Monday, 31 December 2012

No large knickers for me!

I was thinking of reflecting on 2012 before deciding that I would make no resolutions this year. Resolutions it seems are set up to fail. No large knickers for me!

As briefly as possible, 2012 has been a difficult year. Health has been an issue. My marbles are looser than ever and all I see ahead is a baggier future. Oh, how those old people used to annoy me when I was young. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to have the speed of youth and all your marbles, wait until you get to my age and then see how you feel.’ Didn’t they go on and on and on and of course they were right. I remember an old aunty who said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you wear as long as you are warm, I’d wear a tea cosy on my head if it kept the cold out.’ I remember thinking, I will never be like that. And now? I wear the occasional tea cosy.

Some good writerley things about 2012:

I judged a short story competition for the Chris Evans Breakfast Show 500 WORDS competition. Having entered competitions myself, I know how important it can be to be objective when reading stories. I also discovered this when judging the Greenacre Writers competition entries, there were stories that I personally did not enjoy but the language and composition far outweighed my limited interests.

As co-host and tutor for the Greenacre Writers, this year I both ran and co-ran writing groups and workshops. I attended the NAWG festival where the Greenacre Writers Anthology had been shortlised for the anthology competition. We came third in the National Association of Writers Groups (NAWG), Denise Robertson Group Anthology competition. Quite an achievement as it was our first anthology. I met some interesting people including Linda Lewis, Pam Fish and Edyth Ward (who was 85 years young). Edyth was full of fun and said, 'Whenever you're feeling a bit down in the dumps, look for a white feather, and you know that everything will be okay.'

And of course not forgetting our Literary Festival, the first to be held in the borough of Barnet. The Greenacre Writers Mini Literary Festival was held in May and attended by some lovely writerly types: Alex Wheatle, Emily Benet, Andrew Bradford, Lane Ashfeldt and Paolo Hewitt. As well as our own Greenacre writers and co-host Lindsay Bamfield.

Don’t ask me how, inbetween all the various activities, including being involved with the Occupied Friern Barnet Library, I found time to enter some competitions. Of the five I entered, I was either long or shortlisted.

And so to 2013. My non-resolutions:

This is what I will do:

Be kind.
Read a book a week.
Write every day.
Enter competitions.
Support Kiva.
Support Water Aid.
Support Save the Children.
Try and count to ten before I scream.

That's all folks. Wishing you all what you would wish yourselves plus peace on earth. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Home Alone for Christmas

I didn’t choose to spend Christmas day alone. Sometimes things happen or other people make decisions that affect our choices. It can be something upsetting, like the end of a relationship or perhaps somebody suddenly gets taken ill, or it could be related to a surprise and somebody else's happiness. Happiness, we are told, means spending Christmas with friends and family. There is a definite taboo around spending Christmas on your own. The little voices inside your head have a whale of a time and get great pleasure from this scenario: ‘Spending Christmas alone? Aint you got no friends? What about your family, don’t they like you either? Loser. Wierdo.’ And many more besides. I feel slightly embarassed spending Christmas day on my own, in fact, I can’t even bring myself to go to the local shop. Why? Because then I’d have to speak to people, wish them ‘Merry Christmas’, and I can’t do it. One, because I have sprained my ankle and can’t walk very far, and two, I don’t feel like being very sociable.

I found a student website where somebody was spending Christmas on their own and was asking for help. Although some responses offered help, others used the pages as a way to either pay back old debts or brush aside the student’s unhappiness: ‘So do you spend most days alone? Are you an introvert? Do you like being with people? If you answered yes, yes, no – there you go then, problem solved.’

In fact, there is all sorts of advice on the Internet for those alone at what is supposed to be, ‘a time for family and friends’. Personally I prefer Grinch’s sentiment, ‘I must find a way to keep Chrsitmas from coming!’

Here are a few ideas:

·         Look for opportunities to spend time with people in your community.

·         Fill your time with productive tasks.

·         Go for a walk. Get some exercise

·         Use it as time to stay home, treat yourself to a beauty treatment, play some music and sing out loud, watch a series on netflix,

·         go to sleep early and think positive

·         Allow yourself to be sad if you need to. You don't have to force yourself to be positive all the time.

·         Go to church.

·         Get drunk.

·         Flee the country!

·         Do good works at a homeless shelter

·         Stock up on food and drink treats, and cook your perfect lunch, whether it's turkey with all the trimmings or an Indian ready-meal. (Provided you can walk to the shopsand get the food!)

·         Buy yourself a lovely present to open - something you've wanted for ages.

Or my favourite, except I don’t have a car:

·    Bundle up, get in the car and take off. When you are out on Christmas Day, people think you are either on your way to or from some family event! People wave at each other more often. People are very friendly on Christmas Day. And then you come home, and appreciate the peace and quiet of your solitary life, with no family to argue with, no dishes to wash....and no one to hog the couch or snore.

There are those who want to be home alone for Christmas. The idea that anyone might actively seek to spend the day on their own can make others feel uncomfortable - even those who freely admit they don't get on with their family and find the day pure hell. But for many people there's a world of difference between solitude and loneliness. For example, one woman at work, told me that she no longer told colleagues she spends Christmas alone. "I can't bear the way they treat me like a tragic victim and offer to have me round for lunch to 'cheer me up'. They fail to grasp that I spend the day alone through choice and I've grown tired of having to explain myself."

Sometimes spending Christmas alone can help alleviate the pressure of living by someone else’s rules, customs and traditions especially if you are not in the right frame of mind to do so. However, doing ths year in year out might not be so enjoyable as it sounds.
There are those who would tell you: I’d love to spend Christmas Day on my own, I would eat a bit, drink a bit, watch a bit of tell and generally try to enjoy myself. I don’t need other people around me at Christmas, and certainly not my family. I hate them.

Because of course families are an important part of Christmas and of course there is all the difficulties that go with having one. I have a family that I created. This year, unfortunately, they thought I already had plans and so made their own. I’m happy with that and I would never put pressure on them just so I could have company on this over-inflated one day of the year, and I’m lucky, we’ll get together for Boxing Day.

The amount of money that is being made out of Christmas, a time that celebrates the birth of God’s son, Jesus, is grotesque. How do those glossy adverts make people feel who spend this day on their own, perhaps not through their own choice? Inadequate? Depressed? Again I’m lucky because I don’t get taken in by the false worlds that are created by the powerful medium of television. However, when I was younger and inexperienced, I did believe that the chintzy people in adverts really did love each other and spent their time partying, from noon until the early hours of the morning.

The Women's Royal Volunteer Service estimates that around a million elderly people will spend this Christmas alone. It's no coincidence that the Samaritans receive more calls over the festive period (one every six seconds) than at any other time of the year. After all, it can be hard to reconcile an empty home with all the chocolate-box portrayals of family togetherness in the media. "There's a huge pressure on people to conform at Christmas, and that can cause heartache for those who don't have a traditional family circle," says social psychologist Arthur Cassidy.

This is not the first Christmas I’ve spent on my own. When I was younger, I did spend a couple of Christmasses with my birth family, but mostly I spent Christmas in care. The last time I was alone on Christmas Day, was in 1974, when I was 16 and had just left the Children’s home where I spent my childhood. In some ways that was much more difficult than today. I was used to being with seven other children, it was noisy, it was bright, there lights and lovely food. Christmas dinner with crackers and silly jokes and hats, my mouth is watering at the thought. Many people like me, still find Christmas difficult, whether alone or with friends and family. This could be because for some kids who have been in care, they will have experienced some of the worst abuses imaginable at this time of year and not necessarily by their families. Christmas can bring out the beast in some people. And the inheritance of our pasts can mean, there is something about the emotion of this particular season that can make togetherness, whether with friends or family, almost unbearable.

The point here is that whether we are with family, friends, or alone, Christmas can be difficult. Some mothers, get themselves into debt. They exhaust themselves through shopping, cleaning and cooking leading up to Christmas and they don’t enjoy the day because often after the initial excitement and enthusiasm, it is mothers that are left to clear up, while others get drunk, argue or play with their new toys. And then there are those who are homeless, they see the glitz and tinsel in shop windows and who knows what memories that triggers for them or how isolated and alone they must feel in their shop doorway homes. And what about those that are in war situations right now, the men, women, mothers and children suffering abominable injuries - surely we are so fortunate in this country whether alone at Christmas or not.

Maybe for some, this is the way to cope? Think of others who are so much worse off than ourselves? I don’t think it is, but helping others is a way to give our lives some meaning. Christmas Day has become a product of our imaginations, the original meaning for millions has now been lost. Many of us are riding in a fast car, grabbing bits of Christmas as we speed through December and ending up on the day, exhausted, disappointed and skint.

Decisions we take affect others, and we often forget to take responsibility for our actions. One year I decided not to have a Christmas tree and went down the woods to get some twigs, that I then decorated with baubles and lights. That was the year that mum went mad, said my children! Our relationship with excess effects others. This year I thought about telling friends and family that I didn’t want any presents, and that I would prefer money donated to Save the Children or Water Aid because there are still millions of children without water, food and shelter. I did tell some friends and family but I still wanted to have some presents! Next year I will try harder, I don't want to live a life of excess. Perhaps I'll just do more throughtout the year. One friend has suggested Kiva. 

With Kiva, you make a loan. All Kiva loans are made possible by their Field Partners, who vet, administer, and disburse each loan. Throughout the life of the loan, you will see progress updates from Kiva through your email, and if you come back to the site. As the borrower repays the loan, the money becomes available in your account. This is called your Kiva Credit. You can now use it to fund another loan, donate it to Kiva, or withdraw it to spend on something else. Isn't this amazing, the amount you donated can be used over and over again to help not just one person but many.

As this day draws to close I realise that I haven't really been alone. I spent a lot of the time communicating with friends and family, starting in the morning with telephone calls to long-term partner, close friends, children, and other family members. And then on to the Internet where I saw Twitter messages from various friends in the community and finally Facebook where I wished and was wished a very, very happy Christmas.

Monday, 17 December 2012

And the winner is......

Here are the winners of the second Greenacre Writers Short Story Competition.

Congratulations to you all.

1st prize: A Perfect World by Veronica Bright

2nd prize: God the Homeless by Simon Farnham

3rd prize: The Art of Being Late by Julie Swan

Runners up (in no particular order)

The Veteran by Elliot Mayhew

Up to the Ankles by Amy Flinders

An Accident Waiting to Happen by Marie Campbell

Many thanks to judge Paolo Hewitt

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Ever dreamed of writing a novel?

 Now you can with Greenacre Writers
Start That Novel Course
 This 6-week course will help with planning your novel, developing plot, characterisation, dialogue, point of view, first chapter, as well as giving you feedback on your writing. Plus there will be guest speakers.

First Guest Speaker confirmed: Josie O Pearse (Josie has written two sexy romantic novels and is currently working on her PhD)
 Where and when:
Chislehurst Avenue, London N12 0HU
6 sessions Mondays 7-9pm:
Jan 14th, 28th, Feb 4th, 11th, 25th, Mar 4th
About Course Tutor:
Rosie Canning is a co-founder of Greenacre Writers. She studied MA Writing at Middlesex University. She has written a novel, short stories, and is currently re-writing her autobiography, ‘Bibliotherapy: Stories that Saved my Life’.
For further details or to reserve a place, please contact
Rosie Canning (MA Writing)                      
Tel: 020 8346 9449

6-week 'Start That Novel' Course - £65 (including refreshments)
Deposit bookable online via Paypal: