Saturday, December 30, 2017

Writing - A Labour of Love

It's that time of year again when we tend to assess where we are in our lives and how we plan to move forward. 2017 saw nearly as many changes as 2016. I woke up on New Years Day 2016 living in San Jose, then on New Years Day 2017 a resident of Paris. January 1st, 2018 will see me back living in my native Armagh.  How did that happen? Never mind how I'm just happy that it did.

The one constant thing through all of this is the writing - that interminable itch that begs to be scratched, the voices that nag my brain for their very existence, and that sense of joy when someone tells me they've enjoyed my writing - the balm that soothes the immense insecurities that haunt every writer.

I keep wondering if I need to rethink my blog now that I've moved home. But there is as much to write about here as there is anywhere else in the world. Additionally, this place is marinated in history, as well as my own memories and, hey presto - lots to write.

Even nettles carry happy memories of my Granny's nettle champ!
I've also discovered that the photography here is a good as anywhere else I've lived, there's that box ticked too, and thus on goes the writing of the blog!

I'm always amazed and humbled, not to mention surprised, by the response I get to the more "personal" posts I write. The practical side of me reckons that people want to know the best tips for sightseeing, or gardening (way back when I had a garden) but when I bare my soul the ratings go off the chart. It's great and it's scary because like most writers I crave feedback, especially positive feedback - it's like writer crack-cocaine! But where does one draw the line? Having an introvert husband helps keep me in line to some extent, I reckon. I respect his need for privacy, I mean the guy doesn't even have a facebook page - in this day and age of "I post, therefore, I am" does that mean he doesn't exist. Is this the digital age equivalent of having an imaginary husband? But when all is said and done, his support of my writing career is one hundred percent. If it wasn't for his insistence that I keep plugging away at it, that he'll support us, that we'll be okay (as in won't starve, go naked and be homeless) when I get that panicky feeling of, "What is this all for?" I might have given up years ago.

It's a strange situation - to work all day (and contrary to popular belief - I do work hard at the ole writing lark!) and not have a set wage. To say writing is a labour of love is an understatement - it's a labour of love for both of us because I'm sure My Husband would have plenty of things to spend his hard earned cash on if only I still had my teaching wage coming in (for example.) But for him, it's not even up for debate - I'm a writer and he's a techie. For some strange reason, he's more confident than I am that my payday will come. When it does, he has his list - a list I'd be only too willing to buy for him (we're talking private planes, so he'll better not hold his breath!)

And then there's the amazing support I have always received from family and friends. I was prepared for a lot of slagging when my book first came out - it's a slagging culture here - but I was surprised to find that people were encouraging and kind. It might be what friends are for, but I'm blessed to have them tell me not to lose heart, that I can do this crazy near impossible thing - like write a trilogy, that they believe in me. I enter 2018 with a heart full of gratitude.

I still have my wonderful critiquing group in California and we conference call every two weeks to critique each others writing. My story would be so unstructured and bland without their input. Likewise, I have a monthly skype appointment with my Paris critiquing group whose input is invaluable. I learn so much from these writers.

The writing scene here is amazing and I've met a bunch of proactive writers through a variety of events. Its exciting, and it's fun.

Going into 2018, I plan to start a critiquing group in Armagh. If anyone reading this is interested in joining in, you can personal message me on Facebook for more details.

I'm halfway through writing a trilogy -  in the middle of book two. It's a long project and one that I wonder if I was wise to even start, but if I'm honest, I'm still enjoying it. There's the usual rollercoaster. One minute the ideas are flowing, I'm writing like a demon, and the next I'm plunged into despair - the rewrites are too hard, the subject matter too complicated. Really, you should see my google search history. Gruesome and gory isn't in it.  Things like "hammer blow to the head" and "how much voltage will kill a person" (apparently the current is the key!) I must be on every security agency list across the globe. I'd just been writing a very violent fighting scene one day when my 9-year-old nephew arrived at my door - talk about a swift change of hats!

Writing is a funny old world to live in but one I don't plan on changing for a while. It is is a labour of love, an addiction, and I'm lucky to have a husband to support my "habit".

So now, I continue forth with this blog - The grass is greener here than anywhere else I've ever been thanks to the rain... but then again - even with that - we didn't come here for the grass...

The stories also keep on growing, and that's the heart and soul of the writing, I suppose.

As we move into 2018, I wish you all a wonderful New Year, may we all realise more of our dreams and never be afraid to reach for the stars as we encourage those we love to do the same.

Happy New Year!

Byddi Lee

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Little Flash Fiction Trilogy for Christmas

The Spirit of Christmas Past

There's a vicious want in the child's eyes. She's standing there in a fever of longing, and you know, you just know, that if she and her brothers don't get every damn item on their letter to Santa there'll be a meltdown. But there'll be a meltdown regardless because no amount of money or begging is going to fill that last request. Maybe you shouldn't get anything from their list at all. Blame that fecker Santa. Tell the kids Santa must have mixed up the letters. But what would be the point in that? They'd be worse off thinking that Santa gave some other kids what they wanted most. And your heart breaks because you want it too and you can't have it either.

Your weird chat about trade unions last week makes so much sense now. Your daughter, two years senior to the five-year-old twin boys, has decided there is more power in solidarity. She's convinced that this joint letter will bring them their heart's desire.

Your eyes fill at the wobbly words. The three bikes are easy, pricey but hell, after the year they've had, sure feckit. The Paw Patrol Sea Patrol was an obvious concession to the boys. She only puts down two of those and one LOL Surprise Big Surprise for her. That had you in a sweat. You knew it would be tough to source my sister in London came up trumps on that one.

But that final line broke you.

In her best writing, with a fair bit of rubbing out and redoing, she'd written and underlined, "Please please Santa could you call for Mummy in heaven and bring her home to us on your sleigh."


The Spirit of Christmas Present

Joan walks slowly, trying to avoid the puddles. Her shoes let in and even though she thinks her nyloned feet can't get any colder, slowing down might help decrease the throb in her joints. If she could just get someone in the housing executive to listen, to fix that broken heater in her bedroom, maybe she'd get a good night's sleep. The sofa wrecks her back, but at least she doesn't cough as much in the living room as she does in the chilled air of the bedroom.

Three young ones barrel by. They don't touch her but she wobbles. Amid a fizz of panic, she stops to steady herself. If she goes down, who would pick her up? Maybe she'd get a few days in a warm hospital. Maybe her son would take time from his fancy life in London to visit her.

She only came out today because she wanted to see the Christmas lights in town and it's mild. Milder than last week, when the snow sent slivers of ice into her very marrow. Thank heavens for the thaw and the wee bit of winter sun, gaudy and ineffective it may be, but it still gives her a lift.

The chemist shop is warm. She hopes there a long queue but not too long that she can't get a seat. Long enough to warm up though. Thank God, her prescriptions are free. But the pain of her arthritis doesn't bite nearly as deep as loneliness. Was there a prescription for that?


The Spirit of Christmas Future

So many on the streets. Cold, continuous, freezing hard all day. God, what must it be like at night?

I want to help. But I'm scared. I'm speaking a different language, in my North Face down-jacket and my Calvin Klein handbag. Different worlds, close proximity. Are they judging me as I try not to stare, try to avoid eye contact? Why do I care as I traipse up the stairs - I'm to fat to allow myself to use the lift - to my cosy apartment on the fourth floor?

It's ridiculous that I care what these strangers think of me. But the truth is, I care about what I think of me, and as I put myself in their positions, however inaccurately, I then become my own judge and jury. I have to get out of London, be somewhere where I don't feel so guilty. Charity begins at home, doesn't it? I want to be with my brother, back home, comforting him in his grief, but I have to be here, where I'm making the best money, living the best life. But is it the best life?

I'm mad now at myself. The apartment is too warm, too clean and too empty. The dining table stretches out from our "spots" at the corner. Too big, much too big for just the two of us.

I'll tell my husband tonight about the tickets.

I need to go home. I need to see my brother, my niece and nephews more this Christmas than ever. An aunt is no substitute for a mother, a sister not the same companion as a wife, but we'll all benefit from a hug and time together, this first year without my sister-in-law.

I also suspect, my mother-in-law isn't doing as well as she claims in her cool weekly Sunday morning calls. 
"Don't let me keep you back from Mass," she says every week. 
"Don't worry," we answer too quickly. "And how are you?" 
"Fine, fine," she says, also too quickly.

The apartment door opens. A cheery "Hola." 
I roll my eyes. It's all the Spanish he knows, but he's trying out that Duo lingo app. Last week it was Russian, God help us

I open my laptop and say, "Honey, please don't get angry but these came up and they were such a great deal and we both have a few days to take and I just thought..."

His face drops. He purses his lips, scans my screen, scratches his head.

I hate arguments but I need this."Say something."

"Just a minute."

I can barely breathe as he places his laptop in his "spot" and waits as centuries pass for it boot up.
"It's okay." He smiles. "Mine are refundable."

Joy swells to bursting. The orange Easy Jet logo lends a glow to his smile, or perhaps the glow is the intense love I have for this man in this moment. 

Home... We're going home for Christmas. 

While the above stories are all complete works of fiction, I hope it serves to illustrate that we all have a different version of Christmas. For many, it's a hard time in ways we can't imagine. Let's at least acknowledge this for the broken heartened, the lonely, the victims of violence, those who suffer at the hands of addiction and for those who, for whatever reason, find it hard to celebrate Christmas.

There are ways to help. How each of us does so is up to ourselves. But a smile, a kind word, a visit can be worth pure gold when we don't even realize it.

However, I also want to say that human kindness should be for life - not just for Christmas.

To donate to the Samaritans please click here. 

I hope you have a peaceful and love-filled Christmas, and dreams fulfilled in the New Year. 

Christmas Reflections on a snowy afternoon in Gosford Forest Park, Armagh

Byddi Lee

Friday, December 15, 2017

Crisps and Chips and Snacks Galore!

Many years ago when on a ski trip in Andorra, myself and a couple of friends came off the slopes feeling a bit peckish. We went to a local cafe and I asked the waiter for, "a big plate of chips," using my hands to show how big (very big) I wanted the plate to be (imagine a platter size).

He looked a bit confused but repeated my request back to me, "A beeg plate of  cheeps?" - to be sure he'd a handle on the language, I assumed.

"Yes, please, a big plate of chips."

We sipped at our drinks, waiting for the chips which took forever to come. Eventually, he arrived with a massive silver platter and six bags of crisps laid out on it. I think he thought us a bit crazy when we burst out laughing...

What I should have ordered was a big plate of fries. "Crisps" are called "chips" as in potato chips in Andorra, the USA and probably everywhere other than Ireland and Britain. And while I love crisps, they didn't cut the mustard while I was craving "fries!"

For the purposes of today's blog, I'm going to call the snack food of potato chips, "crisps" and the more substantial meal/side-dish of chips, "fries". Thus not using the term "chips" at all.

The North of Ireland wins the prize for having the biggest range of flavours of crisps that I've seen anywhere in the world. In recent years, the US has improved, but when I first landed in California there was only salted or plain (a waste of a good potato in my opinion!), salt & vinegar, sour cream, and BBQ flavours. Then Lays brought in a few more flavours - my favourite being lime flavoured. In Canada, Lays had a few more varieties and I loved the dill pickle, but still, there was no sign of the delicious range available north of the border in Ireland (or east of that border if you're situated in Donegal!)

Tayto Castle, nestled in the heart of the Armagh countryside, do a gorgeous cheese and onion flavour, even better, in my opinion, than those created by their forefathers (by 2 years) Tayto Crisps in the Republic.  Click here to read an interesting blog post  on the origins of both companies.

As the post says, flavoured crisps originated in Ireland - But the range of flavours here goes even further...

In addition to the US flavours of plain (or ready salted), salt & vinegar, BBQ, cheese and onion, and spring onion, (similar in taste to America's cream cheese and chives) we have here in the North of Ireland :- smokey bacon, wuster sauce, prawn cocktail, honey roast ham, beef & onion, roast chicken, sticky bbq ribs, Mexican chilli, Thai sweet chilli and, my all-time mouth-watering, zingy favourite, pickled onion

That's not even including the kettle chips which I'm not that partial too - the slices of potatoes are too thick and brittle,  hurting my mouth with their extreme crunchiness. But with this range of available flavours - not to mention shapes and varieties of corn and rice snacks (I've only tackled potato crips here) - you can be sure that there's something for everyone. Party time, people!

Visibly loaded with flavour - Tayto Sticky BBQ Beef Flavour

What's your favourite flavour?

Byddi Lee

Photo's by Robbie McKee

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Snow-Day Poem for One of Heaven's Newest Angels

Snow with its wafting and its drifting
And how it makes the world so beautiful
Blanketing all with its little white lies
Muffled serenity beneath cruel softness
Lining freshly dug graves 
Tissue wrapping the chrysalis of newborn angels

In loving memory of Tonya O Hagan R.I.P.


By Byddi Lee