Category: Blog (page 3 of 4)

A Great New Novel – The Du Lac Devil

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A lovely award winning writer friend of mine, Mary Anne Yarde, launched the second book, The Du Lac Devil, in her The Du Lac Chronicles series on Sunday. I love these books, and this story, so much that I wanted to share it with everyone here, too.

The Du Lac Devil, although a standalone novel, continues the story from the previous two books in the series, The Du Lac Chronicles, and the novella, The Pitchfork Rebellion.

I was looking forward tremendously to reading this book as I had enjoyed the previous two so much. I was not disappointed. In fact, I could not put it down and read through the night because I could not wait to see what was going to happen. Now, I can’t wait for the next one!

This could be the next big series on TV, because you’ll love it as much as Game of Thrones!

Mary Anne Yarde is a masterful storyteller. She weaves together history and fiction so perfectly and magically, that I find myself fully immersed in the world of her novels. It was wonderful to be back in the time of the Du Lac brothers, sons of Lancelot du Lac from King Arthur Pendragon’s court during the time of Camelot. The Du Lac Devil reveals the story of the youngest son, Merton du Lac, the Du Lac Devil.

Merton becomes a mercenary as a result of his guilty conscience over his inability to protect his brother, King Alden, who was once captured and tortured by the King of Wessex. King Wessex is blackmailing Merton in return for a promise not to invade Alden’s kingdom. But selling himself to the highest bidder lands Merton in trouble as he finds himself in the middle of two armies. We learn of his ingenious ways of solving problems as he escapes. He travels with his band of mercenary comrades to reunite with his brothers, Alden and Budic. Merton’s eldest brother, King Budic, recently lost his wife and son. Their funeral is the reason that everyone is at Budic’s court. But this is where the trouble really starts. There’s intrigue, romance, dastardly dealings, political scheming…

I won’t spoil it for you, save to say that this is a wonderfully gripping story that both young, and not so young, can enjoy. I cannot recommend it highly enough!

The Du Lac Devil is available in e-book and print formats on Amazon:

UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01N0FW1RU

USA – https://www.amazon.com/Du-Lac-Devil-Book-Chronicles-ebook/dp/B01N0FW1RU

How important is your self-image?

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The question of self-image popped up while I was watching television.

The UK X Factor semi-final took place on Saturday 10 December. I don’t usually watch reality singing shows, but I recognize that they provide a platform for people from which to launch a career in music, and for that, I applaud them.

I watched the show on Saturday because I had been informed that someone who I admire a great deal, and who acquired his international stardom as a result of such a reality singing show, would be performing. I am referring to Adam Lambert, whose voice I have admired since I saw his first audition on American Idol in 2009. He sang Bohemian Rhapsody for his audition then, and on Saturday he sang it again in a duet with Saara Alto, one of the 2016 semi-finalists on the UK X Factor. So, a full-circle moment for him. And very poignant, as he has since then, alongside a successful solo career, also become the front man for the band, Queen, who wrote the song.

Adam’s singing, as always, was amazing. As always, he brought all his performance skills to the stage and showed his customary generosity to his co-singer. Although I prefer to hear Adam’s voice by itself, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by how well Saara’s voice complimented Adam’s. (If you want to know more about my thoughts and analysis of Adam’s voice, you can find it on my blog site, The Sound Bath – https://soundbath.wordpress.com/)

What I found very interesting, and what I want to address here, however, is the question of self-image.

Saara had a conversation with Sharon Osbourne, her mentor on the show. Saara mentioned how much her perception of who she had to become had changed throughout the course of the show. Apparently, she had been working towards becoming an international artist, and felt as she was not garnering the assistance she needed in Finland at the time, she would come to the UK, instead. She clearly found it here. And now, there, too. It’s a great example of doing whatever it takes to achieve your goals, and for that, I admire her greatly.

But I’m also grateful to her for mentioning how she had to address the issue of her self-image. I feel that is a major key to success. I know many extremely talented people who don’t see themselves as the artists they want to be, and therefore, their careers are much smaller than they had envisaged for themselves. This causes frustration, or sadly, even giving up.

Many of us have something we want to achieve. We spend many hours and many years working towards our goal. But we neglect to also investigate, and work on, who we have to become in order to achieve it, or who we will become once we have achieved it. Often, especially with artists, self-image appears to be strongly connected to how others see us, what others think of us, and how others support us. But that is our downfall. We have to see ourselves as we want to be, first. Then, recognition will follow.

I feel Saara finally sees herself as an international music artist, and no doubt, that is what her life will now become. We now know that she came second on the show. But we also know that second place never stood in the way of a successful international career. Adam Lambert, who also came second on American Idol, is the perfect case in point.

Can healing emotional pain also heal physical pain?

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In a very interesting conversation with a good friend this week, we discussed her epiphany question – can healing emotional pain also heal physical pain? With her permission, I would like to explore that a little here today.

Very few of us traverse this life without some kind of emotional pain, from a boyfriend or girlfriend dumping us, or some kind of betrayal, or hurt, etc. We all carry our scars safely tucked away in our bodies. Many of us even pretend that we’re okay for years and years, and then suddenly, something happens or a light bulb goes on, as it did for my friend.

In her case, she had had an accident in which she broke her wrist at the same time as having the new, raw wounds of the ending of a very difficult relationship inflicted upon her. As a professional pianist, she thought her career would be over. It nearly was. She was unable to play the piano for many years. Gradually, her wrist healed but it was never quite the same and she has endured continuing pain there all this time. Luckily, she could save her career. But the emotional pain of the failed relationship continued to live in her body, as well. Lying in bed one night holding her painful wrist, the thought suddenly appeared that the two might be related.

I’m so grateful that she shared her epiphany with me. Emotional pain is such a deeply disturbing thing because there are no tablets we can take for it.

What struck me is the idea that our emotions and our memories live in the cells of our bodies. We’ve all heard or read about someone who’d had an organ transplant, only to start behaving differently than they had before their operation, or craving food they had never eaten before. When they investigated, they found that the person whose organ had been donated, had those character traits, or they liked those foods. We hear and read of people who are able to shrink cancerous tumours by talking to their bodies, thanking their bodies for keeping them alive.

But how many of us ever thank our bodies? We tend to criticize it, instead, wishing we were thinner, bigger, taller, shorter, had bigger/smaller boobs, or bigger/smaller other bits if we’re a guy, a different colour, straight/curly/more hair, etc. We cut bits off when we have operations and never give a second thought to thanking the part that was removed for having been a part of us until it became ill.

So, I feel my friend has a very good point, and we wondered what a possible perfect blue print for our bodies might mean? When we take the courage to heal our emotional pain, when we’re able to banish it from our bodies with love, perhaps our physical pain can be healed, too.

Years ago, I read an amazing book, called Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom – Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing in which the Author, Christiane Northrup, MD, talks about our bodies as our allies and how important it is to thank your body for carrying you through life in the best way that it can.

I’ll let you into a little secret – I start every day off by looking into my mirror and telling myself that I’m awesome, I’m enough, I’m a goddess and that I love myself. Then I give myself a hug before I start writing my happiness journal that used to be my gratitude journal. But now, I may also thank my body for helping me to be here for another day!

A great question about fear from a fictional character.

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I talked to Isabelle Cooper about her fears today. She is the protagonist of my novel, The Healing Touch. She is also the protagonist of my next novel, Forever And Ever Love, a continuation of her and Angelo’s story from The Healing Touch.

I talk to Isabelle every day, but she surprised me today when she wondered if she was being selfish to want to be in both novels?

Her question put me in mind about what we believe we can and can’t have in life, and the wonderful quote from A Return To Love by Marianne Williamson:

“…Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Confessions of a vocal coach

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I am lucky enough to work wearing several different hats. When I wear my vocal coach hat, I work with wonderful voices and help to develop those voices. It never ceases to amaze me what the human vocal instrument is capable of, and I love seeing my students’ voices develop.

As a vocal coach, guiding voices, especially young voices, involve not only teaching the correct techniques for optimum vocal expression, but picking the right repertoire. This is important to build the voice’s strength and flexibility, and requires great sensitivity to the voice you’re working with.

A number of my students started studying with me when they were ten years old. Then, they were cute little kids with squeaky voices to match their little bodies. At that time, they were often shy with soft, tiny voices. Most had never had a singing lesson before, and often it was their mothers who felt that singing would bring them out of themselves and imbue them with confidence. Their mothers were not wrong. Singing is great for building confidence and good posture.

Today, aged fifteen, these same students are gorgeous young men and women with beautiful voices, and confident singers and performers.  Their great communication skills that will stand them in good stead as they traverse their working lives and beyond. At the moment, they all seem to be especially stressed by too much work and preparations for their GCSE mock exams in January, to be followed soon after by the real thing. So, for now, we’re focusing on breathing lower and deeper in their bodies which will help them to relax.

What they eventually want to do with their voice training, will dictate the length and intensity of their studies. Obviously, if the goal is to become a professional singer, the training will be very different from someone who is studying to pass exams in order to improve their CV for a new school or University, or someone who is studying voice for improved confidence, or as a hobby. But hopefully, every student who ever studied with me will feel that they received the very best voice education I could give them. And I’m lucky, since it seems my students really do feel that way, judging by the lovely cards, letters and presents I have received from them over the years.

I’ve kept all their cards and letters in a big brown envelope, and on those days when life seems harder than others, or when life throws me a curve ball, I take out their writings and re-read them. It never fails to make my heart sing!

Decluttering – an opportunity to learn about yourself.

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I thought it would be easy as I set myself the task of decluttering – getting rid of clothes I hadn’t worn in ages, shoes that lived in boxes for years, and books I would never read again. Well, the books was difficult. I’ve never liked getting rid of books. But, I argued with myself, I could always download those I want to re-read on my Kindle, where I can increase the font size.

An exciting prospect to begin with, it soon became clear that “culling” as I call it, wasn’t as easy as I’d imagined. There are people, places and memories attached to everything. It felt as though I was getting rid of parts of me.

As I sorted through stuff that has moved with me around the world, I wondered why we accumulate so much stuff? It takes up so much space, and I’m not even going to talk about the energy it consumes to lug everything around, arrange it, re-arrange it, clean it, etc. Plus I had heard or read somewhere that if you get rid of stuff you no longer use, you make space for new things, new experiences, even new people, to come into your life.

As Christmas is looming and I know that my husband, my students and a few friends would give me a gift or two, this seemed as good a time as any, to clear out unused items. And wouldn’t it be lovely to start 2017 lighter? Those were my thoughts around starting the process of sorting through items to be given to charity, or thrown away. I was advised to sell some items, but quite honestly, who has the time to take pictures and upload descriptions to eBay these days?

After giving around nine big black refuse bags filled with stuff to charity, I realized how much more there was still to sort through. But my best “culling” intentions has ground to a snail’s pace as I deal with the aftermath of letting go, not so much of the things, but rather the emotions and memories attached to them. I’ve discovered that decluttering is not for the faint-hearted. Although I’m continuing with the task, and determined to finish it before Christmas, the process is being done through gritted teeth and with sheer determination. I feel I’ve started, so I may as well finish.

I’ve been promised that I’d feel generally much better, much relieved, clearer, lighter, and less stressed once it’s done. Wish me luck!

The last day of November. What does it mean to you?

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November is an interesting month. It is the eleventh and penultimate month of the year and the fourth and last month containing 30 days. It is also the month when many of my friends and family members have their birthdays.

A number of festivals and holidays also happen during November. I love for example that the pagan Owl Month starts on 23 November until 21 December, signifying change and the Long Nights Time. It sounds kind of romantic, and I love owls.

The month has always been quite an exciting one for me personally, because I love autumn, the crispness of the colder days, and the colours, sights and smells of nature during this time. Long walks in the late autumn sunshine is a particularly lovely thing to do.

But November is also the month known to writers as NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. It started in 1999 in America but now writers from all around the world join to write at least 50,000 words of a new novel during the month of November. If you join NaNoWriMo’s official website and reach your word count on 30 November, you receive a certificate that you can print out. It leaves you with a great sense of achievement and satisfaction, and many more writer friends if you so choose. I haven’t joined officially, but wrote my new novel, Forever And Ever Love, alongside NaNoWriMo and as I’m doing rather well, I may join next year.

There are many benefits of writing, even if you never intend to publish what you write. It can help deal with tragic and difficult experiences and it helps with loneliness – paradoxically, as writing is very much a solo sport. But writing, and talking with your characters, will definitely take you on a journey – maybe even one where you discover things about yourself you never knew.

Some writers use NaNoWriMo to get their next book well on its way to being finished. Others write just for the fun of it. But whichever way you go about it, try it – it is intense and fun!

Telling people we love them is so important

View from Table Mountain

My family live in several countries around the world, which I guess is quite normal for families these days. It doesn’t stop me loving them the same as I have always done.

One of my sisters celebrated her birthday recently. She lives in Cape Town and leads a crazy busy life, but I managed to get her on the other end of a phone over the weekend. It’s always wonderful to catch up with her and to hear news of the rest of the family. She told me all about how great her birthday was, the lovely gifts she’d received, the dinner, and she told me how she went up Table Mountain via cable car with her whole family. They stayed there until eight o’clock in the evening, taking pictures of the setting sun. She said that was the best gift of all – having all her family with her to enjoy the views with her. She promised to send me photos, and I fell in love with the one accompanying this blog, which shows part of the cable car and the views of Cape Town below, the sea and Robben Island in the distance.

At the end of our conversation, I told my sister that I loved her very much, not only as my sister but also as my friend. She said my words created a cozy warmth around her heart.

Her reaction reminded me once again how important it is that we tell the people in our lives that we love them. Often we assume they know how we feel about them, and I’m sure they do, but it’s so important to say it, especially when they’re still around to hear it. Life is so short.

In the end, isn’t it what we all want – to be accepted and loved unconditionally for who are, warts and all?

Are virtual friends real? What do you think?

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Even though we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in the UK as our American friends did yesterday, I feel everyone probably should at least look at the people and things they are grateful for. I’m grateful for so many things.

I was asked this question the other day, “Are virtual friends real?”

I’m grateful for all my friends, including my virtual friends, and I am lucky to have several virtual friends whom I’ve never met in real life, but who have become very important to me. Actually, I don’t even like the phrase, virtual friends, but to avoid confusion, I’ll stick to it for this post.

I regularly Skype for two to three hours every week or so with friends I have never actually met before.

A very dear and important virtual friend lives in Texas near a forest. She’s a writer and a musician, and when we Skype, we talk about writerly things and everything else under the sun. Perhaps because we share writing and music (voice, in my case), a love of nature and forests, we have a great understanding of each other, and exchange tips and advise about writing and life. We support each other and share in each other’s lives – our heartaches, sorrows, madness, creativity, lows and highs. She brings such deep joy to my life.

A much loved, treasured and significant virtual friend lives in Atlanta, America. When we Skype, I get a real measure of her essence and energy. I see parts of her home behind her, share in her joy of her dogs, and in her life, in a far more immediate way than only writing can allow. We discuss singing and voice, especially Adam Lambert’s amazing voice, life, our families, our careers, and we share ourselves in the knowledge that everything we tell each other is safe with the other. She is also my most important beta reader, and she enriches my life beyond measure.

Another friend, who lives on a ranch in Texas, became a virtual friend after we met one crazy night in New Orleans at an Adam Lambert show, when we danced together in a gay club until around four o’clock in the morning.  It’s always wonderful to catch up with her and to hear her tales of their goats and horses, and of her lovely family.

In 2015 one of my very first, wonderful, much loved virtual friends suddenly died. I can assure you, my heartache and sadness was very real. I still miss her every day.

I’m immensely grateful for the amazing opportunity to have met these special friends. I cherish them and the time I get to spend with them, in the same way that I value my friends who live near me. We share ourselves and talk on the phone, Skype, via email or Facebook regularly in the same way that friends who live near me, and I, share our lives and talk on the phone, WhatsApp, SMS, or meet up once in a while for lunch, dinner or just a coffee. I really don’t see any difference.

I have lived in other countries, and my friends who were once my real friends there, have since become virtual friends because of distance, but they are nevertheless still very much a part of my life. Thanks to technology, our world is now much smaller, and it’s always an amazing experience to Skype with someone across an ocean in another continent.

 

Would you pay someone to give you a hug?

Hugging in Covent Garden

I read an amazing article the other day, and then saw a late night television documentary about it…how people are so lonely these days, that they’re paying professional huggers for non-sexual physical contact.

A hug is such a lovely thing to receive and give. It also has other benefits. An article by Marcus Julian Felicetti, highlights the following benefits about hugs:

  1. builds trust and a sense of safety, which helps with open and honest communication.
  2. instantly boost oxytocin levels, which heal feelings of loneliness, isolation, and anger.
  3. an extended hug lifts one’s serotonin levels, elevating mood and creating happiness.
  4. strengthens the immune system.
  5. boosts self-esteem.
  6. releases tension in the body.
  7. teaches us how to give and receive.
  8. encourages empathy and understanding

There is a saying by Virginia Satir, a respected family therapist, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”

It breaks my heart to think that some of us have become so lonely that we have to pay someone to give us a hug – that thing that mums or dads, or grandmas and grandads give to their children and grandchildren to soothe physical or emotional pain. The thing that friend give when they haven’t seen each other for a while. The thing that loves give to express their love. The thing we know is so important for our physical and emotional well-being.

I recall another late night television documentary that highlighted this issue when extremely distressing images were presented of one of those awful orphanages where tiny babies and children sat in dirty cots, rocking and damaged for life as a result of no physical contact from another human being.

Meanwhile, we’re living now in a society where it seems to me that more and more people are having relationships with computers, instead. And we’re building ever smarter AIs.

But it may have an even deeper impact on our society. I wonder if it is perhaps one of the reasons why it seems so easy now for some of us to appear to feel nothing when we, participate in, or see, the many horrible atrocities we visit on one another?

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