Inspiration or Perspiration?

Who would have thought that the act of painting and decorating would serve as inspiration to my writing activities? Decorating1However, I discovered it to be a great metaphor for writing as well as offering a number of lessons not only to the aspiring author, but anyone seeking to reach a certain level of achievement in their respective endeavours.

I took a break away from my daily writing activities for a couple of weeks to decorate the main bedroom in our house in France. The house has been our renovation project for some time now. The bedroom was nearly completed, save for decorating after the builders had done the final work on insulating the ceilings and pointing up the old stonework. The completion of the bedroom was very much my project and I looked forward to putting the final touches to it such as curtains and bedding once the painting was done.

It was a mammoth task and it took a lot more effort than I had anticipated, especially with creaking knees and stamina not as robust as when I was younger. As ever, projects of this nature demand more time than initially envisaged, especially in old properties as hidden challenges emerge as the work progresses. It is also a large room with very high ceilings and old beams and balancing myself together with paint tin, roller and brushes on tall ladders required physical stamina and creative acrobatics.

Decorating2A few days into the project when it dawned on me that it was going to be a much greater challenge than I had first anticipated, I groaned with despair as I looked around the room realizing what the decorating of it was going to entail. At that point my resolve faltered and just before deciding to give up and employ the services of a decorator, I was reminded of the words of wisdom by my ski instructor many, many years ago.

When, for the first time, I found myself at the top of a black run I looked down at the steep mountain and seriously questioned my sanity. There I was perched on the side of a mountain desperately trying to imitate the agility of a mountain goat. I was overwhelmed with a gripping fear and any confidence I might have gained in my skiing abilities, simply vanished. Clinging on for dear life, fighting the paralysis that threatened to immobilize my muscles, my ski instructor firmly told me not to look down the mountain, but to look ahead instead, focusing on the next turn. Surprisingly it worked and eventually I found myself at the bottom of the run and when looking back up towards the steep mountain slope I had successfully traversed, I was very grateful that I was alive to tell the tale.

When looking around the bedroom with its high ceilings, crisscrossing beams, nurturing aching muscles and blisters, I had a similar sinking feeling at the enormity of the task ahead. The words of my ski instructor of all those years ago echoed in my mind. With the same approach, I focused on one roller and one brush stroke at a time and ignoring the totality of the task. The same advice that got me down my first black run as a young skier inspired me to eventually complete the challenge of the decorating I had so enthusiastically embarked on.

While focusing on the task at hand, I reflected on the wisdom of my instructor’s advice and realised that it was equally as applicable to the task of writing. lollyphone 2008 024When I face the daunting task of any writing project, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the enormity of the task and questioning how I could possible find the words to fill the required pages. Many times during the process of writing, my resolve and self-belief will waiver. At some stage the critical voice will come onto the scene, chastising me for imagining that I was capable of writing a blog, article or book on the particular subject. Furthermore, even if I managed to do so, who would actually be interested in reading it? In the same way, by focusing on the next sentence, the next paragraph, the next page and then the next chapter, the blog, article or book is eventually finished.

Continuing with my musings I thought about the romantic idea that assumes success in any endeavor, whether as a writer, decorator or any other challenge we set ourselves, will just happen because we want it. Success takes effort and determination to keep going when there appears to be no rewards and you find your energy and resolve weakening as a result. This is especially true when all your efforts do not seem to lead to any form of success for a very long time.

I conclude with the wisdom offered by Thomas Edison who said that success is the result of 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration. Success in any endeavour including that of writing takes not only talent, but also commitment and many years of hard work, honing the skills that will eventually result in mastery.




Weekend Edition – Of Writing and Riding, Stories and Horses

Words of inspiration for aspiring writers

Live to Write - Write to Live

cricket_sm Me (in the front) and my sister (hanging on in back) on Cricket. I’m a happy girl. Sis – not so much.

I don’t have a conscious memory of my first time on a pony, but I do have a photo. In the blue-tinted picture, I am three-and-a-half years old and sitting astride a shaggy, black steed named Cricket. I’m sporting a red bandana, and the look on my face says it all – this is love. My younger sister is perched behind me wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt and a much less enthusiastic expression.

joe_sm Me and “Little Joe.” He was my pony for a whole summer. What a lucky girl. (And, check my cool bell bottoms, Dorothy Hamill haircut, and flashy red socks!)

As I grew older, my love of horses grew with me. By the time I was twelve, I was taking riding lessons. I even got to…

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Joint Authorship

I could never have imagined that as an academic researcher my struggles with understanding the nature of truth and reality would someday influence how I come to view my creative pursuits of writing. CreationIt was whilst supporting a Masters student with her dissertation this week, that it made me reflect on the value and contribution of these philosophical debates in facilitating insight into the nature of writing and the intimate relationship between author and reader. I would go so far as to say that our writing is the product of joint authorship between the author and their readers.

There are many ways in which we can view the nature of truth and reality. In essence there are two polarized perspectives as to what constitutes reality. One perceives the reality of the world and the things within the world to have an independent existence to that of the observer, conforming to immutable laws. An alternative and opposite view suggests that there are many truths and realities, depending on the particular perspective of the observer and their interaction with the external world. This view holds that there is a wealth of potential and multiple interpretations as to what constitutes reality.

It is the latter view, labeled as constructionism, to which I personally subscribe and reflecting on its deeper meaning this week I was once again reminded of its emphasis on the notion of co-creation of meaning. For anyone that has dipped into philosophy during their educational journey will no doubt be familiar with postmodernism as put forward by the French philosopher François Lyotard. He devoted his writings to challenging what he perceived to be the metanarrative, or singular truths, of institutions and the control and power these metanarratives imposed on the majority. Instead, his arguments were for little narratives and the possibility of many different ways of seeing the world and the rich complexity contained therein.

The constructionist perspective perceives knowledge and meaning as the product of the relationship and interaction between these co-existing, multiple perspectives. This means that we are all partners in co-creating the world and the reality we come to experience. This belief is both powerful and emancipatory as it suggests we have the ability to create and recreate our reality through reflection, experience and shared understanding. We therefore don’t have to paint ourselves into a corner, as there are always alternative views and ways in which we can be or view a particular situation. However, we are limited by the restrictions we impose on our imaginations. So, allow your imagination to work for you and not against you! It is this co-constructive partnership that made me think deeply about the relationship between author and readers.

This relationship resides in the powerful space of dialogue in which we engage collectively with others for the purpose of creating Creation2the world we come to experience. Dialogue goes beyond mere conversation and instead embraces the many voices and disparate views that constitute reality. Dialogue also allows us to become observers of our own thinking and the incoherence within our own thoughts. Our collective dialogue is therefore a stream of meaning that flows between the various participants out of which new shared meaning will emerge. Contained in dialogue are dimensions of exploration that is fuelled by a quest for deeper insight and clarity.

As authors we release our imaginations, individual perspectives and beliefs in the form of the words that we commit to paper or the screen. In doing so we prepare the ground for a participative dialogue to be established between our readers and us. Our output is not complete until the reader engages with our words and together we co-construct meaning and understanding from the narratives and stories we put forward. As authors we do not have the ownership of meaning but instead together with our readers, we co-create alternative and emerging realities. It is within the alchemy created between authors and readers that we co-construct the many possible versions of our creative output.

Of course, in works of fiction the various characters make a further contribution to this collaborative, co-creative mix of participants. Stories only come to life when the readers through their imaginations and engagement unlocks the lives of the characters, plots and scenes. Given what I said earlier, each reader will no doubt create a different book or novel to that of the next reader as they bring to this co-creative process their own unique experiences, hopes, dreams and expectations of the book.

In essence, the creative process is incomplete without the presence of the author, characters and readers to collectively construct the meaning that unfolds from a particular piece of writing. Furthermore, as we as authors and readers change and evolve, so will the books we return to change and evolve thereby creating them anew. They are therefore in a constant state of becoming….


During my career, both in industry as well as academia, I have experienced a constant stream of fads that came and went. When a new concept or idea comes onto the scene it either builds momentum until it eventually becomes part of mainstream practice or it fizzles out and declines. I confess that on occasions, particularly in my academic capacity, I have contributed to the creation of such ideas.

‘Mindfulness’ comes to mind (pardon the pun!) as an example. There was frenzied activity Reflectionsto associate mindfulness with many business activities such as coaching. For a while it became the next shiny tool to have in your coaching toolbox. Even leadership courses offered mindfulness for stressed leaders. As its star begins to wane the next ‘must have’ emerges to continue with the well-worn cycle of rise to fame, followed by decline.

Having opted to disassociate myself from the endless pursuit of the organisational Holy Grail, I was nevertheless once again drawn to mindfulness through a recent article. It was featured in The Psychologist, the journal published by the British Psychological Society of which I am a member. It started me thinking about what mindfulness might have to contribute to the process of creative writing. Before considering if such a contribution is not only a possibility, but also more importantly feasible, it is worth capturing the salient points of what constitutes mindfulness.

One of the gurus of mindfulness, John Kabat-Zinn, defines it as a way of being. It is much more than a clever technique or a good idea. However, for any behaviour or activity to be integrated to the extent that it becomes part of ones being takes practice. The essence of mindfulness is that of awareness. Our scientific, mainstream way of thinking has dismissed the conscious pursuit of awareness as a waste of time and such contemplation of ones navel as having no place in the ‘real’ world. Hitherto it has been viewed as an activity only indulged in by those who spend their time locked away from everyday life, such as monasteries and temples.

The awareness referred to by mindfulness is the ability to become conscious of what is unfolding from moment to moment without judgment, thereby being compassionate with yourself and others. The latter is important as mindful awareness without judgment allows us to free our thinking from a black and white mentality. This allows us to become aware of the subtleties in between such absolutes leading to an open mind willing to entertain endless alternatives.

That’s all very well, but what has it got to do with creative writing? Artists, including creative writers, can be harsh critics of themselves and their artistic output, striving and expecting perfection. RoseSelf-critical thoughts can be very powerful and once they gather momentum can be very difficult to stop, allowing us to become enmeshed in our thoughts and emotions. This can be a destructive downward spiral whereas mindfulness helps to create mental clarity. It provides us with the time and space to engage with our creative thinking and musings in a non judgmental way, accepting what emerges without the need for change or censoring. In an earlier posting I shared my thoughts on the tug-of-war between our creative and logical minds, both having equal value in the creative process. I am of the opinion that the practice of mindfulness allows us to transcend this combative state and allow both the logical and creative sides of our minds to work together harmoniously. It removes the need for either or and instead creates the space to approach our creative activity with clarity and a mental state of expectation.

Despite my cynicism of the mindless following of fad fashion, I have come to the conclusion that on closer inspection, all of the new stars that will either wax or wane draw on sound principles and years of research. The danger is that in our fast paced world we seek instant success or improvements and when it is not forthcoming the new idea is dismissed. We do not have the necessary patience and staying power to devote the time necessary in mastering a new skill or practice. However, mastery takes time and commitment and there is no such thing as a quick fix.


The Use of Our Senses when Writing

Having pulled a muscle in my back this week, I became acutely aware of how powerful the senses are in creating emotions. It then started me thinking about the use of the senses in the written word and how powerful they are in making our writing come to life. I have no doubt that I have discovered what might be perceived as the obvious to the experienced writer. However, it doesn’t detract from the thrill I felt when it occurred to me just how important the use of our senses is in creative writing.

In previous postings I have shared how difficult I have found it to allow my emotions to surface in the writing of Goodnight Doll. I am once again beginning to appreciate how important emotions are in the telling of stories if, as writers, we have any chance of capturing the attention of our readers. It is so diametrically opposed to the discipline of academic writing, which I have spent more than twenty years attempting to master. I am sure you will therefore forgive my enthusiasm in rediscovering the obvious. I feel like a child who has been given the permission to play with whichever toys grab their attention in the toyshop.

The use of our senses breathes life into our writing and the more vivid our descriptions the more likely our readers will be drawn into the fantasy world we create through our words. The more effective we are in colourfully projecting the scenes and characters, the more we connect emotionally with our readers. So, how do we go about consciously drawing on the senses?


IMG_2623My brother, Eugene, had the most wonderful talent of verbally painting scenery by accompanying the words with emotion and enthusiasm, to the point that you almost felt you have been there yourself. An example that comes to mind was when he had been to see the movie Mame. He described the movie to me so vividly that it was unnecessary for me to go and see it for myself and when I did years later, it was exactly as he had described it. Reflecting on it now, I think it is because of the emotion and enthusiasm that he as the storyteller brought to the story. Upon recounting it to me, he was reliving it in his mind’s eye, which allowed me to see it through his eyes.


As someone who loves food I could probably get carried away with the many ways we can describe different tastes. Again, I find myself drawing on metaphors when attempting to describe the taste of something. I have a certain weakness for cheese and, in particular, the soft cheeses the French are so good at producing. Why then do they taste so different when I have them in England? Simply put, the absence of the sun.
In France such a cheese is infused with the warmth of the sun, when slowly the almost liquid cheese spreads a sense of wellbeing and indulgence as it dribbles down your throat. Trust me, eating the same cheese under the damp grey skies of England do not evoke the same emotion. On the other hand on a grey, cloudy English day, a hot bowl of soup seeps into your bones, wrapping you in a cozy warm hug.


Smell is said to be our most nostalgic of the five senses. It has the power to transport us back to our earlier years, evoking childhood memories. Who does not respond to the warm smell of baking bread? Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Allowing my indulgence into the mTasteemory, I envisage the butter slowly soaking into the warm bread, running down my fingers. If, like me, you grew up in a hot country you may share my memories of the wonderful smells of roasting meat on the barbecue.

We can all recall the smells of different foods cooking or the powerful fragrance of freshly mowed grass. One of my many childhood memories is the particular smell of washing that has dried in the sun. The use of smell in our writing allows us therefore to transport our characters back to their childhood. Drawing on the sense of smell also allows us to describe situations. Think of the saying, ‘it smells fishy’. It immediately evokes a sense of suspicion or, in other words, personifying the situation.


I am particularly drawn to sound as a powerful way of evoking emotions. The use of music and various sounds in movies is a powerful way in creating the desired atmosphere of a particular scene. I can guarantee as you are reading this, your most favourite horror scene comes to your mind’s eye, complete with its accompanying sounds. The sound of echoing footsteps late at night in a quiet street has the desired effect when trying to create suspense and possibly fear. Equally the absence of sounds is just as powerful in creating an emotional response.

I have for the first time this week come across the word onomatopoeias; another way of describing the comparison of one sound with another. An example would be the meow of a cat that may resemble the sound of a crying baby. It also refers to the imitation of sounds, the honking of a horn or animals noises such as the croaking of a frog, the mooing of cows and so forth. Thinking of sound in this way opens up a whole new way of describing the sound of something when attempting to engage the imagination of the reader.


I think the sense of touch must be one of the most powerful ways to evoke emotion in the reader. Two thoughts come to mind when I envisage touch namely temperature and texture. If I run my fingers across the softness of velvet it may evoke a sense of luxury and opulence. On the other hand the clammy feel of sweaty palms may conjures up emotions of fear or anxiety.

Sixth Sense

We ignore the the sixth sense at our peril as it can add its own sense of anticipation and drama, signaling events to come. Such as the gut feel of a character when they meet someone for the first time. The sense that something is not congruent about the person may possibly create a sense of foreboding.

Consciously drawing on all of our senses when describing characters and scenes add depth and meaning to our words and more importantly, evoke the power of emotions to draw the reader into the fantasy world we create through our writing. I have to constantly remind myself of exactly that; it is fantasy and therefore I need to let go, have fun and wallow in emotions!





New Year, New Beginnings

Although Goodnight Doll has now been published, Fireworksit is still very much part of my daily life. Having opted to become a self-published author, otherwise known as an indie writer, I now also face the daunting responsibility for the marketing of my book. What an education this is!

I find myself immersed in the words of wisdom from those that have already been successful and as you can imagine, there is a plethora of books, blogs and articles out there guaranteeing to catapult me to instant stardom and literary success. What is becoming very clear to me is that writing a book is probably the easiest part of the process, which doesn’t finish with the publishing of your book. The journey into indie writing has been exciting, frustrating, confusing, challenging but above all, empowering. I have also had the pleasure of connecting with a group of people around the world I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to get to know. Thanks to technology I can sit in the comfort of my study, or wherever I might find myself, and tap into the experiences of others willingly shared on the many blogs from around the world. What I have found hitherto is that indie writers are generous with their time and happily share their experiences with newbies like myself.

Apart from learning the art of marketing, pricing, the power of ratings and a myriad of other technical terms associated with publishing, I have also embarked on writing my next book. More about that over the weeks as it takes shape. I could never have envisaged when I took the first step on my journey of writing a tribute to Eugene and Pieter that it would lead me on the path towards a new career. Although writing has always been a part of my life, I am relishing the opportunity to dedicate my time to it. More importantly, I love the freedom it has afforded me. I write where, when and what I want and although being in control of the complete process is daunting, it is also immensely rewarding.

I have always thought of myself as a morning person and although I continue to get up fairly early and experience the world waking up around me with a cup of tea, I am experimenting with when is the best time of the day for the different tasks associated with writing. thumb_Scampy_1024A pattern is beginning to emerge. I check and respond to emails before breakfast, followed by marketing and research for my next book. Towards late morning, depending on the weather and where in the world I find myself, I go for a long walk to clear my head and allow thoughts to distil and take shape. My walking buddy is Scampy, my 9-year cocker spaniel who is also my loyal companion when I’m immersed in front of my laptop or desktop.

What is emerging is that my optimum time for writing appears to be in the afternoon. Thoughts and ideas have had the time to ferment during the morning (the French in me that loves a good wine!) and then bubbles to the surface. I am also conscious that if I am to achieve any success from my efforts, a certain amount of discipline will be necessary. Personally I work better when I have a goal or a deadline and I have currently tasked myself to write 2,000 words a day when I’m not travelling. My evenings are spent reading as I know the best way to learn to write is to read. My reading includes not only books, but also blogs of other writers I have discovered. Some of these are packed with inspiration, tips and advice or just a good read. My favourite is the weekly blog by Jamie Lee Wallace ( whose writing makes me feel like a complete novice. She writes with an eloquent style and effortlessly weaves words together to form vivid pictures that inspire. Her blogs also reflect her passion for the art of writing, revealing an insight to her as a person. Well worth investigating.

I have no doubt that the pattern of writing, research, marketing and other activities of the indie writer I have not yet encountered, will evolve over time. In the meantime, I am enjoying the journey!






Goodnight Doll


All things come to an end and so too has the life-changing experience of writing my tribute to my brother Eugene and his partner Pieter and their journey with terminal cancer. Roller Coaster at SunsetI have finally given birth to this labour of love and Goodnight Doll is now available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions. It has been a constant companion with me over the last couple of years or so and it feels as though I am saying goodbye to a trusted companion. It is first and foremost a tribute to Eugene and Pieter, but I hope that it might also comfort others on similar journeys and raise awareness of prostate cancer.

Although I have published a number of books before, writing this book has been a totally different experience in so many ways. By its very nature, it was an emotional experience as I relived many of the memories I had shared with my brother over the years. These memories included the fond memories of the times we lived together, our shared travelling experiences and finally the painful memories of coping with his diagnosis of terminal cancer.

In addition, I had to learn the many challenges that accompanies the process of self-publishing and coming to grips with sourcing services such as copy-editing, proof reading, book cover design to name a few and which I had in the past left to the publishers and editorial teams. The final challenge I continue to grapple with is the mind numbing art of pricing, marketing and the many suggestions and advice on how to run regular promotions. Along the journey I have learnt a great deal about the dynamic new industry of self-publishing, engaged with many new groups, both virtual and physical, and blogs I did not know existed hitherto. I have been invited to write guest blogs on a number of these sites, which has led to new avenues of writing.

Finally, I have had to deal with the question, ‘now what?’ Where does my career take me next? Do I return to the role of an academic and its associated roles or is this the start of a new beginning? The experience of writing my tribute has rekindled my love of writing and not the academic writing that has occupied so many years of my professional life. Throughout my postings I have shared with you my search of discovery and reacquainting myself with my writing voice long since silenced by the rigid and structured approach of the writing style expected by the academic community.

The metaphor of an elastic band helps to describe how I feel at the moment. If you continue to stretch a piece of elastic and then let go, it is unlikely to return to its original length and shape. Having been stretched for the duration of writing this tribute, I feel it will be impossible for me to return to the same size and shape before I embarked on this journey, namely that of an academic. Therefore, I have been engaged in many hours of soul searching in recent months as the end of this significant chapter draws near. The soft voices whispering in my ear has been telling me that it may be time for a change of career and lifestyle.

I conclude the completion of Goodnight Doll with a huge a thank you to everyone who has followed my journey of writing this tribute through the postings of my blog and for being companions on this very special and often, painful journey. Should you read the book it will no doubt have much more meaning having read the blog and followed the many challenges I have faced on the way. I share some photographs below that support and illustrate the memories of Eugene and Pieter that I refer to in my book. I end this blog with the following poem that has meant so much to Eugene and Pieter on their journey with prostate cancer.

Death is Nothing

Death is nothing at all …                                                                                                                                               I have only slipped away into the next room.                                                                                                  I am I, and you are you.                                                                                                                                 Whatever we were to each other – that we still are.                                                                                  Call me by my old familiar name.                                                                                                             Speak to me in the easy way which you always did.                                                                                  Put no difference in your tone,                                                                                                                     Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow,                                                                                             Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together,                                                    Let my name be the forever household word that it was.                                                                               Let it be spoken without effect,                                                                                                                      Without the trace of a shadow in it.                                                                                                                     Life means all that it ever meant,                                                                                                                             It is the same as it ever was,                                                                                                                                There is unbroken continuity.                                                                                                                               Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?                                                                                      I am waiting for you – for an interval – somewhere very near,                                                                  just around the corner.                                                                                                                                                All is well …

‘The King of Terrors’ by Henry Scott Holland

Photographs to support some of the stories and anecdotes shared in Goodnight Doll


A young Eugene and Pieter, together with our Mother, my sister and I and her two boys

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Eugene and Pieter with our parents early on in their relationship

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Eugene and Pieter at the house Eugene renovated under the guidance of our father. It was a major achievement for Eugene in so many ways.


Eugene and Pieter with Laurence on his first trip to South Africa

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At the home of very dear friends of ours, Hennie and Gerrie, with whom Eugene and I had spent many an enjoyable visit

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A memorable trip to Brugge, Belgium and a boat trip around the canals. It reminded us of Venice.


The ultimate coffee and cake, namely the traditional sachertorte in Vienna, Austria.


Eugene never could resist a coffee and cake. Outside one of the most famous tea rooms in England. Betty’s tearooms in Harrogate, Yorkshire


Eugene and I during one of his first trips to York and its charming medieval streets


Eugene on a river boat in Stratford-Upon-Avon, the home of Shakespeare


The Lake District and one of Eugene’s favourite destinations


Eugene and Laurence feeding the ducks in the park opposite my house in the North East of England

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My husband always enjoys playing the part and on this occasion as the butler, waiting for Eugene, Pieter and myself to arrive


Eugene discovered Murphys beer and I tell the story in the book of how we teased him by nicknaming him ‘Moffie Murphy’

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Spirituality was always important to Eugene which meant our travels around Europe always include visits to cathedrals and churches. Taken at the beautiful cathedral in Durham, near my home in the North East of England


Just some pictures capturing the many happy Christmases we shared on visits by Eugene and Pieter to England






In memory of the 80th birthday of our Mother


Pieter with his brother, Koos and his wife, Denise



A beautiful view of Newcastle, North East England taken from the restaurant at the Baltic, home to art exhibitions and events


Eugene and Pieter on their wedding day with Gerrie (their ‘daughter’ on the far left) and Trevor, Gerrie’s partner and the Dutch Reformed Minister that married Eugene and Pieter


One of the last meals out with Eugene and Pieter before he was admitted to the hospice where he passed away

I had the privilege of having Eugene walk down the isle with me on my wedding day. It was his last trip to England and he was suffering from the side affects of the the many treatments he had endured during his illness. He was on hormone therapy at the time and as a result had picked up a lot of weight.

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Eugene with Laurence and me on our wedding day


Eugene spent his last birthday in the hospice and my sister decide to decorate his room in honour of his birthday



One of the last photographs of Eugene and Pieter before he passed away

In my book I describe how Eugene made a ‘come back’ shortly before he died and how the idea of a tea party with all the guests wearing outrageous hats was invented. At his Remembrance of Life Service, everyone who attended wearing hats with a difference. These are just some of the many interesting hats on display.








Pieter and myself, together with a dear friend of theirs, Barry, went on a pilgrimage to Clarens, to scatter Eugene’s ashes where he and Pieter were married.





Eugene and Pieter downsized when he became ill and Eugene was determined to leave a peaceful haven for Pieter to escape to when he was no longer with him.



Christmas Celebrations

IMG_1485The Christmas season is not only a time for the sharing of gifts and participating in celebrations, it is also a time for remembrance. In particular, remembering previous Christmases with our loved ones that have since passed away. My thoughts therefore always linger on the many celebrations I have shared with Eugene over the years.

The act of letting go of a loved one is particularly relevant to us as a family this year. My mother-in-law, who has been ill with leukemia for some time, has been admitted to a hospice for the last few days of her life. It is always a time accompanied by mixed emotions. In the case of my mother-in-law she has had a long and healthy life with much to celebrate, including the joys of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. However, for the family who remain behind there is always the sadness that accompanies the final farewell. Upon leaving the hospice after my last goodbye to her, the memories of my final heart-wrenching farewell to Eugene came flooding back. In a strange way it acted as affirmation of my decision to devote the last two years of my life to writing my tribute to Eugene and Pieter and their emotional journey of living with terminal cancer.

As Christmas is at the end of the calendar year, it also facilitates introspection and reflection on the year that is drawing to a close. Introspection allows us to examine our conscious thoughts and feelings and what the memories of the last year might mean to us. The act of letting go is particularly relevant to me this Christmas as the journey of writing my tribute to Eugene and Pieter is drawing to an end. It is accompanied by many emotions such as the excitement to finally see my tribute in print and to share their story with the world. However, it is also accompanied by a sense of loss, as it will no longer form a key part of my life.

I have always found the process of writing a powerful form of introspection and reflection. Since childhood I have engaged in the writing of stories and diaries as a cathartic activity and also as a means of making sense of life’s experiences and events. Looking back over the last couple of years, the journey of writing my tribute to Eugene was therefore also part of my journey of coming to terms with his loss.

Furthermore, our reflections of the past year provides us with the opportunity to select the experiences, emotions, people and events we want to let go of and those we want to take with us into the new year. The act of letting go makes way for many new opportunities and experiences the new year will undoubtedly introduce. I have always looked upon the New Year celebrations with excitement and anticipation of the unknown and the potential that awaits realization.

Such soul searching is therefore very relevant to me this year having devoted the last two years or so of OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAmy life writing my tribute to Eugene and Pieter. I need to consider the question of what my future career will entail and what shape it is likely to assume. I feel the early stirrings of a whole new career and as my career path has wandered and meandered through many landscapes over the years, it may very well be time for new scenery. The need for meaning in my activities has always been a key part of earning my living and this period of soul searching therefore has to include the meaning of any future career activities in which I might engage.

As I have reinvented myself a number of times throughout my career, it may very well be that my final gift to my brother has inadvertently taken me towards a new phase of my life. So, the time for reflection at the conclusion of a significant and important part of my life therefore contains the seeds of life-changing possibilities. I draw comfort from the following words of Carl G. Jung during this period of reflection and the act of determining the emerging shape of any future career activities.

“Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”


The Black Art of Publishing

The first book one ever publishes has a magical quality about it. You spend many hours, weeks and a month slaving over a hot keyboard and then to see your brainchild appear in book form is quite thrilling.

The process of turning a manuscript into a book seems in itself to be quite magical. Until recently the traditional route to publishing was through an Printingestablished publisher. Depending on the genre and whether it is to be published as a fiction or non-fiction book, would determine the route that eventually ensures your book arrives on the shelves of various bookstores. In recent years, many more books are read as e-books, including the more traditional academic literature.

Historically, aspiring writers would be advised to find a literary agent, in the first instance, who would be willing to tout their wears within the publishing community, selling your masterpiece to the highest bidder. It may sound simple enough, but having spent a long time writing your book, it would probably take as long, if not longer, to secure an interest with an agent and then that of a publisher. The final decision whether a publisher is likely to risk publishing a book is, understandably, based on commercial factors in the first instance. The publishing team needs to estimate the possible sales to be generated against the cost of production as well as the reputation of the author, if they have published before. Finally, there is also an element of personal preference and house style of the publisher.

For the more academic type books, one would make contact direct with the Commissioning Editor, providing a fairly extensive book proposal and depending on the publisher, also a sample chapter of the proposed book. This is to provide evidence of the fact that one is actually capable of writing. It was through this route that I have successfully published my previous books. The traditional route to publishing is fairly lengthy and could take anything from 6 to 18 months.

However, with the creation of Kindle and their print-on-demand and e-IMG_1478platform, as well as other e-publishers, all that has changed. Any budding author is now able to publish their masterpiece on line with the control of the complete publishing process. It has both its advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that the author can publish a book whenever they are ready without the lengthy process of finding an agent and publisher who might be interested in their book. The downside is that the whole process of publishing is quite complex, although doable.

Whether it is a case of ignorance is bliss, the Kindle platform appears to be relatively straightforward offering guidance along the way. As Kindle has the largest slice of the e-book pie, I thought it probably the best place to start my self-publishing experience. I have also found the book by Rick Smith, CreateSpace & Kindle: Self-Publishing Masterclass, incredible helpful. It has and continues to act as a reference to me along each step of the publishing journey. I may feel differently about the straightforward nature of the process when I actually get to the final stage of publishing my book. I will let you know!

True to my research background, I have carried out endless research as to the pros and cons of self-publishing versus the traditional route through an established publisher. The overriding advice is that no matter which route one decides to use for self-publishing, the product has to be good. Self-publishing does not mean that a shoddy piece of writing is acceptable; not if you’re serious about making any money with the book. As I mentioned in my last blog, the advice is that with an e-book the cover is even more important than with a paper book. An eye-catching cover can make all the difference to the eventual sales of the book. This is the reason why I am involved in some serious soul searching of what theme to select for the cover. As I have a number of professional designers and artists in the family, I might opt for their help in designing the cover.

Of course, irrespective of one’s motivation for writing and publishing a book, it would be nice to sell some copies. As I’ve discovered, there is also a science in deciding which price bracket to opt for and as I am still in the early stages of publishing, it is a decision I have not yet had to make. I am beginning to understand why it takes a long time to get a manuscript into book form. I am also beginning to appreciate why the royalties offered through a traditional publisher are so small.

The conclusion I am beginning to reach is that there is so much more to publishing a book than meets the eye! Who knows what other challenges I will encounter until my book is finally published.


DO Judge a Book by Its Cover

I imagine there are very few of us that have not been brought up with the adage not to judge a book by its cover. The words of wisdom, of course, refer to the notion that we should not fall into the trap of merely looking at people, ideas or circumstances from a superficial perspective, but to take the time to delve deeper before forming an opinion. Snap decisions based on such prejudice may deny us the joy of forming rewarding relationships and pursuing unexpected opportunities.

We are conditioned to believe that the most beautiful object or perfect person is better than those with blemishes and less than perfect characteristics. The large visual areas in our brains mean that not only do we respond favorably to the visually appealing wrapper but it also influences how we respond to its content. The conclusions we draw about people or situations act as filters through which we judge everything related to them. This serves to reinforce the prejudices, positive or negative, we have originally formed about a person or a situation.

These words of wisdom are without a doubt powerful reminders Bookswhen we encounter people or opportunities for the first time. However, I firmly believe that we DO judge a book by its cover. Most of us will respond adversely to a book with either an unattractive or amateur looking cover. We may therefore not give the book a second chance and thereby denying ourselves a possible rewarding experience.

Historically book covers were handmade and adorned with gold, silver and jewels. However, a book cover has become so much more than merely a protective cover to hold the pages of the book together. Despite its functional aspect, the book cover assumes the role of advertising and communicating ideas contained in the book itself. Following the commercially competitive nature of the book industry, the onus is on the cover to provide hints about the style, genre and the subject of the book. Furthermore, every author or publisher expects the book cover to generate sales through its visual appeal. The dawn of e-publishing has further challenged the traditions of book publishing and raises the question of the role of the book cover and whether it is even necessary to have.

An integral part of the book cover is, of course, the title of the book that is accompanied by a whole encyclopedia of psychology of its own. How does one distill the many thousands of words so painstakingly created over a period of months or years into a phrase of a few words? Atticus does not have the same ring as To Kill a Mockingbird, which was the title once considered by Harper Lee. The question that immediately comes to mind is whether it would have become the classic it did with a different title.

Just when I thought I had cracked the title of my book, I stumbled on the advice of a successful author of non-fiction who puts forward a good argument for the title to reflect the content of the book. Furthermore, he added that non-fiction books also have a sub-title that conveys a promise to the readers. The title has to succinctly convey what the book is all about. My book has a very clear purpose, namely as a tribute to Eugene and Pieter and its core theme of terminal cancer is immutable. Even so, the combinations of words that will describe this, is endless. The successful title is a combination of two elements, firstly to stimulate and secondly to inform. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? If only!

A good title should take a number of factors into account. The adage of simplicity has to be number one on the list. Like a name, the title should have appeal when uttered aloud. A title should be memorable and stand out from the crowd of many others competing for our attention. A title should not be too long and, in the case of non-fiction titles, be obscured by jargon.

This, my dear reader, is what has been sending my brain into spasms this week. It will no doubt continue to do so until I finally decide on both the book cover as well as the title. Having written my tribute to Eugene and Pieter, all I now need is a cover and a title.Rose

I am not sure whether to take comfort in the frequently referenced quotation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet”.