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I Find You There

      I do not find you at your grave,
      Although I stand and read your name.
      You’ve gone but still I search for you
      Where are you now your life is through?

      My hands on the arms of your favourite chair,
      Yes, I think you might be there
      My heart it aches with love for you
      You own a part – you’re in there too

      A happy photo smiles at me
      This is where I want you to be.
      A line in a song and I see your face
      And remember a walk in your favourite place.

      The love you left will never die
      Your life lives on in your family’s eyes.
      I’ll always miss your company
      But you live on in them and me.

      There is no end to the love that is you
      In others your life lives on, and through
      Your life you left enough
      That we might see and hold and touch.

      I rest my head now we’re apart
      And remember that which was dear to your heart
      Your values, dreams and chosen words
      Can still be felt and still be heard.

      I take a moment in my mind
      To think about the happier times,
      The thoughts and loves that we both shared
      Forever I will find you there.

Written on Wednesday 16th February 2011 – The morning of my Father-in-Law’s death, while thinking of my husband, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law’s loss, my mother’s, my own and my sisters’ loss and my brother-in-law (who has also just lost his father) and his family’s loss –

I want this to be relevant to others feeling similar losses so although written with specific personal thoughts and people in mind, have kept it simple, open and accessible and have naturally been influenced by other bereavement poems.

In front of me is a picture of my own father who died two years ago.

In loving memory of Dave Carter, Chris Wood, Roy Johnson
and the many others who are sadly missed

Game, Set and Match

Update 13th Feb: I’m not entirely happy with this flash fiction. I think it is a bit messy and unrealised. Probably not tight enough for a flash. If I hadn’t written it, there are a few places where I think the sentences would confuse me! But people have been kind enough to comment, so I’m leaving it in…


Rob drove his brother home, yet again, wishing he didn’t have a brother. If it wasn’t for Helena and the kids he would have left Simon to wrap his car round a tree years ago.
This excuse for a father and a husband infuriated Rob and he gritted his teeth, clutched the steering wheel, breathed deeply and looked forward to smacking the life out of his leather punch ball later.

Meanwhile, Simon was slouched in the passenger seat, drunkenly blathering about how Rob drove like a girl and it was about time they got a new barmaid in The Travellers Rest now that he’d tired of “playing with that little tart, Emily.”

“I rather suspect it was she who tired of you,” Rob interrupted flatly, wondering what Emily ever had seen in his brother.
“Stupid cow,” Simon slurred. “She didn’t really think I would ever leave my wife for the likes of her did she?”
“Well, you did tell her you would.” Rob stared ahead.
“That type of girl is always on the lookout for a married man to hook.” Simon belched. “No class.”

The car turned off the road and followed the curve of Simon and Helena’s front drive. Rob drove round the side of the house to face the back door, turned the engine off, leaving the headlights on, and pressed his fingertips into his forehead, moaning.

He had acquired a lifetime of strategies to stop himself punching this idiot.

“What I don’t get…” Rob spoke slowly but forcefully, fists clenched “…is this set idea you have that there are two types of women in the world: ones that you leave at home trapped on their pedestal and ones that you shag and then dump when you’re bored – or publicly humiliate because they have dumped you!” He pointed at Simon aggressively as he spat out his words. “Emily is not a tart and nor are any of the other girls that you have duped with your lies and promises and beguiled with your spurious charms! They are vulnerable human beings with the same feelings as the rest of us and you’ve abused their trust and good nature.”
Simon began to laugh and mimic Rob saying “Spuriously” causing Rob to continue with increased animosity.
“You are just so lucky that I have cared too much for Helena to break her heart by telling her about your behaviour in the past. But you’re not getting away with it anymore, Simon. I’m not letting you play your stupid games anymore.”
“What ya gonna do, perfect little Mummy’s boy?” Simon stared back at him, struggling to focus “Ooh, I’m so scared – little Robbie’s got all angry.” Simon laughed hysterically and Rob looked away, waiting for Simon to get out.

Rob watched Simon reeling in the headlights to the back door, taking a key from under a stone, falling over, staggering back up again, letting himself in and switching on the light – just as the kitchen exploded.

A satisfied grin began to spread across Rob’s face but then it dropped again suddenly.
“Oh God. Helena,” Rob whispered and got out of the car. But before he could run to the house someone grabbed his arm.
“No,” Helena said, her eyes reflecting the flames from the house. “Leave him. The children are safe.”
She was wearing a long coat and holding Susie, the black Labrador on a lead in one hand and a small suitcase in the other. “I know about the affairs.”
Rob stared at her in horror.
“It’s okay,” she said, watching the flames. “I don’t blame you for not telling me. I wouldn’t have wanted to know. Not at first anyway.” She glanced at Rob. “He loved you, you know?”
“No, he didn’t. He hated me. He criticised me constantly,” Rob replied.
“Only because he was jealous of you. He was depressed too. Said he’d kill himself if I ever left him.” She stared expressionlessly at the burning kitchen for a moment and then turned and strode down the drive as if taking the dog for its morning walk.

“You’ll have to walk up the slope if you want to use your mobile,” she called back, disappearing into the dark.

“Yes. Yes of course,” faltered Rob, taking his phone out of his pocket.

As he walked to the front of the house and headed up the lane a little way, someone started a car engine and Emily from The Travellers Rest drove past him.



A Voice Released




On the 29th of August 2009, at the age of 39-going-on-40, I wrote my first story in 23 years.





I wrote it quickly as a challenge to come up with a story in a limited time from the prompt word “shoes” and it was also my first ever blog post.

I did it again the next day with the word “lemon” and then the next day with the word “mist”.

I didn’t set these stories out correctly, I didn’t edit them. I didn’t really know all the rules about layout. But people read them and enjoyed them and – as the old saying goes – something clicked.
(If you’re interested, look back to the archives for August 2009)

I felt my pulse race. I felt the buzz of childhood Christmases and I felt the high of holding a new baby after giving birth. Letting my imagination loose, arranging and rearranging words, creating and freeing a bundle of thoughts in my brain and making them into a thing, some thing that I had made – oh, bliss…. The whole beginning-to-end process was what had been missing from my life!

I felt as if I was running down a grassy slope with my arms wide, screaming, “Yes, story-writing, take me, take me! I’m alive, I’m alive!”




The way I felt before I opened my word processor and released that first flood of words was like carrying a big heavy rock around my neck for years marked “unfulfilled” . Now suddenly I could take it off and put it to one side. To describe what has happened to me, my head, my self-esteem, sense of self, confidence in my own opinions, etc, etc, etc, in the last year and a half since “shoes” would take pages and pages.

For the last 18 months, I have called my blog “A Creative Writing Journey”. It was to be about me and my journey from a beginner on a soon to start Open University creative writing course and would follow my progress.

But that’s not how it worked out. I was a student, yes and I wrote about the course a bit. But what happened was deeper than that.

I became a writer. A real, proper, writing-for-my life writer. I now think I was always a writer-in-waiting.

I started writing down my thoughts about being a writer, a parent, a member of the human race and gradually stopped shying away from my deep-seated and until then well-hidden values and beliefs. I had been scared of myself, worried that my environmental, socialist leanings would alienate me. Worried that my honesty about struggling with daily life would make me look self-obsessed or in need of medical attention. And I was scared that my creative/fictional ideas wouldn’t be good enough to get me a writer’s badge.

I bravely took the thoughts and concerns that were in my head and I made them into blog posts. Sometimes straightforward rants, sometimes humorous parodies and sometimes short stories with obvious or hidden messages depending on the mood. I now starve, freeze and isolate myself to concentrate on what I am working on or thinking about. Sometimes I’m in pain and I don’t care.
Through this recent writing I have spoken the words I couldn’t speak for years, voiced the concerns about my fellow human beings that I have held close for years and released the creative flow that has been dammed for years.
I have worn away the edges of the stick of rock that is me and found that it has WRITER written right through the middle of it. Whichever way life bites me now I will always be a writer.

So today it dawned on me that my blog is no longer a creative writing journey. It is a website dedicated to sharing my thoughts and my fiction. It is a platform for my voice. My opinionated voice, my writer’s voice and the voices of my characters who – based on my observations of life – have a right to be heard.
I am releasing voices. I am not going on a “journey” (!)

So the new name for my site is A Voice Released. It’s about me and it’s about them.

If you don’t like it…

Care is a small word – don’t lose it

“Libraries? So what? Nothing to do with me.”
“Forests and woodlands? So what? Nothing to do with me.”
“Education fees? So what? Nothing to do with me.”
“Who cares?”

Who gives a monkey’s about the stuff that’s nothing to do with you? Huh? The stuff that might put a strain on your local services budget but that won’t impact on your life in the slightest?

“Oh no! Not another one banging on about the libraries!” I hear you cry.
Well, no, not exactly. I think the library closures are symptomatic of something bigger, of community apathy, of failure to see the bigger picture.

I don’t walk in forests – I don’t live near any. I don’t use libraries often – the nearest one is tiny and miles away, we can afford books, Internet access, printers, encyclopaedias and I have had time over the years to read and share books with my children at home. I have also never needed a special care baby unit, I have so far never needed the fire brigade, a coast guard, a special needs teacher, a nursing home, I pay for my own education (with the Open University), I don’t live in a council house, I don’t need free transport, free school meals, I – so far – have never needed the local domestic abuse services or mental health services.

What’s more, we used to live in a house where there were no street lights for miles, no pavements, the roads were neglected, the refuse and recycling collections were insufficient, it was a helluva long way to the nearest police station, secondary school, hospital, there was no public transport whatsoever.

There are a lot of services I have paid for but never used.

But I still paid my taxes, happy to support local services and I’m not happy to see even the ones I don’t use underfunded or removed.

You see I want all these things to exist and carry on being supported. I want to live in and be part of a society where different people with their individual needs can survive and know that there are safety nets in place for when needs change.

If you are wealthy and can pay for private education or if you don’t have children why should you care about mainstream education or children’s services?
You should care because well-looked after, supported, appreciated young children become the teenagers that hang out in out towns, the builders, plumbers, teachers, doctors, surgeons, lawyers, politicians, nurses, bin men and community support workers who care for us throughout our lives and into our old age and provide the backbone of the country. Neglected, uninspired children will have less to give back and it won’t be their fault that they find it harder to care. They might not be your children but they will become your problem.

If you are under forty and live in a predominately young trendy city area why should you care about old people having a hip replacements, eye care, home help, meals on wheels? Well, one day we – and our loved ones will all be ill or old. We won’t live forever. All old people were young once and contributed to society, they deserve our support.
If you are retired and live in a quaint village in Dorset surrounded by predominantly old people why should you care about infertility treatment, childcare, maternity services, nursery schools? Because you should want those that come after you to have a decent life, to not be bullied, to have at least as good an education as you did and to keep the cycle of care going.

You should care about stuff you can’t directly relate to because you can quite simply see how it matters elsewhere. Things in life that we don’t all use benefit others. We should care about that. Shouldn’t we?

Well. I don’t know about you. But I care. I want the little 90-year-old woman – whom I will never meet – in Cumbria to be warm enough this winter. I’m prepared to accept a minuscule financial responsibility for her through my taxes.

I want the young couple in Bournemouth who have been desperately trying for a baby for eight years – and whom I will never meet – to have infertility treatment and not be part of an NHS postcode lottery. I’m prepared to accept a minuscule financial responsibility for them through my taxes.

I want the baby born in Norfolk last week – that I will never meet – to snuggle up and breastfeed with his mother for as long as they both want to and to have help from the midwife and health visitor when it doesn’t come easily. I want the new mother to be able to afford to stay with her baby as long as she needs to and not be forced back into work until she is ready. I’m prepared to accept a minuscule financial responsibility for them through my taxes.

I want every town, village and city in the country to have access to enough GPs, mental health services, police stations, books, training schemes, schools with smaller classes and well-trained teachers…. I’ll stop before this sounds like a party political broadcast!

It’s not a utopian vision. I’m not that naïve. But money in the right places saves pouring money into the wrong places to put things right afterwards.

I don’t want public places to become privately owned so that people don’t feel free and equal. I don’t want libraries closed down so that old people, children and poor people can’t get access to books, a quiet place to work, freedom and the Internet. I don’t want support systems necessary to human decency and well being, whipped out from under the feet of vulnerable people so that they become desperate, suicidal, hungry, cold, open to abuse – even if they live miles away and I never have to see them!

We live in a society where people’s needs and habits can be very different from our own.

We should care.

Things that have been put in place are being eroded, removed and cancelled. People will suffer. Many of us will suffer indirectly from having services, rights and amenities gradually eroded so that our communities slowly become less pleasant places to live and we may not be able to put our finger on what exactly went wrong.
Don’t just support the things you can relate to. Empathise and see what others need too.
Save all of it.

Freedom. Education. Access to information. Choices. These are some of the most important things that everyone should have a right to in this country in order to stand a better chance of gaining social mobility and independence. Take the routes to these rights away and you are left with more people trapped in poverty with fewer life choices and increasing numbers of people needing support and benefits that they’d rather not be relying on.

Here’s what I’ve heard people say about saving libraries today:

On Twitter:

The library is a precious resource for non-privileged people who want to learn. These are the LAST people we should let down. #savelibraries

Having seen the excitement on Third World children’s faces to be given a single book, we should treasure our luck and #savelibraries

god knows where id be without libraries. i owe my sanity to bristol central library. im not even joking. #savelibraries

Support #savelibraries My children wouldn’t be where they are today without them. Fact. 2 in university 1 in college 3 flying high at school

My elderly father is about to take his first step into the world of computers through a course at his beloved local library #savelibraries

so many writers owe their careers to libraries. They offer respite, and resources, where no one else can #savelibraries

“Those Saturday mornings when I escaped from the house and entered those oases (we lived in several different places) smelling of wood and paper and, oh, centuries of wisdom and dreams which in turn could transport you to a possibility-filled future… In the library you were no longer the eleven-, thirteen-year-old daughter of, sister of, pupil of… You felt part, however novice, of a vast intellectual and creative community. It gave me a sense of my right to belong to that community which otherwise, in spite of my parents’ encouragement, I may never have had…” Writer, Elizabeth Baines.

Getting rid of libraries or cutting funding and running them into the ground is just a taster of how nasty public cuts can get.

Those of us who have been apathetic about politics in the past, I think it’s time for us to get off the fence and start talking and paying attention. Show that we care.

Cathedral

The sound came from above and from the sides in an arc.

The clear, pure, open-throated sounds of voices resonated together like one huge bell and seemed to stroke his temples and the back of his neck, entering not just through his ears but his nostrils, his mouth, his scalp and his skin. He felt immersed in a gentle, powerful experience of something seemingly hugging the back of his eyes, his tonsils and his chest, as if he was singing too.
For five seconds he stood on the same huge grey slate, not moving, in case this was the only part of the building where this magic could be felt.

Then Sarah came and touched his arm.
“I left a fiver,” she said in a low respectful voice. “I hope it’s enough.”

They walked slowly, neither one wanting to break the spell over themselves or in the building by brisk movements or audible footfalls. He found himself wishing her shoes didn’t knock so rhythmically. It would be good to stand still and wait a while longer and become lost again, he wanted to say, but he felt foolish and said nothing.
She pointed, he nodded. She read information cards quietly, he ummed quietly and scratched the back of his neck.

They arrived at the front. He sat on a pew facing the practising choir and she joined him. He held her hand but wished he was alone so that the tears could fall and he could be rid of them. She would ask him why he was crying, if he was all right, try to comfort him, worst still – pity him. He didn’t want that.

He looked up at the ceiling. The physical stretching of his throat and the backward tilt of his head seemed to abate the overwhelming urge to weep. He took a deep breath and heard himself gasp. It would take decades to make a ceiling as intricate as that. People must have died before they saw this place finished.
He remembered putting up scaffolding to fix the ceiling in the village hall last year and the three days it took to paint it afterwards with white emulsion. This ceiling was something else.

From the corner of his eye he saw her looking up too and then looking at him. He withdrew his hand, wanting to swear at her, make her look away. She would see that his eyes were shining with unreleased tears.

He stood up and shuffled out of the pew and strode towards the great doors with the sound ringing all around him, following him. Clear and loud and intense. A whole body experience that had taken him away from the traffic, away from the present, out of the city and out of himself temporarily.

The light, the noise, the dust, the diesel, the outside air swapped places like a spell with the choir, the old wood, the polish and the cold damp stone smells, the red velvet, the tapestries, the stained glass, the wholeness, the oneness whisked away in an instant to be replaced by a noisy bus engine, a distant road repair, wind and busy footsteps. People dashed by so fast in their focussed intent, intense internal manner that he was shocked into sitting on the stone steps to take a moment.

“Andy? Are you okay?”
“Yup! Couldn’t be better.” He answered brightly, jumping to his feet. “Right.” He brushed the sandy feeling from his hands briskly and clapped. “You’ve forced me against my will into a cathedral so now let’s do what I want to do. Where’s the nearest pub?”


A River of Stones Jan 2011

“A small stone is a polished moment of paying proper attention.”
Here is my stream of daily small stones written throughout January 2011, when I took part in A River of Stones. Some of these are a bit lame and just show how some days we are less inspired for one reason or another! I would love your comments if you find any of them effective:


    Blissfully balanced black, bitter brunch of burnt toast and chicory coffee at 1.11 on 1/1/11


    Script-writing while outside a grey sky day grows darker.
    Hoping for a sunset I look up but the only colour comes from a light bulb reflection.
    My tea is cold.


    A dark January sky and dark January memories flood my vision and my conscience suddenly.
    I am dropped into sadness and struggle to join in with the outpouring of grief for an actor who will remain immortalised on the screen while my father’s face and voice slowly fade.
    Two years… two years…


    Bird seed brings colours of goldfinches and tuneful starlings with lustrous wings as a pheasant pecks peacefully alongside chaffinches and sparrows.
    A pigeon claps in the cold grey sky.


    Reluctantly, obediently smoothing “light-reflecting”, “dark cherry-brown” over natural golden brown, I inhale sickly-sweet chemicals and realise it is getting harder to see the top of her head.


    Saggy, water-logged padding is pulled out from its folded up position as joints are eased out creakingly. Stretch, stretch, click. A rusty body groans in remembrance of its pre-winter positions.


    Sunlight flashes high on the wall in skewed squares like yellow kites.


    Teetering on the tip top twig of a twelve foot tree, a female chaffinch balances by shifting and shuffling.
    Do baby birds get vertigo before they find out they can fly…?


    A pheasant’s metallic chuckle.
    But all that’s visible is a cat.


    “But why can’t I stay home and play with my presents?
    But why can’t I take my balloons and presents to school?
    But you don’t go to my school so you don’t know the rules.
    But you… Oh-wuh…”

    There is no birthday boxing day.


    Joined-up, unpunctuated dark and rain and groaning exhaustion.
    Where are the stones today?
    I think they’re in my belly.


    Bubbles ring out in a glass of fizzy water like tiny distant telephones.


    Devastating news is delivered silently in the dark as it hits home ten hours after the phone call.


    The chaos in the house now looks welcoming as a distraction from the chaos in our heads.


    It’s half past midnight – late for him. The wine is not enough so he lies in bed with headphones, listening to music from his past, following a youtube link from an old pal, revisiting his youth, a time before we met. He looks closed. “Don’t shut me out,” I think and give him my hand. He takes it, squeezes and holds it tight.
    He hasn’t shut me out.


    The careful “almost-burn” to tongue and finger tips of hot tea in a firm smooth china teacup brings painful familiarity.


    Crisp, washing-scented winter air shoots pleasurable pain through my nostrils to my eyeballs and aching stiff fingers unpeg chilly half-damp sheets as the crows sit in the black stick trees against a custard-yellow sky waiting for me to go in.


    The sycamore tree that shines like hot wax as it drips, defrosting in the sun draws me to the window.
    My pre-contact lense morning short-sightedness cannot identify the small bird sitting in the branches until a long tail wags up and down rhythmically.


    A spring-like moment on a sun-warmed step.
    The blue tits squeak to each other as they dart from tree to tree. The neighbours talk to each other across their garden as they hose something and I tell myself what an idiot I was to have bought thyme from the supermarket when we have some in our herb planter.
    Yet twenty feet away the shade is still hard with frost.


    The slightly unnerving crackling noise coming from the corner of the room is a 22-year-old peace lily lifting its tired leaves after getting watered for the first time in weeks.


    I unstick my hot, aching ear from a 2-hour phone call and reach for the wine.


    The bathroom fan heater is humming on the note A. I’m sure but I play an A on my flute to check!


    Opening windows in a cocooned winter house lets in clean air, unfiltered light and breaks the self-absorbed seal that comes from shutting out nature.
    The room is re-tuned to a gentle chorus of satisfied birdsong and breeze-skittered leaves.


    A few minutes before midnight,
    A bedroom in the eaves.
    Sounds of scampering, searching, and scratching.
    Around, above and behind when all else is at rest.


    Fooled for a second that the repetitive, bickering jackdaws are actually metal buttons clanking around inside the washing machine.
    Then the nerve pain in my thigh reminds me that I am not doing any washing today.


    Blown up against the hedge, grass skeletons do the Danse Macabre.


    Attracted by bright sparkles, I turn off the light and go to the window where the panes mist up immediately.
    The air outside is frozen but I open the window and lean out.
    To the far left: an orange curve of light pollution and a gentle steady drone of distant traffic. In front: open dark fields, sloping up to a black winter hedge which points brittle fingers up to a net curtain of glittering dots and pin pricks of light hanging silently over my head. My lips dry and my nose stings with cold as I stare up, shrinking the blackness between Earth and the distant suns.


    White lilies, white roses, white lilies, white roses,
    “Hand tied”, “free vase”, In Sympathy, Thinking of You,
    White lilies, white roses; the webpage scrolls.
    In peace, white lilies…
    I want to send spring bulbs, give colour, bring joy.
    But this can’t be fixed so I choose thoughtful white.


    The tyre swing hangs, empty and still, in a hollow O shape.
    The space hopper lies helplessly on its side, looking south with big staring eyes.
    The deserted bicycle is turned away in sulky neglect.
    Discarded before the frost, they wait for the little girl who comes back a year older after each passing January.


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