It is with sorrow that I write of the passing of Sue Vincent. I often say that blogging has changed my life, and that is absolutely true – what started as a little place to write about writing and whatever was on my mind became so much more, the friendships I’ve made here ones that will last a lifetime. Sue was one such friend. While I didn’t get to spend much time with her in the ‘real world’, I feel truly blessed to have known her. My heart goes out to Stuart, and her family, and all those who loved her.
Sue was someone who often seemed to be magic, a fairy dancing across the hills in dainty shoes and flowing skirts, while the rest of us trudged along behind her in hiking boots and wet-weather gear. Yet she was real, and down to earth, warm and generous and kind, and gave the most wonderful hugs.
When I first heard of her diagnosis, I wrote a post about it. You can read it here. But really, head over to her blog, or that of The Silent Eye, and read all the beautiful words she wrote from her heart, of life and magic and mystery and love, of gentle teachings and magical journeys through the landscape, and of course, the small dog.
I have a collection of letters in a drawer. Letters written to me by my husband in the early days of our romance, when he was travelling overseas and I was in Canada, before we decided to combine our lives. Others are small notes from my daughter, cards and scraps of paper, where she’s written lists of things she loves, or little messages to me. And, wonderfully, there is a letter from my grandmother, received many years after she died, when my uncle found it among her things and sent it to me.
All of them filled with stories. Stories of love and caring and growth and loss. Written in ink on paper in strong hands, curling hands, hesitant hands still learning their letters. Each one unutterably precious to me, releasing memories each time I read them.
One of my favourite books, A Venetian Affair, is a true story built from letters found in the attic of a crumbling palazzo, sent by the owner’s ancestor centuries before to the woman he loved but was unable to marry. History is built on accounts of events from those who were there, but also on the smaller stories found in letters and diaries, details of everyday life that give us a more complete picture of how our forebears lived. Consider how many civilisations are lost to us, simply because their words are lost. The Great Library of Alexandria was partially burned by Julius Caesar, then lost to decline and the rise of Christianity. Spanish missionaries burned priceless Mayan texts, considering them to be un-Christian. The oral traditions of the bards of this island were almost lost, until someone wrote them down. Even so, what remains is only a partial picture of what was. Words are important.
But now we live in a digital age. We have mostly lost the joy of receiving a note from afar, of coloured stamps and spice-scented notepaper, of bright ink on a pale translucent page. Letters have become emails, notes and invitations text messages. Experiences, memories and emotions all swirl through a digital forest of words, deleted, edited, lost forever. Will our descendants be able to comb through these words to find out who we are? Or will we just be known as the Plastic Age, our lives pieced together from packaging slogans and shopping bags from landfill? We are better than that, surely.
Of course, people do still write letters and send cards and keep diaries. But so much of what we write is online these days, including this blog. And we cannot keep chopping down forests to use as shopping lists or toilet tissue or yesterday’s news. But we can choose recycled paper and vintage note sets, or recycle old Christmas and birthday cards into notepads so they can be born again. So make your mark on the page, share your words, write a note to someone you love, or hate. Splash ink and pencil shavings and sealing wax, tie it with a ribbon, stick on a stamp.
I’ve just had a birthday. It was a quiet one, of course – the day spent at home, gifts arriving via post and email, birthday messages virtual for the most part. I was lucky, nonetheless, to hear from so many people, and to have immediate family with whom to spend it. It was very different, though, to how things were a year ago. I had a big number birthday last year, and celebrated via a pub lunch with extended family in a crowded restaurant, then by watching Supergrass at the Alexandra Palace that evening. My parents stayed over for the weekend and, the following evening, we all went to the Royal Albert Hall to watch my daughter dancing in the Schools Spectacular. A wonderful, yet fairly normal weekend… then. Now? Unthinkable.
A lot of people were happy to see the end of 2020, and I understand that. For me, however, the turning of the year was tinged with sadness, as 2020 was the last year of the old days, when things were as they used to be. Our world wasn’t perfect – the fact that pollution decreased so dramatically in the first few months of lockdown was an indication that we really needed to stop moving – but it seemed bright, compared to the narrowness of our current existence.
The first lockdown, coming only a week or so after my big birthday weekend, was a shock to the system. Spring was already making an appearance, the weather turning. April and May were glorious with blossom and sunshine, there were rainbows in every house window, and more bees and butterflies than I remember seeing for years. But it was a frightening time as well, none of us sure what would happen next. I was paralysed creatively for the first few weeks, unable to unlock my writing until I joined a virtual Camp NaNo cabin. Yeast took up residence on the back of my hands thanks to the sourdough I tried to ferment, and I confess I did worry a bit about loo roll. I still remember my first trip to the supermarket a few weeks after lockdown (we’d managed to get deliveries until then). I stepped out of the car and it was like a new world, as though I’d never been outside before; the sky gold and purple, the trees heavy with white blossom, the car park almost empty.
Now we are a year into rolling lockdowns. Over 120,000 people in the UK have lost their lives to Covid, and over 2 million people world-wide. It has been an extraordinary year of grief and loss and scientific discovery, a year that will be written into the history books, and that our grandchildren will ask us about. The UK has been working hard to roll out vaccines, and there is hope that all restrictions will be lifted by the summer.
And, the day after my birthday, I received a text inviting me to book my own vaccination appointment. I’m booked in for next Tuesday, for the first of two doses.
Last year, my birthday was a flash of light, a last gasp of the old world. This year it is the first light of hope, of us moving forward towards a brighter future, of life and love and seeing family and friends once more. That’s a pretty great gift, I think.
I spoke to my mother on the phone yesterday. It’s a fairly regular thing we do, especially as we’re not able to visit each other at the moment. We try to speak at least once a week, catching up on what little news there is to share, and talking of this and that.
This week we spoke about how it’s been almost a year since all the family were together. It was at my birthday celebrations, the week before the first UK lockdown started. We’ve been lucky, though, we agreed, having been able to see family on the few occasions it was allowed, though visits have been few and far between in the past year.
It got me thinking about the threads that bind us together. The threads of blood and family and love and friendship, of the little things we do, the cups of tea and meals shared, the gifts and days out, the people who leave us, and the new ones who arrive. Our lives are tapestries woven of moments – we each thread our own path, linking with others to create a pattern unique to us alone.
Yet this past year for so many of us the threads have been loosened, the pattern drifting. Some threads have broken altogether; lives lost, relationships ending, career paths coming to an abrupt stop. And the smaller weavings; the chance meetings in the street, the nights out with friends, the ‘I’ll just pop round’ visits, the hobbies and workouts and classes taken with others – all of them absent in the pattern of this past year. I worry for those who may be drifting, unanchored, the things that bound them to this world taken away.
And yet we have also adapted, as humans do. New patterns have arisen, new ways of doing things as we go forward. A morning show segment the other day had a reporter asking people in the street if they think things will go back to ‘normal’ once all this is over. And only one person thought they would. The rest all said that they thought it would be different, which is understandable, considering this past year has been an unprecedented global event. But what was interesting was how they thought it would be different. All of them cited positive changes as a result of lockdown, things they hoped to see continued once it was over. An increased focus on fitness, and on going outside. An appreciation of the joy of being able to meet up with friends and family. An increased sense of community, of people helping others, and getting to know their neighbours. A better work/life balance.
So, even though the patterns may have changed, it seems as though the threads are still there, waiting for us to take them up once more. I hope that, as things begin to ease, we are able to pull them tight again, and catch those who may need more help getting back onto the loom.
I’ve been blogging on WordPress for quite a few years ago, and along the way have made wonderful friends, some of whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in the flesh (yes, we do come out from behind our keyboards periodically). One of those friends is Sue Vincent. Warm, kind and generous is only a starting point when it comes to describing the wonderful Sue. She is a also a teacher, a guide, and someone who works deeply with the land, walking the ancient ways. I’ve been fortunate to travel with her, from time to time, and have written about my experiences on this blog.
However, Sue is now on a different, and rather challenging path. Last year she was diagnosed with advanced small cell lung cancer, with a rather discouraging prognosis. You can read more about what she’s been going through on her blog, along with her stories of mythology and ancient ruins, magical landscapes and the power within. She also runs one of my favourite blogging prompts, #writephoto, and is tirelessly generous in promoting her fellow bloggers.
So now it’s time for us to give back to her. Charli Mills, over at The Carrot Ranch, has put together a… well, I’ll let Charli explain:
Let’s bring the Rodeo into Sue’s house through her computer, and let’s come together with hearts full of joy. Join us for the Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic at the Carrot Ranch – a contest, parade, and celebration all in one!
There are many ways to participate. One is to visit the prompt image, “Hidden”, at the Carrot Ranch. The prompt image and entry form will go live on Monday, February 1st, 2021. Enter a flash or a poem by Friday, February 19th, 2021, and you could win either $100 or a copy of one of Sue’s books. The form will allow you to give a small donation for Sue and her family, and a link can be found on the contest page. The winning entries will be announced at the Carrot Ranch on March 22nd, 2021.
If you’re not ready to rodeo, there’s always the “Parade”. Reblog one of Sue’s posts from any of her sites (Daily Echo or France and Vincent) with a comment about why you found it special. Follow her blogs. Read one of her books, then leave reviews where you can. Several people are already gearing up for the parade – so feel free to check out other people’s blogs for suggestions.
Also, go ahead and reblog, tweet, Facebook, or somehow otherwise share the contest! 99 word literary art is a fantastic way to celebrate a blogging hero and very deserving person.
Saddle up, everyone! It’s time for a Carrot Ranch Rodeo like none ever held before. The Sue Vincent Rodeo Classic begins on Monday, February 1st, and it’ll be a TUFF prompt to fit within 99 words. See you at the Ranch, buckaroos!
And there you have it – a great competition for a wonderful cause! Get your best writing boots on and head on over – I’ll see you there!
As the year winds to a close, it’s customary to look back at all we’ve achieved in the past 365 days.
In a normal year, I suppose, that would be the case.
However, as we all know, this has been anything but a normal year. And so, while I’ve certainly achieved a few *things* this year (51 blog posts, 4 books including a co-author project, 2 short stories published, manuscript requests and rejections, a new website, plus turning the big 5-0) I feel that the story of this year is something much bigger than can be defined by mere numbers.
For this was a year of discoveries, not all of them pleasant. The discovery that teachers should be paid approximately £2546756756 per year, for starters. The discovery that people we like or love can get sucked down conspiracy wormholes, and that the ugliness of human nature is never far from the surface. But it was also a year when we were shown what the world could look like if we just stopped for a moment, the skies clearing, record bird and insect numbers, the wilderness rebounding from years of human pressure. A year when we were challenged in myriad ways, when we were forced to adapt again and again. A year of staying home, rather than going out. It was a year of change, of trying different roles or learning something new, of baking bread, or even just painting that wall in the lounge room yellow. A year when neighbours and friends and families and strangers all stepped up and worked together, a million small acts of kindness mending fractured communities. It was also a year of anxiety and stress and sorrow for so many people, for loss experienced through a screen, for watching years of work and investment crumble away within a few small months. It was a year when the idea of what is important began to shift.
It was a year to count blessings, rather than accomplishments
And so I will say simply this:
Whatever you did or didn’t do this year, if you’ve got through it, that’s enough.
And as we stand together on the cusp of 2021, and the promise of the next 365 days, remember – it may be dark at the moment, but every day brings us closer to the light.
As the nights draw in, the days getting colder, it seems natural to retreat into our own spaces, to keep warm and dry, cosy socks and slippers the order of the day.
And so it is now, as autumn gives way to winter, the last vestiges of red-gold still clinging to the trees. We’ve had frost here already, the mild panic when you realise it’s time to leave for the school run but the car is still iced over, the crunch of leaves underfoot, lines of glitter scoring the rooftops and windows.
And we’re also in lockdown again. The second one of the year, as Covid infections rise once more after our summer of relative freedom.
Things haven’t changed too much in our house, to be honest. My husband has been working from home since the first lockdown in March, and I’ve been working at home for a few years now. Schools are still open so the kiddo is out of the house, and the dog still needs to be taken for her daily walk, greetings still exchanged in the cool fields and pathways.
It’s been a bit of an eye-opener, to be honest. In many ways, I’m very fortunate that my life hasn’t been curtailed too badly by the current global circumstances. However, it’s also made me realise that, when this is all over, I would like to go out more, do more, see more people in person, rather than just participate online. I had plans to see people this month, but they’ve all been postponed – while the current lockdown is only supposed to be until December 2nd, I feel as though it’s more likely to run until Christmas, at which point I hope we’ll be allowed to mix in small groups, at least.
So for now, I’ll get out when I can with the dog, breathe in woodsmoke-scented air, look across the distant hills and dream of a day when we can all meet up again.
Stay safe and well, everyone xx
PS. I realise there is big news, and a big change, coming from the US. Let’s hope this will lead to brighter days going forwards…
‘When you part from your friend, you grieve not; for that which you love most in him will be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is clearer from the plain.’
Ah, good old Kahlil Gibran, always trying to find the positive, the lesson, in the sometimes-tangled mess of life. I suppose this was his way of saying that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but sometimes absence is just that, a hole in your life, where something or someone once was and they cannot be replaced.
I’ve parted from several friends in my life, simply due to having moved so often and so far, but most of us are still in touch. Each on our own journey, but our paths still intersect from time to time. However, sometimes you get the news that a friend is on another kind of journey, one which we all must take one day, and from which there is no return. That kind of news is always hard to hear, and doubly so in this time of solitude and shielding, where the only comfort you can offer is words, and there is no guarantee that you will actually get to see each other again.
And so it has been for me this week. I am heartsore, and cannot imagine how it must be for her family, for her beloved, to have to deal with this news. Our friendship has been mostly virtual, but we have spent a handful of days together. And oh, such days, where time has stretched and twisted, allowing glimpses of other realms, and some of the most profound experiences of my life. Days of tears and laughter, of good food and company, of ritual and song. Days that have changed the course of my own life, helping me to explore who I truly am. And through them all, a thread of warmth and learning and friendship, of generosity of spirit and understanding that I’ll never forget.
‘I’m still here,’ I can hear her saying. And of course she is. And she will be for a while yet.
So perhaps I’ll finish up here with another quote, this time from Tennesee Williams. ‘Time doesn’t take away from friendship, nor does separation.’
I know you’ll get to see the heather bloom again. And I hope I get to see it with you.
You may have noticed a recent small change to my site. Well, more accurately, to my name.
For a number of reasons, some to do with searchability, and others to do with honouring family ties, I’ve decided to add my married name to my public author name.
I was never that bothered about changing my name when I got married. As far as I was concerned, I had a perfectly good name and there wasn’t much point in going through the paperwork of changing everything over. It also seemed a bit unfair, in the scheme of things, a throwback to a time when women lost their identity, their property and many of their rights upon getting married.
However, I’m not going to get into the whole patriarchy/changing names thing here – we are fortunate that nowadays it’s a personal decision and that we can do whatever makes us happy. I have many friends and family who have delighted in changing their names upon getting married, others who have double-barrelled with their spouse’s last name (as I’ve done here), and others still who go by a variety of names personally and professionally (which I will also be doing.)
Anyway, I suppose this is a long way of saying: I’ve changed my author name! There will be more changes to come as I set up a long overdue website, of which this blog will be part, and I’m also hoping to have some exciting publishing news to share soon.
Watch this space…
PS – And you can still find all my currently published books under my original author name – it’s a bit more complex to change things over on the various sites, but I’m working on it…