Sunday 27 January 2019

Paddling in Shallow Waters

A few of the publications with my work included.

When you follow good writers on social media you inevitably see lots of posts about success. Whether it’s a competition placement or a win, or the publication of a novel or short story collection, their successes keep coming.

It’s wonderful to share the joy of someone’s achievement because we all know that a lot of hard work has gone before it. It’s also good to know that the publishing industry is alive and well. And when you know someone’s work from competition placements you know that you’re likely to love their novel!

But for some of us there is a slight downside too. It can make our own lack of success seem overwhelming. We have a choice, either to give up and put the notebooks and pens – or the PC – away and learn to knit or do dry stone walling instead, or keep working at our craft and compete with them until we have our own success to publicize!

But when it’s only a small success, perhaps a brief flash fiction on a website, is it worthy of telling all and sundry?  

I’ve just re-read Tania Hershman’s excellent article in issue 78 of Mslexia (June/July/August 2018) Boasting for Beginners. She discusses the issues of women finding it hard to boast, aka talk about their successes. For many of us ‘boasting’ was something we were encouraged as children to avoid, as boasting has a pejorative tone. I recently discovered an old exercise book of mine from school in which I’d had to write about boasting. I cited a family I knew who boasted about all sorts, but their boasts were empty and vain which made them slightly ridiculous, although I did admire their unstinting confidence! Never mind the things they boasted about often never happened, they kept right on.  

But publicizing successes is a whole different game. We should be proud of what we have achieved. We all know that placement in a competition let alone getting a novel published is no small matter. But where does that leave those of us who are still paddling in the shallow waters of success? Sometimes so shallow it’s just the ebb and flow of the tide on the sand? Those of us who have had perhaps the occasional competition placement, or one article published? Our writing isn’t earning us a living or even enough to fund many competition entries.

A technique I used to explain to my speech and language therapy patients was to not measure  themselves against only the best, but against everyone. It works well in the writing world too.

There’s always going to be someone who is more successful than we are. If we measure ourselves against only published novelists, we may feel ourselves lacking, but if we measure our achievements against those of everyone in the world who has ever uttered the words, ‘I’d like to write,’ then anyone who has actually entered a piece for a prize or publication is already way ahead. Because they have created and finished a piece of writing. If we are long-listed in a competition, or had a flash published that’s  more than many who are writing but not entering their work, or haven’t yet managed that step yet.

But singing our praises is still difficult for lots of us. I know that some people who might read this have several novels out, some have won literary prizes. Others have had numerous wins in competitions, or stories published in magazines so they are all way ahead of me. When I was in Australia I met up with some people in a local writing group. After chatting for a moment one asked me the ‘Have you had anything published?’ question. I mentioned that I’d had a few flash fictions and short stories published, expecting to hear ‘Oh that’s nice’ but what I got was ‘Oh, wow, listen, everyone, Lindsay’s been published. That’s fantastic.’ It felt nice, but even as someone else said ‘Well done,’ I found myself saying ‘It’s only a few small pieces…’

Tuesday 15 January 2019

Lit Ward 10 Expands Owing to Government Incompetence.

Dr Read was jubilant that his ward had the best outcomes in the out-patient department but as a result he was under increasing pressure to find space for all the referrals to Lit ward 10. The room adjoining the old office of the Chief Exec’s now departed Bright Ideas Manager was now a second day-room and a smaller office next to it that once homed the BIM’s largely redundant secretary housed two much needed beds for the more serious cases. The patients didn’t mind that it was cramped, so long as the reading light was good and the book supply constant.

In the past few months referrals to Lit Ward 10 had soared with people all over the country suffering from a new condition diagnosed as Solliciti Esse in Exitus, known as S.E. Cases affected people of all ages and from all demographics. There was not yet a cure, but Dr Read’s lit therapy kept the worse symptoms at bay be they poor sleep and depression or anxiety and anger issues, with all the physical symptoms that tend to accompany these disturbances including appetite and digestive disorders, hypertension, headaches, to name but a few. 

To ensure everybody's need could be met, books in a variety of languages, as well as a number of auditory materials had been added to the ward’s library for the benefit of those for whom reading was difficult. A few of the most popular books were now being presented on video in sign-language. They were so stretched with referrals they had also set up a helpline and a web page, with instructions on how to make Letta’s Jamaican hot chocolate and how to mix a perfect G&T as well as a selection of reading material. 

It was notable that a high number of referrals came from within NHS staff members, and even the Chief Exec had agreed that Occupational Health department should have a Lit Ward outreach suite where staff could have some down time with a good book, even though he'd limited it to half an hour at a time. You couldn't have nurses and therapists lolling about all day reading. But to show he was committed he'd even donated a comfortable chair in the hope that it would to stop staff from having to take sick leave. 

If only the Chief Exec would allocate more funding, thought Dr Read, as he submitted the week’s outcomes. Dr Read found himself using the forbidden word when he muttered that the Chief Exec with his inept management skills, was a complete Br***t. He wondered if the term would become common parlance one day. 

On the day ward, Nurse Gorgeous, (now Mrs De Licious but she was keeping her own name for professional use,) was doing the blood pressure checks and keeping an eye on the reading matter. Occasionally patients sneaked in unsuitable books. When she gently removed one such item from a young man wearing an earnest expression and a man-bun, he accused her of censorship and that she had no right to interfere with his freedom of reading material. She explained that on this ward reading was medication and that she was quite sure that if he had been self-medicating with the wrong pills, he wouldn’t object to his doctor prescribing the correct ones. He agreed and let go of the inflammatory tome. She gave him a selection of books to choose from that would soothe his soul and the other item, which had the name Aaron on the cover, was deposited in the incinerator. Half an hour later he was smiling at the antics of Don Tillman PhD and his approach to romance.  

Dr Read’s article in The Lancet on Reading to Alleviate the Symptoms of S.E was well received and all over the country people were finding some relief through turning the pages of their books, swiping their e-readers or plugging in their headphones. Everyone undertaking the therapy agreed it helped although it could not entirely prevent S.E. 

This article recommends that you too read if you are suffering from S.E.