Monthly Archives: September 2013

The benefits of a negative first impression

How important are first impressions in social situations?

I like to think I am a pretty good judge of character, and if I have a niggling dislike of someone, usually in the long-term my niggles are justified.  You could argue that I am stubborn and I have made my mind up early on, and refuse to change. That could be true, although I don’t think it is.

However, disregarding my own situation, how often do we change our minds after those oh-so-important first impressions? Some people never do.  I wonder if they are missing out.

In my mind, some of the nicest people are those that are the hardest to get to know. If someone appears a little grumpy or judgmental at the start it could be because they are unable to force a positive, chirpy front. Is that a bad thing? If you see their negative traits early on, how much worse can it get? Not every one has the ability to be easy-going, animated and complimentary.

Of course, they could be other issues at play here. Some people are shy, others are not interested in being sociable. It doesn’t mean they have unlikeable personalities.

Then there are people who don’t want you to like them, and it is not always a deliberate move. I have known someone like this, and she admitted to always seeing the worst in people at the start. I wondered if she was hurt in the past, but since I wasn’t in a position to ask her, I was forced to consider the benefits for myself.

She may not have many friends, but the ones she had have made an effort to get passed the negativity, and they are going to be more tolerant and understanding in the future. It doesn’t sound such a bad plan.

I would think one or two genuine friends, who accept you warts and all, are better than dozens who are only interested in what’s on the surface. I have had friends who brush aside your woes, and it is not a nice situation to be in. The last thing you want when your world is crashing around you is for your so-called friends to be disinterested in your troubles. Sometimes it is better to go it alone.


A year on after the death of a loved one


Stilton 8 weeks old, with Gina, Bella’s sister

Isn’t it amazing how time heals? Just 13 months ago I lost Bella to canine lymphoma. Whilst it was something I had been prepared for, it was also something I had been dreading. As expected, her death hit me hard, and for a few weeks I was inconsolable. She was my best friend, my faithful companion, my love.

She was diagnosed just before Christmas 2011 with T-cell lymphoma, a rare and difficult cancer to treat. We caught it early, but it was so aggressive that had she have not started chemo on the 2nd January I doubt she would have seen the week through. She had many set backs and nearly died again in late January, but thankfully she pulled through and finally reached remission in April. It was a wondrous moment. My heart was singing.

Like all good things, it had to come to an end; unfortunately for everyone involved, it happened within two weeks. Since the chemo had failed so swiftly, the only other option was steroids, designed only to keep her pain-free until the inevitable happened. She was given 2 weeks to live. She stayed with us for 3 months – they were a happy and (surprisingly) healthy 3 months.

My husband and I cherished every moment of that time, as did Bella. We took her on special walks every day, treated her by allowing her into the bedroom in the mornings, and cuddled her as often as she wanted. We were always happy around her, and never gave her a chance to feel her pain. As a result, she probably had the best 3 months of her life.

It’s so sad reminiscing after the loss of a loved one, but I also feel happy and proud, and grateful to have known her. She was cheeky, animated and energetic; she was a brave, a fighter. She was affectionate and loyal.

What more could I ask? She did the best she could, but it was not to be. It wasn’t her fault she developed terminal cancer. I’m sure she would have liked more time, but I remind myself her life could have been far worse. She could have been a street dog, abandoned, hungry and unloved. In addition, had Bella not died, I would not have found Stilton, a beautiful apricot standard poodle. Soon he will be one year old.

Maybe, just maybe, a small peace of her spirit is within him. What a wonderful thought!

Shackled – A gripping mystery unravelling a tragic and historic tale


‘Amelia had said the woman showed too much flesh; Catherine interpreted the comment as curvaceous and busty. She said the dress was garish; Catherine felt dowdy and plain. She said the woman desperately clung to his arm; she thought of Jack’s warm breath and sensual kisses.’

A heart wrenching mystery recounting the married life of Catherine, an isolated woman from the early 20th century, burdened by an indifferent husband, child deaths, accusations, disbelieving family, only supported by her modern thinking sister. With no one to provide enough moral support she makes a fatal exit.

100 years later Michaela inherits the house Catherine lived in, but not everything runs smoothly and the trail leads back to Catherine. She is driven to prove Catherine’s innocence, but it is an undesirable choice. Striven, she treads a distressing path.

Format:Kindle Edition|
Amazon Verified Purchase
A big pile of work is next to me, which I should have finished ages ago, but didn’t. The reason? I got engrossed in ‘Shackled’. I got hooked right from the start and just HAD to finish reading it. And, although I somehow imagined how it would end, I was still surprised about how it really ended. What a brilliant book, thoroughly enjoyed it!
Now back to work …

When fawning doesn’t work

I’ll let you into a secret. One of the things that irritate me is fawning, defined by the oxford dictionary as ‘displaying exaggerated flattery or affection.’

Even though I don’t agree with it, I can understand people behaving in such a manner to gain advantage in a work situation, although it still riles me. People should be awarded on merit, not on the ability to suck-up.

However, I shall move on. What I find more difficult to understand is when it occurs in a social situation. Let me clarify. I’m not talking about someone trying to seek advantage by getting onto a social committee or be accepted into a team. I’m not even talking about someone trying to be accepted by the ‘popular’ crowd. I am talking about people who do it on a one-to-one basis, in unnecessary circumstances.

Constantly praising someone is shallow, since these people often say the same things to everyone. It can also be deceitful and disrespectful.

Take the following example. I used to play badminton on a regular basis and with the same crowd. One day, I was having a bad day, and a man, someone who knew my game well, came up to me and showered me with compliments. Saying things like: ‘you’re playing so well, you’re overhead is amazing today, those cross-court drop-shots you do are the best I’ve ever seen.’ I turned and stared. Was he having a laugh? No, he was deadly serious and he wouldn’t let me deny it. I don’t know what his motives were, and since I like to see the best in people, I thought he was trying to boost my confidence. However, his compliments were so over the top that my hackles rose. Everyone else knew I was playing below par, yet he didn’t; he thought I was playing at my peak.

Perhaps I just wasn’t the right recipient for his praise. Fawning works where there is a lack of self-esteem and for those people who thrive on praise. I don’t fit into either category. I like praise where it’s the due, but I also like the truth, so long as it’s tactful.

Situations like this continue to baffle me, and whilst I can see the benefits for the recipient, I struggle to see the benefits for the donor. Could it be that they have an innate need to be liked, or is it something else? All I can say is that it’s a good job we’re all different, else people watching would be such a bore!

Fight RA with the mind

Your body is clogged with inflammation; your legs feel like tree trunks, your shoulders are so rigid they could be encased in concrete, and your fingers and toes are a row of useless stumps.

If you’ve never experience rheumatoid arthritis, it’s a hundred times worse than you feel the morning after a major physical work out. And it’s like that every day, almost entirely without exception.

You tell yourself you have to get moving, but that’s the last thing you want to do. Every step, every lift of an arm takes monumental effort. Your heart is pounding, your breathing is laboured, and your skin is clammy. You need to sit.

‘To hell with it,’ you say, and slump back onto a chair.

This used to be so familiar to me that thinking about it still gnaws at my heart. Just for once, I wanted to wake up supple and bouncy. I didn’t want to walk flat-footed to the bathroom, I didn’t want to arrive downstairs breathless and panting and needing another sleep, and I didn’t want to be wracked with pain for the best part of the day.

It’s then that I realised that the quicker I started moving, the quicker I would be freed of the agony. So I walked and walked, chanting with every agonising step. ‘I won’t let you beat me,’ I’d say, over and over. ‘I am going to move.’

My RA was the enemy and I had taken command. I was going to fight. I would not let it control every aspect of my life ever again.

It may seem strange that something as simple as applying mental strength could help, but I now believe it was fundamental to my recovery. At the time, I didn’t believe the mind to be such a powerful tool; nonetheless, due to my husband’s insistence, I never gave up. My rewards were instant. Not only did my stiffness disappear quicker, I also had a more positive mindset and started doing the things I had once enjoyed. In addition, and over time, my inflammation reduced.

I don’t know what actually happened. Maybe my brain started releasing positive hormones rather than the negative ones, thus aiding the fight and helping my immune system get back in balance. Stress plays a huge part in the state of our health, and is one of main factors in many diseases. So why not RA? Eradicating it certainly helped me.

A devastating life sentence – RA at its worst

Your life has been shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. You have no hope, no future and you are in constant pain. No one understands. You are alone in your agony.

I was just twenty years old when I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s not easy being told you have developed an incurable condition at any age, but when you are young, and you have acquired a disease more associated with the elderly, it is hard to come to terms with.

I loved being active. I walked my dogs twice a day, played badminton once a week, and often participated in outdoor pursuits. So for me, as a lover of the outdoors, it seemed a cruel diagnosis.

As is often the case, the onset of the disease was harsh and I rapidly lost condition. My resting pulse was over 80, my breathing was permanently laboured, and I couldn’t tolerate being on my feet for more than fifteen minutes. I was wasting away, dieing a slow, painful death. Worse still, I believed I would have to live like that for the rest of my life.

It was difficult to stay positive. I could not sleep; I could not dress myself; I could not raise my arms to brush my hair. Simple, everyday tasks, such as turning a round doorknob or placing a key in a lock were for others. I was useless, completely and utterly. Nothing could motivate me. I wanted to slip away.

Twenty plus years on, it all feels like a distant memory. My disease is in clinical remission and I am fitter and more active than I have ever been. In addition, my difficult days are so rare they act only as reminder of what could have been.

Perhaps I am lucky, or perhaps it is something to do with some of the little things I have done. Either way, as I consider what I have been through it reminds me that no matter how hard life seems and how many doors appeared to have closed, nothing is certain. There is always hope.

More later . . .

Help! I’m struggling to find reading pleasurable.

Since I started writing novels, I have been struggling to find reading pleasurable and have been wondering if this is a common problem. So often, on tv and suchlike, I hear other writers singing the praises of other authors. Are they making truthful comments, or are they just being polite?

Do they, like me, find it difficult being entertained?

I used to be an avid reader, and have read a variety of fiction, from family sagas to science fiction. Now I struggle to get beyond the first few chapters. If I do I am hyper-analytical, critical even. It’s not necessarily because I find the work poor, but it can be because I am too busy making comparisons to my own abilities. The good and the bad.

Help! I can’t switch off from work-mode.

I examine the grammar, the structure of the novel, and the plot. I study the characters and I wonder if I feel sympathy towards them in the way the author would have wanted. I wonder if I would do things differently.

Surely, I can’t be alone.

Perhaps I am a little obsessive, but without such a character trait I would have never gotten to the place I am now.

So maybe it is a small price to pay.

Be kind to those sensitive souls.

Ever unwittingly upset someone? I’m sure you have. Me too.

It’s easily done and can happen because the person we are speaking too has a lower level of self-confidence than ourselves. Take for example, a familiar situation.

Person A asks: Does this dress suit me? Person B replies: You look great, very curvaceous.

If person A is less confident than person B, they may interpret the comment as an insult rather than a compliment. Discord may follow.

So how do you avoid it?

Sharpen up! If you know someone is sensitive, soften your voice, avoid voicing unnecessary opinions, and take extra care to provide supportive words, something that cannot be misinterpreted.

I wouldn’t want to do this on a regular basis, and certainly find I gel better with people with a similar level of confidence, but it’s not always possible. If you want to fit in and avoid leaving a trail of destruction behind, try to be aware of others foibles. Likewise, if you’re the sensitive kind don’t take everything personally. Not everyone in the world is intent on hurting you.

This is not a personal rant! I don’t think I’ve upset anyone recently, at least not today! It’s just an observation, one of the facets of human nature that fascinates me.

Why we should read a debut author’s novel

Why don’t we try books from new authors? I ask. I’m as guilty as the rest and do it far too infrequently.

What puts you off?

Firstly, they are poorly written.

Of course some are. I have seen incorrect grammar, mixed tenses within sentences, spelling mistakes, and poor sentence structure in many debut novels, but this also applies to many well-established authors too.  I am not going to give examples, but there are times when I have been horrified by the poor quality, and wonder why they have been published. Maybe we just notice it more with debut’s.

Secondly, the plot is feeble, or the characters are not well drawn.

Again this can be true, and again it applies to all books. There is so much out there that reading is a matter of taste.  What is brilliant to one person, is dreary to another.  I don’t believe debut novelists are necessarily any worse. If fact I think the opposite can often be the case. Many new writers write in a very appealing modern style, often in one point of view making it more readable, whereas some established writers chose to write in several points of view. Take a look at the classics. Many of them are a chore to read.

I also think there is another important factor that stops us from buying debut novels, and it is a psychological one. The word of an established publisher has clout. If they shout out this book is good, we believe it and buy it. Who is going to believe any old Joe in a remote village?

As human beings we don’t like to be seen to be different.  If we read a book that has a average rating of 4.5 stars, based on a few hundred reads, we are looking for the positive. Likewise, if a book has no rating, or a low rating, we look at it with the assumption it is poor.

But really, what is there to lose when the books are often priced cheaper than a coffee or a half-pint of beer?

So lets all do things a bit differently. Wouldn’t it feel great if we were one of the first to read a book that turns into a massive hit?

How writing style influences book preferences

What books work for you? Do you like intricate plots, characters that display emotion, lots of dialogue, or do you have a leaning towards description? Knowing your preferred writing style can help you with your reading choices. It may also guide you into another genre or towards another author that you may have otherwise dismissed.

If you’re like me, you will have have bought books that have been a huge let down. I have read books promising a great plot, only to be bogged down with long, laborious descriptions that send me to sleep. On the contrary, I have read books with a very tame storyline, and with characters that have not been so well-developed, yet it was a great read. So how do you choose, when you’re unfamiliar with the author? The answer is in the writing style.

Many years ago, one of the authors I was drawn to was Jodi Picoult. The books have a plot and the characters display emotion. For me, that was important. I enjoy stories that start with a problem that needs to be solved, such as crimes and thrillers, but all to often I have found the characters to be wooden and I have struggled to empathise with them. If I don’t care for the protagonist, or if I do not know what they are really feeling, how can pull for them?

Another author I have enjoyed is Sophie Hannah. Whilst her books are very different to Jodi Picoult’s, they are written with the same aim in mind, i.e. they combine a good plot with a character with emotions. ‘Little Face’ is an example of this. Not only is it a detective novel, written in parts from his/her viewpoint, but it also written from the client’s viewpoint, and shows her very real emotions. For me, this is key to a good read.

Have a think about your preferred writing style, and seek out new authors. You may be surprised. Let me know your thoughts.