Thursday, 14 September 2017

Not what this blog is for but.....

I like to think that I have a fairly good vocabulary, but almost exactly ten years ago I learned a new word. That word was sepsis, and it was written on my dad's death certificate. Four days earlier he'd celebrated his 71st birthday. Well, maybe celebrated isn't the right word. For the previous 19 months, since my mum had died, very unexpectedly, he'd been going through the motions. He was miserable, desperately lonely, and, as a fairly newly diagnosed type one diabetic, never really well and struggling to come to terms with his condition. He'd been happily married for forty five years, and he seemed to view the idea of being happy, after Mum's death, as some kind of betrayal. He didn't think his life was worth much, and I failed to convince him otherwise. His last breath was like a massive sigh of relief.  But his life was worth something to me, and it needn't have ended when it did. And who knows, if things had been different he might have come through that awful period of grief, and moved on with his life. Today, his 81st birthday, I might have been cooking his favourite paella. Or maybe he'd have cooked for me. Those years were snatched away from us.

If you haven't had sepsis yourself, or known someone who has had it, and you're not a medical professional, chances are you won't really know what it is. Which is a bit odd, considering it kills more people every year than breast, bowel and prostate cancer put together. Every so often a story attracts media attention. TV personality Fern Britton almost died from sepsis last year, following a hysterectomy, and was apparently only saved by a doctor's receptionist who trusted her gut instinct, overrode everyone else, and summoned an ambulance. That's the thing about sepsis. It can be hard to get anyone to take your or your loved one's symptoms seriously. On the night my dad was admitted to hospital, complaining that he felt as though he was going to die, he was provided with two cheese and pickle sandwiches, because he couldn't take his insulin on an empty stomach.

Sepsis isn't a new thing. First World War poet Rupert Brooke died from it, after a mosquito bite.  Not exactly a hero's death. Basically, it's blood poisoning, and without rapid treatment it can lead to multiple organ failure and death. A sufferer can go downhill in less than the time it takes to Google symptoms. A friend told me recently that her neighbour had died from it, after a seemingly insignificant cut while gardening.  Often, it can begin with a urinary tract infection. This is what happened to my dad and, seemingly, to many elderly people.

The tragic thing is that my dad had suffered from sepsis before. I didn't know this until, trawling through his things after his death I came across his discharge papers from a previous admission, three weeks after Mum's funeral.  What I had been led to believe was a severe chest infection was actually his first bout of sepsis. And yes, I'm fully aware that I should have asked more questions at the time, but I didn't, and I have to live with that now.

Which brings me, at last, to the point. If I'd known what sepsis was, and that my dad had a history of it, I'd have kept telling the people who were attempting to treat him until someone listened to me. As they say, knowledge is power. Most of us know, at least in theory, what to do if someone is choking, how to recognise the symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke, how to perform CPR. We all know, or at least we should do, that a rash that doesn't disappear when pressed with a glass tumbler could be meningitis. We should all know about sepsis.too.
  • Slurred speech or confusion
  • Extreme shivering or muscle pain
  • Passing no urine (in a day)
  • Severe breathlessness
  • It feels like you're going to die
  • Skin mottled or discoloured
This information comes courtesy of The UK Sepsis Trust. Their slogan is JUST ASK COULD IT BE SEPSIS?  Well, I'm old enough to remember the AIDS Awareness campaign of the 1980s, and I'm going to borrow a slogan from that.  DON'T DIE OF IGNORANCE. And learn from my mistake.Don't let the first time you see the word sepsis be on the death certificate of someone you love.

John Dudley Wassell 14 September 1936 to 18 September 2007

 Love you, Dad xx

Friday, 8 September 2017

Still Here

My blog has been, yet again, sadly neglected. I often feel that I have nothing to say that would be of interest to anyone else. But I started this blog so that I had somewhere to direct people, in the unlikely event that they were interested in the stories I have had published. So I've spent a bit of time this afternoon updating links, deleting those that don't work any more and adding new ones. I hope I've included everything. Probably the thing I've been most excited about in 2017 has been the inclusion of my 100 word story The Smoking Circle in Sleep Is A Beautiful Colour, the 2017 National Flash Fiction Day anthology. I'm a bit in awe of some of the writers in there, and can't quite believe I'm rubbing shoulders with them. Oh, and I made the longlist of this year's Mslexia short story competition, which I was more than a little chuffed about. It's been a quiet year, so far, but I hope to be posting a bit more regularly from now on.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Old Stuff, New Stuff

When I first started to write, around six years ago, being published in anything at all seemed like an impossible dream.  I've been very lucky. Since then my work has appeared in various places, both online and in magazines and print anthologies.  If you type my name into Amazon it comes up with stuff that you can buy containing my work. Yes, I've looked, I really am that sad! I'm not delusional. I know nobody has ever heard of me, and hardly anyone has read anything I've written. But you can't argue with an Amazon listing!

No matter how many times it happens, it never stops being exciting. And I'm especially proud to have a story included in the Momaya Short Story Review 2015.  The theme this year was 'Treasure', and I entered a new version of a story I originally wrote some time ago, which seemed to fit the theme perfectly. I've received my copy of this lovely, beautifully produced anthology, and there is at least one story in it that I wish I'd written.

I was also thrilled when another older story, The Secret, was highly commended in the last Inktears Short Story Competition. This story was the first one to appear when the site was revamped recently. It got some lovely, interesting comments, for which I'm very grateful. You can read it here.

Relying on old stories is all very well, but you need to write new ones, and try out different things. In September I went, with some trepidation, to a Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop in Manchester. I've been submitting stories to 'womags' for some time, although I fear that the optimistic tone they require doesn't come naturally to me. I am a natural pessimist who expects my toast to fall butter side down. Most of my stories have sad endings. This won't do, apparently, in the womag story. There must be a note of hope. So I have a lot to work on.

Having said that, I had a fantastic day at the workshop, which was tutored by the lovely Della Galton, and the very witty Gaynor Davies, Woman's Weekly Fiction Editor. I learned so much about what Woman's Weekly is looking for, and what they don't like. And I was actually brave enough to read something out loud. If you know me personally you'll understand what a massive thing that is. I hate the sound of my own voice. The best thing of all though was the opportunity to spend a whole day just thinking about writing, in a room full of other people who love it as much as I do.

Stepping outside my writing comfort zone again, I entered the People's Friend Serial Writing Competition, which closed at the end of last month. I grew up reading my Nana's weekly copies of People's Friend. I can see them now, piled up in the corner of her sofa.  I suspect that there are some very special skills required to write the kind of stories that People's Friend likes. I also suspect that I don't have them yet. But I had such fun writing an outline for my 3 part serial, and the first 6000 word installment. I don't think I've ever worked so hard on anything in my life, and that includes my university finals. There have apparently been 116 entries for this competition. I don't for one minute expect to be successful, but nothing is ever wasted. I'm sure I can develop what I've written into two or three shorter stories, if nothing comes of this.

In other news, I had a pleasing little win last week in the weekly flash competition recently started by  The Short Story Website . My winning story, Lambs, was originally part of a much longer story. Re-reading, I realised that all I really wanted to say was contained in this little episode. I'm glad it's finally found a home. And this newish site is a wonderful thing for readers and writers of short stories.

My cat Lily remains unimpressed by my writing. All she really cares about is where her next packet of Dreamies is coming from. Can't say I blame her. Onwards.......

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Patience Finally Pays Off....

Pieces of good writing news are, it would seem, like buses.  As the saying goes, you wait forever, then three come along at once.  I was thrilled, last week, to learn that I had been highly commended in the Inktears Short Story Competition 2014. Obviously, I'd have been even happier if I'd won, but to come in the top 7 of a competition with around 500 entries is something worth celebrating.

Then, after 12 weeks of almost always being in the top 10, but never shortlisted, and just before I gave up hope, I managed to win WriteInvite for the first time this year. To be honest, I wasn't that happy with my story when I wrote it. It was all a bit traumatic, and for a few seconds, minutes before the competition closed, I thought I had lost the whole thing. Somehow, I managed to get it back. And miraculously it won! My friend Jo came third. It's the first time we've ever been shortlisted together. You can read our stories here. I wish more people would enter this weekly competition. You have a really good chance of being shortlisted.  I was, the second time I entered. It's such a good exercise, writing for 30 minutes using one of 3 given prompts, with the chance of winning £50. What's not to love?

On Tuesday my story Eavesdropping was published by the online Flash Fiction Magazine. It's the second story I've had published by them,and it has received some lovely positive comments.  Interestingly, not everyone sided with the same character. This is what makes writing so interesting. So it's been a good writing week. Lily Cat continues to seek attention, and has developed a fondness for tapping at my keyboard. I'm thinking of letting her enter WriteInvite on my behalf on Saturday. She'd probably do a pretty good job. She certainly has a tale or two to tell!

On the reading front I have been enjoying the wonderful Millie And Bird by Avril Joy. This is the kind of short story collection I fantasize about writing, all set in the same close knit community. The title story won the Costa Short Story Award in 2012. I'm also currently reading, on my Kindle, From Writing With Love ,  Avril's book of sound advice about the craft of writing. I can recommend it for anyone in search of a little encouragement.  I've also been having a look at the latest Bath Short Story Anthology , in preparation for hopefully submitting a story to the 2015 competition. I have a story in mind, and just need to more or less rewrite it. Onward and upwards .....

Monday, 16 March 2015

A Little Encouragement Goes A Long Way

I'm not quite sure how it's happened, but almost a quarter of 2015 has passed.  It's been a frustrating few months, without a single publication. I haven't even managed a WriteInvite shortlisting, even though I've been entering every week. I've definitely fallen out of favour there.

On the positive side, I've actually been writing more than ever. Thanks to writing sessions with my writing buddy Jo I have, since the beginning of January, completed around six brand new stories, and have at least 15 'works in progress'.  One of these new stories made the shortlist of the latest Word Hut short story competition, which is, I guess, better than nothing. At least I know I'm not writing complete rubbish.

The most exciting writerly thing that has happened this year is finding myself of the Inktears Short Story Competition Shortlist. I'm thrilled to be included in the final thirteen, especially since the longlist was VERY long.  The closing date for this competition was in 2014. In a way, I hate having to wait for results. But at least while you're waiting you still have hope.

Last year I blogged about how pleased I was to have my flash fiction, My Evil Twin, included in issue 2 of Firewords Quarterly. Rather belatedly, browsing on one of my favourite websites, Shortstops, I came across a lovely mention for my story in the Review section. You need to scroll down the page to find it, at the end of the Firewords review. I'm especially taken with the sentence 'Her short short is powerful enough to get her imagery stuck in your brain for several days after reading it.' It's a shame they spelled my name wrong, mind you, but I can live with that.

My writing goal this week is to complete a story to submit to The Short Fiction Prize. I suspect that none of my stories are really literary enough for this kind of competition. But you never know.........

Monday, 2 February 2015

Still Just Getting On With It.....

I haven't updated my blog for some time now. January has somehow slipped by with nothing interesting to report. No shortlistings, no wins, no acceptances. In fact, no acknowledgement at all of the fact that I am a writer. Longlists, shortlists and results for competitions I have entered keep popping up. I am never on them. I am like that five year old child that keeps tugging on the teacher's sleeve, needing to be told that she's doing okay.  But I have no sleeve to tug. The only thing I have ever really wanted to do is write. Unless you count my childhood ambition to be a hairdresser. That never happened. At the moment, the writing thing isn't happening either.
          Ironically, I've written more this month than I've done for a long, long time, thanks mostly to almost daily sessions with my writing buddy.  I've got a handful of brand new stories in first draft form. I'm quite excited about a couple of them. I'm sure I'm a better writer now than I was this time last year. All I need is a bit of encouragement. Please? Anyone???

Monday, 8 December 2014

Anthologies, Shortlists, and just getting on with it.

There's something very exciting, when you're an extremely boring person who sells gas for a living, about typing your name into an Amazon search, and seeing a selection of things you've been published in. I'm very proud to have not one but two pieces published in Hysteria 3. The first is a flash fiction piece about a female butcher. The second is a short story I wrote quite a long time ago, using my mum's old teaching notes from the 1950's as inspiration.  I love writing stories set in the fairly recent past, and hope to write a lot more.

My story No Cause For Concern will be published in another anthology, having been shortlisted in the first Black Pear Press Short Story Competition. I'm thrilled to be building up a decent writing profile. It would be nice to know though, how many people actually entered these completions.  There's a big difference between coming 10th  out of 20 entries, and coming 10th out of 200 or even 2000 entries.

In other news, I made it onto the shortlist of the Greenacres November Short Story Competition. 
I like this competition. It delivers results when it says it will, and it's simple to enter. What more can you ask for? Oh, and my story SMILE came 5th in the Write-Invite 1000 word short story competition. I have won a free critique, which I await with bated breath.

I'm pleased to be able to say that I completed my November challenge to write a first paragraph every day. I'm now ready to make some of those paragraphs into proper stories. It's lovely to have so much to work with, but I'm struggling to find the motivation to actually sit down and write the stories. I hate this time of year, with its dark mornings and evenings, and its bad memories and negative feelings. Sometimes I wish I could just hibernate until the middle of March. But there are competitions to enter, and magazines to submit to. So I suppose I'll do what my family has always done, and just get on with it.