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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.



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.



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.


The Boundless Expression of Creativity

The experiences I encountered the last two weeks during my travels in China and Hong Kong once again made Hong Kongme marvel at the unique nature of individual creativity. The expression of creativity is as endless as the act of creativity itself and human nature continues to discover and define different ways and applications for their talents. The development and evolution of technology, a creative expression in itself, also enables many different forms of creativity to emerge.

I had the opportunity to spend some time at the premises of a particular firm in Shenzhen, China, who Frame 2manufactures eyewear in a very unusual way. Hitherto opticians and wearers of glasses have been at the mercy of the designers and creators of eyewear. It seems that it is only in recent years that there has been an awareness among manufacturers that glasses may have a purpose beyond being functional and allowing the wearer to see the world in its intended glory. Not only do they serve a practical purpose and are a necessity for many people, but they also have the potential to become an important element of the wearer’s attire. Above all they are capable of enhancing the appearance and unique facial characteristics of the wearer, expressing a personal signature.

FramesHowever, opticians and wearers of glasses have had to contend with what the manufacturers of these vital pieces of apparatus decided to produce. Historically the functional aspect has taken precedence at the cost of appearance. Finally, in recent years the concept of glasses as an enhancement to the appearance of the wearers dawned on the manufacturers. However, opticians and their clients have continued to be passive participants in the process, having to be content with what the manufacturers decided to produce.

Then, some ten years or so ago a creative and entrepreneurial young man had a vision to turn the design and manufacture of eyewear upside down and TD Tom Davies was borne. Tom Davies created a unique and innovative process that enabled the production of bespoke frames. This approach allows both the optician and the client to be co-creators with the manufacturer, TD Tom Davies. Together they are able to create a pair of frames that will not only fit the wearer perfectly, but which also takes into account their lifestyle and unique personality. TomThe result is eyewear that is unique to the individual from the colour to the shape of the frames. This innovative approach to eyewear design has meant TD Tom Davies is in a league of its own. For those with the means, the master himself offers a service akin to haute couture.

Continuing with the theme of creativity, I had the opportunity to visit the famous artist village in Shenzhen that attracts buyers from all over the world. What makes this particular artist village unique is the high concentration of artists with the ability to reproduce and copy unique works of art. Wandering around the streets of the village offers the surreal experience of coming face to face with variations of many of the original and famous masterpieces created throughout the centuries. The artists will also produce paintings from personal photographs from portraits to landscapes and many more.

The experience made me reflect on Eugene’s own creativity that shared a similarity with those of the artists I encountered. Like them he also started with a blank canvas, but instead of paint, pencil or other material, Eugene had mastered the art of using needle and thread with which to create his own works of art. His ‘paintings’ were unique pieces of embroidery reflecting a particular theme or view that had inspired him.

I also reflected on the fact that human beings are themselves unique individual works of art and no artist, no matter how skilled will be able to copy the exclusivity of each individual. It was Eugene’s particular individuality that served as inspiration for me to write my tribute and to share with others what made him the one off work of art that he was.

The Suspension of Time

Prompted by the changes of the clocks going back an hour to coincide with the official end to the summer season, I reflected this week on the notion of time and how we define time. Why do we change the clocks and what purpose does it serve?

The practice of putting the clocks forward in March and then back again in October dates back nearly 100 years. Germany pioneered the practice during World War I and it was in the 90s that the dates for changing the clocks became enshrined in European law. As with so many other practices in the UK, we are out of sync with the rest of Europe. The question whether we should permanently move the clocks forward by an hour to bring us in line with Central European Time is as old as the practice of changing the clocks itself. One of the many benefits would be that we would work during the same business hours as other European cities.

So why did it all come about in the first place? One of the motivations was that it would give farmers more daylight in the mornings to gather their dairy herds, plough fields or take their produce to market. However, according to the various farming bodies this practice is perceived as fairly redundant. Not only have the changes in technology made life easier for farmers to cope with winter but also farming is not as important to British economy as it once was.

The changing of the clocks got me to think about the nature of time and most of the sources I consulted concludes that one thing we can be certain about is that time defies definition. Anyone would be happy to say that they know what time is. However, we do not have an in-built mechanism with which to perceive or sense time. We tend to associate time with the fact that changes are periodic. As we are reminded of this week, seasons come and go and are part of a wider system of change in which these patterns are repeated.

The ancient Greek philosophers believed that the universe had an infinite past with no beginning whereas the medieval philosophers and theologians developed the concept of the universe as having a finite past with a beginning, such as the big bang theory. Changes can therefore be thought of as small deaths and rebirths. We tend to think of time as a fraction of our overall expected lifetime and if our lifetimes were infinite, then all finite spans of time would be so small in comparison that we would probably not have the sense of time in the way that we do. This raises an interesting question. If we did not have a sense of time, would time therefore actually exist? Does time have an existence independent of our minds? These big questions have been part of philosophical debates for a very long time. This brings us back full circle to the question of what is the nature of time in the first place?

However, you may ask what have all these discussions about time got to do with the writing of my tribute to Eugene and Pieter? As I am nearing the end of completing and publishing my book, the reflection on time is very relevant. The thought came to me that for the duration of writing my book I have in fact suspended time and even turned the clock back. The process of reliving and reflecting on my memories of Eugene has turned back the hands of time and allowed me to relive the times we had together. I have been able to freeze time by keeping Eugene in a state of suspended animation. However, as the writing of my tribute draws to an end, I will also have to let go not only of time, but also of Eugene and step into a future time of which he will never form a part.

I was comforted by a quote from Einstein, the master in understanding the nature of time, who put it to a friend who had recently lost a loved one, “People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Why mourn someone who lives?

The End or the Beginning?

I am writing from France this week, surrounded by my stunning mountains and their ever-changing beauty that never ceases to leave me inspired and in awe. Autumn MountainsThis time of the year they are ablaze with the many autumn colours ranging from yellows to oranges to the deep hues of red, the preferred autumn colours of the many vineyards nestling in the valleys in the area. All set against the backdrop of a sparkling crystal blue sky. As the vibrancy of the autumn colours would suggest, it is not only heralding the end of another season, but it is also the time for reflection and stocktaking.

Just as the end of one season draws to a close, so does the end of writing of my tribute to Eugene and Pieter. I started the writing of my book in France and I felt that symbolically this is where I had to write the concluding chapter. I had always strived to finish the first draft on, or just before Eugene’s actual birthday, which will be on Monday, the 19th. In a way it was the last gift I would be able to bestow on him. We both loved the autumn with its many vibrant colours, so for many reasons it was the right time to write, The End.

I had squirmed, wriggled and procrastinated, doing everything I could to avoid writing the last chapter of my tribute mainly because it was also the last chapter of Eugene’s life. It is also the final chapter of so many chapters we had shared throughout the years. This reflection brought with it the realization that Eugene was the last person in my life who had known me from birth and who had therefore been part of all the events of my life since then. Writing the final chapter means that those shared memories will therefore be another one of many closing chapters. More significantly, writing the last chapter will be the final act of letting go of Eugene.

As a novelist in any genre, the author gets to choose the end of their novel. However, my book can only have one ending. Even so, the weight of writing about the inevitable ending was so much more than writing the final chapter of a book. It is surprising how many versions one can write of a chapter that could only have one immovable ending. Not only was it the end of a chapter in a book, it was the end of Eugene’s life, his life with Pieter and a life of so many shared memories and experiences. I felt a huge responsibility in closing the book in a way that would continue the celebration of his inspirational life.

Having made a drastic change to my career in order to devote myself to writing the tribute, it is also closing a personal chapter. It is time to reflect on the many options I have available as to what the next stage of both my life and career is going to look like. Having choices can be both liberating as well as paralyzing. In the absence of a crystal ball, one has to try and determine what the various choices may lead to and therefore which is to be the most appealing. The act of choosing also closes the doors on alternative realities and one will never know what living those realities might have been like. However, being an incurable optimist I do not waste time in mourning lost opportunities but instead immerse myself in the unfolding reality of the choices I make. The end of my book is therefore personally also the start of a new beginning.

QuestionsThe ending also means I now need to engage with the daunting process of editing and publishing. Having made the decision to self-publish this time, there is a whole new set of rules I have to learn. How much of this final stage of the process do I do myself and how much do I contract out? And if I do, how do I find the right people? Or, will they find me?

These are the next set of questions I have to answer on this journey. Not only are they practical decisions associated with the process of publishing but more importantly, it is making the right choices for Eugene and Pieter. Ultimately this is their book.

The Authentic Self – What does it Mean?

I have always enjoyed a good, philosophical debate as to the perceived rights and wrongs about life, the world Thinkerand our existence within it. Which is probably why I was originally attracted to academia. Academics used to get paid to pontificate such weighty subjects on behalf of society, but alas less and less so. I digress, a topic for another day.

Given my attraction to such matters, my eye caught the invitation from the local philosophical society to attend a debate on Authentic Ageing. Being of a certain age, combined with an interest in philosophical debate, it was irresistible. The speaker who set the scene for the ensuing debate was a Professor of Psychiatry, specializing in aging and its associated consequences. I was intrigued by how the speaker would be linking the idea of authenticity with ageing.

The question of authenticity is a fascinating one and closely associated with what we might define as our identity. As a coach, clients would often reveal an internal tug of war between what they perceive their identity to be versus what others, and often their organisations, expect them to be. As you can imagine, there is no simple definition of authenticity and philosophers have spent a considerable time debating what the definitive definition might be. In my simplistic and humble opinion authenticity is the unique way in which each one of us expresses and engages with the nature of Being. The challenge for all of us is to accommodate and integrate with the authenticity of others.

Often society, cultures and organisations make a value judgment as to what is deemed authentic or inauthentic.Masks Pressure is then exerted consciously or subconsciously on those within these structures to subscribe to these definitions and their associated behaviours. Ageing is no different and there are pressures on people of all ages to behave in what society deems to be appropriate behaviour for that age group. The tension then arises how one accommodates the expectations of society and the authenticity of the individual when these may be in conflict.

However, I also believe that our authentic selves evolve through our interactions with others and life experiences and that this is both desirable and necessary. It allows us to define, develop and express more of who we are. EinsteinThe challenge for each one of us is to take ownership of what constitutes our authentic self and organize our lives accordingly. I subscribe to the suggestion of Kierkegaard that there is a time to break out and not only become authentic, but possibly even eccentric. Being less inclined to conform as we get older, it might be the right time to do just that.

What I didn’t however expect from the debate on authentic ageing was that it would prove to be a very significant topic for me on a number of different levels. Those of you who have been following my blog would know by now that the purpose of it is to share with you my journey of writing a tribute to my brother, Eugene and his partner, Pieter and their challenges of coping with terminal cancer. So, in the first instance, as gays the concept of authenticity is probably even more significant to them than for heterosexual couples, in particular during the era and culture within which Eugene and Pieter grew up.

My original interest in the topic was that being of a certain age and adjusting to a different cycle in life, I was interested in exploring how I would now define my authentic self. Would it be different from say five or ten years ago? If so, what would change and how would I now express my authentic self? It is both scary as well as exciting and there is the hint of an opportunity to redefine or rediscover aspects of my self that may have been hidden beneath layers of conformity to external expectations.

Finally, the bonus was that it also helped me to explore the challenges of writing and made me reflect on what authenticity might mean to me as a writer and the act of writing. I have taken the time to explore the many do’s and don’ts of writing as I perceive them. However, I have come to the conclusion that being an authentic writer means I need to first and foremost express my authentic self. It is therefore, as I have alluded to in previous blogs, part of the journey of finding my own voice as a writer and interpreting, accepting or rejecting any perceived rules of what constitutes good writing.

In the words of Shakespeare, To thine own self be true!