycle of wondering what the next disaster was going to be. Who would be the next person to chip away at my already fragile being? What would be the next event that would hammer a nail into the cracks of my carefully formed shell?

It's hard to accept compliments when everything you seem to do is wrong. You smile and brush them off, batting around comments such as, “Oh, it's nothing”. Or “Someone else could do better”. I did it with my writing.

I've had several books published so someone enjoys my work enough to put it out there. I've picked up awards. Peoples comments have been mostly positive.

Yet it was never enough to lift the darkness that surrounded me. Where there was once someone who ran her school's drama department and had absolutely no problem in being extrovert, now stood a person who wished only to hide in the shadows. I wanted to do things. Wanted to be inspired and create and go wherever my heart told me to go. But I was terrified. I was terrified of being uncovered as some kind of fraud. Terrified of letting myself be put in positions where I would be criticized even more. Terrified of opening up my heart and soul. I couldn't go there because the pain would be more than I could ever take. It was an agony I knew would drag me to the brink.

Things started to change in the summer of 2014. I'd just finished working on the piece that was given to Dave and handed it over to my proofreaders. My intentions were to send it to a publisher.

“Don't,” one of my readers said. “Turn it into a screenplay instead.”

I hadn't written a screenplay in ten years but I wasn't going to let that stop me. It took me six months to do before I sent it back to her. She loved it and made the suggestion that I talked about in Four Days, Three Flights, Two Concerts, and a Pumpkin.

So I did.

One of my problems is that I've always hated my writing style. I wanted my books to flow in a way that read like those books I immortalised. Instead I found myself writing what I considered to be a very simplistic style. And I loathed it. I desperately tried to change it but, when I did, I hated the results even more. The style just wasn't me and didn't fit with the stories I was telling. It took me until just a few months ago to realise that I was trying to force myself to be something I wasn't. I wasn't being true to myself nor was using the voice that I'd been given. Maybe I was writing in a particular style to make the messages I had in my heart more understandable?

One of the many gift journals I've received over the years.

Things started to change when I had that minor revelation. I started noticing peoples compliments and, rather than brushing them off, I thanked them. I also found the reviews from the original version of this screenplay and they made me realise that what I do, and how I write it, aren't as bad as I thought they were. In fact, they're far, far better. Over the past week or so, many of them have reduced me to tears.

I adore the premise; it rings all too poignant, foreshadowing a very possible chain of events that may become our reality one day.

Yes!!! Another fascinating story! This idea is very interesting, and I ALREADY love it.

You are building a powerful, vivid, scary world here and I am really interested in where you are going to take it. I am in for the ride! Let's do this! Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for this.

I am so proud of you! Honey, you are an intelligent woman who deserves to have her voice heard. Always remember that.

You were so courageous in your doing.

If you're one of the people whose words are listed here, thank you. Your kindness and generosity as well as your unwavering belief in me have slowly started to rebuild what was destroyed so many years ago. I hope that one day I'll be able to repay you and pay your love and kindness forward.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Thoughts on Paris

I'm sitting here in shock. To my right, there's a cup of tea. BBC News plays on the TV.

Last night, Paris came under attack for the second time in less than a year. This time attackers marauded through the city, targeting restaurants, the football stadium, and a concert. 127 people are dead and hundreds more are injured. Of those who lost their lives, 80 were at the Eagles of Death Metal concert.

Today, we wake up and realise that the world, and especially the music community, has changed again. Once more, the changes aren't for the better.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never wake.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never visit their favourite places.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never hear another note of music.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never taste their favourite foods again.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never see their favourite bands play.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never know the joy of walking through autumn leaves, or watching it snow, or feeling the sun upon their faces.

One hundred and twenty seven people who will never see their families and friends again.

One hundred and twenty seven people will never get to tell their loved ones how much they love them.

Let us remember those who died while they were relaxing and enjoying themselves. Let us think of them as we attend our favourite sporting events, eat at our favourite restaurant, or attend concerts by our favourite bands.

Let us light up the world with our love and light. Let it remind those who wish to harm and kill that we will stand strong. Let us support those who will have their confidence and joy shattered by these events.

Let us not live in fear for this is what the people who perpetuated this want. Don't let attacks like this snuff out of your inner light. Stay strong, stay safe, and walk with your head held high.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

How Four Days, Three Flights, Two Concerts and a Pumpkin Changed My Life

Or Why I Delivered Flowers to Dave Grohl

The plan was beautiful in its simplicity. Take a package to a florist and get them to deliver it along with a floral display.

Except that sometimes the universe likes to throw curve-balls in order to test and change us.

I'd finished a book and screenplay that I wanted to get into someone's hands. Unfortunately, I don't have that person's contact details so getting it to them was going to need some creative logistics.

Which is how I wound up in Berlin armed with a package of bound papers and a list of florists. I landed in Germany on Saturday afternoon, giving me enough time to make my drop off once I'd checked into my hotel.

The flight to Berlin

Only I hadn't thoroughly done my research. Unlike the UK, Berlin doesn't have Sunday shop openings nor deliveries. And I didn't have a plan B. In the ways of any bad gambler, I'd bet everything on one option and hoped I'd hit the jackpot.

Once upon a time, when I was medicated, I was very methodical. Back then, I'd have spoken to people, done my homework and found out that nothing opens on a Sunday in Berlin. I'd have had plans A through Z ready before I left the UK.

In my determination to lead a drug free life, I've discovered that aspects of my previous life have died. This is in no way a bad thing as, at that point, I needed a monotonous routine to survive. Except that's not who I am and it did nothing to feed my heart and soul. Yet nothing would change while I was medicated.

As the drugs wore off, so things began to change. Some were for the better while some were for the worse. I had more energy and my brain processed things faster than it previously had (sometimes a little too fast). On the downside I began to forget things, my moods swung and I struggled to define the emotions I was feeling for the first time in a decade.

As I began to live back in the real world, I realised that my life purpose and my current life didn't match. I became frustrated and withdrawn. I know what I want to do with my life but I currently don't have the means to achieve it without the investment and help of other people.

So I seized the opportunity to go to Berlin and ask for help.

And nearly sabotaged myself in the process.

There's a lot of walls I've built around myself over the years. Walls of fear and uncertainty. No matter how much I enjoy being creative, I fear that my work isn't good enough. I'm scared of being scorned, humiliated or outright ignored. My default setting for the past year has been “Why bother? No one is listening”.

A section of the Berlin Wall

Then there's the crippling anxiety that prevents me from doing so many things. It's a feeling that makes me vomit.

But you want to know how and why I gave Dave Grohl a pumpkin filled with flowers.

One of my proofreaders had suggested that I pass the screenplay on to him. She's a wonderfully intuitive woman whose advice I'm always willing to listen to. After discussing it with the few other people in our group, I decided to give it a go. Because what did I have to lose?

With no one able to make a delivery, it was up to me to do it, an idea that filled me with fear. I had no plan B and had absolutely no intention of making such deliveries.

Except the universe also likes to send people to help us and I'm eternally grateful for the amazing group of people I've found myself surrounded by. Tom from Given to Live was also in Berlin and is one of the best motivators I've had the pleasure of meeting.

However, what was supposed to be a nice weekend in Germany turned in to a frustrated battle as he tried to talk me into a new plan. Meanwhile, I did what I normally did when faced with the cold, hard truth of what I needed to do. I shut down. I refused to speak or answer questions. I did everything in my power to ignore the situation because, in reality, I didn't want to face it. I was terrified of peoples reactions. Terrified of rejection and ridicule. Terrified that I was doing the wrong thing. Terrified that my voice, the one I'd cultivated through years of writing, wasn't strong enough.

I was terrified that I wasn't a good enough person to go through with this nor that I deserved anything that came from it. My self esteem and confidence were running on empty and had been for a long time. Where once I'd have jumped at the challenge, I now shrank back from it. I preferred to hide away rather than face the possibilities of what I could do. I was no longer a human being. I was a human doing, one who followed the rigid rules of life. I refused to allow myself to feel. Refused to follow the instinct that had been gnawing at my gut for the past year. Refused to acknowledge that I can do whatever I put my mind to.

But there was no way Tom was giving up and, despite my rigid silence, he formulated a new plan.

I could have bought anything from that florist. Lilies, roses, something that was big, beautiful and bold. Instead, I was drawn to a corner where, on a low shelf, sat a pumpkin that had been hollowed out and filled with autumnal flowers. With it cradled in my arms, I paid for it and went back to the hotel.

However, come morning, I couldn't move. I was nauseous and paralysed with fear as the excitement of the previous night slid away. But I was in Berlin for a reason and I knew that I'd regret it forever if I didn't go through with everything I'd come to do.

Sometimes we need the tough love of our friends to make us realise exactly what we can do. We need them to help us see past the barriers we've built around ourselves and make us believe again. Despite the fears we need to be shown that sometimes we can battle through heaven and hell to see it through to the end. I had my ass kicked that weekend and, damn, I needed it. I'm so grateful that someone was there to help me remember who I truly am.

So with the pumpkin and screenplay packaged, I made my way out to the arena.

The journey felt unusually long. Where I normally would have listened to music, I instead sat and watched the city slide by. Every negative thought I'd had about myself over the previous months rolled through my mind. When the venue came into view, I wanted to vomit. When I exited the station, I wretched.

Finally I found myself standing before the arena's black and white facade. It was make or break time. I could turn around and go back to the hotel. Or I could begin to finish bringing down the walls I'd built around myself.

The past few days have been a whirlwind of emotions and, for the first time in a long time, I feel free. I feel more like myself, like my wings are growing back. I feel ready to take on whatever challenges the future holds.

And the pumpkin? It was delivered.

Dave, if you're reading this, I hope the pumpkin made you smile, too. You have my email. Get in touch.

My Itinerary

Saturday 7th November – Fly from Birmingham to Berlin
Sunday 8th November – Foo Fighters show at the Mercedes Benz Arena
Monday 9th November – Fly from Berlin to Dublin and Megadeth show at the 3 Arena
Tuesday 10th November – Fly from Dublin to Birmingham

Monday, 2 November 2015

Measure of Success

When people talk about being successful they're generally referring to a career or how much money a person has acquired. The amount of money I had was how I judged how successful I was. Less money meant that, to me, I was less of a person.

It's taken a long time to realise that success can be measured in many different ways and it got me thinking of the things I've done since I published my first book back in 2012. When it first came out, I thought I would be one of those overnight success stories. I thought all my problems would be solved with a single book.

I may have been naïve in that way of thinking but, a long the way, I've learned a lot more about the measure of success. It's not about money, nor fame, but about the little things. The tiny moments in time when we realise that we're better off physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or financially than we were yesterday.

For example, thanks to my writing, I've achieved the following:

  • Travelled long haul for the first time in over a decade.
  • Met many wonderful people who I ordinarily wouldn't be able to meet.
  • Given lectures.
  • Made new friends and reconnected with old ones.
  • Visited some amazing places in the British Isles.
  • Created work with some incredible authors.
  • Become involved with some brilliant projects.
  • Taken over, and now run, a large writing website.

Success shouldn't just be measured by how someone looks or how much wealth they've managed to accumulate or whether they're on the cover of magazines. There are so many ways for a person to measure how successful they are. Sometimes it's the smaller things that mean something to a person.