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Posts from the ‘life and death’ Category

Do I need to see a therapist? Donna has the answer!

Donna Bottomley is a psychotherapist and writer, based in Wales (ah, Wales! Will I ever see you again?). As part of her psychotherapy practice, Donna runs an online Expressive Writing group, which sounds just perfect. Expressive writing can be effective in reducing anxiety, apprehension, worry and insomnia.

Donna’s book, released in May, has the intriguing title Do I Need to See a Therapist? In these pandemical (yes, I just invented that word) times, I know most of us have been touched in one way or another by worry, sadness, uncertainty and doubt.

Add feelings of fear and isolation, and it’s no wonder we think about seeking help. Read on for Donna’s comments on why she wrote this book, plus a free excerpt.

I can *almost* guarantee (*because nothing is certain, right?) that you’ll find this chapter very helpful.

Welcome to last Word of the Week, Donna!

I’m so pleased to speak with you. Can you tell us about your book?

Donna Bottomley

Donna Bottomley, psychotherapist and author

DONNA: The idea for this book was to pass on my insights from being a therapist and to also mention a particularly helpful technique for managing emotions that has been a game-changer in my practice over the past year.

Making connections and discoveries is what inspires me. I LOVE research and am on a constant quest to understand what makes us feel and behave as we do. Therapy as a field is increasingly looking beyond merely talking about thoughts and instead bringing more of our physical bodily sensations and events happening beneath the ‘hood’ of the brain into therapy. This includes our sensory worlds. These are an important part of our feeling states. 

I recharge using the sensory stimulation of listening to music whilst moving; preferably in my car but walking in nature can have a similar effect.  I also love the physical act of handwriting and use expressive writing both for myself and in my therapy practice.

I’m also a firm follower of Julia Cameron’s ‘The Morning Pages’.

Oh and I also have a habit of getting lost for hours playing around on Canva!

 

DO I NEED TO SEE A THERAPIST?

Free Book Extract: Chapter 5

Will Talking about My Feelings Make Them Worse?

And if So, What Can I Do to Make It Easier?

I often hear new clients say that they are worried they will feel worse if they talk about their feelings. This belief that emotions are made worse by talking about them keeps people silent. When we are silent, we cannot process our experiences. If we do not process our felt experiences, then we cannot truly learn enough about our own emotions in order to manage them. You wouldn’t manage a sports team by having no idea of the individual skills and abilities in your players. You’d have no control over how a game would play out if this was the case, and it would feel unpredictable and uncertain. It’s the same with our emotions. By suppressing them and pushing them away, we never get to learn enough about our own processes in order to manage them better. Because we don’t know enough about them, we find them unpredictable and we feel out of control if they become triggered. We don’t want to lose control, so we push them away. This avoidance keeps us fearing them, and the cycle continues.

EMOTIONAL SUPPRESSION

As humans we have a natural ability to be able to suppress, repress or express. Sometimes we knowingly suppress, sometimes we unknowingly repress. An example of repression is not knowing that something has bothered you until you later talk about it and feel upset, perhaps saying something like ‘I had no idea that bothered me so much’. This is normal, but do we balance out our natural tendencies to suppress, with setting aside time to process? In day-to-day life I don’t believe we do, because we desperately do not want to get upset. But this emotional suppression has a cost. It can make us feel even less in control of our emotions, and it also has an impact on our physical health.

A study by Gross and Levenson, published in 1997 in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, found that when participants were asked to suppress either a positive (amusement) or negative (sadness) emotion, the act of suppressing the emotion produced increased activation in the ‘sympathetic nervous system’ (SNS). The SNS is the part of our nervous system that sets off the ‘fight or flight’ response and gets us ready for action. Along with the release of stress hormones, it increases our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing in order to tackle the task at hand. If this type of activity is prolonged it takes us into a state of chronic stress. So if we suppress either positive or negative emotions this has an effect on our body similar to that that occurs when we are dealing with something stressful.

Book cover Do I Need to See a Therapist

Do I Need to See a Therapist?

Somehow, we have been given the message that it’s wrong, weak or crazy to notice and express our sensations and our feeling-states. But the research is clear that suppression as a strategy for managing our emotional health is not helpful. Peter Levine, in his book In an Unspoken Voice, discusses a study in which emotional suppression was correlated with higher rates of heart disease in men. James Pennebaker and Joshua Smyth’s research into expressive writing and emotional disclosure found a link between poor immune system functioning and emotional suppression (Pennebaker & Smyth, 2019). All of this tells us that if we stop trying to avoid our feelings, we might feel better. But how do we actually do this?

THE ALTERNATIVE TO SUPPRESSION: PROCESSING EMOTIONS 

Notice

This is the first step. It might sound obvious, but it is central to being able to gain mastery over what is happening for you. There is a part of the brain that is involved in ‘noticing’ and in becoming aware of what you experience. You can enhance it, and some scientists would say that you can increase the size of this area through long-term mindfulness practice.

Curiosity

The next thing I’m going to ask you to do is to set an intention to be curious about the sensations in your body that you notice. Maybe you are used to immediately doing something to distract yourself from the fluttery feeling of anxiety, or that quick whoosh of adrenalin. Whatever it is that you notice, how about seeing where the sensation goes if you let it be? Yes, you can distract yourself if you want to, but that isn’t your only option. Could you allow yourself to be like a scientist and be curious about what you notice? Could you try to embrace the uncertainty rather than push it away? The sensations in your body are not going to harm you. You do not need to fear them. If you let them be, they will come and they will go. Like waves on a beach.

When or if you feel angry or anxious, you might also notice lots of thoughts or maybe images flashing up, wanting attention. Your brain will be trying to figure out what’s going on and what to do. That’s OK. Notice what is happening in your body. You do not have to answer the thoughts right now, let them be there. They will come, and they will go.

Observe without judgement

Try it now. Check in with your body. What posture are you holding? What position is your spine in? Is it slumped, or twisting to the side? Imagine straightening it a little bit, and actually let your spine move to where it wants to. Then notice your stomach: are you holding it in? Let it go, let it flop out. Adjust yourself if you notice any twists or tenseness anywhere else. Notice with curiosity and without judgement.

Take a breath in and slowly breathe out, trying to make that out- breath last for a count of six. Do this again, then once more, and now take a big breath in and let it flop out like a big sigh.

###

Oh, thank you so much for that, Donna.

Great advice there. I’m sure we all appreciate this. Now for the entire book – here are the links!

DONNA’S LINKS

https://donnamariabottomley.com

https://dmbtherapy.co.uk

https://instagram.com/donnamariabottomley

Get the book! Amazon: https://amzn.to/3zqhSdj

Don’t forget me, cobber

Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle

What is it that makes the Attack at Fromelles resonate with Australians?

Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle

Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle from Odyssey Books: three fascinating WWI stories from Australian authors

July 19-20, 1916

The Battle of Fromelles was Australia’s first action on the Western Front. It was disastrous.

Arguably the worst 24 hours in Australian military history, there were over 5,500 Australian casualties.

Five hundred men were taken prisoner and almost 2,000 were killed.

In one night at Fromelles the Australian casualties

were equivalent to those in

the Boer, Korean and Vietnam Wars, combined.

 

The Fromelles Anniversary Book Bundle Special features three Australian novels of the war. Now available at these online stores for only $9.99. Grab your copy before the end of July!

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Apple Books

Google Books

 

This statue, titled “Cobbers” by Melbourne artist Peter Corlett was was installed in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles, France in 1998.

In the days after the battle rescuers recovered some 300 wounded from no-man’s land.

As one soldier carried a wounded companion from the field he heard a call for help.

Don’t forget me, cobber

Cobbers

The “Cobbers” statue in the Australian Memorial Park at Fromelles in France features Sergeant Simon Fraser from Western Victoria carrying a fallen comrade from the field.

Cobbers is a memorial to Australian service and sacrifice at the Battle of Fromelles. Fraser risked his life and a possible court martial when he returned to save a stricken soldier whose identity is unknown.

(Photo by Clare Rhoden)

 

Dark and edgy inspirations: Caroline England

Author of Beneath the SkinMy Husband’s LiesBetray Her and Truth Games as Caroline England, and The House of Hidden Secrets as CE Rose, today’s guest Caroline England likes to write multi-layered, dark and edgy ‘domestic suspense’ stories that delve into complicated relationships, secrets, lies, loves and the moral grey area. 

Author Caroline England

Author Caroline England

Drawing on her days as a divorce and professional indemnity lawyer, Caroline creates ordinary, relatable characters caught up in extraordinary situations, pressures, dilemmas or crime. She admits to a slight obsession with the human psyche, what goes on behind closed doors and beneath people’s façades. She also enjoys performing a literary sleight of hand in her novels and hopefully surprising her readers!

Caroline has also written Convictions and Confessions, a legal drama under the pen name Caro Land.

Let’s find out what inspires Caroline’s work

Caroline: My Secret Inspiration!

Everybody has a secret.

Yes you do! A study revealed that the average person keeps thirteen secrets, five of which he or she has never shared with anyone. Go on, count them. They can range from the little things that some people don’t feel are too bad, such as not mentioning too much change at the supermarket or exaggerating mileage at work. Or they might be major crimes such as a hit and run, robbery or even murder! Then there are affairs, betrayals and hidden relationships which can have devastating consequences, to easy small lies to cover looking for another job or concealing the early weeks of pregnancy. Or perhaps a person’s secret is simply unhappiness. Don’t we all do it at times? Put on our bright facade for the Facebook posts and Instagram photos to hide the the sorrow inside?

What about family secrets? Ones which only come out when Grandma has a few too many sherries on Christmas Eve: your great uncle was a bigamist; your parents married when you were two; your aunty was arrested for shoplifting a Rampant Rabbit.

The House of Hidden Secrets by C E Rose

The House of Hidden Secrets by C E Rose

Then there are the deadly secrets in my domestic suspense novels… Those which are so dark and deeply hidden that they’ve almost been forgotten. Almost…

My fourth psychological thriller, TRUTH GAMES, revolves around Ellie Wilson. Outwardly her life seems good – she has friends, her partner Cam and three boys. But when Sean Walsh, Cam’s old university friend, comes back into their lives, she becomes tormented by fragments of the past, and deep shame, which come back to haunt her. It’s time for Ellie to confront the layers of secrets and lies to reveal the devastating and destructive truth… 

OK, I admit it; I’m a tad obsessed with secrets and lies and the human condition. Indeed, one reviewer described me as a ‘specialist in stories of secrets, lies and revelations.’ So I guess I am an amateur psychologist who drives my family bonkers with my interpretations of people’s behaviour, what they tell us and what they don’t. But isn’t it fascinating to find out what goes on behind closed doors – or indeed, inside the pages of a gripping crime suspense novel? Do secrets burrow into our psyche and poison us? Or are they sexy, powerful and make us strong?

I probably have thirteen secrets; maybe there are five I haven’t told anyone. Come on, spill the beans – what are yours?

***

Well, there’s a challenge for us all. Now here’s an intriguing extract from Caroline’s novel for you.

Truth Games

Truth Games by Caroline England

An extract from Truth Games 

Prologue

‘It has to be the truth, the honest truth. Everyone agree?’

‘But what is truth?’

‘It’s only a game, man. Besides, another slug and we’ll know.’

Six young adults in the high-ceilinged room, two cuddled on the sofa and four on the floor. A girl and two guys sit around a candlelit coffee table. Though late, it’s still balmy, the leaded windows ajar. They’re drinking Jack Daniel’s from shot glasses. 

The girl snaps open the second bottle and pours. Her nails are bitten, her nose pierced, her short hair dyed black. Her attention is focused on the man stretched out on the floor. 

Lifting his dark head, he glances at her. ‘Isn’t there anything other than that American shit?’ he asks, his accent distinct. He goes back to his spliff and takes a deep drag. ‘OK. Then we’ll use the correspondence theory of truth,’ he says. ‘A belief is true if there exists an appropriate entity – a fact – to which it corresponds. If there’s no such entity, the belief is false.’ 

The fair-haired boy laughs. ‘OK, genius, I’ll start.’  Blue-eyed and neat featured, he looks younger than his twenty-years. ‘A secret. A true secret . . . ’ He knocks back the whiskey. ‘I’m in love with somebody in this room.’ 

The girl whips up her head, her stark make-up barely hiding her shock. 

‘Tell us something we don’t already know!’ This man is huge, his voice booms Home Counties. ‘Come on, old chap. What did you say? The honest truth. Something you haven’t told anyone before.’ 

‘Right; here’s one. My mum tried to snog me once,’ he says. 

Everyone but the girl laughs. 

‘No, it’s true, I’m not joking. Dad had buggered off, so she spent all the time drinking and crying—’ 

‘And snogging you?’ 

‘Yes, Your Honour.’ He guffaws. ‘The truth and the whole fucking truth, eh? Only the once, thank God, when she got close enough. I can’t do needy. Fucking disgusting.’ 

A silence of drunk embarrassment, then the eloquent voice again: ‘Are you two lovebirds playing?’ 

They turn to the couple on the sofa. The young woman is asleep. ‘We’re living our secret,’ her boyfriend says. ‘But one you don’t know . . . Let me think. My brother and me, we used to spit in the take-outs. Special treat for the racists we knew from school.’ 

‘Nice.’

‘Nah. Good try, but it won’t put me off your delicious—’

‘I saw my father beat up my mum.’ The man on the floor looks fixedly at the ceiling. ‘Badly. Watched the blood spurt from her nose. Did nothing to stop him.’ 

The Goth girl stares, but doesn’t speak.

The blond boy leans over. ‘Fuck,’ he says. ‘How old were you?’ 

‘Still a kid. But I blamed her. Probably still do.’ He sits up and throws back his shot. Then he squints through the smoke at the girl, still sitting cross-legged and silent. ‘What about you, nice middle-class miss? You’re not saying much. What’s your secret?’ 

Everyone is watching, all eyes are on her. ‘A secret truth?’ she asks, turning to him. ‘With an actual fact to which it corresponds?’ 

The man snorts. ‘Yeah. Come on, then; try me.’ 

She opens her inky lips— 

***

What a place to finish! Thank you so much Caroline for sharing your inspirations, and especially for the enthralling extract!

Caroline’s Links

Truth Games: https://amzn.to/2TidJro

Website: www.carolineenglandauthor.co.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CazEngland

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CazEngland1/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cazengland1/

The Meaning of Anzac Day

Anzac Day is a disputed day of reverence on the Australian calendar.

It’s often conscripted into arguments by both sides of politics, providing support for any point anyone wants to put forward.

“Anzac Day celebrates the landing at Gallipoii, a campaign that sums up the useless violence of war.”

“Gallipoli represents the birth of the nation.”

“Mateship began in the trenches of Gallipoli.”

“Australia’s self-identity is based on the invasion of another country.”

Australian graves on the Western Front

Australian graves on the Western Front

The place of Anzac Day in Australian cultural identity is complex. The legend may not be historically accurate, but the day is culturally significant.

As Martin Thomas says, historical ‘falsehoods are built on fragments of reality, and for this reason they reveal greater cultural truths’.[i]

It’s no wonder that mythology grows out of world-changing events. There are so many shades of grey. One thing that is certain is that WWI was a huge, life-changing time for millions of Australians. And we all know how a single far-off event can have enormous ramifications world wide. Pandemic, anyone?

Today I’m sharing extracts from my book about World War I and Australian story-telling. I haven’t found the answer to Anzac Day’s place in our lives, but I did uncover some interesting questions.

What do you think?

***

An extract from

The Purpose of Futility: writing World War I, Australian style, by Clare Rhoden, UWAP Scholarly, 2015.

World War I was an astonishing event. The millions of people caught up in the war had never experienced anything like it. For the first time, all of civilisation was trapped in a life-or-death struggle. Whole societies were pitted against one another in a devastating, horrific, technological war. Cultured Europe was transformed into a gigantic threshing ground that crushed cities into shards and men into bloody pieces. No wonder people thought this was the war to end all wars. It seemed likely to be the war to end all of humankind. Everyone continued to fight because to lose such a bloodbath was unthinkable; losing could only mean total annihilation, a return to the Dark Ages. The war was so horrific that everyone was sure that this would be the last time humanity ever resorted to the battlefield.

Everyone was deluded.

World War I, far from preventing more wars, probably made World War II  –which transformed ‘The Great War’ into ‘World War I’ – inevitable.

World War I, however, did change the world in significant ways. There were undoubted advances in engineering, medicine, and science, driven by necessity: improved machinery, engine technology, motorised vehicles, aerodynamics, weaponry, surgical instruments and techniques, medical and rehabilitation procedures, prostheses, building methods, communications technologies, and so on.

There were also irreparable damages and losses.

One of the most astonishing outcomes of the war was the proliferation of art and creativity, both inspired by and addressing the war. Viewed as the most literary war ever fought, World War I was the first to involve literate populations on a grand scale. The trove of written memorabilia from the war, and the overwhelming mass of writing about it since, ensure it will remain a focal point in the mainstream consciousness of the west.

Australian World War I prose is a distinct sub-genre. Here I provide a moderating frame over previous research which effectively identified the Australian writers’ reliance on old-fashioned heroic modes of writing war. Our central discussion of how leadership is represented in literature establishes Australian cultural egalitarianism as a factor in the infamously poor discipline of Australian troops. My underlying premise – that literature has both constructive and commemorative cultural value –goes some way to explaining Australia’s infatuation with all things Anzac.

Part of the difficulty we have in understanding the effects of war comes directly from the writings of veterans.

Although the most popular World War I narratives tell a story of disillusionment, horror and grief, most of the writers have a degree of pride and even enjoyment in their service. Many remember war as the best time of their lives, because its dramas, intense friendships, and shared purposes created a sense of community and personal worth that peacetime can never match.

Survivors need to believe that their experiences have some meaning, and the vast majority of soldiers wrote about World War I as a meaningful event. Reading their words in a later age, we use our somewhat jaundiced hindsight to view their motives and actions with a mixture of disbelief and amazement. We tend to evaluate the writings of veterans in terms of our own moral and ethical standards; we doubt that men truly enlisted with the joy of anticipation, with a desire to fight. To most of us, knowing the continued cost of war across the twentieth century, war is the worst calamity which humanity can inflict upon itself. Even though many veterans look back with pride and nostalgia on their service days, we prefer to believe that everything about war is repulsive, and that no aspect of it can be viewed positively; we believe that those who record their war service as the best time of their lives must be deluded.

The truth lies everywhere in between: no simple dichotomy exists, from which we must choose our side; no balanced midpoint satisfies all perspectives. It is not possible to say that war is either the worst event that can befall us or the best situation for comradeship and meaning. Like most human experiences, war is sometimes neither the worst nor the best, but something in between, something quite ordinary and even boring.

More often, war is both the best and the worst, and also quite ordinary for much of the time. This is the heart of war’s mystique for the writer and the reader. Stories of war can reveal much to us about the joys and the costs of living in a fragile world, because such stories reflect both the best and the worst of human life itself, and tend to elide the ordinary days. In war stories as in everyday life, small decisions can be fateful, and accidents, happy coincidences, and inexplicable sufferings are daily occurrences.

***

The Purpose of Futility

The Purpose of Futility

My book goes on to explore the novels written by WWI veterans, and the place of WWI generally in our nation’s history – the way we ignore the battles of colonization, the way we valorize masculinity, the way we overlook the bitter arguments about conscription that divided the home front…

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

[i] M. Thomas, ‘Leichhardt on the mind: the manhunt for the Prussian enigma’, review of Where is Dr Leichhardt? The Greatest Mystery in Australian History by Darrell Lewis, Australian Book Review, no 354, September 2013, p. 21.

Courage, hope, and hopepunk: Veronica Strachan

Veronica Strahan is magnificent at sharing words that mean a great deal to others. Whether writing non-fiction, children’s picture books or the fabulous high-fantasy-dystopian-hopepunk Opal Chronicles, Veronica ‘s books will affect how you see the world and yourself. Her memoir Breathing While Drowning is a message of courage and hope that speaks to grief and recovery.

Author Veronica Strachan/VE Patton

Author Veronica Strachan/VE Patton

Welcome, Veronica. You have quite a catalogue of amazing works. Why is writing important to you?

VERONICA: Though my creative writing was delayed by a few decades (okay four or so), due to the frustrating and often challenging interruptions of life, I’ve always felt compelled to write and share my stories—even if it was only with myself. When I spent years mired in producing formal clinical and business writing, my creative outflow was journalling. I love the power words have to change your life, to draw you into other worlds, to make you think, feel, and believe differently. Journal writing kept me sane and functioning until I found my story writing voice again. Once I’d turned on the tap, it was impossible to turn off.

 

Those words just keep coming, I know. What advice would you give an aspiring author?

VERONICA: Write what you’d love to read, the book that contains everything you ever wanted in a story. This is the story that will speak to other people. Let the creative juices pour out first, and then spend time on your crafting, and finding your audience. Take some creative writing courses and follow people who are writing things that you enjoy, or who are successful in their writing business.

Give yourself time. It’s a bumpy ride, but so worth your effort. You will change someone’s life with your story.

 

Oooh, that’s quite a concept! What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

VERONICA: I’d given my daughter a draft of my first fantasy to read. She was reading it as a favour to her mum, but this was the text I received…

‘Noooooo!!!! That can’t be the end! I need more! What happens next?!?! Right are you finished writing book two yet? It is so freaking good!!! I literally got only a few hours sleep because I couldn’t stop reading and couldn’t wait to wake up and keep reading. Holy shit – you have written something truly fantastic! (In both senses of the word!)’

That made me very happy.

And since I’ve been writing children’s picture books… the videos and photos of kids tucked up with a copy of Chickabella are wonderful. They’re often accompanied by anecdotes from parents about how Chickabella is now a part of their family! One little boy wants his mum and dad to buy a rainbow house.

 

How fabulous! Great responses. How do you feel about reviews?

VERONICA: I find most reviews incredibly helpful. They tell you how readers are connecting with your stories and where improvements may be needed. A complimentary review can give you an incredible boost, especially when someone is moved by your words.

And reviews are vital to self-published authors like me. Without the machinery of a publishing company to assist and connect you to readers, it’s all up to you. Reviews from readers help put your story in front of more readers, spreading the word about your work. I like to tell readers that someone else who needs to read the book may find it by reading their review.

 

What do you think about covers, and what say do you have in yours?

VERONICA: Books are absolutely judged by their covers, particularly these days when so many people are scrolling rapidly on mobile devices. Covers needs to entice the reader into your world. I’m incredibly lucky that my daughter Cassi Strachan is a creative soul who creates beautiful covers to my very sketchy requests. She always exceeds my expectations. Cassi and I teamed up for The Adventures of Chickabella series (words by me and pictures by her) and that has been a lot of fun too. We get so excited when we hear that kids love the books and recognise Chickabella on the cover.

 

Do you have launch parties for your books?

VERONICA: I had a launch party for my memoir Breathing While Drowning, a few years back which reunited me with a bunch of wonderful people who had helped us over the years – and gave me excuse to have a book cake. But it was at a fabulous launch party in 2019 for my first fantasy novel, Ochre Dragon, Book 1 in The Opal Dreaming Chronicles (read Clare’s review here), that I felt I had really arrived as a writer – I had made the whole thing up after all. We had a delicious dragon cake (there must be cake), champagne and nibbles, book signing, and some reading from the story. Lots of friends, family, and other writers came to celebrate the book’s long-awaited birth. It was brilliant!

Launch party cake: The Ochre Dragon

Launch party cake: The Ochre Dragon

Yes, I sigh for the good old days of book launches! One day we’ll have them again. Do you write in more than one genre?

VERONICA: One genre – never! I’m definitely a multi-genre writer, sometimes with a genre mashup in the same book! I like messing with the usual suspects and deepening the characters and worlds. My favourite reads are fantasy and scifi, so that’s my main focus in creative fiction under my pen name V. E. Patton. I’m also completing the final edits of a co-authored, contemporary, action adventure with a supernatural twist.

As Veronica Strachan, publishing my memoir was the door opener into writing. I just had to write the story of my long healing from grief following the death of my second daughter Jacqueline Bree. It was incredibly cathartic. And as well as being a writer, I’m a leadership coach, health management consultant, and facilitator. So, as requested by some of my readers and clients, I wrote and published a self-discovery workbook and journal as a companion to the memoir. It felt very much aligned to my work with women who want to find ways to live a more remarkable life.

Veronica is also a life coach and motivator

Veronica is also a life coach and motivator

 

The first of my children’s picture books was originally written as a legacy for my sister Mary, who was a kindergarten teacher and told the best stories. I always nagged her to write a book, but she was our family’s oral storyteller. When she died in early 2019, I wanted to honour her love of children. My own children still remember their favourite read aloud stories, and I wanted to help make good memories for other children.

 

 

That’s wonderful. I’m sure Mary is glad that you are now putting stories onto the page. Thank you so much for talking with me today, and I look forward to the next book launch Opal Dreaming #2 is coming soon, I hope.

 

Veronica’s LINKS

Luce Brett takes on the leaky lady taboo

Today I’m pleased to be speaking with English author Luce Brett about her new book, PMSL: Or How I Literally Pissed Myself Laughing And Survived the Last Taboo to Tell The Tale, which she describes as part motherhood memoir, part healthcare memoir, and on a bigger scale, an honest, no-holds-barred tale of unspeakable conditions, taboos and what has to change.

When Luce became incontinent at the age of 30, after the birth of her first son, she felt her life had ended. She also felt scared, upset, embarrassed and shocked. How the hell had she ended up there, the youngest woman in the waiting room at the incontinence clinic?

Over ten year period, Luce faced plenty of difficulties, a lot of hurt, and a world of pain as well as downright craziness. She also started the very useful blog When You Are That Woman.

In opening an honest discussion about the normally taboo world of being a leaky lady, Luce reassures us that just because a problem is difficult to talk about, it shouldn’t be swept under the carpet. Post natal care, birth trauma and incontinence tend to be overlooked in research and treatment, maybe regarded as something that shouldn’t be talked about or that only happens elsewhere. For centuries, women have been expected to suffer in silence, and not to scare others with their stories of embarrassing conditions.

As a long-time sufferer and I guess “survivor” of endometriosis and cystic hyperplasia, I know a little bit about invisible lady illness that nobody wants to discuss. It’s wonderful that Luce is able to combine her writing skills to address the important topic.

Author Luce Brett

Author Luce Brett, photo credit Cannon Pictures

 

Welcome, Luce, great to speak with you. Why is writing this book important to you?

Luce: Writing PMSL was incredibly important to me. I was sure there were leaky people out there who needed to hear they were not alone. I dedicated the book to them.

Incontinence is an everyday taboo, a commonplace story that never gets the attention it deserves and the ramifications of that aren’t just personal. Yes, women – and men  – with these intimate problems don’t always get help or suffer in silence, but worse, that taboo trickles down and incontinence treatments aren’t researched well enough, there isn’t the innovation or focus there could be, it isn’t part of policy.

The picture is changing but it needs to be a new and open conversation.

I really hope PMSL helps get people talking about both the condition and how to help and cure it – which for many, many sufferers is totally possible, cheap and quick.

So do I! That sounds really important. I’m so glad What would readers never guess about you?

I am actually quite shy about my body, very squeamish and really embarrassed about all my parts. It is weird that my first book is about my most private parts, and is very frank and straightforward about exactly what eg birth was like, how my injuries and complications looked and felt. I went all-in because I felt I owed that to readers. If I was asking them to stick with me in such a strange and stigmatised world, I just couldn’t lie to them. That’s why I get pretty down and dirty with the details, even about the biggest taboos like poo incontinence, wetting myself in public, getting depressed, and the effect on my relationships.

That cultural imposition of embarrassment is so hard to overcome, even when we’re talking health conditions that are so important and not all that uncommon. Good on you for getting stuck in! Writing is hard enough without having to face your fears as well. What was your favourite book as a child?

Anne of Green Gables fiend. I once cried so much at Anne that I was nearly sick. I didn’t cry that much again until books like And When Did You Last See Your Father, One Day and What I Loved.

I also adored Roald Dahl’s Boy and then Going Solo, which I read with my Grandpa. He shared my love of Dahl’s vicious humour and Blake’s illustrations. I can still remember the thrill of dead mice in sweetie jars, but also the melancholy of Going Solo: the expanse of Dahl’s airborne views, the strangeness of war stories from his POV.

In one story, Dahl’s eating olives and watching a ship burn on the horizon. I was entranced by what he captured in a simple scene with limited action. Until you asked, I’d never made the connection that Boy and Going Solo are memoirs.

All books about people and their connections, I see. What’s the best response you’ve ever had to your writing?

I’ve had extraordinary responses from people to my blogs and articles, telling me they’ve had a problem, sometimes for years and years, and never once told anyone, or that thanking me for being open. That includes from doctors, patients, other mums, men with incontinence issues, physiotherapists, journalists. Some are ashamed, some aren’t, many feel voiceless, like they have all these thoughts and feelings about it and nowhere to put them, no-one to speak to, no opportunity for anyone to provide the space to talk. It is so gratifying and if it doesn’t sound too weird, it’s a real honour to know that what I’ve written has allowed someone to do that, even if only briefly.

How do you feel about reviews?

Terrified.

Haha! I know that feeling! How much research is involved in your writing?

Lots. Alongside trawling my letters/emails/diaries/photos, I spoke to practitioners, campaigners, physios, nurses, surgeons, midwives and charities, including ones that help women in other countries with poor obstetric care who end up with terrible injuries. I did some historical research into the appalling, racist history of some gynaecological operations and procedures, surgical techniques, and medical and social research. I also took a deep dive into the cultural impact of incontinence – where it crops up in literature, pop culture, myths, poems, and why we have such a perfect storm of shame around it.

That’s a very good phrase for it – a perfect storm of shame. What five words would best describe your style?

Frank. Witty. Honest. Self-deprecating. Open (also, probably worth mentioning sweary).

Love it! Did you write for yourself or for a particular audience?

My writing is a combination of personal memoir and wider musings on a theme. I’m introducing a difficult topic that people really find hard to talk about, and telling the reader my experiences – some hilarious, some nice, some ghastly, some gory, some empowering, some sad – frankly and with no coyness, in the hope they feel less alone.

Obviously, one huge audience is leaky people (an often ignored group), especially anyone who felt they were the only one reacting in a certain way (finding it sad, funny, depressing, terrifying, shocking, disturbing or whatever). But I hope it is more than a patient memoir, and it definitely isn’t a blame game or a rant. It looks at social issues, medical history, misogyny but it’s about resilience, and how you react to, and grow from, trauma and all our attitudes to broken bodies.

I want it to be immediate and engaging, and very up close, as if we’re sitting in a pub having one of those oddly deep and meaningful conversations you sometimes have with relative strangers. The illustrations are designed to look like sketches on a napkin giving you an idea, rather than using complicated or intimidating medical diagrams.

Excellent concept. What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

Read the audiobook for PMSL: three days straight talking about my broken fanny, and my darkest moments, knowing some other people might hear it. I cried a lot reading it back. Also, having a second child, though he’s beyond worth it. Surgeries and tests. And reading a eulogy. All of them felt exposing but important.

So we can get your book as an audio book?

Yes, read by me. Cursing myself for my long sentences and alliteration.

Perfect. What do you read yourself – what’s your favourite genre?

Memoir and murder mystery/crime.

If you could write a note to someone about to read your book, what would you say?

If you have similar problems I’m so sorry. It sucks. And though we (everybody) need to be more kind and open about embarrassing medical problems, and stop shaming leaky people, you don’t have to be pressured to shout about your problem. I’ve done that already. Just try and get help. It is available in so many different places. And you aren’t alone. I promise.

Fantastic words. Thank you so much for speaking with me today. I’ll be sprucing this book far and wide!

LINKS for LUCE BRETT

Where Luce’s story to publication began: www.whenyouarethatwoman.co.uk

On twitter @lucebrett

On instagram @lucebrett

I am thrilled if anyone buys my book anywhere, but my local bookshop is the amazing co-operative bookshop The All Good Bookshop.

@allgoodbookshop:

https://allgoodbookshop.co.uk/order-books-1/ols/products/pmsl-or-how-i-literally-pissed-myself-laughing-and-survived-the-last-taboo-to-tell-the-tale

Amazon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1472977483/

Waterstones

https://www.waterstones.com/book/pmsl-or-how-i-literally-pissed-myself-laughing-and-survived-the-last-taboo-to-tell-the-tale/luce-brett/elaine-miller/9781472977489

The Ten Minute Rule and other anti-sad hacks

I’m not sure about you, but I find our current life has moments of deep worry and depression. The certainty that life will never be the same; the danger that prevents socialisation; the thousands of deaths.

I’m not a truly depressive person in general. Usually the opposite. Anyone who studies WWI needs a basis of balance if they are not to fall into despair, and I got through my PhD without losing my mind (I think). But this? Without the structure of the old normal, sometimes I don’t even know what day of the week it is.

With my routines (gym, work, book events, social commitments, family gatherings) now relegated to ‘the old days’, I need to find another way to be me. Who would have thought that my old study practices could be useful during a global pandemic?

I’m a born student.* I love to learn something new. Not only that, I love to be tested on what I’ve learned (I know! Crazy stuff.). Give me a deadline to write an essay. Please! Invent an assessment task that will keep my mind busy. Now! Structure, people, structure! It’s delicious, and it keeps me balanced.

So here are five modified tips from my happy study years. These show you the ways that I now attempt to sort my days into chunks of time. These hacks give me a feeling of being useful, of playing my part, and of being me, as well as a sense of achievement. Maybe they’ll help you too.

  1. The Ten Minute Rule. This is the one for activities that don’t thrill you. Like picking up your study books after a long day at work. Like clearing out the garage. Like doing the ironing. Like cleaning the bathroom. The rule is this: Do what you have to do for just 10 minutes. Time it with the stopwatch on your phone. It’s only 10 minutes. Anyone can do that. And woo-hoo when the buzzer goes. Naturally, if you get hooked into the task and can stick at it for longer, yay for you. If not, at least you’ve done it for ten minutes. That, my friends, is progress.
  2. Limit Your Time Strictly. I know what you’re saying. That’s counter-intuitive. But it actually works. Choose a specific time to tackle an unattractive task – say 7.30pm to 8.30pm – and go to. But you MUST cease at 8.30, and leave the room to go and do something else like relax with the fam in front of a movie. Chances are that you will be itching to get back the next evening to complete the task. So, yay, you have just stoked your own motivation. Or if it’s still a horrible task, you’re an hour up on getting it finished. Still winning.
  3. Make a List. Sounds obvious, right? But now is the right time to think about multiple lists. A list of jobs you dislike. A list of activities you want to do. A list of people to phone or email. I enjoy the satisfaction of crossing items off my list (I favour tick boxes myself) and the sense of order that lists bring. You can prioritise items by difficulty, by time required, by level of unattractiveness, by tools needed, by energy expenditure, and so on. Another fun way to do this is to cut your list into strips of single tasks, fold them up and put them in a jar (or a few jars – one for 10 minute jobs, one for daylight tasks, whatever…). Then have a lucky dip to see what job to do next. Yay, you’ve just added excitement to a list of boring tasks!
  4. Be Kind to Yourself.  Saints and perfect people, of course, don’t need to read this tip. But the rest of us do. Your plan didn’t work out? You skipped a day? You fudged a task? You decided that you needed rest more? You got distracted by reading a good book? (Perfect excuse, IMHO.) Thats’ OK. Last time I looked, you were a human being. Please stay that way. Life doesn’t always go to plan, even without interruptions from global pandemics. Give yourself permission to try again another time.
  5. Be Your Own Administrator. This sounds weird, but how can you judge your progress if nobody checks? I think that it’s a great idea to put aside 30 minutes once a week. Me, I like Friday afternoon tea time. Grab a cuppa and a snack, and check over your lists. Some items can be removed from the lists. Bonus. Maybe you finished them, or you don’t care now whether it happens or not, or changes in the world mean certain tasks are no longer possible. Some items need to be moved up in priority, and others can be demoted. Further items may just have appeared. After all, you’re about to start a new week, and a week is a long time in the world’s history as we now know it. You might need to give yourself a pat on the back, or a pep talk, or a bit of both. But now you know where you are, and you can make new lists to forge ahead.

These are the fuzzy lines I draw around my days. Maybe they can help you too. Next time, I’ll write a bit more about the three top considerations for emotional health during the pandemic shutdown: flexibility, empathy, and creativity. But that’s for another post.

* Study and me – a love story. You can read more about my excessive education on the About Clare page.

 

The Stars and Anzac Day

This week, we will mark Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand. For the first time in over a century, there will be no attending official services. The pandemic changes how we mark historic events, just as it changes how we celebrate or grieve personal events. I’m aiming to be up at 6am next Saturday, to watch dawn from my front garden and to think about the enduring legacy of war, and how world events affect us here Down Under.

Just in time, there is a fabulous new review of my WWI Anzac story.

My heartfelt thanks to Baffled Bear Books for this brilliant, thoughtful review of The Stars in the Night.

The Stars in the Night is indeed a tale of enduring love. This review is well worth a read. I’m very grateful to find such wonderful readers!

https://baffledbearbooks.com/2020/04/18/stars-in-the-night-by-clare-rhoden-a-story-of-broken-lives-and-enduring-love/

Don’t Blame Science Fiction

The apocalypse is here, in the form of more fires, floods, and storms. Meanwhile, belief that democratic processes can find a solution is fading.

In difficult times like these, an outpouring of stories occurs. Witness the millions (literally) of books inspired by, based on, and discussing the Great War. A terrible experience gave birth to a never-ending strand of stories.

Now there is an explosion of science fiction: dystopian, cli-fi, and post-apocalyptic. Think Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, and Scott Westerfeld’s The Uglies, among many other examples. Australian Mark Smith’s fabulous Winter trilogy is right on topic.

Alongside the enthusiasm for such stories, there is a strain of dismissal. Dystopian science fiction is criticised for glorifying hardship, or for giving unrealistically happy endings, or for giving depressingly horrific unhappy endings, and especially for not providing answers. A recent article on the dystopian sub-genre called hopepunk (where continuing to fight for good is an affirmation of humanity) commented that such stories, validating the struggle rather than providing a solution, were simply telling the downtrodden that it’s their place to suffer.

Many of you know that my academic area of interest is Great War literature. War stories, too, have been criticised as glorifying war, revelling in misery, continuing the cultural expectation that life is harder for some than others, and worst – not preventing future war.

I have to ask whether that is the role of war fiction. Isn’t it rather like expecting murder mysteries to solve crimes? Romances to enable real-life happy endings? Fantasies to provide tangible proof of faeries?

I could go on about the role of literature (and I have elsewhere), and I could enter the discussion about the bourgeois nature of fiction (which, after all, is written by the literate for the literate). And I probably will go on a bit more soon. For now, though, let me say:

Don’t blame science fiction for the world’s ills. Science fiction can sound a warning, or point out current issues, or provide role models. Dystopian stories are like the traditional adventurer genre described by the poet Paul Zweig, too*. Such narratives imply action and purpose, and to my mind this is just as valid as feelings of hopelessness. Adventure stories show how to keep living in the face of peril.

This is not a new role for stories. In fact, I would argue that it is one of the original tasks of the storyteller, handed down from the first oral stories and continuing through the earliest written narratives of about 4000 years ago. Ancient stories such as The Odyssey and Gilgamesh reassuringly confirm ‘the possibility that mere [hu]man can survive the storms of the demonic world’ (Zweig 1974, vii); a powerful affirmation for readers in apocalyptic times.

I’ll no doubt write more about this. I see ample opportunities in the difficult future, sadly.

Until next time, read on!

*Paul Zweig (1974) The Adventurer: the fate of adventure in the western world.

Seven tiny steps towards a future

I just wrote a long paragraph about the bushfires that are rampaging across Australia, but I deleted it. Nobody can be unaware. Everyone can see the destruction and count the cost. The better question is: what can we do about it?

An intransigence of climate-change sceptics deny any connection between this disaster and humanity’s actions. It keeps them busy, I guess. I see no hope of winning that argument. Instead of bashing my head against the stoutly defended walls of Big Money, I’m regretfully abandoning them as impossible to save.

In my quest to remain hopeful and positive – because humans do have children who deserve a future – I’m seeking new ways to support the Earth. Plus there are only so many pictures of mummified wallabies I can carry in my heart. Fund raising and physical help (money, goods, offers of accommodation and assistance) will continue years into the future as we strive to recover, so there will be no shortage of actions to take after the event (so big and so new it doesn’t yet have a name). Yet I don’t want to just sit and watch, so…

Here’s a starting list of seven tiny things I can do right now:

  1. Something that I’ve only just heard of: Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees
  2. Plus a new blogger to follow: InspireCreateEducate
  3. Check out The New Joneses for tips on living a big life with a little footprint
  4. Grow your love of retro every day: make Buy Nothing New a permanent resolution
  5. Share hopeful images to help nurture mental health, like the dog playpen on HMAS Choules
  6. Step outside and observe your world: the air, the birds, the plants, the locals, and think about how much you love them all
  7. Tell your people you love them

I’m certain I will find more and stronger actions as time progresses. We really have no choice but to do so. The future is coming. Let’s try to make it one we can live in.