A Wishlist for the Disappointment of Christmas

Ah, now that Christmas is but crumbs and recycled paper, we stare at what counts as presents and ponder – did it really have to be this way? It occurred to me that I probably don’t voice my opinions on gifts that much, but Christmas is difficult to manoeuvre. People disrupt my brain!

After all, if one deigns to drop to material lows for a gift to me, why not make it count for one or two bigger gifts instead of buying me loads of small gifts I’m only going to throw away/sell.

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Lest we turn into Dudley Dursley.

In no way give me chocolate. I don’t even like chocolate. (Unless it’s expensive. But even then it makes me sick.)

And thus, it occurred that I should have a wishlist. At least, or even, for my own sake. An eternal wishlist applicable any year:

> Lush products. ‘Til I die.

> Nightwear, pyjamas or nightdress. Also because these things have a limited life with me.

> Classic beanie babies, thrifted lovingly.

> Collectible or limited edition items.

> Tea/coffee things. Yum.

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All Kermits aside.

> Vintage dresses I can’t afford on my own terms, i.e. Bernie Dexter, PinUp Girl.

> Lacy underwear sets. Yes, please!

> Personalised gifts or frames. After all, who doesn’t want a present tailored to their interests?

> Money. For Pete’s sake, money! In my engaged, student state, money is the most loving gift you can give me. I asked for money towards the wedding and the 1 I received (well, 3 if you count the 2 displaced money gifts of £40 in Starbucks and M&S vouchers) was from a family I hardly see.

Thank goodness for the love of strangers!

For once, it would also be nice to be spoiled with a pretty set of crystal earrings the likes of which are features on television adverts.

Just saying.

What Advent means to me

CAFOD blog

CAFOD volunteer Trevor Stockton, from St Anthony of Padua parish in Wolverhampton, reflects on the significance of Advent in his life, past and present.

Trevor Stockton speaking at a Romero Mass in St Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham Trevor Stockton speaking at a Romero Mass in St Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham

Advent was a word I didn’t know about until I started going to church in my teens. The period before Christmas and Christmas itself really took on a new meaning for me thereafter.

Before then, as a child in a working class family in the 1940s, Christmas was simply all about having a few treats that we didn’t get all year round. Having an ordinary stocking filled with nuts, dates, a tangerine and other similar luxuries was amazing.  A few, and I mean a few, simple presents followed by a family Christmas meal made the day. There was no television and the day continued with playing games. So, the weeks before Christmas were spent…

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Pray First, Worry Later

In an offhand comment made about the ecumenical community in which I live, my conversation partner and I discussed how to find God in the silence. By Grace, this coincided with the homily/sermon given by the pastor this Sunday morning, focusing on today’s passage of 2 Corinthians 12:

7 Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It is human nature to fret, is it not? Evolutionarily, to draw defences around ourselves at the very sniff of threat to us and ours. We are inclined to worry.

Yet, I may add, we have also been conditioned by our modern society to do so, with its implicit/unsaid rules about being, doing, and having. So, by that logic, it’s contrary to society that God is enough for our safety and security. – Yet, what does Paul say? He admits that it’s worth his boasting about his miseries and worries – because in weaknesses, we rely on God for our true happiness. Not mortal trappings—God. Not our own sheer will-power—God. Even our natural instinct to worry is outdone by God’s power to provide for us.

To provide salvation.

That’s why I called this post Pray First, Worry Later. Offer your issues up to God and He is already at work for us.

Happy Sunday. I hope your week (and year!) goes well.

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One More Step Towards Recovery

When I was fifteen, I wrote this song. It wasn’t the best I’d written, but it was far from the worst, both in lyrics, melody and accompaniment. It was meant to be about a relationship falling apart; but listening to it now, I could say that its lyrics mimic the recovery one takes from mental illness. In these drear times of war and violence and pessimism, it can be hard to stay optimistic about the future and confidence is easily dampened. However, we must keep our chins up and take one step at a time up that mountain of recovery.

Help me escape from this strange place. Let’s take it one more step at a time.

Quick Takes Friday: 7 Ways To Be More Like Jesus This Advent

Okay, it’s not quite not quite Advent, but I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and things I may do during this year’s Advent to better follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Of course, these are only some suggestions, of which there are many more to do.

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~1~

Pray more earnestly. It’s easy to get into the routine of thanks, praise, intercession, confession, and petition, where one forgets to really connect with God whilst praying. Mix up the time in the day in which you pray, and the styles of prayer you use – praying over The Bible, reflecting on your week, using a chant or singing, etc.

~2~

Give your time as well as your money. Of course, around Christmas everybody is giving to each other and hopefully to charity. However, especially in the winter, many charities are busier than ever, and they may need more hands. Follow Jesus’ example of putting others’ needs before your own, and volunteer some of your time to assist others where they need it most.

~3~

In the same vein, volunteer at your church. Especially in a university community like mine, we lose a lot of the community at the start of Advent, but this is actually when some of the bigger services take place, sometimes one after the other. A smaller church might be in need of (more) cooks or readers or ushers.

~4~

Abstinence for Grace. Some, most notably non-Christians, consider abstinence as being a dramatic action for believers, but abstinence actually consists of less ‘effort’ – there is no removal of food altogether, but a changing of habits, a lessening of what we take for granted, in respect to those who do not have as much. For one day a fortnight, one could fast to experience the Grace of The Lord.

~5~

Think over a passage in the Bible. I love Lectio Divina, the practice of reading a passage in the Bible several times and seeing if any words or phrases are calling to you. As well as inspiring in us a sense of peace, Lectio Divina helps us concentrate more on the message and feeling of the Word than simply reading it.

~6~

Share a compliment with someone you wouldn’t normally. Because Advent is about doing something beyond the typical that we do the rest of the year, it might be worth sharing God’s Love with a stranger or a colleague one doesn’t normally speak to. Give them a positive something to lighten their day. These spiritual habits are great to make, and what better way to start than Advent?

~7~

Spend more time with the ones you love. In the rush of daily, it’s easy to forget about those we spend every day with, like our friends, colleagues, housemates, and family. This might sound easy to spend more time with them, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to overlook the ones we love the most. This Advent, take a second to remind them how blessed you are that God has guided you together.

Blessings, have a lovely weekend.

Why I Trunked My Contemporary

I don’t often decide to stop writing novels. I thought I had a strict non deletus est policy – write on til the bitter end and all that. But I recently decided to lock away a novel I’d been writing.

Last summer, I excitedly tweeted that I was working on a new project. I posted ideas and theories to improve my plot. It became my field for extracts and I poured over it in my free time: UTC, an NA contemporary uni romance, set in a fictional British town.

However, I came to realise, rather soon into September/October-time, that I was getting very little done with this plot very quickly. I pieced together ten-thousand, then fifteen-thousand words. I knew the three main axes. I knew which Supporting Characters would have a romantic, diverse subplot that would aid my heroine into making a decision over her wildly aloof hero (as they all are, am I right?).

Yet, despite this, I wasn’t writing this silly thing. I sat in my little plot bubble, planning where to take them, and verbally sketching out the occasional scene; but when it came to making those scenes into a work of contemporary, New Adult fiction, I couldn’t write them together.

Maybe it was me. But, honestly, it was more than likely the book.

No offence, book.

(High five if you also read that gif in Radcliffe’s voice!)

Without trying to over-analyse the situation, I want to think about my reasons behind a) the decline of writing this story, and b) my reasons to finally admit ‘no, this isn’t working’.

Contemporaries. *lets out long sigh of air*

They’re just not the same as SFF fiction, are they?

Okay. That’s the easy way of saying it. But of course, there’s going to be a different way of writing contemporaries as there is to writing fantasy or sci fi. For starters, character traits can’t be reliant on the alien or different as descriptors of their behaviour and liveliness. We’ve got no super-vampiric Cullens here. These guys have to be human. And I mean that in all senses of the word. Think human, talk human, trait human.

That’s a lot harder to write than one would think.

We’re surrounded by humans (probably) every day, but even for the people-watcher, the psychologist, the thinker, we cannot know what they’re thinking separate from our thoughts. Being a human is actually a very solitary job. We know what we ourselves like, our habits, our behaviours – but we have to extrapolate those things onto mannequins of other humans in order to manage realistic characters. As philosopher AJ Ayer said – we only know others exist by inference from their behaviour being similar to our behaviour.

And realistic characters have the added problem of being boring.

That’s not to say I find contemporary writing boring – and that’s not to say that I found writing my contemporary boring… I just…didn’t love the characters. Not because of their likes/dislikes or their behaviours. I cannot say why I wasn’t interested. In them I saw people I knew and would know, the same people I passed every day.

Certainly, we look for, in characters of any sort of fiction, a uniqueness and diversity [of interest], but I think to make contemporary fiction appealing to all sorts of readers, we need an added ingredient.

The thing is, even with their less-than-typical interests – caving, mixing cocktails, ancient history – my hero and heroine were too simple, two one-dimensional. Maybe this would have been fixed during rewriting, but there was something deeper that made me relinquish their scenario.

I’m not the only one to notice how contemporary is not only about plot. One might argue that the point of contemporary is to focus on the characters, as if the genre is a YA imitation of literary fiction but without the gorgeous.

Something about my characters didn’t click. In themselves, in their scenario, in their future. I think they were cute when push came to shove, but I wasn’t actively ‘shipping’ them in my head; nor did I seem to be actively shipping their stories to its page.

They were interesting, but they just weren’t my kind of interesting. Not suited to their fiction. And I think that’s one of the most difficult things about writing contemporary: getting that balance of character and place and having the two fit each other enough to convince not only the reader and the character, but the writer – as perfectionists as we are. In short, a contemporary doesn’t appeal when it slips even an inch from one of those high standards. It’s a tough act.

At least, in my subjective opinion.

So, I had to make the decision: keep going down a path that I knew, in my heart of hearts, was eventually doomed to the back of a drawer; or call it quits on this one, for now or forever.

I quit.

I have nothing against contemporary writing, of course. In fact, that and contemporary fantasy made up most of my under-10-years-old reading. My adult romance/woman’s fiction (completed two years ago, but not yet fully rewritten because I have fantasies bleeding out my ears) thrilled and still thrills me. And there we have the problem of this certain contemporary: despite living directly in their world, I couldn’t relate to my hero and heroine. Part of me wanted to sneer and ask them “what makes yourself better than these other characters?”.

Indeed, what made their world any better than any other world I’d created? Nothing, judging by how enamoured I still am with my big novel’s universe.

Nevertheless, when it comes down to the long and short of it, I am notoriously hard to please with contemporary fiction. Give it me in the here and now, but sprinkle it with murder and mayhem, rather than cliques and chattering. If I want contemporary fluff, I’ll put on Mean Girls or Clueless in the background of an editing session.

What I’m reading.

At the moment, I’m reading and enjoying novella Bride by Mistake by Nicole Helm. It’s a quick read, and the characters aren’t particularly eccentric, but at least they have colour and form in my head, unlike mine.

I’ve started YA novel Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. It’s nice, but I’m not loving it yet, and perhaps the characters are too young for my head.

My favourite contemporaries remain those I encountered in my childhood. Jacqueline Wilson’s Love Lessons is a poignant novel and breaks my heart every time I read it. In fact, many of Wilson’s novels have and still do entertain me. Her characters don’t tend to be out-and-out eccentrics like myself, but they have heart, and that’s what matters.

Maybe my characters were simply lacking heart.