So last night I won the 54th Solihull Writers Workshop Annual Poetry Competition with my poem My Green Jumper. I was both honoured and astonished to be the recipient of the award as the standard of all the entries was so high.
I have been sharing the news of my success on social media and several people have asked if they could read the poem – so here it is!
I’m not a poet. I think this is the second poem I have ever written as an adult. I was inspired by the current humanitarian crisis in Ukraine and by the thousands of people donating their clothing to help people in need.
My Green Jumper
My green jumper
Old and familiar
Soft and soothing
Scented with love
Threaded with memories
Safe and secure
My green jumper
Tossing and turning
Nestling and glowing
In bags and boxes
By road and rail
Over land and sea
To get to you
Explosions and Gunfire
Fire and Flame
Fear and Heartbreak
Blood and Pain
I cannot touch you, but my green jumper can
Put it against your skin
Let it sooth and calm
Let it warm and comfort
Let it talk to you
About my love
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The first few months of 2022 have been all about audiobooks for me. When I first published Wait for Me just over a year ago, I had a few enquiries as to whether it was available on audio. I’ll be honest, back then I was just delighted just to have finally published the book and hadn’t even thought abut this. More importantly, I didn’t have a clue where to start.
After I published Trident Edge in October I took a break from novel writing and did a little research on how to go about creating an audiobook. I was daunted and almost gave up a few times. It seemed so complicated and, lets face it, expensive.
However, I kept going and spoke to a few other authors about the different options for an independent author like me. This was how I learned about ACX, Amazon’s audio platform. I’m delighted to say that I discovered it was not only affordable but also accessible to a terrified technophobe on a budget.
It’s as simple as creating an account, selecting one of a few different options depending on your budget, choosing a narrator and uploading your book. I went for the Royalty Share option which allowed me to create an audiobook without spending any money at all. The narrator and I receive 20% of the royalties each and Amazon get the rest. I’ve outlined the process in more detail below.
Chisako is folding 1000 paper cranes. Tradition dictates that when she is finished, her one true wish will be granted.
Well sadly, 1000 Paper Cranes didn’t get me through to the final round of the 2021 NYC Flash Fiction Challenge, but I did come 6th in my group with an ‘Honourable Mention’ and got some lovely feedback from the judges. By my rough estimate I was in the top 150 of over 4000 writers so I’m feeling pretty proud of that. The upside of it all is that I now have a completely free weekend, as I had planned to do nothing other than write on Saturday and edit on Sunday.
No rest for the wicked though … the following weekend I will find out if I got through to the next round of the 2021 NYC Micro-fiction Challenge with my little ghost story, Until Next Year. More on than that next weekend!
In the meantime, here is 1000 Paper Cranes. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, why not drop me a line and sign up for my Mailing List while you’re at it?
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1000 Paper Cranes
Chisako sat cross-legged on the tearoom floor as she watched her onee san, Chikafumi, perform the ancient ceremony with the poise and elegance that defined everything she did. Ever since the san san kudo, when they had been bound as sisters through the sharing of sake, Chisako had been spellbound by her Geisha mentor.
The open windows on two sides gave the room a light and airy feel. The clean lines and neutral tones of the walls, paper screens and bamboo mats contrasted with the lush green disorder of the gardens outside. A fountain gurgled, a wind chime tinkled, and the chirp of cicadas heralded the start of summer. Inside, the grassy scent of green tea mingled with the heady aroma of sandalwood incense, and the only sound was the rustle of silk and the murmured thanks of her clients as Chikafumi prepared and served tea, smiling, and nodding as she moved around the space with effortless grace.
As a maiko in the third stage of her training, Chisako accompanied Chikafumi to the teahouse and around thehanamachievery day, to learn the ways of a Geisha through observation. Some of the other maiko complained about the length of this stage of their training, which could last for many years, but as far as Chisako was concerned, she wouldn’t care if it went on forever. She would happily watch Chikafumi until the end of time.
To Chisako, Chikafumi epitomised not only the perfect Geisha, but the perfect woman. She was tall and slender. Only the smooth folds of her obi interrupted the flowing contours of her frame. Her classic Cupid’s bow lips and almond-shaped eyes were accentuated by the traditional bright red lipstick, black and red eyeliner, and white face powder. Her immaculately sculpted dark hair was sleek and shiny. She might have looked like a porcelain doll but for the tantalising glimpse of soft, pale flesh revealed by the low, dipped neckline of her red and gold kimono. Every inch of her was intoxicating, from the top of her cherry blossom hairpin to the tips of her white-stockinged toes.
Chisako was aware that she was mesmerised by Chikafumi in a way that went far beyond the usual respect and admiration of a maiko for her onee san. She was completely captivated by her. She adored her. Every night she went to bed dreaming of her, and every morning her face was the first thing she saw. She had had crushes before but never anything like this. Indeed, it was the confusing and unwelcome feelings that she often felt for other women that had prompted her to enter the profession. She had hoped that by immersing herself in the most controlled and feminine of environments, such feelings would fade and disappear. In fact, the reverse was true. Being surrounded by a preponderance of exquisite and glamourous young women had made them more difficult to control than ever, and none were stronger than those she felt for Chikafumi.
But her feelings were not reciprocated. Chikafumi barely noticed her, not beyond their professional relationship that was. She was unfailingly polite and personable in all their interactions, and patient and gracious in her instruction, but she remained aloof and guarded. Chisako was amazed that Chikafumi didn’t seem to feel the tingle of electricity that passed between them every time their fingers touched. She couldn’t understand why Chikafumi never held eye contact with her for a second longer than necessary. It was as if she was deliberately preventing the development of a deeper connection between them. At the end of each day when Chikafumi left to return to her private house in the hanamachi, and Chisako to the okiya with the other maiko, Chisako would watch her until she was out of sight, but Chikafumi never looked back.
Alone in her room in the okiya, Chisako was folding origami paper cranes. She had eight to do to reach 1000 and complete the senbazuru. Tradition dictated that the folding of 1,000 paper cranes would grant the person the chance for one special wish to come true. When Chisako had begun, her wish had been that she could be like other girls and no longer be tortured by feelings and desires that she could never realise. Now, as she folded the last tiny figure, she knew that wasn’t what she wanted at all. All she wished for, and would forever wish for, was for Chikafumi to notice her and love her back.
The next morning, they were alone in the teahouse for a shamisen lesson. To help Chisako get her hand position right, Chikafumi sat down behind her and reached around her body. For Chisako, the closeness of their bodies was almost unbearable. Her heart quickened and she couldn’t catch her breath.
“Here. Place your fingers, like this,” said Chikafumi placing her hands over Chisako’s. Chisako could not stop the small moan that escaped from her lips. Chikafumi froze for a moment before sighing and moving her body away. She stood up. Chisako bent her head, deeply ashamed of her momentary loss of control, fearful of how Chikafumi would react.
“Stand up, little sister.” Chikafumi’s voice was gentle. “Look at me.”
Chisako stood and turned towards her. A single tear rolled down her cheek as she raised her head. Expecting admonishment, she gasped when she saw that Chikafumi was smiling.
“Don’t worry, little sister.” Chikafumi nodded. “Don’t be sad. I know how you feel, and it is time for you to know that I feel the same.”
Chisako stepped back in surprise. Her hands flew to her mouth. A thousand emotions flooded through her. Joy. Relief. Hope. Disbelief.
“But … I don’t understand … I thought …” she stammered.
Chikafumi took both her hands in hers and looked into her eyes.
“We must be careful, little sister. Patient. Can you do this? Do you understand?”
“I can,” Chisako whispered. “I do.”
“Then let us resume the lesson for now, little sister.”
A lot has been happening in my writing life since Trident Edge was published so I thought I’d do a short post to serve as a bit of an update.
Last night I did my first ever book signing event, to coincide with the launch of Trident Edge. It was held at the Ale Hub in Dickens Heath, a local craft beer pub. Attendance was lower than we hoped for, but it was still my best day ever in terms of book sales, so you could say it was a success. My fellow writer, Andy, compered the evening and lots of friends and family came along to support. We started with an author interview, followed by a reading from Wait for Me, and an open Q&A session.
Sales of both books are still steady, and the positive ratings and reviews are still trickling in.
A few weeks ago, I took part in a live Facebook event with the author of Adrian’s Undead Diaries, Chris Philbrook, giving lots of advice to other aspiring zombie writers at various stages in their career. The session marked a big turning point for me and made me realise that my books are not going to sell themselves and that I really need to ramp up my marketing programme.
I think I’ve been suffering from a bit of “imposter syndrome” in terms of thinking of myself as an author and having an author page, a newsletter and (God forbid) a fan base. The session got me to wake up to myself. I’ve published three books now and two short stories and contributed to three flash fiction collections. It’s official – I am an author!
As such, I have added an author page to my website and created a newsletter function. You can sign up to my mailing list below. I promise not to bombard you with junk and only to send out a newsletter when I have some actual news! I hope you will join so that I can keep you up-to-date with forthcoming events and developments and any new or pending publications.
Today, Wait for Me is going to be announced as the subject of a group read in a zombie Facebook Group with over 1000 members. I am both excited and nervous in equal measure about what their feedback is going to be!
On Sunday, along with my fellow JAMS members, we will be attending the Henley-in-Arden Book Fair at a book fair in Wootton Wawen Social Club. It’s usually a great event that didn’t take place last year due to Covid so we’re hoping for a good day in terms of networking and book sales!
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Last weekend I found out that I had done enough to qualify for the next round of the 2021 NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. You might recall that in round 1 I came second in my group of around 50 writers with The Buttonologistand scored 14 points.
For the next round, I was given the challenge of writing a thriller, set in a canal, and featuring a headlight. It was M who came up with idea of setting the story in the canals of Venice and I used a recent fake news story, about Covid-19 originating in Italy, for inspiration. My story was called From Venice with Love and, while it didn’t score as highly as The Buttonologist, it came 10th in the group giving me another 6 points. This brought my total to 20 which was enough to place me in the top 5 of my group overall, and progress through to the next round.
You can read From Venice with Love at the end of this post.
My next challenge was to write a romance, set in a teahouse, and featuring a crane! I cogitated for a while then wrote a story about unrequited love in a Geisha community that featured the folding of 1000 origami paper cranes. We’ll have to wait until the 11th of December to find out if it takes me any further in the competion. It’s a big ask! Only 600 of the 4500 (approximately) participants made it through this far, so even if I don’t, I’m proud of what I have achieved so far!
From Venice with Love
“New research reveals that the novel coronavirus was detected in samples in Italy as far back as September 2019” (News International, 2021)
The boat’s powerful headlight illuminated a wide fan of water in front of them, momentarily bathing the ancient, stony-faced buildings, which disapprovingly witnessed their reckless passage, in harsh white light. The other boat was caught in the furthest edge of the beam. Ernestine could see the black headscarf and beige jacket of the woman with the briefcase standing in the stern. She was facing ahead, and she too was gripping the handrail as she was thrown from side to side by the violent twists and turns of the vessel.
Ernestine knew that the fate of the entire world depended on what happened in the next few minutes. She clung to the cold steel of the handrail as they bounced through the wake of the speeding boat ahead, each wave hitting the bottom of the hull with a terrifying thud. They hurtled through the network of canals that criss-crossed the old city in a way that would never have been possible during the day, when the waterways would be choked with drifting gondolas and other slow-moving pleasure crafts.
“Faster! Faster,” Ernestine pleaded with Marco, the lab night security guard, who was at the helm. “We can’t let them get away!”
“We’re at top speed, Signorina. We can’t go any faster.”
Then, a sharp crack echoed across the water, and she caught a whiff of cordite as something whistled past her ear.
“Get down! Get down!” Marco shouted. “Guns. They have guns!”
Ernestine dropped to the floor and curled into a ball, struggling to make sense of what was happening. What was she doing? She was a scientist for God’s sake! Not a spy, or a member of the militia! Just ten minutes earlier, she had been at her lab bench, working late as usual, when she had heard the tinkle of breaking glass from across the corridor. As she had gone out to investigate, she had seen a woman with a briefcase walking towards the front entrance but thought nothing of it. There were lots of people in the building at that time of night. It was part of the ethos of the place. High expectations that yielded equally high rewards were a strong motivator to burn the proverbial midnight oil.
The door to the sample bank was ajar. The hairs on Ernestine’s neck bristled and her skin prickled with alarm. The room was always kept locked. Only a few high-profile people had the access code. She cautiously pushed open the door and, when nothing stirred, she stepped inside and flicked on the lights. Her heart lurched when she saw the broken test tubes on the floor and the open fridge door. This too was always kept locked. Now her heart was racing, and her breathing was shallow as she looked inside at the empty space where the tray of experimental viral samples should be.
The image of the woman with the briefcase walking briskly down the corridor flashed into her head, and suddenly recalling things that had registered only in her subconscious, she knew immediately that it was her. The way she hadn’t turned her head but quickened her pace when Ernestine had entered the corridor. The smart briefcase. The black headscarf. The tailored beige jacket. Most of her co-workers dressed casually in jeans and tee-shirts and carried well-worn backpacks suitable for a daily commute on foot or by bike.
Ernestine ran down the corridor. She reached the front entrance just in time to see the woman stepping off the dock into a boat with its engine running. A man dressed in black was helping her aboard and another was at the helm. Ernestine shouted to Marco, who was sitting with his feet on his desk, scrolling through his phone.
“Marco! That woman! She has the viral samples! Quickly!”
Marco jumped up. Startled. Confused.
“But … chi? … come? She had a pass! Dio santo!” he muttered as he ran towards the lab’s boat moored at the other end of the dock.
Ernestine followed him. Once they were in the boat, she fumbled in her jeans pocket for her phone, considering calling the Carabinieri, but Marco looked at her and shook his head. He was right. Too many questions. The fallout would be disastrous. Not just for them as individuals but the for the organisation as whole. They were going to have to do this alone.
“They’ve entered the lagoon!” Marco shouted, snapping her back to the present. “Their boat is fast. They’re picking up speed!”
Ernestine got warily to her feet.
“It’s alright. We’re out of range,” Marco reassured her. “But they’re getting away.”
“Oh no! God help us.” Ernestine put her hand to her mouth. “God help us all.”
“It’s ok. They’re heading for the airport. It’s not too late.”
As Ernestine entered the terminal building, she was temporarily stunned by the bright lights and the crowds. She frantically scanned the space. A sea of heads. People moving in all directions. The soft rumble of luggage wheels. The collective murmur of a hundred voices. Cell phones ringing. Automated announcements in Italian and English ringing out over the tannoy.
Then, over by the departure gates, a flash of beige. The now familiar black headscarf. Ernestine pushed her way through the crowd, trying to keep her target in her sights. But the woman was moving further and further away. Ernestine felt as though she was wading through treacle. She finally reached the gate just as the woman passed through and out of reach. Her black head bobbed into the distance. Never looking back.
In desperation and dismay, Ernestine’s eyes ran down the list on the departure board. There were two flights about to depart. One to Paris, France, and another to Wuhan, China. Ernestine knew instantly which one the woman would be on. She dropped to her knees and wept.
Its’s been a while since I wrote about my writing! Since we got back from Barbados I have finished the first draft of Trident Edge (the sequel to Wait for Me) and it is currently with my editor (Get It Write UK).
Prior to that, I went on a road trip with my fellow writers in JAMS to check out some of the real-life places that feature in the book. We visited Fineshade Wood, RAF Coningsby, Kirkham Priory and RAF Menwith Hill, all highly significant locations in terms of the plot, but you’ll have to read the book to find out more!
After that I made a few tweaks and sent it off to my beta readers who, as ever, gave me some great feedback that I incorporated before finishing my final edit. It should be ready for my final edit in early October with a view to publication in time for Halloween.
In the meantime I have been working on building up a “bank” of short stories and entering a few competitions. I’ve been working through a book called The Very Short Story Starter by John Gillard. It contains some exercises and ideas and 101 Flash Fiction prompts. I also did a week long Short Story course with Arvon. So far, I have written seven short stories, some of which I like considerably better than others!
I am also starting to think about my next novel. I am pulling together all my Covid-19 blog posts into a non-fiction journal style book called Viruses and Volcanoes and that is an ongoing project. However, I’m starting to think about what my next fictional book will be. I think my Zombie Apocalypse series has reached a natural conclusion and I’m ready to start something new. My options are; to stick with the post-apocalyptic theme but do something different with the genre; or to pick up my original idea from years ago, The Ice Factory; or to have a go at something else entirely. I’ve bought a workbook called Ready, Set, Novel and so far it seems to be taking down the post-apocalyptic road but this time in a climate change scenario. So, we will see …
One of the competitions I have entered is the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. For round 1 my genre was Comedy, the location had to be a Meet and Greet, and the story had to feature a Diploma in some way. I came up with a piece called The Buttonologist and was delighted (especially as I don’t think I’m very good at being funny – not intentionally anyway) when it came second in my group giving me 14 points to take in to round 2!
Here is my (almost) winning story. I hope you enjoy it!
Peter pushed his small, round, wire-framed glasses up his nose. He squinted again at the flyer that he’d picked up from the counter in his local grocery store. It was advertising an opportunity to meet Maximus G, one of the country’s leading buttonologists, and to receive a signed copy of his latest book. He checked the address on the flyer against the street name and number on the signage above the smoky, mirrored glass frontage of the large, modern building. A glittery, rose gold logo on the door read B Hub. It wasn’t quite what he’d been expecting, but he was definitely at the right location.
He looked up and down the street. In his experience, button collectors, or buttonologists as serious collectors now referred to themselves , tended to meet in locations that comfortably mirrored both their personalities and the nature of their pursuit. Small, aging, unobtrusive buildings, tucked away in quiet, lonely corners of narrow, cobbled side streets that, when you entered, were bursting at the seams with a cornucopia of ancient miscellanea.
B Hub, on the other hand, was big and tall and shiny and minimalist, and located bang in the centre of the busiest street downtown. While this was highly unusual, and mostly made him feel wary and decidedly uncomfortable, a small part of him was pleasantly surprised and tentatively hopeful that his field might finally be beginning to emerge from the shadows into the warm light of mainstream concerns.
He took his diploma out of his briefcase and smoothed out the plastic document folder. He smiled as he traced his finger over the elegantly hand-inscribed calligraphy on the delicate, creamy parchment:
The World Society of Buttons
has awarded to
Peter Anderson Wilmington
The Diploma in Advanced Buttonology
Maybe it hadn’t been the ‘big waste of time and money’ that his parents kept telling him it had been. Maybe it wasn’t always going to be something that everyone who heard about it laughed at. Maybe this was the day he would at last meet someone who felt the same as he did about buttons. Maybe this would be the first step towards finding a job that would allow him to do what he loved and actually get paid for it. Maybe this was the day when his obsession might finally start to become a blessing and not a curse. Maybe this was the day when his dyslexia and hypernumeracy would start to work for him and not against him. Maybe this was the day when it was finally all going to come together.
A woman brushed past him, her elbow colliding with his and almost knocking the diploma from his hands.
“Hey, be care …” he started. But the words froze on his lips as his gaze came to rest on what had to be the biggest backside he had ever seen in his life. No, that wasn’t right, it wasn’t the biggest, it was just the most … pronounced, and it was grossly – no, magnificently – out of proportion with the rest of her lycra-clad, athletic frame. It appeared to have a life of its own, each buttock moving independently of the other and the rest of her body, as she sashayed towards the door.
Her movements were slow and exaggerated, as if she knew he was watching her and was luxuriating in his attention. When she reached the door, she placed her hand on the glass as if to push it open but instead, turned to face him. His mouth, already slack-jawed in astonishment, dropped open even further as she gave him a full-on, languorous wink.
“Come on, Baby. Don’t be shy,” she said, her voice as sweet and rich as honey. Then she opened the door and slipped inside, her backside entering the room several milliseconds after the rest of her.
Peter scurried after her. This was going to be even more interesting than he had hoped.
The interior consisted of one vast, high-ceilinged industrial space. The walls were lined with mirrors making the small crowd of people queuing to meet Mr. Maximus appear like a multitude. Harsh strip lighting illuminated every detail of their features and clothing. Like the woman outside, they were all wearing bright shades of skin-tight lycra that clung to every inch of their finely honed physiques. There was a preponderance of well-defined buttocks and above the buzz of general conversation he heard words like ‘glutes’, ‘implants,’ ‘squats’, ‘enhancements’ and ‘lifts’. As well as ‘maximus’, people were talking about ‘medius’ and ‘minimus’.
He looked down at his worn, baggy corduroy trousers. He was suddenly aware of his own concave gluteal muscles and his generally puny frame. Something wasn’t right. He pulled the flyer out of his pocket and looked at it closely. He read the words again:
Well, we’ve been back in the UK for exactly a week today! Last Thursday we landed at Heathrow at 11 am. We had a good flight and, apart from an almost anticipated 2 hour delay at immigration, a pretty straightforward transit home. The car picked us up at 1pm and we were home by 2.30pm.
Flying in the Time of Covid is different from before, but not dramatically. You get the usual meals and drinks etc. after departure and before arrival, but for the majority of the time you don’t really see much of the cabin crew. If you want water or anything else during the flight you have to ask for it and obviously masks are mandatory throughout.
Our thoughts are very much still with Barbados. Tropical Storm Elsa upgraded to a hurricane just as it hit the country, wreaking devastation across the island. Thankfully, it appears that no lives have been lost but hundreds of trees are down, houses have been damaged and destroyed, roads blocked and many people have been without power or water for several days.
The airport was closed for a few days due to storm damage and, once again, we can’t believe quite how fortunate we have been. We missed it by just 24hours and would have had to change our flights and re-do our Covid tests etc. if it had hit before we left. Our whole Barbados trip has been marked by an uncanny series of lucky coincidences; when we first arrived we missed the need to quarantine in a hotel at our own cost by 4 days and when we departed, we missed the need to quarantine at home for 10 days by 24 hours, and that was only because Virgin moved our flights back by a day!
Home at Last
The past week has been a whirlwind of seeing friends and family and getting the house and our lives back to normal. Various pieces of equipment are revolting in an expression of their disgust about having been left unloved and unattended for 9 months; the shower in the ensuite and one of the radiators in the spare bathroom have both sprung a leak; the printer isn’t printing properly; the motor for the power shower has blown; the back gate, which was sticky before, is now refusing to budge; the gas and electric meter isn’t working; and the whole of the garden and outside space is in need of a good jet-wash and tidy up. I can’t remember where anything is in my kitchen and I have a list as long as my arm of admin type things to attend to. My priority was to do our accounts for 2020/2021 and I finished these yesterday and am slowly getting through everything else. By Monday, I think we should be on top of things.
It’s a weird feeling being back after being away for so long. It’s almost as if we’ve just been on holiday for a couple of weeks, but then it isn’t. In some ways it feels as if nothing has changed – we are seeing the same people, driving around the same streets in the same car, shopping in the same shops, watching the same TV, sleeping in the same bed, seeing the same views from our windows etc. etc. – then, every now and again, something takes us by surprise – new shops and bars on our village high street, a humungous new Marks and Spencer’s at the end of the road, new houses that have sprung up all over the place and grandchildren that have grown by several inches!
It is wonderful to be back though. So many people have taken the time out to stop and welcome us home. I’m enjoying our lovely kitchen with all my amazing gadgets and my big shiny range cooker; our gloriously comfy cozy bed; and my writing desk with my huge monitor that doesn’t give me eye strain and neck ache. I can’t believe I wrote a whole novel with my laptop balanced on my knee on a cushion!
With regard to Covid, it all feels vastly different from the dark days when we left the country last September at the start of the second wave. People seem to be going about their normal lives with just a few restrictions still in place. Table service has become the norm in bars and restaurants, indoor mask wearing is generally adhered to (although we have both noticed a distinct lack of rigour in regard to hand sanitising and contact tracing compared to Barbados, and absolutely zero temperature checks) and there are restrictions on the number of people you can have inside your home. It very much feels as though these restrictions and Covid itself have become part of everyday life and something that we all just have to learn to live with.
This is largely due to the fact that despite the increasing numbers of infections, that indicate the start of a third wave, for the first time this is not being matched by increases in hospitalisations and deaths. Essentially, the vaccine is working! I have to admit that we feel much safer in the knowledge that we are “double vacced”. To an extent, it feels as if we have re-started our lives to where they were at the start of the outbreak back in March 2020, and I must admit it feels good!
Summer of 2021
We have a long summer to look forward to. We have lots of things planned with friends and family; Sunday lunches with our kids and grandkids; lots of catch-ups with friends over a coffee or a glass or two of wine; numerous belated birthday celebrations; a trip up north to see my parents and sisters; a trip to Sweden to see my son and his girlfriend (no quarantine for double vacced travellers returning from amber countries announced today!); a Trident Edge road-trip with my fellow writers to check out the locations that I have used in the book and see if I have adequately captured them in my minds eye; Granny play-dates with my friends and their grandchildren; and a weekend in Stratford on Avon with some friends. On top of all that we have an endless summer of sport to enjoy; Euro20 -deferred to 2021 – (football) is currently underway with England progressing to the final just last night; the British Lions (rugby) tour of South Africa is also in progress; we are entering the second week of Wimbledon (tennis); the Tour de France is almost half-way through; and the Tokyo Olympics start on the 23rd of July.
I have lots of writing projects on the go as well; after the road trip I’m going to edit and write the second draft of Trident Edge then get it beta-read, edited again, proofread and edited again before publishing; I’ve entered the NYC Flash Fiction competition the first round of which starts tomorrow; I’m preparing a submission for the fall edition of the First Line Literary Journal; I’m going to turn this Time of Covid blog into a book; and I also have an idea for a new non-fiction project called I’z a Bajan.
The Final Chapter
All of this, combined with the fact that the government is going to lift all restrictions from the 19th of July, tells me that this is good place to end this particular blog project. It started as a lockdown diary back in March 2020 and then evolved into an account of our Covid experiences in Barbados. My intention was always to bring all these posts together into a book, so that one day our youngest grandchildren will be able to read all about what it was like (for us at least) at the start of The Time of Covid.
It’s been a crazy 14 month rollercoaster of experiences and emotions; fear, disbelief, anxiety and confusion at the start; boredom, frustration and isolation in lockdown; hope and disappointment about ever falling and rising numbers; anger about the behaviours of governments and people (remember the covidiots?); making the big scary decision to leave the country; stress and tension about whether we would even get to Barbados and get there safely; taking risks; having the adventure of a lifetime; being overwhelmed with joy and relief when we got there Covid-free; relishing the warmth, the sunshine, the sea and the beaches and the overwhelming feeling of safety; experiencing a Bajan lockdown, a volcanic eruption, sargassum and a super-storm (which has since been dwarfed by Hurricane Elsa).
Who knows whether Covid-19 will ever go away, and who knows what remnants of our new way of life might persist into the future lives of our grandchildren. I know it’s not going to disappear overnight and that we are all almost certainly going to have to learn to live with it for many years to come, if not for ever. But, in terms of our lives and this diary, we have reached point that definitely feels like a natural point of closure, if not an end.
Keeping with the football theme from last night, forgive me if apply the words of BBC commentator Kenneth Wolstenholme (when England won the World Cup in 1966) to the Time of Covid,
“They think it’s all over,”
– who knows when we will ever be able to complete the comment –
Well, our time here in Barbados is nearly at an end. We leave for the UK on the 30th of June, arriving back into Heathrow on the 1st of July. We’ve booked a chauffer driven car through Virgin to drive us from the airport straight home – its sounds expensive but it isn’t going to cost us much more that it did to hire a car for 24 hours, as we did when we left in September last year, and we won’t be squeezing into a minibus (aka Covid capsule) with a load of strangers, for the transfer to the car hire depot from the terminal.
It’s incredible to think that we have been here for 9 months! During that time we have experienced; a lockdown, a volcanic eruption, a glut of sargassum, a super-storm (this occurred a couple of weeks ago), I have published one book (Wait for Meand written the first draft of another (Trident Edge), I’ve had a column published in the Nation News, as Key Ways Consulting, we have done some Insights Discovery coaching and workshops with the Barbados Davis Cup tennis team and the Ministry of Small Business, Entrepreneurship and Commerce at the Barbados Government, we’ve met loads of wonderful and interesting people (this is going to be the subject of my next non-fiction book I is a Bajan), we’ve been to a multitude of new (to us) bars and restaurants and explored almost every beach on the island.
Thank you Barbados! It’s been a blast!
There are a number of Covid related things we have to do before we leave on Wednesday. On Monday morning, we have to go and get a Covid PCR test at the Barbados Testing Centre at the Garfield Sobers Gymnasium near Bridgetown. That evening we need to complete the UK Government Passenger Locator forms and book another Covid test for after we arrive back in the UK.
Until just a couple of days ago, were were expecting to have to quarantine at home for 10 days, and do tests on Day 2 and Day 8 before we were released because Barbados was on the UK Amber list. But, last week the country was placed on the Green list and we are no longer required to quarantine and only have to do one test on Day 2. This is fantastic news indeed! It was going to be strange and frustrating to be back in the UK and so close to family and friends but still unable to see them.
So as we move into the next phase of our personal Covid experience, there have been 181 million cases and almost 4 million deaths worldwide. India, Brazil and the USA are still seeing extremely high rates of infection. The countries with the highest deaths rates are Peru with 5,732 per million and Hungary with 3,111. Countries with over 2,000 deaths per million include; Brazil, Argentina, and Columbia in South America, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Montenegro in Eastern Europe and Belgium, and Italy, San Marino and Gibraltar in Europe.
Here, in Barbados, the numbers remain low with a total of 4,074 cases and 47 deaths. The rates per million population are 682 cases and 22 deaths. New cases were almost down to zero a couple of weeks ago but we have seen another small spike over the past few days. And, while they accept that Covid will remain an ever-present danger for many months and probably years to come, things are almost back to normal apart from strict social distancing, hand sanitising and mask wearing.
And in the UK, there have been a total of 4,717,811 cases and 128,089 deaths. The rates per million population are 69,139 cases and 1,877 deaths. They have been battling with increasing rates of infection due to the Delta variant and the plan to open up fully has been delayed by another month. With over 18,000 new cases today, the daily numbers are more than double what they were when we came out to Barbados in September last year, when they were just over 7000. If we hadn’t been double vaccinated we’d be very apprehensive about our return!
The big news at the moment is that Matt Hancock the Health Minister has been forced to resign after photographs in The Sun of him in an intimate “clinch” with a woman he was having an affair with, demonstrated a hypocritical breach of Covid protocols (as well as outing his affair to the nation).
So, as we start packing and clearing out the apartment, we have mixed feelings about our departure. It’s sad to be leaving and we will miss all the lovely friends we have made here, and the sunshine and the beaches, and all the wonderful people of Barbados. However, it is also so exciting to be able to see our children and grandchildren again, and to be able to give them all a big hug and a kiss. It’s been so long.
For me, after nine sweltering months of sleeping under a mosquito net with only a sheet to cover me (and sometimes nothing at all), I’m really looking forward to feeling cool enough to snuggle up under my fluffy duvet in my big cozy bed!
A significant period of time has elapsed since I last posted about our Covid-19 experience, and that is a good thing! It means that things are going fairly well, both here in Barbados, and back home in the UK. Apart from a few blips in the UK with the ‘Indian Variant’, numbers are going down and things are slowly starting to open up.
Barbados has had a few consecutive days with no new cases at all, and the UK has had a few days with no deaths! Vaccinations are going well, with the first wave of second vaccinations almost completed in Barbados (we had ours on the 17th of May), and first doses now being offered to people 3o years and over in the UK.
We are going home on the 29th of June. As Barbados is on the UK’s ‘Amber List’, as well as all the usual tests and documentation we will need to complete before we leave the island, we will also have to quarantine at home for 10 days after arrival, and pay for tests on days 2 and 8 before we are released. A small price to pay for 9 months in a tropical paradise, instead of being shut up in our house all winter.
I have been so impressed and thankful for the way Barbados has handled the pandemic that I felt compelled to write a ‘Letter to the Editor’ of the national news paper, The Nation News. I was surprised (and delighted) when they gave my little piece an entire page and categorized it as a “guest column”!
This is what I said:
“On the 29th of June we will be leaving Barbados after spending the last nine months here. For medical reasons, we left the UK last September, to avoid the second wave of the pandemic back home. Before we leave, I feel compelled to share my feelings about how impressed we have been with the way Barbados, as a tiny country, has handled this global crisis.
At the time we left, we had barely left our homes for over six months apart from to exercise or buy groceries. We knew there was a chance that we could face lockdowns and other restrictions in Barbados but were prepared to take that risk. Whatever happened, having to “stay at home” in the warm sunshine of Barbados where we could spend a lot of our time outdoors, had to be better than facing a long cold winter locked up in the house in the UK.
The day we set out for Heathrow we were nervous and fearful of contracting the virus on the journey. We hired a car to travel to the airport to avoid the need to interact with others on public transport but were horrified when, after dropping off the car at Heathrow we were transported to the terminal in a small mini-bus with several other strangers. We tried to keep as far away as possible from other people in the check-in and security queues, but no special precautions were being taken to ensure social distancing, and, other than being asked to wear our masks for the entire flight, and being offered a reduced meals service, no other measures were in place to help us keep our distance from our fellow travellers.
The moment we arrived in Barbados we heaved a huge sigh of relief. Now, here was a country that was taking this thing seriously! We were taken by bus to a special part of the airport where our temperatures were taken, we were “sanitised” and our negative test results re-examined before we were even allowed into the terminal. We were given clear advice and instructions about what to do over the next 10 days from the public health team at the airport before we were allowed to leave. Once we got to our accommodation (we had rented a house in St. Philip) we were required to take our temperatures twice a day, record them on a form we had been given, and send them through to the Public Heath team by text message.
Although we arrived before the travel quarantine protocols were in place, for those 10 days, we tried to avoid close contact with other people unless it was absolutely necessary. We did have to go out to buy groceries and get a thermometer and were reassured further by the checks and precautions that were in place in shops and businesses. Hands were sanitised, contact details taken and temperature checks performed everywhere we went. Sadly, I can say that we had not witnessed such rigorous adherence to sanitising and social distancing procedures back in the UK. Even mask wearing was not widely enforced at the time we left home and was not compulsory for children. In Barbados everyone was wearing a mask, from the octogenarian on his early morning walk, to the tiny tot on her way to school.
It was clear from the outset that the people of Barbados were treating the virus with the degree of caution it warranted, and were respectful of, and compliant with, the guidance and advice of Prime Minister Mottley and her government. For us, this was a massive relief and we felt safer and more relaxed than we had done for a very long time. In those early days, I lost count of the number of times we congratulated each other on our decision.
And so, it has continued. Numbers have gone up and down. Crises have come and gone. The country has faced its own second wave with increased death rates and various clusters and outbreaks, including the now infamous “Boxing Day Bus Crawl”. There have been curfews and lockdowns and other restrictions that have been followed by one and all, almost without exception. Then, as if to add insult to injury, just when it was almost all over and things were slowly starting to return to normal, the country was hit by a devastating ash cloud from the La Soufriere eruption on St Vincent.
Throughout it all the people of Barbados have remained cheerful and positive. Smiling and joking. Making light of what was in reality, a very difficult situation for many. Just getting on with what needed to be done without complaint or excuse. They are truly one of the most resilient and strongest nations I have come across and I am both grateful for the way they have made us feel welcome and at home during our time here, and proud and privileged to have borne witness to their fight against Covid-19.
One thing that I began to think might have been the only negative aspect to our decision to ride out the second wave in Barbados was a potentially missed opportunity to access the vaccination. My husband is a Barbadian citizen and has a medical condition which placed him in one of the priority groups for vaccination during the early days that it became available in Barbados. Unfortunately, I am and too young and too fit and healthy to be eligible at this stage in Barbados but would have been offered it in the UK. I have applied for citizenship by marriage and, while this has been approved and I paid the fee back in March, I am yet to receive any documentation that would enable me to obtain an ID number. So, I just assumed I would not be able to get the vaccine until I got home.
I could not have been more wrong. The day my husband went to the David Thompson polyclinic to get his vaccination I stayed at home, only to get a call to say that, to avoid wasting the contents of the vial that had been opened for his dose, they wondered if I would like to be vaccinated as well. I jumped at the chance. We received our second vaccinations on Monday the 17th of May so are now fully vaccinated and hopefully immune for our journey home.
So, I just wanted to say; a huge THANKYOU to Barbados and that you should all be proud of your people and your government, who have by far punched above their weight in the global fight against Covid-19.“
If it wasn’t for the volcano, it might almost be safe to say that things are looking better than they have for a long time on both sides of the Atlantic, and even the growling, ash-spewing monster across the water seems to have lost some of its fury for the time being at least.
Covid restrictions are being lifted here in Barbados and in the UK. Our social media feeds are crammed with beaming faces and images of enticing alcoholic beverages sitting on pub tables ready to be imbibed, as people back home meet up with friends and family for the first time in months (and in some cases years), and enjoy an outdoor drink or two. It’s a happy time!
Here, we now have no curfew on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and an 11pm one on Thursdays and over the weekends. Bars are allowed to open, albeit at 50% of capacity (although I’ve not seen anyone counting), and indoor dining is permitted (not that you’d want to eat indoors here if outdoors is an option!) But, most important of all, the beaches are open all day again!
As far as we are concerned, it doesn’t feel as if we have any restrictions being placed on us at all anymore. We can pretty much do everything we were doing before Christmas, apart from go to the Drive-In Cinema and stay out after 11pm at the weekend – but I can’t recall many days when we weren’t long tucked up in bed by then!
But we don’t want to get carried away! We’re not out of the woods yet by any stretch of the imagination. The steady decline in the UK has slowed, and it has just added India to it’s “red list” of countries due to concerns about highly transmissible and virulent new variant. Barbados has seen a recent new cluster based around a church in the north of the island, and this has been linked to an outbreak in the island’s main hospital. The US, one of the remaining sources of visitors to the island, has now banned travel to Barbados, deeming it a high risk destination (a tad ironic if you ask me).
Further afield the virus is still raging across the world with a total of almost 150 million cases and over 3 million deaths. India is experiencing a horrific surge of infections at the moment, with hundreds of thousands of new cases every day – and those are just the ones that are being tested!
As far as La Soufriere is concerned, she finally slowed down about six days after the first eruption. It’s not over though, as we are repeatedly being told. It’s just that she’s lost some of her energy and her eruptions are not reaching the high-level air streams that carry the ash east over to Barbados. Instead, it is being blown west into the Caribbean Sea by the surface winds that travel from east to west.
The long dark weekend is now well behind us, but it is one I will never forget! Life now is gradually getting back to normal apart from the endless sweeping, washing, and mopping required to sustain a modicum of comfort in our living space. The problem with the ash is that it doesn’t actually go away, it just blows around from one place to another. You can sweep your balcony one day and the next day it’s back again.
People are hoping for rain that might wash it away and into the soil, but rain will potentially bring its own issues. When ash is wet it clumps together in a thick black sludge that blocks gutters and drains. If it’s still hanging around when the rainy season starts in a few weeks’ time, there is a serious risk that this could lead to significant flooding. For this reason, we have been asked to gather the ash up in sacks and not to wash it down the drains.
Last Sunday (the last Easter stay-at-home Sunday) was declared a national clean-up day and everyone in the country was asked to clear the roads around their properties of ash. M worked with another local man to clear our area, and together, after several hours of hard labour, gathered well over 100 kg. of the stuff.
I’ve been working inside the house. Ash gets everywhere. It blows off roofs and trees, and plumes up in clouds as vehicles drive through it. It settles on all surfaces; the floor, the kitchen counter, the dishes drying on the drainer, food and drink left uncovered, toilet seats, computers, books, and bedding. It’s even in the fridge! It sticks to your feet when you walk from the car to the house leaving black footprints on your freshly mopped floor. We keep a basin of water at the top of the stairs and a path of damp towels leading to the front door of the apartment. More towels strategically placed inside help prevent it being transported into the bedroom and bathroom.
It’s tough stuff to shift. The best way is to sweep and gather the worst of it then hose or jet wash the rest. But this is a problem in itself as water is a scarce and precious resource in Barbados. With every resident in the country hosing down their properties and cars, and businesses jet washing building and car parks, water supplies soon became depleted. Residents in St Lucy were without water for the entire week following the eruption weekend. I can’t imagine how awful that must have been for them. We’ve been having two or three showers day just to feel human! We’ve filled a number of containers with clean water for washing and the fridge is stacked with bottles of filtered water for drinking, just in case we too are affected.
Until a couple of days ago opening the windows was still impossible due to the amount of ash blowing around. Believe me, the nights in Barbados are very hot and sticky with all the windows closed and no air con. The fan gives some respite, but M finds that the noise disturbs his sleep. But, even as the amount of ash in the air lessened, it became apparent that we still couldn’t open the windows due the piles of ash on the windowsills, and caught in every nook and cranny of the shutters. As soon as we opened them it would all blow inside.
So, I spent an entire morning painstakingly cleaning the shutters so that we could once again enjoy the heavenly feel of the Atlantic breeze blowing through the house. It’s still bringing in a little ash and everything is covered in a film of it, but it’s worth it just to feel cool again. Besides, we’re kind of getting used to feeling a bit “dusty” all the time.
We’ve started to get out and about again too. My first excursion was to the supermarket on the Tuesday after the eruption. As we had no warning or time to prepare, we hadn’t stocked up with food etc. and were badly in need of supplies. We were completely out of fresh vegetables and the contents of the freezer were rapidly depleting.
Driving is another new challenge. The car always is like a furnace in the Barbados heat but now you can’t use the aircon or open the windows due to the ash billowing around. So, you just have to sweat it out under your protective mask, hat and glasses. It’s a mind over matter thing! The supermarket was incredibly busy with long lines and crowded aisles, but it was gloriously cool and clean. I would happily have waited in line there all day, browsing on my phone and humming along to the latest tunes being played over the tannoy system, rather than face the sweat and grime outside!
On the Saturday – a week after the eruption – we took a break from cleaning and went out for drinks with some friends to a somewhat dusty beach bar. It was crowded with people “letting off steam” and discussing their various ash cleaning experiences. Every few minutes a gust of ash from the beach would blow over us, causing us to cover our faces and don our masks until it passed and we resumed our conversations. We went home filthy but happier and more relaxed than we had been all week.
The beautiful beaches have been a sorry sight. The once golden sand, dark and dirty with a mixture of ash and the rotting remnants of the sargassum that hit in the week or two before the eruption. The normally crystal clear, turquoise blue water, grey and murky. But, once it became clear that the ash had stopped falling and the high priority locations like the airport and the highway had been cleared, the government soon focused on clearing the beaches.
And now things are getting better every day. Every day there is less ash to sweep up on the balcony and stairs. Every day we feel confident enough to open more windows wider and for longer. The roads are better, and we can now drive with the car windows open. The beaches are looking better. The sea and sky are blue again. Yesterday we went for our first swim since the eruption.
Through it all the people of Barbados have been amazing! Smiling, cheerful and unfailingly resilient, they just “get on with it”. Farmer’s crops have been wiped out, animals have died, business have lost yet more trading days and revenue, people are exhausted and aching all over. But people get back to work and their daily business as soon as they can. They don’t moan or complain. They help each other. They continue to be thankful for what they have and enjoy life on their beautiful island whatever she throws at them!
Last night we were kindly invited to the birthday celebration of Julian Armfield, a local author (The Aintree Legend, You Win Some You Lose Some and Absolutely Barbados) and retired BBC racing correspondent. It took place at a little local place on the far south-east tip of the island called Chicken Rita’s. It’s basically a rum shack where “Rita” serves arguably the best fried chicken on the island, with chips with salad which you eat outside on plastic tables and chairs alongside scrap-hopeful cats and chickens. There was no salad due to the ash, but nobody gave a damn, and a great time was had by all, including the cats who managed to get into the box containing the leftover coffee and walnut birthday cake for a moment before they were spotted, and the cake was rescued!
This weekend, to celebrate M’s birthday, we were due to spend the weekend in a little luxury at The Beach Houses on a mini staycation. Sadly, it was cancelled due to the ash but we have re-booked for a couple of weeks’ time – fingers crossed. Instead, we have booked a late lunch at Tapas, a highly recommended south coast Mediterranean restaurant with beautiful views of the sea and hopefully a spectacular sunset! Again, fingers crossed and third time lucky and all that! We have booked this twice before. The first was cancelled due to the infamous “bus crawl” outbreak and the second due to the eruption! Let’s hope it’s not us that’s jinxing it!
I’m not getting much writing done what with all the cleaning, and resting and recovering after cleaning, and comfort drinking in between cleaning and resting and recovering! But I am cracking on with the sequel to Wait for Me. I’ve had such great feedback and reviews that it feels really easy and actually quite exciting to write the sequel. I can barely contain myself when I think about where I am going to take Lisa and Anita this time and what I have in store for them! When I do manage to take the time out to write, I can’t get it down quick enough. It’s only when my neck and shoulders are aching from sitting at my laptop for too long, that I am forced to stop or pay for it later! I’ve already written over 20,000 words and five chapters.
Sales for Wait for Me have been good but do seem to be tailing off, particularly for the paperback. By the end of March, I had sold 78 copies and 44,000 Kindle pages had been read under the Kindle Unlimited scheme. My first month’s royalties came in from January’s sales at £128.21. They will be considerably less for February and March. I need to think about doing some more promotion. I did a Face Book ad in March which might or might not have paid for itself in sales, or “washed its own face” as our son the aspiring property mogul would say about one of his well-performing rentals. I’ve experimented with an Amazon ad campaign for April but have yet to see any real results from that. I’m going to wait until that is over before I try anything else.
It’s lunchtime, a cold beer is calling me from the fridge and my neck is starting to ache. Fingers crossed, between now and my next post, things continue to improve for everyone both here and at home.