Out of Sight, Out of Mind – Baby Loss Awareness Week @BLA_Campaign @GBSSupport @Tommys_baby @SandsUK @Blisscharity @LullabyTrust @MiscarriageA @TheEPT #WaveOfLight #BLAW2019 #outofsightoutofmind #babyloss #breakthesilence

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Today I bought a birthday cake for my daughter. She turns twelve on Sunday and is having a party tomorrow. I’ll be wrapping her presents later, writing a card. The usual birthday traditions we’ve had each year for the twelve years of her life.

But first I have to pick up another birthday present. Val has made it for me. She has been making the same gift every year for the past 16 years, so I don’t even have to tell her what I want any more, she knows. I’ll go and collect it from her shop on the high street and I’ll take the little white wreath straight to the cemetery to place on my son’s grave. I’ll spend a little while there, thinking about him, remembering the very short time we had together, and then I’ll leave. Another annual birthday tradition.

Some people still remember that today was the day that my son was born 16 years ago, and the day that he died of a Group B Strep infection. They will send me a message to let me know they remember and they are thinking of me, and this means the world to me. Grief over the loss of a child can be a lonely affair, especially after so many years when memories grow hazy and people’s lives move on. Especially as I now have two other healthy children and a happy life. People might assume that the pain is less, that the feelings dull. I can’t blame them, but it is not so.

Losing a child can change everything forever. It changes how you see the world, how safe you feel. It changes your relationship with your other children. It can change your relationship with your partner, how you view the medical profession, how much you trust your own body. It changes you. Nothing is ever the same afterwards, you have to adjust to a new reality and that can be a very difficult and lonely journey to make.

People often say, ‘I can’t imagine what you are going through.’ ‘I can’t imagine having to deal with that.’ I can’t imagine, I can’t imagine. And it is true, they can’t, and they don’t want to. And I don’t blame them for a second. But the fact that people can’t imagine the pain and loss, don’t understand it unless they have been through it themselves or have experience of dealing with people who have, means that parents need specialist support to help them through this specific type of loss and grief if they are to successfully adjust to this new reality in which they now find themselves.

This is why, this year in Baby Loss Awareness Week, we are calling on Governments across the UK to take action to ensure that all parents who experience pregnancy or baby loss and need specialist psychological support can access it, at a time and place that is right for them, free of charge, wherever they live. Thousands of parents experience pregnancy or baby loss every year, many will go on to experience psychiatric illness that requires specialist support, triggered by intense grief and the trauma of their experience. Research shows that too often this support is unavailable, inaccessible or inappropriate. Bereaved parents are falling through the gaps between policy and funding, regularly overlooked altogether.

For more information on what you can do, please visit babyloss-awareness.org. Wear a pin, write a letter, join in the conversation on social media, join in the Wave of Light on Tuesday 15 October at 7 pm.

And if you are someone who has been affected by what I have discussed here and you need help, please reach out. Don’t suffer in silence. You can find a list of organisations that can help you here.BLAW_Supporter

Bell’s Palsy, Audiobooks & Gaining Perspective

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Hello, my friends! I know, it has been a while, did you miss me while I was gone? I hope so. I’m going to assume you did, and that you noticed I wasn’t posting for the last six weeks, otherwise all of this is a bit pointless, isn’t it?

So, I’m sure you are dying to know what kept me away from my beloved blog, and the fabulous book community. If you haven’t seen any of my brief social media posts, you won’t know that I have had Bell’s Palsy for the last month and a half, which has been a massive nuisance.

For those of you who don’t know what it is, here is a link to some information about Bell’s Palsy. When I woke up on the Tuesday morning after the Easter bank holiday weekend, the whole left side of my face was drooping down and I could not close my eye. My first thought was that I was having a stroke, it was absolutely terrifying. I immediately called an ambulance as I was home alone with my eleven-year-old daughter and I did not want her having to deal with me if I collapsed. As it was, it was really upsetting and frightening for her until my sister arrived. Luckily, she lives close by and the ambulance soon arrived, and they took great care of me. I was assessed quickly at the hospital who confirmed it wasn’t a stroke and I had Bell’s Palsy. They gave me steroids and sent me home, and then the most boring and frustrating six weeks of my life began.

I could not close my left eye at all, which meant I was constantly having to lubricate it with artificial tears, tape it closed at night and, unexpectedly, I could not drive, write or work on a screen, because trying to focus my eye on a screen or print for more than a minute or two made my vision blurry and gave me a headache. Worst of all, I couldn’t read. At all. For FIVE-AND-A-HALF WEEKS!

I haven’t gone five and a half days without reading for as long as I can remember, probably never, so this was an appalling situation. I did try and remind myself that at least I hadn’t had a stroke, and this would pass in time and that, for some people, this was their permanent reality and I was lucky, but this only worked some of the time. I missed it so much, it is such a central part of my daily life. I had blog tours scheduled that I had to pull out of, which I hated to have to do. I have a novel in progress that I had promised to my beta readers by mid-May which was laying unattended. I was so frustrated.

I turned to audiobooks, for which I was both grateful and disgruntled. I only normally listen to audiobooks while I am doing something else – driving, walking the dog, cleaning, washing up. Sitting and just listening to them didn’t quite work for me. They go by so slowly compared to how quickly I read. They kept sending me to sleep. I only managed to get through six-and-a-half in five weeks, when I would normally have read about 15-20 books in this time. I could actively FEEL my TBR mounting in the background, my blog shedding followers, people writing me off as a disappeared blogger. My timeline for my novel slipping away. Honestly, I know I sound moan-ey but it was awful. I’m so rubbish at being ill because I so rarely am and I normally try and ignore it, and I’m even worse at being unproductive. I’m usually someone who multi-tasks, so enforced periods of inactivity drive me mad. I was a terrible patient, but luckily I was just looking after myself so at least I didn’t bother anyone else with my general misery.

The good news is, I’m pretty much back to normal now. Back behind the wheel, back on the books and, at last, on the blog. I’m looking forward to catching up on all the reviews and blog posts I had to postpone, and my apologies to all the authors, blog tour hosts and guests that I had to disappoint. I promise I will catch up and reschedule as soon as I can.

Aside from moaning and complaining, I have used this time to reassess some of the things going on in my life and what is important. Not being able to read and blog has reinforced how central to my happiness these two things are. I realise that I have taken my usual good health for granted and this is not good. Things could have been very different if the diagnosis had been worse and I need to take the time and trouble to be fitter and healthier. To this end, I have started a new healthy eating plan and have lost 10 pounds so far, and have rejoined the gym to start getting fitter. I really appreciate my family, particularly my kids who have been so helpful and understanding about my inability to do much for the last six weeks, my partner, and my poor sister who had to do all of the school runs while I couldn’t drive. I am very lucky to have so much support.

I also found that, having not been able to work on my book for six weeks, I now know how much this matters to me. so, it is time to crack on and get this finished, albeit now on a delayed timetable. But life throws us obstacles and curveballs and we need to learn to roll with the punches, adapt and find a way to get back on track. I am taking the last six weeks as a chance to slow down, reassess, take stock and learn some lessons. Now it is onwards and upwards, and I am so glad to be back amongst you all. I missed you, even if you didn’t notice I was gone.

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Social Media Hiatus #amwriting #bookblogging #bookblog #socialmediahiatus

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Just a quick heads up to let you know that I am going to be taking a little hiatus from social media for a few weeks while I try and get some writing done.

I have a writing and pitching retreat coming up and my book needs A LOT of work before then, so I need to get my head down and focus. It is going nowhere fast at the moment! It is a goal that is very important to me and I owe it to myself to give it the focus and time it deserves.

I will still be honouring all my blog tour commitments and publicising those as usual, my usual weekly features will also carry on as normal, but I apologise in advance for not being around to share other people’s blog posts as much as I usually like to.

I’m also conscious that I have a huge NetGalley backlog to clear and I really want to get the book into shape for submission by the summer, before the RNA conference in July if possible so, for these reasons, I won’t be taking on any new review requests or blog tours until September.

I’ll still be around, just maybe a little less than usual. Wish me luck as I plough through editing the book, and thank you for your support.

2019 Blogging Intentions & Reading & Writing Goals @TheFictionCafe @RNATweets #RomanticNovelistsAssociation #NewWritersScheme #bookblogger #bookbloggers #bookblog #amreading #amwriting #FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019

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As it is new year, and my second blogiversary is approaching, I thought I would do a little post setting out my reading and blogging goals for the coming year, such as they are.

To be honest, after the overhaul I gave the blog last summer, I am fairly happy with where it it as and am inclined to let it coast along unchanged for a while. I have the weekly slots for my Tempted by… and Friday Night Drinks features filled up to the end of May, so they will be carrying on, along with my staple book reviews. I also intend to try and do more regular posts in the Travel, Bucket List and Writing categories, as those have been somewhat haphazard so far. I have a few exciting trips already planned for the coming year, so I’m looking forward to sharing those with you.

I am introducing one new monthly feature this year, which is called Desert Island Books. Not exactly a cryptic title so you may work out the gist of what this is about but look out for a post coming on Thursday of this week for more details on this. Otherwise, it will be business as usual on the blogging front.

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On the reading front, I decided to go back to the principles which were originally behind the blog, and spend the year trying to reduce my TBR, which has gotten completely out of hand if I’m being honest. I just made a spreadsheet to keep track of all the books I own but haven’t read across all mediums and the tally is frankly embarrassing. So, I’m cutting back a bit on blog tours and focusing on reading some of my existing titles.

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To this end, I have set my Goodreads Challenge 2019 goal at 125. I am also going to attempt my online book club, The Fiction Cafe Book Club Reading Challenge 2019, which involves reading 25 books which fall into a specific categories – one every two weeks. I’ll be fitting books from my existing TBR into these categories where possible. Here are the details of the challenge, if you are interested. Watch out for the reviews of these books popping up fortnightly under the FictionCafeReadingChallenge2019 hashtag.

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(If you are interested in joining The Fiction Cafe Book Club, please follow the link above and send a request. I highly recommend it, it is the friendliest corner of the internet for book lovers.)

On the writing front, I’m back in the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme for another year, working on edits to my work in progress following my report from my reader last year and planning on having the manuscript ready to pitch as soon as I can. I have a writing retreat booked for March and it is all systems go on the novel front. Wish me luck as this will be me for the next few months:

What are your goals for this year?

HAPPY NEW YEAR! It’s time for resolutions! #NewYear #Resolutions #2019

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It’s the first of January again- how did that arrive so fast? It is that day we traditionally make a fresh start in a new year and set ourself some goals or resolutions for the coming year. I thought I would share mine here with you, get them down in black and white and give myself a bit of accountability. I hope they are achievable but only time will tell!

Here we go:

1. Eat more healthily.

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I thought I’d get the predictable/dull/difficult ones out of the way first. I was going to put ‘Lose some weight’ but that is a rather negative one and I’m only making positive resolutions this year (that should have been number one actually – only make positive resolutions!) so I am going to eat more healthily, and that will have the side effect of causing weight loss, hopefully! It’s a win-win!

2. Get fit.

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Time to dust off that gym membership! I need to get in some sort of shape before I hit 50 or resign myself to being unfit forever. (Yes, I realise that ’round’ is a shape, but it is not actually my shape of choice!)

3. Do more ‘free reading.’

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I’m coining a new phrase here which I am hoping will catch on. What I mean by this is reading books from my TBR, rather than for blog tours. For fun, rather than because I have made a commitment. I did a huge number of blog tours last year and, whilst I enjoy them and love helping promote the authors and discovered a lot of fabulous new writers, I did find myself under a lot of pressure (self-inflicted!) at times, and it did restrict my ability to just read a book when it took my fancy. So this year, I am cutting back a bit on the blog tours and will read more random books, as and when I feel like it. That TBR needs reducing!

4. Be grateful every day.

Keeping a Gratitude Journal is something I have been inspired to do by the lovely Louise Jensen and this post on her blog. Louise is someone who is a massive inspiration to me and I believe that trying to be more mindful and grateful on a daily basis is going to be a huge help in maintaining a positive mindset. For someone who has experienced anxiety and depression in the past, managing my thoughts is extremely important in staying mentally healthy and happy. Focusing on the positive aspects of every day and being actively grateful for them can only remind us that life in general is good and that I am fortunate.

For example, today I am very grateful for this scene in Guardians of the Galaxy where Chris Pratt is hosed down, sans shirt. Life is, indeed, good!

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5. Finish that novel.

This is the year that my novel WILL be finished and submitted. No more procrastination. No more excuses. No more fear. It is time to put it out there. I have huge support from my family, friends, the Romantic Novelists’ Association (I am on their New Writers’ Scheme for another year), my lovely online writing group and, particularly, my fabulous writing buddy, Kate. They all believe in me, time to start believing in myself and take the next step on that path to achieving my dream.

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6. Be happy!

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TRIGGER WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTENTS MAY INDUCE NAUSEA IN THOSE OF A CYNICAL DISPOSITION!

This might seem like an odd one because happiness does not always appear to be under our control. It often seems like something which can only be achieved when external forces align circumstances in our favour to create an environment where we can feel happy for a moment or two. Well, please excuse my French, but bugger that for a game of soldiers. I have decided to choose happiness. To create it wherever possible. To do things which make me happy. To work to make sure that the things in my life are the ones that make me happy, and to rid myself of the negative things as much as I can. To try and take the positives out of situations. I’m tapping in to my inner Pollyanna. It’s a spin on Trainspotting’s Choose Life riff, but way less cool.

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So there we go. Those are my resolutions. Not very original. Not earth shattering, but I hope they will have a positive effect on my life, and those around me, which is probably the best I can expect. And you know what they say about the Butterfly Effect.

I have a feeling that 2019 is going to be a good year.

What about you? Tell me your resolutions or hopes and dreams for the coming year. I hope it is a good one for all of us. Let’s meet back here in twelve months and see how we all got on, shall we?

Shilly-Shallying, Stalking and Serendipity @RNATweets #amwriting #motivation #selfbelief

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Yesterday morning I cleared out my kitchen cupboards.

What a riveting topic for a blog post, Julie, I hear you all say. Why are you telling us? Well, bear with me, all will become clear.

Back in the summer I took a big decision and decided to close down my travel consultancy business to focus on training for a new career more related to publishing, and completing my first novel. People who have been following my blog this year will know that I made a commitment to myself to take my writing seriously this year by joining the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) New Writers’ Scheme (NWS), doing a writing retreat and getting the book finished and ready for submission. (If you are interested, you can read all about my resolution here.) I have made quite a lot of progress towards this goal, getting the first draft of the book done, attending a lot of RNA events, which have been hugely inspirational, having a ball on my writing retreat, and getting my manuscript critique back from my NWS reader, which should help me improve my manuscript during the editing.

Then I hit a roadblock. A mental one. I’ve started to doubt myself, my story, my abilities, in fact everything about my book and, as a result I am avoiding working on the edits. This is where the cupboard tidying comes in. I told myself I needed to do it before Christmas and today was the perfect time as they are quite empty before the big shop, but I’m lying to myself. It is a displacement activity to avoid having to look at my book. I’ve finished my Christmas shopping. Booked next year’s family holiday. Blogged like a maniac. Anything but write. Procrastination. Shilly-shallying of the highest order.

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The truth is, I have become afraid of my book. Or, more accurately, I am afraid of my lack of ability to do justice to my book. I don’t believe I am a good enough writer to get anything published. The story matters too much to me. The whole thing has become too big for me to face, so I’m running away from it. I’m afraid of failing. I am literally frozen with fear. So I’m doing nothing. ‘Tomorrow,’ I keep telling myself, ‘I’ll work on it tomorrow.” But you know what they say about tomorrow.

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Things have got worse this week because of the conference. What conference, I hear you ask? The conference currently being held at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida where all my old colleagues and friends from my travel consortium are currently gathered to celebrate and talk about the travel business. They are all together in one of my favourite places in the world, celebrating their successes….together. This is the first year I am not with them. Instead, I’m sitting alone at my desk, not working on the book I gave it up for.

So I’ve been torturing myself, following the conference hashtag on Twitter; stalking my old travel mates on Facebook; watching as they have a private, after-hours dinner in Diagon Alley with exclusive access to the Gringotts ride. Meeting Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. Singing karaoke on CityWalk. Sending me messages telling me they miss me and it’s not the same without me. And, for the first time, I’m starting question whether I’ve done the right thing after all.

But this is the fear talking.

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I have to keep reminding myself why I made the decision I did (and there were many good reasons and a lot of thought went in to it) and that I have the support of my family behind me. But I’m not very good at talking myself up. I am the Queen of Self -Doubt (that would make a good book title, wouldn’t it); the ultimate possessor of Imposter Syndrome; chronically lacking in confidence.

Then, yesterday, three things happened all together that made me stop and think and pull myself together. If you believe in serendipity, they all happened to guide me back on to my path and re-focus my determination on reaching my goal. Reminding me why I started this in the first place and that what I am experiencing is not unusual and I can’t let it stop me.

Firstly, one of my friends posted this video on Facebook:

There are a couple of messages in this piece of slam poetry that really spoke to me, mainly that I need to speak more kindly to myself, as I would to someone I love. Would I be so hard on another person, or would I be encouraging them to believe in themselves and follow their dreams? I need to be my own cheerleader.

Secondly, I found this website, just when I needed it and realised that I am not alone. Every writer feels how I feel and I just have to push through it. There is no reason why I can’t finish my novel. My feedback so far has been good. People have told me they like what I write. And one thing is for sure, I’ll never know unless I try.

Finally, a close writing friend of mine (I won’t out them, they can comment if they want to share) messaged me and told me they thought their writing was s***e and they weren’t sure they could finish their book and I inwardly smiled, before telling them all the things I truly believe about their abilities, but which I don’t seem to be able to tell myself. They were giving voice to all my fears about my own work and reminded me, I am not alone. There is a whole tribe out there in the same boat as I, who I can turn to for support and all the positive reinforcement I can’t give myself.

Why is it so easy to believe the bad things we tell ourselves and not the good? Why is it so easy to be kind to others but not ourselves?

So, I am now determined. I’m going to get this book finished and send it out into the big wide world to take its chances. Maybe I will never get published, but at least I’ll know. Because one thing is for sure, by failing to try, I am already failing, and that is not good enough. I don’t want to spend my days wondering, what if? Living with failure will be easier than living with regret.

If you need me, you can find me at my desk because I #amwriting.

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An Afternoon of Tea & Cake for the Soul with A Little Book Problem #bloggers #blogger #bloggerlove

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One of my favourite blogs to follow is Hazel Jackson’s wonderful, eclectic site Tea & Cake for the Soul. Hazel has a weekly feature where she chats to different people about the subjects that interest her and I was delighted to be invited to be one of those she is featuring.

Today is the day that I’m appearing as the guest on Hazel’s blog and you can check out our chat via this link: An Afternoon with Tea & Cake for the Soul with A Little Book Problem.

Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Hazel, it was great fun chatting to you and I hope there will be a return visit for Friday Night Drinks in the near future.