Category: Blog

Which structure?

Which structure?

Every one of us has a story to tell and every one of those stories is unique. Even if the ‘experiences’ appear similar, the author’s voice, their point of view and the themes they identify in the telling of their story, guarantees that uniqueness. Another differentiator in the writing of our story – specifically Memoir – is the narrative structure used. 

Narrative structure is an aspect of the writing process that must be considered from the very beginning. So how do you work out which structure is best for your Memoir? The answer is – it depends on the story you wish to tell.

If your story is mainly in chronological order – starting at point A, passing through point B before arriving at point C, then chances are ‘Linear’ is the structure for you.

However, if you have a story within a story, you may prefer a Framed structure. If you wish to intertwine two characters or two viewpoints then you may be looking at a Braided structure.

This post isn’t intended to drill down deeply on the matter – simply to raise your awareness that this is something you need to consider before you get started.

Think about the story you wish to tell. Do you know where you wish to begin? Do you know where your story ends? Do you use flashbacks or memories? 

The one piece of advice I would give you is if this is your first book, keep it simple. Linear is often the easiest and most effective because you are taking the reader on that journey – in a straight line. That said, if you are confident and willing to work at it, you can dramatically change the story you are telling, simply by changing the structure.

The Old Gum Tree and the Ironbark

The Old Gum Tree and the Ironbark

I was feeling very out of sorts today – precipitated by a Migraine attack that forced me to ‘STOP’ and rest.

Away from my glaring computer screen, lying down, I began to tune in to my body so I could observe how it felt. I mean ‘really’ felt. How often do any of us do that? Really check in with how we are feeling. As I scanned, weighed, held and shifted through the vibrations within, I couldn’t deny the unmistakable feeling of grief. It was clasped around my throat, fluttering in my solar plexus and twisting in my stomach.

Grief? But where had it come from? Why had it settled within, like a skulking, wounded animal, or a squatter stealing the joy from someone else’s home?

I felt compelled to walk the talk. To do as I have so often advised others on a road to healing. Write without form. Write without thinking.

Perhaps, if you’re able, you can follow seemingly unconnected words like breadcrumbs into the darkness. There’s always a chance you’ll flush the real emotion, thought or feeling out into the daylight, to be examined, to be acknowledged for what it truly is. For me, it’s a rogue energy that’s stolen my joy, leaving me bereft. Such is grief.

These last few months have been stressful in one way or another – on an emotional level at least.  We’re all suffering as a result of this COVID situation. Here on Lorikeet Lane, we have counted our blessings. And then counted them again. We are luckier than most and we know it.

But like anyone, we still feel sad that much anticipated and longed for plans have fallen apart. We feel the loss. Simple hugs and time spent with loved ones become ‘treasured memories’ to reflect on in our relative isolation.

As I say, we are luckier than most. We are the custodians of endless space under a benevolent blue sky.

I open the veranda doors to allow the cool Southerly breeze to flow through the house. As I lay on the couch, I feel refreshed by the chill settling on my brow. From where I lie, I have a view of the Old Gum Tree.

Her branches are reaching out to me across the deck, like a mother’s hand extended, patting down an infant in a pram. Her elongated leaves bristle in the wind, and yet I sense her busyness is accompanied by a melancholy. All at once, I feel the grief wash over me again.

I ‘feel’ the Old Gum Tree speak to me. Since moving to this property, I have often ‘communicated’ with the Spirit that envelops us here. As soon as we first arrived on this spot it called to me. I didn’t care what the house was like – I just knew I needed to be on this land.

I started my own journey of healing here – helped by the outstretched leaves the smell of Earth – and the unique, coded downloads of light I absorb on a daily basis.

I promise myself I will just write whatever comes. I am familiar with that feeling of being unable to keep up with the words as they flow – I am familiar with the illegible scrawl that blurts from my pen– the words that demand to be written so they may be exorcised along with the emotion they carry.

Grief. Could it be I am feeling grief for the two trees that have to be cut down on our property? Both are less than 10 metres from the house.

They stand proud like ancient Elders on this land, front and back, scanning, surveying the ridge – still with an instilled sense of purpose and responsibility – while simultaneously nodding down on the life that plays below.

One is sick and dying. She is the old Ironbark behind our house. The crimson red resin that bleeds from cracks in her blackened, wrinkled bark, hardens and twinkles like a Ruby, jewelled in the sunlight. In the twilight the resin takes on a candied appearance – though either way – beautiful, remarkable in her resilient substance.

She is arched and frail and has been quite stubbornly stoic in the face of her back-breaking pain.  She stands as patiently as a loyal dog, waiting for the command that allows her to lie down and rest awhile.  Though she may feel a blessed relief to be released from her post, I feel sad for her just the same. She is a part of our landscape. Indeed, she was here casting her gaze over the ridge long before the foundations of our home. Long before we set foot on this property. There is an energy of the Great Mother about her. She belongs here. And yet. She is precarious in the way she bends towards the roof at the back of our house – stooping, swaying. 

Though she is sick, she still provides shelter and a sense of home. She’s given me moments of wisdom and healing. I can see the stories of her past etched upon her and she reminds me of the times I used to sit with my grandmother at the kitchen table. Just talking and spending ordinary, precious time together.

Her outstretched, weary branches still provide protection and shade for the young raucous hens below, or a bow for the courting Australian Wood Ducks to jostle and woo, before bonding for life. The dear old Ironbark protects life from the eagle eyes that circle above but will just as willingly offer a rest stop for that same Eagle, providing a vantage point to survey the menu in an adjoining paddock. But the sad reality is, for all her willingness to nurture, she is a danger to herself – and to those she protects. We had knowingly put off the day when we would have to make some tough decisions about her future.  

With love comes huge and sometimes achingly painful responsibility.

The other tree – the one my eyes rest on now – the one that’s reaching over to me with a concerned presence – is the one that pains me the most. This tree’s impending demise feels more callous, more brutal because, though she is weary, she still participates fully in her life on the property. Enveloping. Protecting. She is resolute and proud.

The Old Gum Tree has already adapted to adversity more than once – her twin trunk now being her weakness rather than her strength. The split happened early on life. The left trunk bears left to overhang the front of our house while the right stretches skyward, backward, swaying with an unpredictable abandon, flailing in the wind.

The most striking feature of the left-hand trunk is a strong, horizontal bare branch. It juts out at right angles creating the perfect perch for the three Kookaburras that take turns to outlaugh each other as the sun dips below the ridge. It’s the perfect presentation platform for the Butcher Bird when she boastfully introduces her new clutch of chicks to us. It’s the place of respite for the exhausted Magpies who send their over-sized young to say hello to us while they take a much-needed rest from the incessant demands for food. So much life comes to sit on that branch, and we have a unique and privileged vantage point being so elevated ourselves. Here we reside amongst the Cockatoos and King Parrots under the benevolent, blue sky. Alas, fire season approaches.

I don’t understand the tears below the surface. The grief that’s demanding to be acknowledged.

I feel somehow, I am betraying what I promised to protect.   

After the unconditional support and shelter they have provided – I am to be responsible for cutting them down. I will preside over their fate.  I feel they know on some level – perhaps through their interconnected root system or through osmosis – but they know these are the last days they will see the sun set over the ridge.

As I continue to write – encouraging the emotion to surface – without thought – without judgment. My thoughts take a surprising turn and I find my inner viewfinder resting on Peter’s parents.

I met Peter’s mum (my mother-in-law) the very same year I lost my own mother.

I was welcomed as though I had been long ago lost to them, and now returned.

A memory of Peter and I announcing our engagement surfaces. Like branches, his mum extends her loving arms out to me, and as I stand there, eyes shining, she cups her hands around my face. She draws me in, holds me in a space of tenderness and love. I allow her to pour this love into me, knowing I have been unable to ‘allow’ before. In that moment she voluntarily steps forward to help me heal my own deep and aching mother wound. Peter’s father and I need no words – osmosis. A knowing. But love vibrates at its own frequency. It does not need to be uttered, It is felt.

The engagement. A bonding moment, rippling like rings in a tree, encircling Peter and myself.  I feel an acceptance I have rarely experienced in my life. A healing. It reminds me of the pure unconditional love I feel as the Ascended Masters, Elders and Guides step forward in my little studio. The connection, the belonging and the healing this land has poured into me. Whispering its secrets …

Then suddenly the tears blurt along with the words …

These last few months have been stressful in one way or another – on an emotional level at least … you see we’ve had to make some tough decisions lately … for The Gum Tree and the Old Ironbark …

This is just another example of how writing something down can help us identify a thought or emotion that’s niggling away at us – but we can’t quite place it. The process of writing takes us on a journey and we just follow along behind it – until it leads us to the source of our pain. This was written on a day I was feeling low, but just couldn’t understand why. As I began writing I realised the trees were a metaphor for that feeling of connectedness. I was upset they had to be cut down. They were both diseased and a fire risk – both of which could have impacted our home and the wildlife around us. So we had to make that difficult decision before something serious happened. It was a strange co-incidence to realise that in the same week, we were moving my husband’s parents into Residential Care. Both had been in hospital together for the last 2 months and it became clear they could not return home. So it’s been a challenging time. Suddenly the connection between the trees – and what they represented became so clear. Sometimes with love comes the responsibility to make difficult and painful decisions. This then led me to think about how we are all connected through nature and through love. So you can see the process for navigating emotions about seemingly unrelated topics which is why I say, if you are feeling out of sorts – just write. You’ll soon find your way again.

Giving credit where credit’s due

Giving credit where credit’s due

There is commonly held ‘misunderstanding’ that if you have paid for  creative services (artistic design, photography, music, writing) – then that means you have paid for and own the copyright too. It may surprise you to learn, from a legal standpoint, this is not the case. If you are considering paying a designer or photographer to create artwork for the front cover or your book, or need the services of a creative to make your dreams come true, this is for you. 

Commissioning a creative for your big project

There are any number of projects you could be considering aside from artwork for your book. You may be dreaming of creating your own set of oracle or tarot cards – or you fancy producing a meditation MP3 with backing music for your clients. Just one snag. You can’t draw and you can’t so much as play a note. “Hey I’ve got my dreams man …” I hear you cry.  If this is the case, then don’t worry, your dreams can still come true if you enlist the help of a willing creative. Before you do though,  there are a few legalities around copyright you need to understand before you dive into a working ‘relationship’.

As a professional writer. I must stress right at the outset, this article in no way reflects any experiences on any of the projects I’ve taken on. I always discuss the legalities around the ownership of copyright and Attribution (credit) early on in the ‘Agreement/ Contract’ phase and would only ever proceed when all parties were happy and had signed off on what was ‘mutually’ agreed. An ethical and professional ghostwriter will always have copyright terms written into their contract.

With that out of the way, let me explain why you do not automatically own the copyright of any work you have commissioned – even if you’ve paid for the ‘services’ of a ‘creative’.

Put simply the physical ‘creation’ is totally separate to the legal ownership / copyright of that creation.

Copyright Law

According to the Law, Copyright is automatic upon creation of the work. The first owner of copyright is the original author (for literary, musical, dramatic and artistic works) or producer (for sound recordings and films) or broadcaster (for broadcasts).

Copyright is one of the most powerful rights you can own as a creator. It enables you to:

  • control where and how your work is used
  • earn money for your work for the rest of your life
    (and creates provisions in your Estate for 70 years after – though check the law in your country)

Copyright gives you:

  • ownership rights relating to your work
  • automatic and free legal protection as soon as you create your work
  • the support of Australian (British or European) and international laws

What does copyright mean?
Copyright means that only you have rights to do certain things with your work. You have the right to:

  • reproduce or copy your work
  • communicate your work to the public, for example by broadcasting (TV, radio), by email or on the internet
  • publish your work
  • perform your work
  • adapt your work


So you can see why a creative would never just ‘give-up’ copyright of their work without an agreement or financial settlement in place. You can also see it is so different from simply paying for the service or the ‘use’ of that work.

When you pay for this work to be done (engaging creative services) – you are paying for the equipment, the time it physically takes the creative, the skills, the education, the talent – the ‘use’ of the image – someone else’s work (possibly indefinitely) but you are not paying for the right to claim that work as your own.

Corporate Ownership
In a corporate environment, things work differently for creative services. Way back when I wrote for pharmaceutical, medical, and R&D globals, the copyright of my writing (i.e. the legal ownership) belonged to the company I was working for. This is written in law across the world (with some variations in the US). However, in return for my words I had a contract and was paid a good salary for these words. A salary for ownership of IP. A salary in exchange for my years of study and expertise. A salary I could live on and provide for my family – because it was a valued skill and was helping sell product or brand and market the company in such a way, making it competitive in a busy market. I worked with Designers and Photographers and the same terms applied to them. Setting the benchmark look and feel for a company’s brand and communication style is an important role and it’s important for the Company to retain the rights to that look and feel.

I own the copyright of my words
Conversely as a creative with my own business writing, I own the copyright of my words – (even if I have received payment to write those words). I own copyright until I ‘legally’ give permission and transfer my copyright to someone else. That ‘transfer’ of ownership would be in return for a significant fee and a legal agreement. 

In the case of a book this ‘fee’ is to cover loss of earnings from Royalties, Rights and Recognition for the rest of my life and 70 years thereafter (the duration of copyright in Australia).

If a contract or transfer of copyright ownership did not exist, and perhaps I hadn’t been paid as agreed for the services I provided, then I, as the creative, could legally claim back my earnings through Royalties and a say in the Rights etc – because the law states ownership of the words belongs to the original creator – and if there is no contract in place to say otherwise ..

Now you may think, “but it was my idea – no fair” but the reality is copyright does not cover ‘ideas’. One singular idea can be taken and made completely unique through the lens of each creative.

Photographers, Artists, Designers & Musicians

This is the same when you commission a photographer, designer or musician to come up with a design, image or music for your project.

When you pay for this work to be done (engaging creative services) – you are paying for the equipment, the time it physically takes the creative, the skills, the education, the talent – the ‘use’ of the image – someone else’s work (possibly indefinitely) but you are not paying for the right to claim that work as your own.

Traditional Publishers want to see the paperwork

If you then go on to work with a traditional publisher (even ‘self’ and ‘assisted’ publishers such as Balboa), their legal team will ask you to provide written consent or approval from the originator of the works (ghost writer, designer or photographer) that permission is granted for the ‘commissioner’ to use their works under your name.

So you may have paid a photographer to take the shot that will adorn your book, or you may have paid an artist to design the artwork on your cards, or you may have paid the ghost writer to write your book – but if the publisher does not see the evidence that those creatives are either being credited via attribution and recognised in their own right – or the publisher does not see the written Agreement that either approves use or transfers ownership – then everything comes to a crashing halt!

If you have read this far, I will tell you that the reason I felt compelled to write this article was because I was listening to someone the other day who claimed that they “owned” the artwork on a project – even though they did not draw the images themselves. The ‘uninformed’ belief was ‘this was their idea/their dream/their brainchild’ so therefore said individual felt they owned it and therefore was not going to allow the original artist to use the work. Apart from the legalities involved (and the fact having the ‘idea’ is not something that be ‘copyrighted’) – I thought it showed a lack of integrity to not want to at least credit the person that had helped them achieve their dream – particularly since the artwork was the inspired and stunning ‘focus’ of the product.

The topic of copyright had not been discussed in advance … and the artist had obviously ‘relinquished’ control over these beautiful works of art without prior discussion and agreement because the artist has commented that she would like to use them in something else herself (at which point she was told “no you can’t”).

The individual I had been listening to did not even credit this artist on their work and instead, when you look at the display box for copyright information, they have essentially passed off the work as their own.

Unfortunately, I think many recent graduates or creatives are nervous about protecting their copyright because (a) they don’t understand their rights, and therefore could easily be taken advantage of and then potentially lose out on legitimate earnings and credit and (b) because most creatives do what they do for love, and it possibly started as a hobby so they feel uncomfortable talking about money. I should point out that even if ‘creating’ is a hobby – the originator still owns the copyright and should be paid if someone else wishes to use that creation in a commercial sense.

So please, if you are a creative, make sure you understand your rights before entering into any agreement. If you are someone who has a dream and you need to collaborate with someone, or employ their services to make it happen – do the right thing and either credit them with the work they did, compensate them fairly for the ‘use’ of their work and make sure you understand you do not ‘own’ the copyright unless it was paid for and it’s in writing.

Your chosen creative is giving you the opportunity to make money and receive credit for something you could not otherwise have done  – and chances are when you want to move on to do project number two – perhaps to build upon your career, then said creative is more likely to consider working with you again if you have treated them with ‘professional’ respect and have worked within the law. 

What should I do to protect my copyright?

What should I do to protect my copyright?

If you live here in Australia, the good news is copyright protection does not depend upon registration, publication or any other procedure. Material is automatically protected by law from the time it is first written down or recorded.

It does make it easier to assert your copyright and pursue a violation if you have used a copyright notice that is recognised internationally. The notice consists of the symbol © (or the word ‘copyright’), the name of the copyright owner, and the year of first publication.

That said, if you are able to show a paper trail and evidence that you are the originator of a piece of work, then copyright can be proven.

For comprehensive information about copyright, contact the Australian Copyright Council.

How do I get permission to use someone else’s words, images or music?
I have a lifestyle blog about living on a small property here in Australia. I wanted to feature a specific poem on there – the famous Dorothea Mackeller piece “My Country.”  She has since passed away, but the copyright was bequeathed in her Estate. It was simply a case of tracking down the representatives and asking for permission. I was thrilled permission was granted, and I was given the words that should be displayed alongside the poem.

 “Reproduced here by arrangement with the Licensor, The Dorothea Mackellar Estate c/-Curtis Brown (Aust) Pty Ltd.”

It can be as simple as that.

If you are writing a book, clearing permissions for use of third-party material can be a time-consuming task if you have numerous permissions to request, so it’s best to start the process as soon as possible. It helps to treat this part of the project as a mini project in its own right and be meticulous about recording details and permissions. This will save you time and stress at submission stage. The last thing you want to have to do is start cutting material from your book because you haven’t arranged the permissions in advance.

The following sites may help track down copyright owners:

 

International Copyright

Australia is a party to a number of international treaties that protect copyright material. These include the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention) and the Universal Copyright Convention (UCC).

 

 

 

 

Narrative therapy principles in Memoir writing

Narrative therapy principles in Memoir writing

When people embark on a Memoir writing course they sometimes come up against writer’s block. A block of any description is just another word for Fear. When we experience writer’s block it generally suggests we are not confident, or we are experiencing discomfort, in the telling of our truth. 

What makes my sessions unique is, not only do I help clients with the technicalities of writing their story, I also assist them to move towards healing aspects of their story. That’s right, those scary parts that create those ‘blocks’ (and probably those scary things are the very reasons you want to write your story in the first place).

These blocks manifest as ‘No-one would want to read my story.” “Who am I, to think I can write?” “My story doesn’t really matter” and so on. These are all aspects of Fear and this holds the potential writer back from achieving their true potential.

In this scenario, there are many possibilities, many directions in which the conversation may flow. The examples above are generally given when someone does not recognise their true self-worth. Perhaps they have been kept small or belittled throughout their whole life. Even when we believe we have moved through those childhood issues of a domineering, abusive or even narcissistic parent, it’s amazing how deep that ‘wiring’ goes. Generally, we can see where the root of the fear comes from – depending on how it manifests which is helpful in considering where to start that conversation.

Narrative therapy puts you right in the middle as the expert in your own life (rather than being told by someone external, how you should view your challenges). This form of therapy views ‘problems’ and ‘challenges’ as completely separate from you – the individual – and assumes you have the skills, competencies, beliefs, values, commitments, and abilities to find the solutions that will ultimately help you to help yourself.

There are many crossroads, intersections, paths, and tracks to choose from. In Akashic Records healings, for example, I call those ‘pathways of probability’ and ‘pathways of possibility’. With every step, with every thought – a new possibility or pathway of probability opens up – with so many narratives operating at any one time.

So what do we mean when we talk about ‘narratives’? When I explain narratives to my clients, I ask them to visualise a golden thread … running through their daily experiences.

Narrative therapy is sometimes known as ‘re-authoring’ or ‘re-storying’ those conversations we have with ourselves.The word ‘story’ has different associations and understandings for different people. For narrative therapists, stories consist of:

  • events
  • linked in sequence
  • across time
  • according to a plot

We all have daily experiences of events that we seek to make meaningful. The stories we have about our lives are created by linking certain events together in a particular sequence across a time period. This helps us explain these events or make sense of them. The meaning we attach to those events forms the plot of our story. In fact, we constantly apply meanings and emotions to any and all of our experiences throughout our life.

A narrative is like that golden thread weaving the events together, forming a story.

We all have many stories about our lives and relationships, occurring simultaneously. For example, we have stories about ourselves, our abilities, our struggles, our competencies, our actions, our desires, our relationships, our work, our interests, our conquests, our achievements, our failures. The way we have developed these stories is determined by how we have linked certain events together in a sequence and by the meaning we have attributed to them.

Let me give you an example. This is a story about someone’s perception of their writing skills.

This individual may have a perception that they are a ‘good writer’. This means they could string together a number of events/interactions that have happened to them whilst involved in writing activities. (Good/positive associations). They could put these events together with others into a particular sequence and interpret them as a demonstration of being a good writer. They might think about, and select, for the telling of the story, ‘specific’ events, such as being top of the class for spelling or reading, or passing a difficult exam. To form this story about their ability as a writer, they are selecting certain events – identifying certain events as important – to demonstrate/illustrate the plot of this ‘story’. In doing so, these events are elevated above other events or memories.

As more and more events are selected and gathered into the dominant plot (being a good writer), the story gains richness and depth. As it gains depth, other events of their writing skills are easily remembered and added to the story.

Throughout this process, the story becomes more dominant in their life and it is increasingly easy for that individual to find more examples of events that fit with the meaning they have reached.

These events of being a good writer that they are remembering and selecting out are elevated in their significance over other events that do not fit with the plot of being a good writer.

For instance, the times when they misunderstood the meaning of a word or the time they didn’t get their article published. These events might be seen as insignificant or maybe a fluke in the light of the dominant plot (a story of great writing skills). In the retelling of stories, there are always events that are not selected, based upon whether or not they fit with the dominant plots (or the ‘narrative’ we identify with).

How dominant stories influence our lives

The dominant story of the individuals’ great writing abilities will not only affect them in the present but will also have implications for their future actions. For example, if they are asked to write an article for a different magazine the dominant story the individual believes, will encourage them to write that article. If they let the negative experience be their dominant story – they would hold themselves back saying ‘they were not a good writer’ and subsequently would not attempt to write the article.

Therefore, the meanings you give to these events are not neutral in their effects on your life – they will constitute and shape your life in the future. All stories are constitutive of life and shape our lives.

With this in mind, I encourage people to take a look at the story they have been telling themselves. If someone comes to me and says, ‘I’m not a good writer,’ I want to understand the root of that narrative. Perhaps English is a second language. In this scenario I would want to look at the ‘unstoried’ part of their story. Were they teased at school for not being at the same level as the other children? Did this leave a lasting impression – a fear of being laughed at or not being ‘good enough’? The unstoried part of that story is they were adjusting to a new life, a new culture, away from everything they knew before. They were learning to communicate in a whole new language – and now they can communicate in two languages – which let’s face it – is far more than the rest of us ever achieved. Having a simple discussion could be enough to change that narrative. That golden thread we have weaved through all our stories.

There are many different sorts of stories by which we live our lives and relationships – including stories about the past, present, and future. Stories can also belong to individuals and/or communities. There can be family stories and relationship stories – and these stories can influence the way we live our lives.

As people begin to acknowledge and ‘believe’ their alternative stories, the results go way beyond working through writer’s block. Within the new stories, people live out a new self-image, new pathways and possibilities – new futures. 

The magic of this approach is being able to apply this therapeutic principle to memoir writing. When we ‘identify’ our story – we are identifying the story we have given dominance to – and yet the transformational diamonds are buried in the unstoried parts beneath. The stories we never gave any energy or attention to in the telling of our own ‘dominant’ story.

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Is Reading Good for your Health?

Is Reading Good for your Health?

I read an article recently that got me thinking.  “Take two chapters daily – how to prescribe fiction.” The article discussed the idea that GPs are going to give books to help teenagers with mental health issues.

Within the article two ‘seasoned bibliotherapists’ discussed the power of novels as therapy.

Now, before we go any further, can I just say, why didn’t I know there was such a job as a ‘Bibliotherapist”? As a writer and avid reader, this would have been an extremely rewarding career choice, and would have sounded far more impressive and reassuring to my worried grandmother when I told her I wanted to be a writer.

That aside, the article resonated with me on so many levels. A member of my family was diagnosed with depression when they were 18 and he was immediately hooked up to an endless supply of anti-depressants. It turns out, nearly 20 years later, that he should have only been on those heavy-duty anti-depressants for a short period of time, before his treatment was assessed on a long term basis. He went through his young adult years, going from relationship to relationship, job to job, unable to feel anything – including the death of his mother. I find myself imagining how different his young adulthood experiences may have been if he’d been prescribed two chapters a day.

I didn’t realise it until recently, but I’m one of the lucky ones. Between reading and writing, it seems I have been self-medicating most of my life. My love of reading came from being read to as a child. Watership Down was an emotional experience for me, but my mother read the parts of Keehar, Bigwig, Fiver and Hazel with such feeling, that I still see Keehar in every seagull, and every wild rabbit is a Hazel.

I always had a love of animals, but this book changed the way I felt about us as humans, and what were doing to the natural habitat of the animals I loved. It fostered a sense of empathy and compassion that’s stayed with me, but over and above the depth of emotion I felt for these fictional creations, Watership Down taught me that there was a world beyond the one I was living.

Reading was the way my mother and I spent time together. Unlike parents today, my mother didn’t spend her time lining up activities for me to do and she didn’t drive, so wasn’t busy taking me places either. There were many challenging aspects to our relationship. But she did read to me. And for that, I’ll always be extremely grateful because she gave me a gift – a love that has lasted my whole life.

I’ve experienced ‘angst’ at various stages of my life, and I now realise my love of reading and writing actually helped keep me grounded and connected. When life got crazy I would just retreat to my room and read. Books, and the world I inhabited while reading them, were a safe haven.

For those who don’t have that ready-made escape route, life must seem harsh and devoid of all caring, regardless of whether you’re a teenager, suffer mental health issues or feel isolated generally.

For those who feel powerless or do not have a voice, reading is a powerful way to find and articulate your truth.

It occurs to me that that reading really is a form of self-help. To be able to read and transport yourself to another world when the world around you is difficult to fathom, when the thoughts and emotions in your own mind are difficult to fathom is surely a necessary survival tool. Books offer a portal to understanding, to empathy, to knowledge, not to mention a wider vocabulary.

Amongst the health benefits there is some research to suggest that reading may help fight against Alzheimer’s Disease in later years. Reading will doubtlessly help you relax and may help lower blood pressure (unless you are reading something like Misery by Stephen King of course).

When you think books have the power to change a person’s life, mentally, physically and emotionally you begin to wonder why the benefits aren’t touted to pregnant mothers the way breast feeding is.

Reading and writing are forever intertwined and part of who I am as a person. The joy for me nowadays is that I share that with others and help them heal their own stories too. So thank you Emily Bronte for the passion of Wuthering Heights through my teenage years, thank you Richard Adams for creating those rabbits and fostering a desire to save our planet and the animals that call it home. And of course, thank you, Paulo Coelho, for the Alchemist, I’m still searching for that treasure within.

Do you have a book that has helped you heal your life?

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The importance of proofreading

The importance of proofreading

Never underestimate the importance of proofreading. Mistakes in grammar, spelling or punctuation will reflect negatively on the writer or  organisation.

Proofreading is quality control – an essential part of day-to-day business.

There are many levels of proofreading. If you work for a large, global company, chances are your communication team will have a comprehensive proofreading checklist.

If you are a solo writer or you are part of a smaller communications team, it would be a really good idea to put one together.

I will also share a secret with you right here! Even professional writers need to proofread their work (generally after it has been edited and looked at by someone else). When you are in the creative flow your main concern is just to get ideas written down before you forget them. You are not so concerned with grammar at this stage and stray typos can easily creep in. And that’s OK! As long as you proofread at the end.  If you are a professional writer, chances are you will know your weaknesses and ‘ticks’ so you will know to look out for these in the proofing process. Truth be told, our eyes get used to the way we write and they trick us.

A fresh set of eyes is a must for any writing that is going out into the world whether you are a writer submitting your manuscript to an Agent or Publisher – or if you are a copywriter creating launch materials for the next big thing.

Ideally, written material should be proofread by at least two people other than the writer or the editor. To get you started, I have provided a summarised list that can be applied to all written materials.

General

  • Read through your written project at least once. Check logic and sequence.
  • Check language. Are the following correct?
    –  use of active voice (not passive)
    –  clarity and conciseness
    –  sentence and paragraph length
    –  gender neutral language.
  • Check for unusually long sentences and
    paragraphs. As a rough guide an average sentence length of 17 words and maximum sentence length of 30 words is  recommended for readability.
  • Check for spelling and typographical errors. Don’t rely on spell check or grammar check. Always double check the suggestions.
  • Check country-specific spelling. The US, Australia and the UK  have slightly different spellings for certain words. It can be quite ‘alienating’ to present US spelling to a UK audience so make sure you are on top of this if the audience is potentially a consideration.
  • Check grammar and punctuation.
  • Explain abbreviations and acronyms used for the first time, and be consistent in their usage.

Formatting

Check format and appearance. Are the following correct and consistent?

  • Information duplicated or missing
  • Number usage and units – Imperial (US) and Metric (ROW). Are they used correctly?
  • Fonts and fonts sizes
  • Line spacing
  • Headings and subheadings – check order and format
  • Widows (isolated word at the top of the page) and orphans (abandoned word at bottom of page)
  • Pagination and page breaks – placement and format of page numbers, changes in justification and margins
  • Page numbering – check all pages (from cover to index) for correctness, consistency, sequence and format. However, ebooks don’t require page numbers.
  • Lists (numbered and bulleted) – check numbering, format, punctuation and spacing.

If you are self-publishing I urge you not to skip this step. It is the difference between a quality product that will bolster your credibility as professional – or it will tarnish you as a hopeful amateur who has not taken quality control or the customer experience seriously. This is especially true if you are expecting the customer to pay for your writing or a product where your writing is featured).

If you need a Proofreader please do reach out. If I am already booked out, I will provide you with the contact details of trusted proofreaders I’ve worked with in the past.

One Story is not the whole story

One Story is not the whole story

If you have ever taken part in a workshop or perhaps even training at work you will be familiar with ice breaker sessions where you have to stand up and introduce yourself to the rest of the participants.

Love it or loathe it, I use this idea as an exercise to kick things off in my writing workshops. I introduce myself first and I generally use that time to outline some of my writing.  I then invite everyone to write down what they want to say about themselves giving them 100 words to play with. We then go around the room and generally find out why people have chosen to attend a Memoir Writing workshop – and the reasons vary enormously. Sounds straightforward enough I hear you say.

After people have shared their introduction – we then come back to my earlier – resume-style introduction – and I then explain why I introduced myself in such a sterile manner. I want to reassure the audience they are in safe hands, I’m qualified in what I do, I have the necessary experience and I can help them write their story too.

But do they really know me? Do they know my story (or stories)? They know about the one and only story I have presented to them – and at that early stage in our workshop that seems to suffice.

I then go on to share around 4 or 5 more ‘introductions’ that I could have presented, each more emotive, personal and layered than the last. It’s in the sharing of these alternative ‘stories’ that we as a group ‘connect’ – because these are the ‘real’ stories that are often buried or ignored in the quest to present a more ‘together’ and polished version of ourselves.

It’s a very simple exercise demonstrating the framing of a narrative. There is also another lesson here – about being brave and raw when writing Memoir – because these are our human experiences that connect us all.

If you have suffered trauma or injustice in your life, it can feel like you ARE that story – you ARE that ‘abused partner’. You ARE that ‘beaten child’ or you ARE that ‘rape victim’ or you are that nurse that couldn’t heal the person you desperately wanted to heal most.

Sometimes, without even realising it, we absorb the energy of that trauma, and we become that story. If we are abused we become the shame and the unworthiness. If we are a mother or nurse or doctor, then we should be able to heal. If we don’t – then we can absorb and become ‘failure’.

One of the first steps to healing – and rewriting your story – is to realise you are not the sum total of that one story. You are more than one story. You are not the problem. The emotion attached to that external problem that happened outside of you is the problem.

Do you have a story you keep repeating to yourself about yourself? What story do you tell others about yourself? Does that story differ when it comes to relating to friends or strangers? 

We all have more than one story. Sometimes we get caught up in ‘our old story’ to the point we forget or just don’t see our other magnificent and triumphant stories.

Perhaps if your mother was absent emotionally you could change your story from one of abandonment and rejection – to one of ‘resilience’ and ‘compassion’ – the tools you learned as a result of that thing that happened outside of yourself (that thing that isn’t you the human being).

This is the beauty of combining healing with writing – you can literally and figuratively rewrite your story – and it’s not necessarily a work of Fiction – the story is there – you just need to know where to look -or to have someone on your team skilled enough to help you identify it.

If you are interested in taking part in my upcoming ‘What’s your Story?’ Workshops which include Magical Memoir Writing and ‘Giving Trauma A Voice Through Writing’ do drop me a line so I can ensure you notified as soon as dates/venues are available.

evie@lightmygaia.com

Giving a voice to trauma through writing

Giving a voice to trauma through writing

What images does your mind conjure up when you hear the word ‘trauma’?

Trauma was not a word I truly understood until fairly recently – which considering my own ‘story’ is rather ironic. For me, the word trauma was a bit like the word ‘stress’. In my world, stress was bandied about with such frequency and was attributed to so many of our less desirable behaviours that I failed to realise the impact actual stress had on us as human beings.

It wasn’t until I began working on a health publication in the UK, many moons ago, that my education really began around what actually happens within the body when it’s flooded with stress chemicals. I was surprised to learn ‘stress’ is not just something in your head, nor is it just something to say when someone is red in the face with anger or exasperation. It affects your mental and physical health and, yes, it can be a killer left unchecked. Which brings me back to ‘trauma’.

If your mind brought forth images of limbs being lost through war, or horrific incidents or death-defying accidents you’re not alone. The sad reality is, while yes trauma does indeed happen in these scenarios, trauma can often begin at home.

Domestic violence, sexual abuse, mental and emotional cruelty or neglect, serious illness, the loss of a loved one and suicide are all forms of trauma within the home. It can be a one-off event, or it can happen over and over, again and again. Trauma can take the form of an extreme event or betrayal or lots of smaller more insidious occurrences.

Research now shows how damaging trauma can be. In fact, trauma fundamentally changes the brain’s structure and alters its functionalities. Up until I committed to my own trauma counselling – I had no idea how much my trauma had shaped me – even though I thought I’d spent most of my life making sure it didn’t!

Recognising that you have lived through trauma can take many years, let alone how long it may take you to be brave enough to actually turn up at a trauma counsellor’s appointment. However, that appointment is just what’s required if you are to take the necessary steps toward healing.

I wanted to help a friend who was having some challenges, so in between writing workshops and healing sessions I was doing a bit of extra reading. I happened to come across an article about stress and anxiety being a by-product of trauma.

The article drew me in and suddenly a wave of emotion swept over me with the realisation that I myself displayed and felt the whole range of ‘classic symptoms’. I read further and further until I realised, those things I’d put down to my sometimes ‘feisty’ personality or extreme PMT, were actually the hallmarks of Trauma.

I didn’t go to war – not in the conventional sense – but my home-life growing up was my very own personal warzone where I was constantly under attack of enemy fire. This childhood experience propelled me into further abuses and ‘traumatic’ experiences. As I got older I observed my own reactions seemed to veer chaotically between the manifestations of fight, flight, freeze and ‘befriend’.

So yes it can take a long time to acknowledge you are a survivor of trauma – particularly if you have never truly understood what the word encompassed. However, gradually, you begin to realise life isn’t meant to be lived this way- and the best bit is – if you are willing to do the work – you can change your life!

And here’s where it gets REALLY interesting!

Trauma lives in a place that can be very difficult to reach with normal words and language or description, and might only be accessed, initially at least, through the ‘symptoms’.

At best trauma can manifest in indescribable anxiety, a sick feeling or a heavy, empty ache … either quite randomly or as the result of a smell, a place – or even someone’s expression! At worst, trauma can meet you through uncontrollable rage, addiction or life-limiting behaviour. Sometimes all of this and more …

In order to reach the trauma – to give it a voice – you must find a safe way to express it. This is where ‘expressive arts’ can come in very useful. Without getting too deep into the detail here, a qualified expressive arts therapist will combine psychology and the creative process to promote emotional growth and healing.

This intermodal approach to psychotherapy and counselling utilises our inherent desire to create, as a therapeutic tool to help the desired shift occur. The difference between expressive arts therapy and art therapy is that expressive arts therapy draws from a variety of art forms, while art therapy tends to be based on one particular art form (such as writing, painting, music or dance).

Indeed, when I look at my own family I am astounded to realise we walk the ‘creative’ art side of the track (in terms of our professional life and our personal lives too).

My brother and my sister are artists and nowadays they work as teachers in Art & Design – my brother also plays music (another expressive art form). My daughter designs brand identities. Now admittedly, my whole family inherited their natural creative talent from my mother who was also a gifted and talented artist. However, co-incidentally, having lived in an orphanage with her brother from the age of 5, it’s fair to say my mother had her fair share of trauma too. And then there’s me – a writer and practitioner.

Had we naturally found the tool within to ‘save ourselves from our trauma’? After all, the 3 of us had experienced what it was like to live in an abusive household – albeit from very different perspectives. By following our collective creative dreams we had the means to access that gateway to healing!

Who knows, as a writer and a healer – perhaps I knew on some level that I had the tools within to make sense of the events in my life – and have made sense of them through a lifetime of writing and the appropriate counselling – brought these learnings into my healing practice to help others find their way back from their own trauma.

Perhaps we three siblings had a strong survival instinct and dug into our inner worlds to make sense of the outer world …we just didn’t know it at the time.

The wonderful news is – according to the research post-traumatic stress disorder is reversible. The human brain can be re-wired. The brain may be a finely-tuned instrument but it is heartening to know that the brain also has an amazing capacity to regenerate and heal.

Things are getting real folks

Things are getting real folks

The best thing happened the other day! My client sent me a photo on Messenger. It was a picture of him smiling from ear to ear, holding a preview copy of his new book. I can’t tell you how happy that picture made me. I felt genuine joy – for his joy!

It’s a strange thing to be a ghostwriter sometimes. You see there are different levels of ‘giving of yourself’ when it comes to the writing process, and for the most part, you do so in anonymity.

What you may not realise, however, is that while you may relinquish your name appearing on the masthead or strapline, you never quite relinquish the bit of you that went into the words themselves – or the silent pride you feel when you send that new creation out in the world.

As a business writer, report writer, tender writer, or copywriter you are trained to ‘give of yourself’ – you provide your knowledge of marketing and your knowledge of what words to put together to persuade, educate, motivate or engage. You weave the two together and you sprinkle just enough of your self to give the writing that edge – your touch.

Ultimately, of course, it’s not your writing to own. Your words belong to a faceless entity! And you, as the writer, are generally not visible to that entity – even though you ‘gave of yourself’. By the time any such writing hits the press or the website, your hard skin has generally grown a few more layers as creative concepts have had the living daylights shredded from within, but you give of yourself for the required time, and then you wave goodbye – already turning to the next campaign – all in exchange for a salary of course.

It’s an altogether different story when you ghostwrite a memoir. The process reminds me of setting kindling alight as you build a fire. You have to nurture those first sparks ever so gently, giving just the right amount of assistance, shielding the tiniest sparks and gradually building that fire piece by piece, before you step back to see what takes. I’ve never been able to explain my sense of pride when I finally get that fire going, other than it must surely ignite something within at the most primal level. It feels like a reward for such an investment in time, skill and a certain amount of nurturing and care. It feels like you gave of yourself completely in exchange for all that the fire provides. It goes straight to the heart of creation itself – the Divine Spark.

Throw human relationships into the mix and you can see it’s an altogether different scenario. For example, up until now, I have referred to the commissioner of the said book as Client A, for professional reasons and to help him keep his powder dry until the pre-ordained time. However, the fact of the matter is, working with the same person for over a year, hearing their stories and experiences, documenting emotions, thoughts and feelings – well – you get to know a person. We are not faceless entities to one another (even though the very term ghostwriter implies I am invisible). We are both well aware of what the other is bringing and entrusting to the process.

The fact that I felt joy in seeing that picture tells me something! I’m in the right ‘job’ (though it truly never feels like a job). And I’m doing that job for the right reasons.

In ghostwriting this memoir, I gave of myself because this is a person’s life, his hopes, dreams, ambition and future and he has trusted me with his story. And these aspirations are central to my story too …

To write books! To help dreamers become writers and to help writers become authors. To make a difference. To create books that help others. Words with meaning! For me – that’s what it’s all about. Between us – we created something that was not in the world until now – and who knows hopefully we both get the chance to help another person along the way. When you ask what the return is on the ‘giving of yourself’ and giving away of your name, you only have to look at the photo below to understand.

So here it is, his debut title Searching Spirit (by my client and my friend) Peter Williams.

Peter’s official launch is on 18th August, 2019 though the title is already available on online through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and all the usual suspects. Bookstores will begin to stock in the next fortnight so I’ll bring you all the news as it hits the shops.

In the meantime, if you’d like a wee sneak peak head on over to Amazon