26 October 2012

Overcoming Adversity

I’ve been struggling with what life has thrown at me lately and I remembered a quote; and how it penetrated my thoughts the first time I heard it. “A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him” – David Brinkley. Life throws bricks at all of us, and it is our reaction which makes us, or destroys us – not the bricks.

We can shoot a green glance at a fellow human being – “they’ve had it so easy – why can’t it be that easy for me?” We don’t see that our green glance is tinted with rose. It may appear to us that our fellow human beings are having a much easier journey – but if we bother to find out the truth behind their success it is likely we will uncover an entirely different account. Worrying or dwelling about our plight brings me to another quote I tweeted recently “worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere”.

Image in the Public Domain
I can almost guarantee that the subjects of your green glances have had plenty of adversity and bricks thrown at them throughout their journey. Their reaction was not to sit in their rocking chair and worry - at least if they did they didn’t stay there. At first glance Dame Kelly Holmes made her two gold medals in Athens seem so easy, as if they where a formality. I recently saw an emotional interview with Dame Kelly by Piers Morgan. I was amazed that she even made it to Athens after learning the amount of and weight of some of the bricks life threw in her direction:

Image by Russell Garner
  • Dame Kelly’s mother was faced with the choice of getting rid of her baby, or leaving her parent’s home to make her way all on her own. The father didn’t stay around to help her. Her mother chose Kelly and hardship. One can’t help but admire her mother for that.
  • Dame Kelly was in and out of a children’s home as her mother struggled. 
  • Dame Kelly battled injury after injury until it seemed that her dreams had slipped away. Athens was her last chance to make it happen, and it could have gone horribly wrong. 
  • Dame Kelly did not get through her hardships without mental scars – adding to her pile of bricks. 
Despite all this Dame Kelly Holmes took those bricks, built a fire and used it to spur her on. This was not before she had already lost many medals to adversity.

I wonder whether Dame Kelly Holmes would have found the glory she did in Athens if it hadn’t been for the foundations she built through adversity? We will never know that, but what I do know from experience is that every adversity you overcome makes you stronger. You learn from your experiences mentally and emotionally. You gain confidence because you know you are capable of overcoming adversity. Your end goal begins to mean more to you and you become more determined. You no longer take anything for granted so you become a better person inside and out.

Next time you face adversity start by taking a look at the pile of bricks you have already amassed – you may have to look hard, but you’ll be surprised. You’ve done it before and survived, more than you may think. Have you been rejected by a life partner and survived? Now there’s a big brick. Any rejection is a brick thrown in your direction – big or small. Look at the difficulties you have got through in your schooling; your relationships; your career. Your bricks will be many, and your foundation sizeable.

I was recently given a lecture on this very subject. I was slapped around my face with the wet octupus of my achievements in the last 12 months. I paraphrase - “You’re beating yourself up for not having your career travelling at 100 miles an hour yet, but hang on... You could barely even walk 9 months ago! You’ve just come through hell with your father’s illness! Look how far you’ve come!” Basically, I’ve overcome a lot of adversity already.

In some respects with the size of those brick foundations, getting my career back on track should be a breeze. It doesn’t feel like it, but I’ve scaled larger mountains, it’s true. I’ve learned much from my illness and that of my father. I learned and developed in the time I was forced to take off work. So much so I’m a different person, with skills and understanding I would not have had, but for my adversity. I didn’t waste my bricks rocking back and forth worrying – I used them to make me stronger. I’ve had a lot of bricks thrown in my direction, caught them, and survived. They are now mine to use as I see fit. I could sit on them and rock – but that would be out of character. I will use them to build, and I hope that I can inspire you to do the same.

What adversity have you suffered in life? Upon reflection, did it make you stronger? Why not share your experiences below to help to inspire others?

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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20 October 2012

Stories, and the History of History

I found myself sitting back behind a desk at university this week. If you’d asked me when I left university the first time if I thought I’d ever return, I can’t guarantee I could publish my reply here ad verbatim without causing offence. But nonetheless there I was, older, hopefully wiser, and feeling like I belonged like I never did before.

This time was different. My lecturer didn’t explain the English legal ramifications of finding a decomposing snail in a bottle of ginger beer – a bottle which you hadn’t bought yourself. This of course would give rise to a fascinating question – how can the manufacturer be liable without a contract of sale? Did I grab your attention? I thought not. I digress.

Armada Portrait: Picture in the Public Domain
This time I found out why my favourite subject at school was history. Well; I did already know that – but my understanding was not a deep one. I knew it was about the stories – the human stories devoid of legal disputes over rotting snails and ginger beer. I far preferred listening to stories about the antics of Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester, than I did reading an Elizabethan statute on the Poor Law of the 1590’s. And there it is; stories. There are stories to tell about the Elizabethan Poor Law, but you won’t find them in a statute; and those are the stories which would interest me. The statute will hint at those stories, provide clues, but not answers. What was life like for the Elizabethan poor man who couldn’t write his own story down? What happened to him after he found he could no longer feed his family? Did he turn to crime? Did he turn his life around, and how did he do that through all the struggles of the time? Those are the stories I want to tell. Not the first thing you think of when you pick up a text book at school perhaps – all those dry facts and memorising of dates. For me history is about so much more than that. History is what made us who we are; and I want to make that history come alive. We understand ourselves from understanding who and what went before; the lives of our ancestors. Not a set of meaningless facts – their actual lives.

At my university desk, I was starting a short course on writing historic fiction – but you probably guessed that already. I wanted some like minded camaraderie while I write my novel “Eternity”, a quirky story set in the 1920’s. I felt at home at my new desk – I belonged. And to my astonishment I was taught some hard facts which fascinated me:

history noun. Known before 1393 as historie: story, legend, biography... borrowed from old French histoire, and old Latin historia meaning narrative, account, tale, story...” - Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology.

So it seems the word history evolved from the words for stories. The first historians were story tellers – history began with story-telling. History is the subject of the story teller.

In the same way Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology cites the same Latin word “historia” in the history of the word “story”, and also cites “probably before 1200—storie historical narrative or writing”.

I now have a much clearer understanding of who I am and why. I love history, and I love stories – both reading and telling. I loved history because of my love for stories. I’m attracted to feature article writing because I love telling stories – true stories in that instance. This blog is in a sense a story – the story of life’s journey. My love for history doesn’t belong in academia, dissecting the facts and interpreting the “witness statements” in the same way as I would have done when a reluctant lawyer. I’m more than capable of doing that, but it will never make me happy. My love for history belongs in the stories, taking that interpretation one stage further, and making it live again. Had I lived in a by – gone age, I would have been one of those early story tellers of history. In a sense when we write the news and feature articles today, we are creating historical documents – telling stories which will become the history of the future. A love of history and a love of story-telling share the same roots, and those roots are inside of me – with many stems.

My own character drew me to all the separate disciplines necessary for telling good stories – the English language, history and psychology. Following my loves led me to the thing I was born to do. For the first time ever I relished completing my homework – a Victorian short story involving a cellar, a fife and a dead housemaid... a Victorian story based on real reported facts.

What were you born to do? Have your own instincts led you there? Why not leave a comment and share your story? My readers and I would love to hear from you – you know we love stories!

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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14 October 2012

Loved Ones

Life’s Journey isn’t all about work, and my journey isn’t all about writing. Nor should it be. I’ve found many a cliché to be true throughout my life. You’ll never find an epitaph on a gravestone which reads “I wish I’d spent more time in the office”. Instead you’ll find epitaphs about loved ones and noble deeds. This serves as an eternal signpost towards what is important in life, and I’m ashamed to admit I learned that the hard way. I’ve been that workaholic, stuck in the office on my hamster wheel of erroneous priorities.

Ironically serious illness did me a favor  stopping me in my tracks, and teaching me who my true friends were. Those friends who stood by me will be my friends until the day I die – a bond was formed then which can never be severed – they are truly valued by me. The importance of a loving family has been burned into my soul.

I haven’t been able to carry my writing journey forward of late, because a more important area of my life needed my full attention – my father. I wrote about my father’s transfer to a care home because of his Alzheimer’s back in July. I described that care home as being like a hotel. Since then I have learned to truth of another cliché – “all that glitters isn’t gold”. That care home wasn’t right for my father, and last week we moved him to a different home – a move which has been distressing for him, and we are doing all we can to help him settle. I’m not going to go into what went wrong here; all that is relevant is dad is in a more suitable home, and he is being given love and attention.

There are many issues to consider if you find yourself in the painful position of finding appropriate care for a loved one:
  • Look around the care home first. How many staff are allocated per floor? Look into the eyes of the care staff; how do they look at the residents, and are they tactile with the residents? Do they have an eye on the residents observing them and their safety while they are talking to you? Are they putting the residents first before everything else, or are they chatting amongst themselves about last night at the Dog and Duck? 
  • Ask questions of the manager. What is their philosophy about looking after their residents? What activities are planned on a daily basis for the residents, or are they left to their own devices? Would those activities be suitable for your loved one? How much assistance will be provided with basic hygiene requirements, dressing etc.? Are pictorial clues provided for the more confused residents who may have difficulty with the written word? 
  • Does the care home require chapter and verse from you concerning your loved one’s daily routine and their specific care requirements? Routine is important – breaking a routine can cause distress and confusion. 
  • Does the care home require a history/biography of your loved one? Memories are vital. Alzheimer’s patients especially will remember past events better than recent ones – and a biography can be an important way to reach them and engage with them. A care home which doesn’t recognise this could be a problem. You want the care staff to be able to take time out and speak to your loved one about their specific past – to keep their mind working, and care about their mental welfare. 
  • Does the care home want to know about your loved one’s likes/dislikes and hobbies? Are the care home going to try and keep up your loved ones hobbies, and preferred activities? You don’t want your loved one to feel in a completely alien environment – familiarity and continuity are important. Care needs to be specific and not generalised – as far as is possible. 
I hope that you never find yourself in this position, but at least if you do, you have some information to help you decide. If you have found yourself in this situation, do you have any additional advice which may help others?  If so please leave a comment below.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
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6 October 2012

Defence Against the Dark Arts – Tips for Your Writer’s Toolbox Part 2

Image from www.get-free-wallpapers.com 
This is part 2 of a series. I recommend that if you haven’t read part 1, that you read it first by clicking here.

In part one I explained how a writer’s life isn’t easy and that we need to be prepared for when the “Dark Arts” start to pull us down. This is particularly important for writers, because for many of us writing isn’t a choice – it’s a calling. This is a special distinction, and is worthy of nurture and protection. I spoke about self doubt in part one, which is the Dark Art that has the biggest pull on me at the moment. It is all part of keeping my journey as a writer – and yours – on track. Here goes, part 2:

Rejection and Bad Reviews

The chairman of my writing group said to me the other day “no one is a real writer until they have had their first rejection letter.” Rejection is part of being a writer, along with old cliché – “you are only as good as your last piece of work.” Nobody is immune from this – just look at the mixed reviews J.K. Rowling has just received for her latest book “The Casual Vacancy”. Writers are under pressure to produce a constant stream of their best quality work. Of what other job do we expect the best 100% of the time without a bad day? Rejections and bad reviews/feedback, which fail to be constructive, can eat up a writer - annihilating their creativity.

We must remember that a lot of writing is subjective. What will suit one publisher, won’t suit another; what one agent likes, another may hate. I’ve just had a pitch rejected from a national newspaper “it’s a moving piece, but it just isn’t right for our pages. I hope you place it.” It’s a rejection, and every rejection stings – chipping away at our self belief. I take the view however that it was my fault for not researching more carefully whether my article was correct for that publication. After all, they never said that it wasn’t any good – to the contrary, they acknowledged it was moving. I’ve learned from that rejection – to do better research before my pitch.

So, rejection doesn’t necessarily mean that your writing is bad; it can mean that your work isn’t right for that publisher at that time. The trick is to do your research and find the publisher that your work is right for. You will sometimes find that you've done your research well and submitted the perfect story/manuscript/article and you are still rejected. If a publisher has recently accepted something similar to your work, it stands to reason that it is merely your timing which is wrong for that publisher.  Your writing and instincts were spot on and you will place your work somewhere else.  Be prepared – I didn’t say that task was easy, but it is worthwhile.

If you still aren’t convinced, this is a list of novels which have been rejected, and subsequently rose to the heady heights of success. Like the men and women who rejected these works, the people who are rejecting your work could end up with massive regrets; make it their loss - not yours.
  • Carrie – Stephen King: This novel was rejected so many times King threw it away. His wife rescued it and the rest is... well pretty well known.
  • The Diary of Anne Frank: Rejected 16 times. 
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s / Sorcerer’s Stone - J. K. Rowling: Rejected 12 times. 
  • Twilight – Stephanie Meyer: Rejected by 14 literary agents before it was taken on. 
  • Lord of the Flies – William Golding: Rejected by 20 publishers. 
  • A Time to Kill – John Grisham: Rejected by 12 publishes and 16 agents 
  • Judy Blume: Received rejections for 2 years before achieving success. 
  • The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkein: This novel took 14 years to complete only to be initially rejected by his publisher. It was eventually taken on despite expected losses. 
  • Dubliners – James Joyce: Received 22 rejections. 
I could go on as this list has only just started, but I think you can see what I’m trying to say. No, being a writer isn’t easy; but if you have the writing bug inside of you it can be so rewarding. You were born to write – nurture that gift and don’t give up. After all; if the writers listed above had given up, their lives (and ours) would be much poorer.

How do you cope with rejection? Let us know by leaving a comment below. You never know – you may be helping to salvage the next Stephen King from the waste bin! Leave us your tips, and keep an eye on this blog for the rest of this series.  If you don't want to miss out, why not sign up to email updates by clicking here?

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. All Rights Reserved. 
Downloading of and/or copying text or images from this website is strictly prohibited.