What’s stopping you from writing and publishing your first or next book?
What was it that helped you write and publish your first book?
You may be surprised by what it was that helped my guest Stephen Havard write and publish his first book. I’d never have guessed. But not only did it help Stephen write and publish his book, it also helped him with mental health problems he was encountering at the time.
A very warm welcome on Hugh’s Views And News to Stephen.
It’s January 2011, and I was sitting at my desk at work feeling depressed. It had only just gone 4.30, and it was already starting to get dark, the grey drizzly day now being consumed by blackness. The advent of the shortest day last month hadn’t taken effect yet, and my mood was as dark as the picture outside the office window.
Christmas had been great; time with the family and a period away from the laptop was just what I needed. Unfortunately, this had only been a brief respite, and here I was once again sitting before a computer in a job I hated more and more by the day.
I was stuck in the rat race with no way out, and it was draining the life out of me more and more. I needed something to spark me into life; the only question was what, though?
My job was the main issue, but the option to leave wasn’t possible right then. I had a young family to support and couldn’t just jump ship. I’d have to persevere with it for the time being and find another outlet to lighten my mood.
That outlet came unexpectedly to me a few weeks later as I browsed the BBC website and noticed that the quiz show ‘Pointless‘ was looking for contestants.
I’d loved quizzes from an early age and had even auditioned for another quiz show, 15-to-1, without success after leaving university in 1997. Over the intervening years, my passion for quizzing had remained, regularly going to pub quizzes and still avidly watching every quiz show on the TV. I had never applied for another quiz show, though.
Was this a sign?
Pointless was one of my favourite quiz shows and something that played into my relatively obscure knowledge. This contestant call which was now staring back at me was surely telling me to apply and once again try and get onto a TV quiz show.
I spoke to my wife, who was seated beside me and urged me to apply and follow my dream. She knew how much I hated my job, how it affected my mental health and made me quite hard to live with at times. She wanted me to be happy and believed that the simple act of applying for this quiz show would help in that regard.
So that very moment I applied, buoyed by the enthusiasm of my wife, I spent hours perfecting our application in the hope that what I was writing would be what the show wanted. I say ‘our application’ as my wife had agreed to be my partner on the show as well.
Now I’m not the most patient of people, and as the weeks passed without any news, I thought the worst. Had my attempt at TV stardom fallen at the first hurdle? The very thought that it probably had depressed me even further.
Over a month later, I was again sitting at my desk and facing a now-familiar dilemma. What was I going to do to get out of the malaise my life was currently in?
While I sat there debating the options, my phone started to ring. A quick glance at the screen told me it was from a private number, another bloody call centre, I guessed as I declined the call.
Less than a minute later, I heard the familiar beep that indicated a voicemail had been left. Strange, I thought as I picked up the phone and dialled my answerphone, those call centres don’t usually leave voice messages. And as I listened, my heart began to beat more quickly. The voice at the end of the line was from a casting researcher at Pointless who wanted me to ring them back!
And to cut a long story short, my wife and I seemed to impress them on that phone call, Cathy being rung moments after me.
Our successful telephone audition led us to a hotel in Cardiff a week later for a face-to-face audition.
Now, this was the scary bit. Not only did we have to impress the researchers there, but we also had to do it in front of a room of 30 other hopeful contestants.
I’m quiet by nature but knew I had to shine here and create a persona that the TV execs wanted on their show. Having my wife there helped me as she is naturally more outgoing and chattier than me. I treated that day as a job interview, I knew I had to impress, and that’s precisely what we did as a couple of months later we were at the BBC Television Centre in London recording our episode of Pointless.
It was a day I’d never forget as we came away with a Pointless trophy and the jackpot!
So how does appearing on a daytime quiz show lead to me writing my first novel, I hear you ask.
Well, since that first quiz show appearance in 2011, I’ve auditioned and appeared in many more shows with various degrees of success. Quizzing has become a great passion, and I love to appear on TV to show off my knowledge and test myself against other great quizzers.
I’m also convinced that appearing on them vastly improved my confidence and helped with my mental health.
Writing a book had also been something I’d always wanted to do, but like most things, that passion had been put on the backburner with work and family life taking precedence.
Then in March 2020, lockdown happened, and my life, along with the rest of the country, changed utterly. I was ‘working from home’ permanently, and my daily commute of over 2 hours had suddenly disappeared.
Despite the awful circumstances of the pandemic and lockdown, I sensed this was an opportunity to follow that dream of writing a novel.
The only question was what to write about?
This had been a conundrum for so long and another reason why I hadn’t yet typed any words. Yet during those first few weeks of lockdown, the idea of my debut novel locked into place, and it was an idea that was staring me in the face all along if I’m being honest now. Why not write about my other great passion, that of quizzing!
And that’s what I did over the next seven months as ‘The Duel’ took shape. It incorporated the world of quizzing, which I knew well and required very little research with a murder mystery.
‘The Duel’ was self-published in November 2020 and has been well received by readers that have bought it. It’s a story I’m happy to have told at last, and I hope it may lead to a full-time writing career eventually (fingers crossed).
About Stephen Havard
Stephen Havard lives in Swansea, South Wales, with his wife and two children, he also has 2 stepchildren.
Currently working in the IT industry, he enjoys quizzing and watching Swansea City football club in his spare time.
His quizzing exploits have resulted in a few TV appearances, with varying degrees of success!
Ashley White is desperate. An ill-advised investment in cryptocurrency has left him in financial meltdown, with the bank threatening to repossess his home and a wife that knows nothing about the mess he is in.
A new quiz show called ‘The Duel’ is about to hit the TV screens, offering a mouth-watering 2 million pounds to the winner. The show is to be hosted by Patrick Reed; the scandal-hit presenter who hopes it will revive his flagging career.
Ashley hopes the show can be his way out of his financial problems and does all that is necessary to appear, even when those things have murderous intent.
For many days, my heart had pounded, and I found myself in danger of being found out.
My mother couldn’t understand why I’d been getting up so early every morning, especially on a Saturday.
I can’t sleep, I told her.
Whereas what I’d been waiting for so early every morning was the postman.
But that Saturday morning was a saviour for me because the postman sometimes arrived after I’d gone to work.
As the mail fell through the letterbox, it was only the large, brown envelope I snatched and took upstairs to my bedroom.
My hands shook as I quietly opened the envelope, thinking that any sound I made would wake up the entire household. As I took out the contents, the newspaper’s title, ‘Gay News’, in large bold letters, pierced my eyes.
Barely able to open the pages, because my hands were still shaking, my eyes darted all over the pages taking in a ‘life’ I knew I belonged to, but of which I’d had little experience. It was unlike any newspaper I’d ever read. It was like entering a new yet, familiar world.
Some 45-minutes later, I’d read just over three-quarters. While my fingers and hands showed evidence of newspaper print, I picked up the large brown envelope and gazed at the postmark – London.
Immediately thinking that London was the place where all gay people lived, I started making plans in my head of a trip. I’d never been, yet I somehow knew London would be the destination where I would work and live one day.
Turning my attention to the newspaper again, I scanned one of the back pages I’d not read. These were the kinds of adverts I remember reading.
For sale – Leather jacket and Muir cap, hardly worn, VG condition – £35 ONO (or nearest offer). Contact Jack at Box 625S, Gay News, London…
For rent – Lovely cosy room, in a large house with three other guys. NW10 area, only a few minutes to underground and good bus service. £15 a week, plus contributions towards bills. Contact Mike at Box 489A, Gay News, London…
Wanted – models for top-earning film studios. Must be good looking and over 21. Send full details of yourself and a photo to Box907W, Gay News, London…
Many adverts like those above covered the page, but others took my interest more.
Lonely, 33, good-looking, short hair, moustache, 5ft 9′, good sense of humour, looking for a younger boyfriend to go out with and have fun with. 21-30 only, no older guys, sorry. Will only reply to letters that include a photograph. Contact Clive at Box D212, Gay News, London…
28, just out of a relationship, short, blond hair, cleanshaven, fit, told good looking, non-smoker, Earl’s Court, London, area, looking for a new boyfriend. Age (21 – 80) and looks unimportant. Please include a photo with your reply. Contact Adam at Box D213, Gay News, London…
Bear, 55, looking for a younger (21+) cub to cuddle and have fun with. Must have facial hair and a hairy chest. Bristol area, but willing to travel for the right cub. Your photo gets mine. Contact Steve at Box D214, Gay News, London…
It wouldn’t be long before I discovered what a bear and cub were in the gay world. It also would not be long before I found that not everything in lonely hearts adverts was what I thought it was.
There were many adverts, and even though I was only 17, I started thinking seriously about placing one. It would be risky, but all I wanted to do was make some gay friends.
I noticed another advert before folding the paper and placing it back in the envelope.
South Wales area – genuine, nice guy in his early 40s, looking to meet other guys who haven’t come out yet. Maybe we could help each other? Write to Richard at Box 223D, Gay News, London…
Lifting a corner of carpet under my bed and placing the large, brown envelope and its contents under it, Richard remained on my mind for the rest of the weekend.
Did you enjoy reading this post? Then you may also enjoy…
If you don’t have an ‘About me’ page on your blog or are struggling with what to put on it, help is at hand. Blogger, James M. Lane has all the answers for creating an outstanding ‘About Me’ page for your blog. Click the link in this post for all the details.
Do you use the reblog feature on WordPress? Are you downloading images from the web and using them in your blog posts? Are you sure what you’ve downloaded or shared is actually free to use on your blog? Author, writer and blogger Deborah Jay shares her experience of facing a fine for reblogging a blog post that contained an image that was copyright protected.
If you’re a blogger who has ever used or still uses the reblog button to share other bloggers’ posts, I urge you to read this post.
Likewise, if you use photos or images in your own posts that are not your own or do not come from a genuine website that offers free images and photos, this post is a must-read.
Early 2021, during the lockdown, I had a nasty shock.
For me, the lockdown was terrific – I live in a farmhouse in the Scottish Highlands, with gorgeous gardens, have a horse and a pack of rescue dogs, and for once, I could legitimately stay at home and not travel for work. This also allowed me to sit and write without feeling like I was short-changing some other part of my life.
What I had not expected, however, was to receive an email from a law firm accusing me of copyright infringement on a photograph I’d displayed on my blog back in my earliest blogging days, somewhere around 2013.
To add insult to injury, it wasn’t even a blog post I’d put together myself, but a collection of inspirational photos on a friend’s blog, which I’d reblogged!
I’d shared her post using the WordPress ‘Reblog’ button, and, as you may know, the start of the post appears on your own blog with a link to the original for anyone wanting to see more.
I had NO idea (this was quite early in my blogging career); this meant that ALL the photographs in that post were downloaded and stored in my own media library. The fact they were downloaded, even without my knowledge, became a potential legal problem.
If this happens to you, DO NOT ignore it.
The ‘Cease and Desist’ email came from an Italian law firm. Their client, the photographer, is based in the UK, as am I. It detailed the blog post and the specific photograph and demanded £1045.00 compensation for using the picture without obtaining a licence. This was justified as:
£195 financial loss (£39 per year for the licence)
£150 damages for flagrancy (putting the photographer at increased risk of having the photo stolen/used without obtaining a licence)
£100 damages for negative financial consequences
£150 for the absence of picture credit
£50 damages for moral prejudice
£100 damages for consequential losses
£100 damages for devaluing the image
£200 lawyers’ fees
This was what I did:
The first step was to check that the law firm existed, looking up their website and digging a little on Google. Sadly, for me, it was legit.
Then I took a look at the photographer’s site to find the photo. Yes, it was there, along with the price for an annual licence, as detailed in the legal letter.
So, having established that I had indeed violated copyright, although unwittingly, I checked my own post. Now, as a reblog, I could only see the first picture, which wasn’t the one in dispute. I replied to the lawyer, asking for a screenshot of the image displayed on my site. To my shock, an image came back of the entire post, with all the photos in evidence displayed on my blog. I still don’t know how this is possible, but I couldn’t argue because they had the screenshot.
I removed the post from my site and also delved into my media library, which is when I discovered to my shock that all the pictures from the post were stored there. I deleted them all, just in case.
I contacted the original blogger and advised her to delete also, which she did. The last thing I wanted was for them to go after her too.
The next step was to contact the lawyer again and point out I was not the original poster, explaining it was a reblog of someone else’s post.
Their reply was that while they would consider this, I was still to be held responsible because the image had been displayed on my site. They dropped the proposed settlement to £800 and gave me 10 days to pay up.
I contacted another lawyer for advice. This was her answer: ‘If you did not download it and post it on your site, then you did not copy it. I would argue that re-posting or embedding is not copying because the image is hosted elsewhere and therefore cannot be copyright infringement.’ Note that last bit? Unfortunately, the way WordPress works, the photo had been downloaded and hosted on my own site, even though I hadn’t known it, so this didn’t help me.
I went back to the Italian lawyer and again stressed that I was not the person who had chosen to use the image. I felt they were being unfair coming after me and not the original poster (which is why I’d given her the heads-up first and ensured she’d removed all traces from her site before typing this message).
By now, this had gone on for 6 weeks, with me leaving it almost to the stipulated 10-day deadline when I replied to the lawyer. I never once refused to pay them, but I also did not offer to do so or haggle about the sum. I spent more time researching potential help from legal groups, but…
Nearly a year on, and I’ve not heard from them again! This sounds fairly simple, but believe me, it was time consuming and stressful experience.
I understand from years ago, mainly when posting paper letters, that sometimes the answer to such events is to continue corresponding. Never offer anything, but keep querying small details and spread it out as long as you can. If nothing else, you may well get a reduction (as I did) in the sum they demand.
I was lucky; I know others who have had to pay up. In this case, it appears they wrote me off as too much bother to pursue.
If you should be unfortunate enough to have this happen to you, the most important things are:
Don’t ignore it – that has the potential to be very expensive.
Don’t pay up straight away – always investigate your options.
Deborah Jay writes fantasy and urban fantasy featuring complex, quirky characters and multi-layered plots – just what she likes to read.
Fortunate enough to live not far from Loch Ness in the majestic, mystery-filled Scottish Highlands with her partner and a pack of rescue dogs, she can often be found lurking in secluded glens and forests, researching locations for her books.
Her first published novel, epic fantasy, THE PRINCE’S MAN, won a UK Arts Council award and debuted as an Amazon Hot 100 New Release.
Reblogging saves many bloggers time. It’s quick to do and can result in more visits and comments to the reblogged post.
It’s also a safe option but only when used correctly. Here are several points to consider and note if you intend to reblog another blogger’s post or have ever reblogged another blogger’s post.
If you reblog or have reblogged the blog posts of other bloggers, any images, videos or photos in those posts will have been downloaded into your WordPress media library. You could, therefore, have downloaded illegal images or photos and images that are copyrighted.
Check the small print – Some photos, images and pictures may have a limited time that they’re free to use. After that, if they remain on your blog or in your media library, you could face a fine.
Consider other options of sharing blog posts where images and photos are not downloaded to your blog. The ‘Press This’ sharing button is a good option, as no images and photos are downloaded to your media library.
Another option instead of reblogging is to write and publish a post that includes pingback links to blog posts you want to share. Blogger Sally Cronin does this with her ‘Blogger Weekly‘ feature.
If you run a blogging challenge where you reblog posts from participants, consider adding links to those posts in your blog post or in a new blog post rather than reblogging them. Blogger Terri Webster Schrandt does this in her Sunday Stills photography challenge.
If you’re unsure any contenet in a blog post you want to share are not free to download or use, don’t reblog the post.
Don’t think that what happened to Deborah won’t happen to you. It can!
If you believe you may have reblogged posts that have images or photos that are copyrighted or not free to download and use, delete the posts immediately.
After deleting posts, remember to remove any images and photos that appeared on the reblog from your WordPress media library, as deleting the post does not delete them.
Remember that copyright laws can also apply to lyrics, artwork, drawings and text.
WordPress offers users hundreds of free images and photos. Click here for full details.
If you’re not convinced by Deborah’s experience of copyright infringement, then read Debby Kaye’s post here about a copyright experience she had where she was fined for reblogging a post that contained an image that was copyright protected.
If you have any questions about Deborah’s experience or about reblogging, leave them in the comments section. Deborah and I will try and answer them, although we cannot offer any legal advice.
Follow Hugh on Social Media. Click the buttons below.
As a gay man, you may be surprised to hear that one of the biggest hurdles I faced was going into a gay bar for the first time.
At 17-years-old, I was in awe of my straight mates. They’d been wandering into bars and nightclubs for the last year with the only threat of getting asked for age identification.
At 17-years-old, my straight mates were not only getting drunk most Friday and Saturday nights but were boasting about sleeping around with members of the opposite sex without any worry. Whether they’d slept with many of those they mentioned was open to debate.
At 17-years-old, it was against the law for me to sleep with a person of the same sex. If I boasted about it, I could get myself into trouble. The law stated that, for my safety, sex remained on hold until I reached 21.
Of course, I overlooked that particular part of the law. Like any red-blooded male at 17, my hormones made my brain think of little else but wanting to (putting it mildly) get laid.
By the time I reached my 19th birthday, I already had what I had considered a boyfriend. He was over the age of 21 and thought I was too.
On one particular, wet Saturday evening, I found myself sitting in my boyfriend’s car. Holding hands with him, we listened to the patter of the rain on the roof as we watched the raindrops splatter on the windscreen. For weeks, we’d both built up the courage to go to a gay bar for the first time.
The bar was out of town and miles from where we lived. However, neither of us wanted to get out of the car and walk up the steps to the bar. Instead, we both sat there trying our best to peer through the spattering of rain, trying to make out the figures going into the bar.
“It’s nice and warm in here,” I said.
“Yeah, too wet to go outside,” responded my boyfriend.
For the next half an hour, we made an excuse after an excuse as to why we should stay in the car. Even though curiosity ran through our minds of what was on the other side of the doors to the gay bar, our bodies remained fixed to seats while we continued peering at figures entering and exiting the bar.
“What if we bump into somebody in there who recognises us?” asked my boyfriend. “If there’s somebody in there from work, I could end up getting beaten up or sacked.”
Not only did those words cut me in half, but I began to worry that if the police raided the bar, my boyfriend and I would be in serious trouble because of my age.
Although at 19-years-old, it wasn’t against the law for me to go into a bar, I questioned if it was against the law for me to hold hands with another man in a public place.
Terrified of the consequences of entering a world where people would have welcomed and accepted us for who we were, we drove off and went home. Hiding who we were and how we lived our lives seemed a much safer option.
It would be months later when I talked about that night again.
“If somebody you worked with had been in that bar, wouldn’t they have been as terrified as we were at being spotted?” I asked.
“I never thought of that,” came the reply. “But it’s still a risk, isn’t it?”
Six years later, as I made my way on a coach to a new life, I left behind a boyfriend who had been secretly sleeping with another man he worked with.
Have you ever been terrified to do something or go somewhere for the first time? Please share the details in the comments sectionor, even better, contact me about submitting your story as a guest post.
Did you enjoy reading this post? Then you may also enjoy…
I’m delighted to welcome Judith Barrow to my blog today, who shares a true story about the perils of holiday letting an apartment.
Having read some of Judith’s other stories of holiday letting, there’s always a humorous side to them which I believe would not only make a fanatics book, but a television comedy show.
Will Judith’s story have you laughing as much as I did when I read it?
For many years we summer let the apartment which is attached to our house.
We had many visitors from other countries staying in our apartment and shared great times with them.
Couples from the USA, Australia enjoyed barbeques on the lawn; long boozy evenings of wine and slightly burned kebabs and steaks, of tall tales and laughter.
Visits to restaurants with people from France and Italy. Long walks and talks on the coastal paths with a couple from New Zealand that we’d met from there on holiday in Christchurch, followed by drinks in local pubs.
We had a German man stay with us for three weeks who’d come to participate in the Iron Man Wales event. He’d worked hard for twelve months, he told us and had to acclimatise himself to the course. Three days before the event, he caught a chest infection and had to drop out. Despite his anti-biotics, he still needed to join Husband in a double whisky that night.
Oh dear, I’m sensing a common theme here.
This is the story of our last visitor for the season one year.
He was a single man. We’ve had people come on holiday alone many times over the years and thought nothing of it. When he arrived, we quickly realised he could only speak a little English, and we couldn’t speak his language at all.
He hadn’t been in the apartment before he came to the door brandishing an empty bottle of washing up liquid.
“Oh, sorry,” I said, “I thought there was plenty in it.”
An hour later, washing powder was asked for by a demonstration of vigorous scrubbing at a pair of underpants.
“There’s a box of it under the sink.”
Sunday brought him to the door twice. First, with the sugar bowl.
Then the salt cellar.
“I thought I’d filled it—”
‘Used it’ quickly became the watchword whenever we supplied tea bags, vinegar or handing over shoe polish.
Monday, he arrived with an empty tube of glue.
“Sorry, we don’t supply glue.”
He stands, smiling, waggling the tube. “Used it.”
Husband went into his Man Drawer and produced a tube of Super Glue. Scowling. We never found out what the man wanted it for, even though Husband examined everything he could that would need to be stuck the following weekend.
Each day, at least once, the man came to the door to ask for something by waving the empty bottle, carton, container or label at us. Unlike most holidaymakers, he didn’t knock on the back door but always came round to ring the doorbell at the front. In the end, Husband and I would peer through the hall window.
“It’s Mr Used It,” one of us would say. “It’s your turn to go.” Pushing at one another. “You see what he wants this time.”
On Wednesday, he arrived with a cardboard roll.
“There are six more toilet rolls in the bathroom cabinet to the right of the hand basin,” I offered helpfully.
Seven rolls of toilet paper usually last a couple the whole week. I handed over four more.
“What’s happening in there,” Husband grumbled, “do-it-yourself colonic irrigation?”
On Friday, Husband produced a list. “We should charge for this lot,” he declared. “See?”
It read like a shopping list: milk/salt/sugar/vinegar/butter/tea bags/ coffee/soap/soap powder/toilet paper/shampoo/glue/shoe polish.
“Really?” I said, even though I knew the chap had been a pest. “You’ve been keeping tabs on our guest?”
“Too true.” The husband was indignant. “We could even charge him for overuse of the battery in the doorbell.”
“Except that it’s connected to the electricity.”
“Even worse!” Husband grumped off to his shed.
Saturday morning came, and the doorbell rang. Smiling, the man put his suitcase down onto the ground and, vigorously, shook hands with both of us. He waved towards the apartment.
“Used it,” he said. “Very nice.”
About Judith Barrow
Judith Barrow is originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines, in the UK. She now lives with her husband and family in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where she has lived for over forty years.
Judith has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. She also has BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University.
She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.
She has written all her life and has had short stories, poems, plays, reviews and articles published throughout the British Isles. She only started to seriously write novels after having breast cancer twenty years ago.
When not writing or teaching, she enjoys doing research for her writing, walking the Pembrokeshire coastline and reading and reviewing books.
1914 – and everything changes for Jessie on a day trip to Blackpool. She realises her true feelings for her childhood friend, Arthur. Then just as they are travelling home from this rare treat, war is declared.
Arthur lies about his age to join his Pals’ Regiment. Jessie’s widowed mother is so frightened of the future, she agrees to marry the vicious Amos Morgan, making Jessie’s home an unsafe place for her.
Before he leaves, Arthur and Jessie admit their feelings and promise to wait for each other. Arthur gives Jessie a heart-shaped stone to remember him. But with Arthur far away, their love leaves Jessie with a secret that will see her thrown from her home and terribly abused when she can hide the truth no longer. Faced with a desperate choice between love and safety, Jessie must fight for survival, whatever the cost.
Click on the book cover to buy The Heart Stone
More Books from Judith
Click on the book covers to buy Judith’s books.
My thanks to Judith for writing this guest post.
If you have any questions or comments for Judith, please leave them in the comments section. She’d be delighted to hear from you.
Do you have a true story you’d like to share on my blog? Contact me via the ‘Contact Hugh’ button on the menubar.
I’m delighted to welcome Sally Cronin to my blog today, sharing a true story that had me laughing all day after I read it. It bought back many happy memories of a similar nature for me, especially some of the parts I played in school plays and amateur dramatics.
Many of you will know Sally from her successful blog where she is constantly helping to promote the works of bloggers, authors and writers alike.
Will Sally’s story have you as staged-struck and laughing in the aisles as I was after reading it?
My two sisters who were ten and eleven years older than I was, both trained as secretaries, which led to them having some interesting and high level jobs over the years.
However, I decided at an early age that I wanted to be a singer and actress! The desire to follow this career path was my mother’s fault really. Apart from the fact that she had a bit of a flair for the dramatic, she manipulated me into being her co-conspirator every Saturday afternoon.
My father loved football, and after he had cooked us one of his Spaghetti Bolognese lunches, followed by steamed treacle duff as he called them, we would retire to the lounge where our television took pride of place. I would have been about seven or eight at the time and my mother would coerce me into facilitating her viewing pleasure; the Saturday afternoon musical on BBC2.
Of course this conflicted with the afternoon football offering by Grandstand on BBC1. Fortunately my father had a weakness. Stoked up with carbohydrates and sugars from lunch, within 10 minutes of the match starting, he would be stretched out in his recliner, snoring.
In the good old days it was necessary to get up and down to switch channels, and this is where I came in.
As soon as my father began snoring, my mother would nudge me, and I would creep across the carpet to turn the channel over to BBC2 and the Saturday musical. Things did get a little hectic at times if there was a temporary change to my father’s breathing. At a shove from my mother, I would leap up from the sofa, dash across the room and switch channels back to the football. My father would watch blearily for about five minutes then resume his afternoon nap.
This would happen several times during the course of the movie, and as the final credits scrolled up the screen, I would turn the channel back over to BBC 1. My father would wake up to enjoy the cup of tea my mother had made, convinced he had watched 90 minutes of fancy footwork, but not the kind we had been watching.
This Saturday afternoon ritual fuelled my love of dancing and singing. My heart and soul burned to be the lead, dancing and singing my way through the performances like Ginger Rogers, Esther Williams (yes I would have done synchronised swimming if called for) Deborah Kerr, Mitzi Gaynor etc.
I had seen South Pacific at age ten and I would have even taken the role of Bloody Mary given half the chance. I knew all the lyrics from all the popular musicals of the day and wept buckets as John Kerr lip synched to “Younger than Springtime”; and I could perform all the songs from the Sound of Music.
Over the next few years I was lucky enough to be cast in a number of school plays. Being tall for my age, it usually involved me standing completely still for thirty minutes in the guise of a tree or some other inanimate object.
I did attempt to achieve some form of recognition for my talents, which included dressing in Swiss costume and dragging one of my friends around to old people’s homes to entertain the residents with the songs from The Sound of Music (they were very appreciative, let me tell you!).
This did not impress my parents, who were adamant that when I left school, I must train as a secretary, as drama was not a profession to be relied on.
I left school in September 1969 at age 16 and enrolled in technical college for a year’s secretarial course. Over the course of the next twelve months, I became very proficient in shorthand and typing, but it was the extra classes we took in English that I enjoyed the most.
Our teacher also taught drama, and had trained more than a few successful actors and actresses over the years. To my delight, she was casting for that year’s drama production which was the operetta “Passion Flower”, based on the story of Carmen, but adapted for the amateur stage.
Without informing my parents I auditioned. I was rather expecting to be cast as part of the scenery again, but you can imagine my absolute thrill when our producer chose me to play Micaela – Carmen’s rival for the matador’s affections. Something that I kept from my parents, and they assumed I would be part of the chorus as usual.
Police cadets did their initial training at the college, and several of these were roped in to play the soldiers. Our producer recruited outside talent from her drama group to play the leads including an Australian dentist in his mid-thirties who took on the role of the matador, Escamillo, and a wonderful young singer called Julie took the part of Carmen.
The performances ran for three nights, and by the final evening I had almost conquered my nerves, despite the fact there were two very important people in the audience. I had persuaded my parents to come on the last night, with the expectation that it was likely to be the most flawless performance of the three.
I was desperately hoping that if they saw how passionate I was about acting (and my talent); they might relent in their objections to me attending drama school.
I can still remember standing in the wings that night, knees quaking as I prepared for the cat fight with Carmen, followed by being manhandled by the soldiers as they pulled us apart enthusiastically.
All was going very well until we reached the final scene when Escamillo threw a rose onto poor dead Carmen’s body, having been stabbed by a former lover, and then pulled me into his arms for a passionate kiss!
Unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, our lead actor had been celebrating the end to the run by consuming a number of cans of beer hidden in the wings. This certainly gave his performance some extra gusto which our producer put down to exuberance. As I swanned across the stage and into his arms for the expected stage kiss, he bent me over backwards and gave me a hearty smacker, before picking me up and rushing off stage.
Cue a very loud gasp from the cast clustered around poor Carmen’s corpse and from the front row where my mother and father were seated with other VIP guests. I can only assume they had already been taken aback by my starring role as a floozy, in an off the shoulder blouse, big earrings and a penchant for men in uniform.
I also had an inkling that these last few minutes had not gone down well. My erstwhile suitor and I joined the cast and clasped hands, bowing in appreciation of the applause. All I could focus on was my father, arms crossed with a very frosty look on his face.
My mother told me later that my father had turned to her and shouted over the applause, ‘Who is that man and what was he up to with our daughter?” At this point, a woman who was sat next to my mother announced furiously ‘That would be my husband.”
As you can imagine, this fiasco did not further my ambitions to be allowed to attend drama school. Two weeks later, when I had graduated with my secretarial diploma, the evening paper’s employment section was strategically placed next to my beans on toast for supper. Probably for the best, as I have enjoyed a wonderful variety of jobs across a number of industries including broadcasting.
However, my love of musicals has never diminished, and who knows… maybe one day!
About Sally Cronin
After a career in customer facing roles in the hospitality, retail, advertising and telecommunications industry, Sally wrote and published her first book in 1999 called Size Matters, about her weight loss journey, losing 150lbs in 18 months. This was followed by 13 further fiction and non-fiction books, including a number of short story collections.
Sally’s aim was to create a watering hole on her blog to provide a wide number of topics to chat about…..This year in September 2021, Smorgasbord in its current format, celebrated its 8th anniversary.
As important as her own promotion is, Sally believes it’s important to support others within our community. She offers a number of FREE promotional opportunities on her blog, linked to social media.
Having lived a nomadic existence most of her life, Sally is now settled on the coast of Wexford in Southern Ireland with her husband of 40 years, enjoying the odd sunny day and the rain that puts the Emerald in the Isles.
Sally’sLatest Book – Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet
Life is Like a Bowl of Cherries: Sometimes Bitter, Sometimes Sweet is a collection of short stories with scattered poetry, reflecting the complexities of life, love and loss.
The stories in the collection dip into the lives of men and women who are faced with an ‘event’ that is challenging and in some cases life changing.
Even something as straightforward as grocery shopping online can be frustrating, and a DNA test produces surprise results, the past reaches out to embrace the present, and a gardening assistant is an unlikely grief counsellor. Romance is not always for the faint-hearted and you are never too old for love. Random acts of kindness have far reaching consequences and some people discover they are on a lucky streak. There are those watching over us who wish us well, and those in our lives who wish us harm.
Continuing my series of true stories, I’m delighted to welcome Liesbet Collaert, who shares her story of how life changed the direction she was travelling.
Although Liesbet leads a different life to me (read and follow her blog to find out more) her true story is one I gasped at even though I’ve had similar experiences. It makes me believe in fate even more and why we find ourselves in certain situations for a real purpose.
Will her story bring back memories of a familiar position when you read it? Has fate played a part in your life?
San Francisco. A fascinating city I only know from movies and guidebooks. So close now! I can almost see the Golden Gate Bridge, smell the salty air of the bay, and feel the breeze in my light brown hair. The promise of a new adventure causes my ear-to-ear grin as I hop into our small camper to grab a CD of dEUS, my favorite Belgian band.
After crisscrossing the United States, Western Canada, and Alaska in our truck camper for the last year and a half, my boyfriend Karl, his dog Caesar, and I landed in California. Karl’s friend Nik, a DJ, had invited us to share his studio-apartment in Oakland, as a base to explore SF. Nik also rents out two apartments in his house.
CD in hand, I enter the yard again and stop dead in my tracks. Two gorgeous dogs with fluffy tails had run up to me. I smother them with cuddles and praise.
“Hi, I’m Mark. And these two are Kali, the white one, and Darwin, the grey one.”
I look up from admiring the wagging furballs.
My eyes meet those of a tall, skinny, short-haired, and attractive man in the doorway of apartment #1.
“Hello. I’m Liesbet. My boyfriend and I are staying with Nik for a week to visit San Francisco. Our home on wheels is parked in front of the house.”
“Home on wheels? Why are you living in a camper?”
“It lets us travel around with our own bathroom and kitchen and plenty of storage and provides much more comfort and security than dingy hostels and a backpack,” I tell him with an unfaltering smile and raised voice; telltales of the excitement I always feel when elaborating on my pursuit of freedom.
“I detect an accent. Where are you from?” he asks, after I had described a handful of places I visited while backpacking for almost two years on the other side of the world.
“I’m from Belgium, but I haven’t been back in a while.”
Mark seems entranced, which encourages me to ramble on about my passion. After some time of telling stories and trading questions and answers, he exclaims, “That’s incredible! I need to travel and find myself a Belgian girlfriend!”
I blush. It dawns on me that we’d been chatting for a while.
“Do you know what time it is?” I ask. An hour has passed. I rush to Nik’s place next door.
“Where have you been?” Karl asks.
“Talking to a neighbor, the one with the big dogs. He seems like a nice guy.” I hand my CD to Nik, who is always eager to discover new music.
Our planned week in the Rockridge area of Oakland turns into four, as all of us become friends and Mark unintentionally draws me closer and closer. Karl encourages my contact with the neighbor. “Soon we’ll be out of here and it’s just you and me again,” he says. “Enjoy the company!”
I embrace Mark’s presence until I crave it.
One night, the Hollywood-moment arrives… our first kiss. An arm around my shoulders. A fluttering body. Touching of lips. Mutual desire. He loves me back!
We never allow anything more to happen. Mark is a realist. He knows I am leaving Nik’s place shortly and that I am in a serious relationship.
Our dreadful last evening together eventually arrives. We hug strongly and kiss tenderly.
“I’ll come pick you up wherever you are, whenever you’re ready to leave Karl.” Mark’s parting words sound sweet. Is he serious?
That night, I lie awake, heart racing. By morning, it’s time to pack up the camper and leave.
I exchange glances with Karl. His eyes beam with excitement about continuing our adventures; mine reflect trouble and sadness.
I take the plunge.
“I can’t be with you anymore. My attraction to Mark has grown too strong.” I sound more determined than I feel.
Karl stares at me with intent. “We’re driving to Mexico. We both looked forward to this.”
Did he not notice my enthusiasm to continue our overland journey had diminished these last weeks?
I swallow hard.
Can I really give all this up? Our past explorations on the road? The year and a half before that, where he tried so hard to fit into my Belgian life? How about my American visa that will run out if I don’t leave the country soon?
The consequences of my impulsiveness finally trigger some brain activity.
Karl continues, “I love you. Caesar and I will miss you so much.”
We both cry. Three years together is not nothing. I think about the good times we shared. Karl and his dog – and me, too – had been ecstatic when I showed up at his Maryland apartment, ready to roam North America. That was the summer of 2003. I had thrown a goodbye party at my parents’ house in Belgium and hopped on a plane. Little did I know I was never to return.
I remain quiet. My heart bleeds for him. Karl is a sensitive man who understands me and cares about me. We have the same passion: traveling the world on a budget. Yet,I crave more romance in a relationship…
Am I seriously giving up my travels for a man?
That would be a first. It’s usually the other way around. My gut knows how this predicament will end. My mind has nothing to add.
I face Karl and finally utter, “If I leave with you, I will want to come back here at some point.” It is the only conclusion I can muster.
I have fallen in love with another guy, the “guy next door.”
“If that’s what you want,” Karl replies with a sigh, “then you should just stay.”
In the hours that follow we split the money from our communal account; I gather my belongings; and we discuss a contingency plan for the truck camper. I pet Caesar goodbye and give Karl one last, heartfelt embrace. Then, misty-eyed, I watch them drive away.
I close the door of Mark’s apartment behind me. Unlike other times when Karl and I returned his dogs after walking them with Caesar – today, I don’t leave.
My pile of clothes and gear clutters the corner of the bedroom. I settle on the bed with Kali and Darwin. My tears soak their fur within minutes. Mark has found his Belgian girl without having to travel; she appeared right on his doorstep. He probably thought he’d never see her again. Surprise!
What will he say when he comes home from work?
What if he doesn’t want me here?
As usual, I don’t have a back-up plan.The rest of the afternoon, I cry. I feel bad for Karl.
I’m such a selfish bitch.
The front door opens. The dogs jump up and run towards their human. I stay behind in the bedroom.
“Hi, guys,” Mark greets Kali and Darwin with a sad voice. “I guess they’re gone, huh? You two don’t seem too excited to see me. What’s up?”
I walk into the hallway. My eyes sting.
Mark looks up.
“What the hell are you doing here?” His words crush me. I shuffle towards him. We hug. I don’t want to let go.
“I’m staying with you,” I whisper, as if he doesn’t have any say in this. Mark’s face relaxes into a smile. His grip tightens. I guess that means it’s okay.
Liesbet Collaert’s articles and photos have been published internationally.
Born in Belgium, she has been a nomad since 2003 with no plans to settle anytime soon. Her love of travel, diversity, and animals is reflected in her lifestyle choices of sailing, RVing, and house and pet sitting.
Liesbet calls herself a world citizen and currently lives “on the road” in North America with her husband and rescue dog. Follow her adventures at www.itsirie.com and www.roamingabout.com.
Liesbet’s true story is taken from her new book, Plunge.
Tropical waters turn tumultuous in this travel memoir as a free-spirited woman jumps headfirst into a sailing adventure with a new man and his two dogs.
Join Liesbet as she faces a decision that sends her into a whirlwind of love, loss, and living in the moment. When she swaps life as she knows it for an uncertain future on a sailboat, she succumbs to seasickness and a growing desire to be alone.
Guided by impulsiveness and the joys of an alternative lifestyle, she must navigate personal storms, trouble with US immigration, adverse weather conditions, and doubts about her newfound love.
Does Liesbet find happiness? Will the dogs outlast the man? Or is this just another reality check on a dream to live at sea?
If receiving Christmas cards was a hobby, it would be a hobby I’d embrace and never let go.
I’ve always preferred receiving Christmas cards to birthday cards. They’ve always been more important to me, but over the years have caused me a few dilemmas. Do you recognise any of these?
How to display Christmas cards
My parents always strung up Christmas cards along the longest wall in our lounge. I’d stand underneath the line and happily count them. And if any of the cards overlapped, I’d make it known so that they could be adjusted.
I wanted every Christmas card to give the same pleasure to visitors as I got out of them over the festive period.
These days, we display cards on a card rack. The overlapping doesn’t seem to bother me as much as it used to. However, I seem to give priority to those cards I see as more festive.
How do you display Christmas cards?
During my early schooling years, my class would send Christmas cards to each other. Back then, Christmas cards came in different sizes in one box. The first dilemma was trying to match the correct sized envelope to the right card.
Usually, you’d end up with a couple of cards that didn’t fit the envelopes you had left or, on rare occasions, have cards left with no envelopes to put them in.
These days, Christmas cards seem to come in packs and are all the same size, so the dilemma of matching envelopes with cards has gone.
In class, we’d make a pillar box out of cardboard, cotton wool, paints and some sticky-back plastic. We were all encouraged to post Christmas cards into the box, and on the last day before the Christmas holidays, our teacher would sort them and distribute them out.
I’d always be super excited to get a pile of cards with my name proudly written on the front of the envelopes. I’d open them all before rushing home to hang them up with the rest of the cards.
If there wasn’t enough room on the line, I had to wait patiently for my father to put up another line. Sometimes, this could take days to do, and I’d get very frustrated that my cards were not on display.
And heaven’s forbid if any of the lines of cards came down because of the sheer weight of cards on them. I’d be inconsolable.
After Christmas, I’d keep the cards I liked the most and make gift tags out of them for the following Christmas.
It wasn’t until the 1870s that Christmas cards began to display some of the festive images we see today.
Back in the 1970s (when I was sending cards to those in my class), there were certain cards I loved. These include the ones I thought were associated with Christmas. Those showing scenes that included Father Christmas, Christmas stockings, robins, snow, and Christmas trees were my favourites.
And then there were cards I didn’t particularly like because I thought they had nothing to do with Christmas. These included ones with scenes of horse-drawn carriages, fox hunting, St Paul’s Cathedral, or a hand-drawn poinsettia.
My favourite classmates always got the cards I associated with Christmas. The classmates I didn’t bother with much (or those I didn’t like) got the boring ones. Back then, you could always tell who didn’t like you much from the type of card they sent you (or so I thought, anyway).
Step back to the early part of the 20th century, and some Christmas cards were like postcards. Many years ago, I picked up some on eBay. This one is my favourite.
Postmarked Dec 24th 1912, I love the humour on this postcard, although I’m not sure it would go down well these days. What do you think?
I can’t make out the postmark on this postcard, but the stamp on it tells me it’s from the U.S.A.
And here’s another early one from the U.S.A, postmarked Dec 23rd 1913.
Postal addresses were so short back then.
Fast-track to the 1980s and Christmas cards were very different. Here are a few of my favourites.
Yes, I have a scrapbook that includes some of my favourite Christmas cards.
The Boyfriend Dilemma
Finally, here’s a Christmas card from 1988 that was sent to me by my then boyfriend.
Unfortunately, he went on to break my heart on New Year’s Eve, yet I kept the Christmas card he sent me. I wonder why?
Do you send and enjoy receiving Christmas cards? Have you ever had any dilemmas with them?
I’m delighted to welcome Graeme Cumming to my blog. Not only is Graeme somebody I class as a friend, but he’s also a very talented author, writer and blogger.
Graeme’s true story opened up my eyes to something I’d never thought about when it comes to passing on wisdom and mistakes I’ve made in my life to those younger than me. Read his story and let him know how you pass on words of wisdom to the younger generation.
Unlike Bryan Adams, my summer of ’69 had nothing to do with playing guitar. Having struggled to play triangle during a school concert, I think it’s safe to say my musical abilities wouldn’t have stretched that far.
When I chose the wrong moment to hit the triangle, I was even more mortified than I might otherwise have been because my dad was in the audience. He didn’t tend to turn up for school stuff because of work – not many dads did back then. So, when he was able to put in an appearance, I wanted to impress him. Clearly, I was to be disappointed and, at the time, I assumed the same was true for him. It’s funny the perceptions we have of our parents.
That summer, we took a rare holiday. I suppose they were rare because we didn’t have the money for them. In those days, it was common for the husband to go to work and the wife to stay home and look after the house and children. With one wage-earner, a holiday was a luxury. Even better, we had two weeks at Mablethorpe, not just one.
Fifty-one years later, I still have great memories from that holiday. Great, though not all of them filled with joy. Not at the time anyway.
There was an incident where my dad and I were playing football on the beach. Sport had always been his forte. He’d even been signed as a professional footballer back in the fifties – though a foot injury put paid to his sporting career within weeks. Nevertheless, even with the injury, he was a good all-rounder. In his time, he played cricket, tennis and squash to a high standard, and even walked away with a trophy on the one occasion he played golf.
In contrast, my own sporting skills have always bordered on the inept. So there was very little surprise when I kicked the ball in the wrong direction, sending it hurtling out into the sea. The tide was going out and, before long, it became apparent that the ball was going with it. My dad did go after it – inevitably, he was a bloody good swimmer, too!
Like most kids, my dad was my hero. I thought he was capable of anything. So, when he swam back to shore and I could still see the ball in the distance, it’s fair to say I was disappointed. In short, I wanted my ball back.
Standing at the water’s edge, he pointed to where it was, bobbing further and further away. I felt very let down that he’d come back empty-handed. And I let him know it, too.
“You can still get it.”
“Graeme, it’s too far out.”
It didn’t look that far to me, a point I expressed pretty sharply.
“The tide’s taking it,” he tried to explain.
Perhaps the concept of tides was too difficult for a six-year-old. It was another thirteen years before I experienced the terrifying pull of the sea as a Moroccan beach seemed to recede very rapidly from my line of sight. And the overwhelming sense of relief as I somehow managed to scrabble my way back to shallow waters.
To this day, I don’t know whether my dad had ever gone through a similar experience, but he knew what he was talking about. I didn’t.
Hands on hips, I looked up at him and, in the manner befitting a child who isn’t getting their own way, let him know just how disappointed I was in him. After all, this was my hero. He was my Simon Templar, my Robin Hood, my Tarzan.
“Aren’t you brave enough?” It was an idea that was, frankly, shocking to me.
Exhausted from swimming against the tide, and faced with a similarly unreasonable question, I’d like to think I could show the same level of patience he did (I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t).
“Sometimes, Graeme, there’s not much difference between being brave and being stupid.” He glanced out to the ball. “I’m not going to be stupid today.”
Naturally, this quite profound life lesson went straight over my head at the time. And yet, strangely, the incident and the words stuck with me, until one day they made sense.
I’d like to say my dad was not only a great sportsman, but a philosopher too. But I can’t. Like each and every one of us, he was a flawed individual, and over the years I learnt as much from his mistakes as I did his wise words. And I’ve learnt even more from my own mistakes, especially from my youthful certainty that I was right, that I was invincible, that I would be my own hero. But that’s part of growing up.
Now, as a father myself, I see my children making their own mistakes, and hoping they’ll learn from them too. I’ve shared my words of wisdom, and hope they’ll remember some of them when the time is right. Sometimes those words have been dressed up in stories – because sometimes it’s easier to learn when you’re being entertained.
And I do like to tell stories.
Graeme Cumming lives in Robin Hood country. He has wide and varied tastes when it comes to fiction so he’s conscious that his thrillers can cross into territories including horror, fantasy and science fiction as well as more traditional arenas.
When not writing, Graeme is an enthusiastic sailor (and, by default, swimmer), and enjoys off-road cycling and walking. He is currently Education Director at Sheffield Speakers Club. Oh yes, and he reads (a lot) and loves the cinema.