Archive for the ‘memories’ Category

I have finished reading my seventh novel for 2022, The Secret Forest, by Enid Blyton. I have reviewed books by Enid Blyton before. She was a favourite author of mine from childhood. My jam used to be The Famous Five or The Secret Seven. As the great author wrote 800 books in her lifetime, there are always books of hers I have yet to discover. Recently, I bought a couple of novels in The Secret Stories series at a secondhand bookstore.

Though I was unfamiliar with the series, reading The Secret Forest, I immediately warmed to the Arnold children, Peggy, Mike, Nora, and Jack. Enid Blyton is such a straightforward, old-fashioned storyteller. Within the first pages, we have the setup when Prince Paul invites the Arnold children to the (made up) kingdom of Baronia for the holidays. It’s not just any old holiday. Prince Paul wants them to stay in his castle. Once the children are on holiday, we hear there are robbers abounding in the countryside, and we are alert that there is a mystery afoot. The Secret Forest is at the heart of the story, a completely inaccessible woodland in the depths of the Killimooin mountains. We meet Prince Paul’s family. Enid Blyton depicts the royal residences and lifestyle with simple vigour. She had a particular grip on understanding what children want to read. Beverly Cleary was the same and once described it as having the capacity to vividly recall being a child and write to the child she once was.

In The Secret Forest, the story’s climax builds with a steady tension as the children and their minders tangle with the robbers. When Prince Paul’s handlers are taken prisoner by the robbers, the boys go on a dangerous rescue mission. They enter the mountain through a hidden passage leading to the Secret Forest. The boys rescue the men, but on the way back, a ferocious storm nearly catches them in the rising floodwaters.
I felt the book had a darker feel than The Secret Seven or Famous Five adventures of my youth. The obstacles seemed almost insurmountable, and the threat of mother nature was the scariest of all. I’m sure if I’d stumbled on this series as a child, I would have devoured the other three – The Secret of Spiggy Holes, The Secret of Moon Castle, and The Secret Island in the twinkling of an eye. It’s exciting stuff.

Enid Mary Blyton (1897 – 1968) was born in London. She published a volume of poetry called Child Whispers in 1922. In 1925, she released her first full-length novel, The Enid Blyton Book of Bunnies. Her vast catalogue of titles is still being republished for the digital generation of young readers. Although modern readers reject her descriptions of gender, race, and class (her Noddy books featured golliwogs until they updated the later editions), there is a general curiosity and a fascination with these old books. Stories like The Secret Forest belong to another era when such things as racism and casual sexism went unquestioned. It gives us insight into the morals and beliefs of those times, which is fascinating in itself, like a slice of our collective past, although we may not agree with it.

These days you would stir major controversy if you wrote a boy character saying, ‘you girls can’t go on the adventure you’d just get into trouble.’ A modern audience reads stories such as these by Enid Blyton with curiosity to see what outrageous thing the characters say or do next.
That being said, reading The Secret Forest was like stepping back to childhood when things were so much simpler. I enjoyed the ride. Enid Blyton clearly knew how to tell a story. According to the Index Translationum, ‘Blyton was the fifth most popular author in the world in 2007, coming after Lenin but ahead of Shakespeare.’ In the UK, Enid Blyton still sells over one book a minute. It’s the sort of success any writer hopes to achieve. The Secret Forest is another volume from her legacy.
My rating: Three stars

Talk to you later.
Keep reading!
Yvette Carol
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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” ~ Albert Einstein


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

January 5 question – What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Were you able to overcome it?
I guess I regret turning down two offers from publishers. When I was first starting out and was submitting my children’s manuscripts to editors in New Zealand regularly, there were two yes replies. However, I turned them both down. One said they would publish my picture book, Free Wally, but they wanted to change all the characters’ names. What can I say? I was young and green. My creative soul felt they were going to tamper with my “artistic integrity” by changing the details. Therefore, I said no thank you and imagined I would easily find another acceptance for the story. Yet, I never did. It was the one and only offer I received for that book.
In the 90s a different publisher said they would release my middle-grade fantasy, The Scrifs and Stirrits, but they would only pay me a 5% royalty fee. In those days the going rate for royalties was 10%, and I was miffed. Why were they offering me less? I turned down the offer, thinking I wanted to be paid the same as everyone else. But I never found another publisher for that story so never got the chance.

Looking back at those decisions now, it’s easy to laugh at the folly of youth. What did it matter if they changed the names or paid me less royalty rate? I would still have had two books released by traditional publishing houses behind my name to help me stake a claim to this writer’s life. Instead, I hang in the wind of self-publishing and take the financial/emotional/mental hit of being Indie for every book. As a wide-eyed beginner, I did not know that getting any acceptance at all was fantastic. It took many more years of submitting my work to realize that acceptances are few and far between. And these days there are even fewer publishers accepting unsolicited work.
When I released my trilogy in 2020, I did a bit of research to see how many traditional publishers there were left in New Zealand. If I had wanted to submit my stories for consideration, there was only a handful of children’s publishers still accepting unsolicited manuscripts and after reading the t’s and c’s, my stories would only have been suitable for two of them. Two options? Pitiful. The current situation is very different from what it was when I was young and sending my stories to editors all over the country. I had no idea then how good I had it. But hey, hindsight is 20/20.

Therefore, if I could go back and change one thing about the past, maybe it would be rejecting the publishers’ offers. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Because I did overcome that obstacle. Early on, I made that mistake. Yet, I learned a lot through the years of “failing” that followed. They say if you change one thing about the past it alters the course of history. Would I want to mess around with the perfect plan for my life? Probably not. Maybe I was supposed to go it alone. Becoming an Indie is diabolically hard but it does have its rewards. I made all my own choices about covers, style, and everything for The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, which was satisfying. I’m proud of my trilogy. For the cover art, I collaborated with my nephew, Si, who is a consummate artist. We had such fun in the creative process, brainstorming and tooling around with options. I didn’t have to compromise his vision or question my choices. We had no interference which is a blessing only bestowed upon the self-published.

Looking back now, I have the satisfaction of knowing I did it my way, and there’s something pure in that. I cherish the books I’ve put out into the world so far. Would I have been able to say that if I was under the wing of a publisher? Or would the end result be something mutant and divorced from the original vision? With my name on the cover. No. The more I think about it, the more glad I am that I turned down those offers back in the day. I set myself on course for putting out books that authentically belong to me, and my creative intelligence is my service to the world. It will live on long after I’m gone. No, I’m convinced now I did the right thing when I was young.
So in a roundabout way, I have come back to the first question. What’s the one thing about your writing career you regret the most? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
What about you, what do you regret most about your writing?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself. ~ Octavia E. Butler


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Every year around this time I have two mammoth jobs that need to be done. My sons and I bake the massive Christmas Cake, which is a rich fruit cake to feed about sixty-four. We also do the photoshoot of my two young victims sons, whom I make dress up in festive gear at the start of December. Then I pick the best photo from the shoot and make our Christmas card for friends and family. We did the photoshoot this weekend. The boys get a bit grumpy about it these days, which I think is quite cute. I had fun making the cards all day. It’s creative, it’s fun and it involves glitter. What more do you need to know?

When I first started this blog, my middle son – who was born with Down Syndrome – featured by himself on the card. Three years later, his little brother came along and the pair got to feature on the next family card and so it has gone on.

Here is how you can make your family greeting card for next-to-nothing.

Once you have your photo, reduce it to a small size. Figure out how many people you are making cards for. Print out the photos on regular A4 paper and cut them out.

Take cheap Christmas cards (I bought ours from the thrift store) and cut them down in size. I use the same “guides” for the layers which I made myself out of cardboard, so they are all the same dimensions. Start with a guide for the size of the card. On Christmas Day each year, I save the interesting pieces of wrapping paper and iron them towards the following year’s cards. Make a guide for the interesting saved paper, or any fun paper you like, as your next layer. It must be smaller than the card and larger than the photo.

Now you have the items you need for your cards: a stack of cut-down cards (preserving the message inside if possible), the rectangles of saved wrapping paper, and a stack of your cut-out photos.

My next step is to cut little flags of “Angelina Hot Fix” which is a synthetic product made by Funky Fibres here in NZ. I’m sure you could find a similar product where you are. The fibres come in different funky colours. You spread a handful between baking paper then iron on a low heat until the fibres fuse, making a thin sheet of sparkly material. I cut out small rectangles of Hot Fix, one for each of my cards.

Begin construction by gluing the saved wrapping paper to the card, at the same time trapping a wedge of Hot Fix in between so that one end extends.

Then glue the photo on the top.

*Tip: dry and flatten the cards after you apply each layer; I put them between chopping boards and pile weights on top.

The best part is adding the embellishments! It is time to decorate the front of each card with glitter and crystals and stickers to your heart’s delight.

Inside each card, I include a surprise, usually gift tags, or I also have a set of miniature antique postcards which I bought in a thrift store once, and I’ll include a couple of those with each one. Match your card as closely as possible to the size of the envelope. It looks better that way. Write a special message inside each card and post it to family and friends.
It’s homemade. It’s personal. It’s crafty fun. What’s not to love?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat. ~ Laura Ingalls Wilder


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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

This month’s optional question: In your writing, what stresses you the most? What delights you?
The most stress I’ve been under in my entire life was the six months I spent last year doing the final edits on all three books in my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver. I believed they were ready to go. At that point, the books had gone through their paces. I’d polished all three with the help of my critique group (twice). I put them through my online editing suite with prowritingaid.com, then paid a professional proofreader and a copy editor. But, a funny thing happens when the actual deadline for publication stares you in the eye. Suddenly all the remaining issues that escaped detection up to that point gained a spotlight.
When I read again from book one, line by line, word by word, I found so many tiny errors that it became alarming. That’s the thing with checking copy, the intensity of focus required to question each word in an 80,000-word manuscript is almost a superhuman feat. Times that by three (volumes), and you start to get some idea of the Herculean task. It seemed like every time I made it to the end of a manuscript, thinking, right that one’s done, I’d re-read and find more errors. I began to fear I was losing my mind.

Electrified by pure panic, I stretched the working hours of the day longer and longer. I had freaking deadlines to meet. I got up earlier, went to bed later. I stopped doing the less essential things, like housework, gardening, exercise, and eating. To publish a novel as an Indie, the layout, cover design, printing, and PR, need to be booked months in advance of the launch date. The printing, likewise. My designer is particularly busy, and if I wanted any hope of releasing the book on the date advertised, I knew the date we would have to start working on it. That was my deadline.
My youngest son asked me, “When is this going to be over?” I gave him the death stare. He said, “You’re no fun anymore.” And he was right. Knowing the kids were suffering added stress, but I was knee-deep in the quagmire, and the clock was ticking. I had to slog on night and day until I thought I would combust.
Six painful, exhausting months later, in September 2020, I released my trilogy.

Party. Celebrate.
A collapse in relief.
A few days later, my brother said, “I know you’re not going to want to hear this, but I’m halfway through reading The Last Tree (3rd book in the series), and I’ve found an error.” No, I did not want to hear that. I was so beyond repair, so frazzled and burned out, I walked away from my laptop for six months and did no creative writing at all.
The youngest son asked with trepidation, “Are you going to put out another book?” Just between you and me, I am still undecided. I told myself I’d write my stories and keep them all in the bottom drawer where stories go to retire. I already have a plastic box in my room full of manuscripts from the last 40 years of penning fiction for children. I may just keep adding to that and die happy.

That was March. I took a pen and paper and sat down to write a new story. And that’s where the delight part kicked in. Like a soothing balm to my weary soul, the sheer joy of creative writing began to fill in the cracks and heal the tears. The bliss of writing a new copy is unequaled. To gambol about in the meadows of my unfettered imagination without the specter of publication hanging over me is akin to stepping back to the giddy glee of childhood. No restraints. No rules. No pressure. Just the daily outpouring of my collaborations with the muse in the heady blooming fields of my mind.
Realigned with my purpose and the delight is effortless. Inspiration needs no electric current. No data. No technological interference. Just a pure connection with life. Just daylight and fresh air. Just time to dawdle.

Give me time to daydream.

Nine months later, I am part way through writing a new children’s series. I’m in the zone. The genesis draft of any story is always the ecstatic part for me. The thought of publishing the result makes my knees knock, so necessarily, there is still no plan to publish the result. At least not yet. I might feel burned out as an Indie, but I have learned in this life “never to say never.” A faint maybe will have to suffice. I’m writing. That’s the main thing and always will be the main thing.


What stresses you most about writing? What delights you?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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You only fail if you stop writing. ~ Ray Bradbury


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When traumatic events happen, you deal with them as best you can. Times goes on. You assume the event is safely in the past. Then, you enter a situation that is similar to the traumatic event and have a panic attack. This is what happened to me this week, and it took me by surprise.
In some cases, life-changing experiences can cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental illness triggered by peak levels of distress. It can be treated and brought under control with help from a doctor, therapy, and professional guidance. A good friend lived through the big earthquake that rocked Christchurch in 2011. Diagnosed with PTSD, she suffers recurrent nightmares and over-reacts when she hears loud noises.

In my case, what I went through this week was not PTSD but a flashback. A flashback is when you feel drawn back into the traumatic experience as if it is happening all over again.
This week, the youngest son was scheduled for an adenectomy and to have grommets inserted. Surgery is a last resort in my book. But in my son’s case, the specialist believed that his oversized adenoids were causing the loss of hearing in his left ear and inability to breathe through his nose. So it had to be done.
We sat in the hospital waiting room and worked on our crossword, chatting and laughing.
A nurse said, “We’re ready for you now. Follow me.” We followed her along the winding corridors through a pair of heavy blue doors. As the nurse and my son stepped aside, I got my first sight of the room. I took in the surgeons, the anesthetists, the nurses, all in masks and gowns, the skinny operating table, the machines, and the lights. My stomach immediately dropped sickeningly. My skin prickled with goosebumps, and my heart was pounding. I was freaking out. But I couldn’t show it. My son needed me, and I had to be strong for him.

It was scarily like that other time, in August 2010, when he was five years old, and we followed a nurse into a stark white operating theatre. I was straight back there. No time had elapsed in between. In 2010, I looked at my little boy, and I looked at that operating table and felt as if I would throw up with fear, knowing my baby was about to undergo a heart bypass and open-heart surgery.

However, as a parent, you are the captain of the ship. Captains don’t get to freak out. Your job is to stay at the helm until the bitter end.

I had to be calm that day in 2010 and smile for my son. I murmured, “You’re okay, mama loves you,” when he fought the gas mask, and the doctors made me lie on him until the anesthetic took effect and he went limp beneath me.

On Tuesday morning this week, I walked into that operating room, took one glimpse, and stepped back ten years to the scariest time of my life. On Tuesday, my son was only undergoing a minor medical procedure. Yet, I was staring into the white light and hearing angels as if his life was on the line.

As a mature adult today, I have lots of tools to help me weather the storms of life. Whenever something stressful happens, I calm down with meditation, affirmations, yoga, and breathing techniques. But for the private panic attack, I suffered in that hospital room this week, none of my tools helped. I was physically reliving the helpless terror I felt in that other theatre room. According to Rothschild, ‘A flashback can mimic the real thing because it provokes a similar level of stress in the body. The same hormones course through your veins as did at the time of the actual trauma, setting your heart pounding and preparing your muscles and other body systems to react as they did at the time.’

That describes my panic attack perfectly. I stayed with my son until he had fallen unconscious. In the waiting room, I did the only thing I could do. I rang my family and talked to people who cared, and it helped so much.

*According to the site, Trauma Recovery, here are some ideas for managing the situation if you get stuck in a flashback:
NAME the experience as a flashback (example- this is a memory, NOT a recurrence of the actual event)
Use LANGUAGE that categorizes the flashbacks as a “memory” (example- I was attacked, rather than I am being attacked)
Use the SENSES to GROUND self in your CURRENT environment:
Name what you see, feel, hear, smell, etc.
Rub hands together
Touch, feel the chair that is supporting you
Wiggle your toes
Favourite colour- find three things in the room that are “blue”
Name the date, month, year, season
Count backward from 100
Use an object as a grounding tool
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I’ve kept a note of these points in case any of my loved ones need escorting into theatre in the future.
Have you ever suffered a private panic attack or a flashback? What did you do?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating
Yvette Carol
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“I have laid my son on an OR table and kissed him as he fell asleep. I have handed him to a surgeon knowing they would stop his heart and prayed it would beat again. I am a Heart mum.” ~ Suzanne White

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Long before positive thinking or affirmations became a thing, my grandmother led by example. She had a way of framing things and people in the best light. I’ll never forget what Gran said one day after my eldest son was scolded by my father for doing something naughty. The family, exasperated with him, had decided my son had Attention Deficit Disorder. Gran said, “He’s not naughty. He doesn’t have ADD or anything like that. What he has is spirit. Mark my words, he will go far in life.” (Turned out she was right, but that’s another story). With those words, my beloved grandmother turned a bad situation around to good and changed my outlook for the better.
Gran called it ‘thinking the right thoughts.’

We love that phrase in our family. Whenever any of us had something important happening that we were hoping would go well, Gran would always say, “I’ll think the right thoughts.” Which meant she would only envisage and only speak about the best possible outcome. That was how she lived. She walked her talk. These days I use the technique constantly. In keeping with the theme of resilience in various posts lately, I thought it would be the ideal time to share some of my grandmother’s outlook on life.

You’re welcome.

Whenever Gran had an event or outing coming up, she would say, “I’m looking forward to it with a confident sense of anticipation.” It was so simple. She demonstrated positive thinking as a way of life. That little gem has become a family saying, a special something we say to one another on occasion with fond knowingness.
I used to visit my grandmother on Thursdays. She lived around the corner from our house. I’d walk into her neat, elegant little unit at the start of the day and leave again around five in the evening. Thursdays were our day to hang out together. We always started our soiree with morning tea, which Gran would have set out on a tray. There would be tea in fine china cups with saucers, served with an array of sweet treats. Gran was a legendary baker and baked every day. She’d serve a plate of fresh scones, or sponge cake, or muffins, whatever treats she had made that morning. After eating, we’d sit in the lazy-boy chairs in the living room and talk. Then I would help her put out and bring in the laundry. We sometimes looked at photos or her embroidery. Sometimes we baked together. Then Gran would serve a big lunch with meat, vegetables, and homemade dessert like her apple pie or blackberry crumble. We would talk until it was time to say goodbye.

Every time I reached her door to leave, Gran would give one parting shot to take with me. It was usually one or two favourite sayings, “Remember my dear,” she would say, “Set your sights upon a star, and you will go far,” or “Every cloud has a silver lining, if you look for the silver lining you will find it.
They were the same sayings, time and again, yet I would walk along the street thinking about what she had said and repeating it to myself.
My grandmother inspired me with her natural optimism and right thinking. It shaped how I look at everything. I am a big believer in daily affirmations, in speaking positively to myself and others. I have a whiteboard with life-affirming statements on it, which I read a few times a day.
If we want to keep our spirits up, we need to bear witness to the words coming out of our mouths. People these days tend to be one-track-minded and fatalistic. Conversations have never been more boring.

Chats with friends and neighbours can often be depressing, and I don’t think these people realize the effect they’re having on others. Why not converse with loved ones about the book you’re reading, the movie you’ve seen, or the creative project you’re working on. We don’t always have to talk about Covid, people!
I prefer following my grandmother’s example. The glass-half-full approach means looking at the things that are working in our lives. I use a daily gratitude journal to note what I’m grateful for and make it a practice to say thank you for all the blessings. If you ask how I’m doing, I’ll be thinking the right thoughts and looking forward to what the future brings with a confident sense of anticipation!

I hope you gained a gem or two from this post for yourself.
Do you have grandparents with their little sayings? Have you ever tried keeping a gratitude journal?

Talk to you later.
Keep creating!
Yvette Carol
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“Emptiness is a symptom that you are not living creatively.” – Maxwell Maltz.

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

September 1 question – How do you define success as a writer? Is it holding your book in your hand? Having a short story published? Making a certain amount of income from your writing?
Without question, success is holding the book in my hand. I guess that is because I wrote stories for half my life before I published a book. Although I started writing fiction at age 17 and had a story and an article published in other people’s books, I didn’t produce a book until I was 50. I think the moment I laid eyes on that first novel is engraved forever in my memory. I was so excited, taking numerous photos and bombarding social media. It was unbelievable, overwhelming and the satisfaction was complete.

To me, it felt like the ultimate vindication and success because the road to publication had not been a straight one. An idealist, I had expected the publishing side of being a writer would be as much fun as doing the writing. Find an agent, grab a great deal with a publishing house, and make lots of money. Easy. In the 80’s I found myself an agent, and I carried on writing children’s stories, thinking the agent would take care of finding homes for my books. Four years later, he still had not sold a single manuscript. I fired the agent and started sending the manuscripts out myself. After many nibbles, I had one story, a re-telling of the folk tale, The Ice Queen, accepted by a traditional publishing house. I waited a year, then they returned the manuscript, saying they had been unable to fit me into their schedule. No way.
Another year I had one of my picture book manuscripts, Free Wally, accepted by a publisher in Wellington. But they wanted to change the names of all the characters. I couldn’t handle that! Give me money, do all the work of publishing, fine, but change the details of my creative progeny? No deal.

I carried on writing (and illustrating) and sending out stories, finally gaining another acceptance for a picture book, The Unsightly Wet Nightie. Whoopee! I thought. Then I read the fine print. They were only offering me a 5% royalty fee, which at the time for authors was usually 10%. I said, No dice.
A year later, I entered my story, The Or’in of Tane into an international writing competition. The prize was the publication of the book. I waited, revisiting the website day and night, waiting for news of who had made the shortlist. The publishers released a statement, saying if you had not heard back from them, you had made the shortlist. Happy dance! I had not heard back and was euphoric. A month later, the shortlist then the winner and runner-up were announced. My name did not appear. When I followed up on my story, they told me that due to the time difference between here and there, my competition entry had arrived a day later than their deadline, and they had disqualified me.

Meltdown. Tears for days. Gloom and doom.
Was I beaten?
Well, initially, yes.
Then I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and decided to take my fate into my own hands. For the first time, I seriously considered going Indie. I began to venture online and learn about self-publishing. And the rest, as they say, is history. I did the spadework and self-published my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, in 2020. Talk about a moment of triumph. The books were well received, gaining a 9.8 out of 10 ratings by one popular book reviewer.

Every time I see those books on the shelf, I get a thrill.

Holding my book in my hand, that spells success to me. Because I know what it took to get here and all the years of solitary blood, sweat, and tears that went into this. Self-publishing is hard work. However, that’s the buzz, isn’t it? Hard work makes you feel good.
It has been fulfilling to produce something my kids and grandkids can hold in their hands. Now, I leave physical books sitting in libraries and on bookshelves and lodged within the hallowed halls of the National Library of New Zealand. To create is the best, and then to share that creation is ‘reason I am here’ material.
When you take things into your own hands with your career, the world is your oyster! How do you define success as a writer?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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Regardless of your genre, your task is to get your book in front of readers. ~ Jaq D Hawkins


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Do you remember turning 16? I do. Like it was yesterday. It was the summer holidays. My friends and I were hitchhiking up north. We stopped at a cafe. There were four of us hunched around a Formica tabletop with sodas, and I remember saying I didn’t want to turn 16 (the next day). Why not? It was too close to 20! Who could imagine being “so ancient?”

Funny how the vantage point of time changes things.

The youngest of my three sons had his sweet sixteenth birthday two weeks ago. He is more mature at this age than I have ever been. I guess for some people it just comes naturally. The other day, he said, “Do you know what I’m looking forward to the most about growing up?”

I said, “No” although I imagined he’d say beer, driving, or possibly not going to school.

He said, “I’m looking forward to having logical, rational conversations.”

Huh? Jaw drops to floor.

We’re definitely different, he and I. At 16 I fretted about getting old, while my youngest son pines for more adult conversation. How shallow was I? He’s already a better human being than I am. Huzzah!

What did the son want to do for the big milestone birthday? After offering him every adventure option or fun experience available, what he most wanted was ‘a cake and to hang out’ with his friends uninterrupted. Could they hang here? Sure, I said, smiling, although I secretly dreaded it. Idiot Trooper that I am, I let him invite all his mates over regardless.

My friends and I at 16 were rebels. No self-respecting adults wanted to be around us.

To my surprise, my son’s friends were delightful. They had the run of one part of the house the entire day, while I kept food and liquid coming. They played online games, outdoor games, jumped on the trampoline, took photos of themselves, played music, and sang in harmony together the entire day. In the afternoon they demolished an entire chocolate cake and then left en masse to buy supplies from the supermarket, returning an hour later to cook a feast. So lively, so fun, were they, I even missed them in their absence.

In the late afternoon, the girls drifted home. Finally, just “Da boys” remained, playing online games into the evening, still singing in beautiful harmony along with their favourite songs. By the time Da boys left, I felt tired but mostly buoyed by the experience.

They’re mature, considerate kids. Who knew?

That said, they’re still only 16. They still like to play games the same way they did when they were little, but with a lot of music, singing, slang and posturing thrown in. The energy levels when these teen buddies get together can ramp up suddenly, get inexplicably loud for a short period—almost explosive—then peter out again and dip so low the kids appear to retreat behind their phone screens for a while to reboot, becoming temporarily tomb-like and silent, before the shrieks and the laughter escalate and they flare into life, noise and energy all over again. To be around them even for a short period is akin to putting one’s finger into an electric socket, recharging every cell in the body and rendering one’s hair into an instant afro. It’s vitalizing and frenetic at the same time.  

The upshot overall was the day was easy, no drama. As their humble servant, I got to witness snippets of their group dynamic, the teen slang, the weird sounds they make when they’re together, which was fun.

I remember the heady freedom of being 16. You’re old enough to do things but young enough to be silly and not care who is watching.

There was one of son’s friends singing that very Michael Jackson, high-pitched, “Hee hee!” so frequently I nearly asked him to stop (although thankfully, I didn’t). One boy hugged his phone and speaker the entire day, constantly scrolling the music selection – he was clearly in charge of the music selection. There was the occasional daring use of a swear word, but not loud enough for me to discern. I turned a blind eye, regardless. As head provider of refreshments, I stayed in my quarters – the perfect excuse to get some writing done – and let the teens have the house for the day. Some freedom was all they wanted. They often burst outside to play Frisbee, badminton, shoot hoops and jump on the trampoline for hours in the afternoon, which rather impressed me.

I think your child’s friends say a lot about who they are and how they’re doing, and I liked the son’s friends a lot. That made me happy.

At sixteen, I was a fool. At the same age, my son is smarter, more mature, and more emotionally intelligent than I am. Maybe there’s hope for the future, yet.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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There’s nothing wrong with teenagers that reasoning with them won’t aggravate. ~ Anonymous

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*Tips for parents on Stanford Children’s Health, Understanding the Teen Brain

I’ve finished reading my sixth novel for 2021, Fifteen by Beverly Cleary. Sad news obviously prompted my choice: the exceptional children’s author, Beverly Cleary, died last week at 104. She still had the look of youth about her. Beverly famously said that whereas other children’s authors sometimes struggled to write from the child’s point of view, she somehow found it easy to recall exactly how it was to be a child. Of her style and genre, Beverly said that as a child growing up she’d wanted to read about other kids like her, ordinary kids and their everyday lives. And because she understood her audience so completely, her stories–about kids like you and me–were incredibly popular with children.

It was the Ramona Quimby books that were the most popular, however I didn’t read Beverly’s stories as a child. I discovered the author because my older sisters, whom I admired and adored, had a small book among the other bigger tomes in their bookcase called Fifteen, by Beverly Cleary. Even as a kid, I thought, how cool to read about a person your age when you are that exact age. So I decided I would save stealing it from the bookshelf until I turned fifteen. And that’s what I did. When I finally turned that magical lovely age, I snuck the slim volume from their shelf. I remember relishing every page. Beverly’s free ability to capture that youthful viewpoint was a gift. She gave me a sweet moment in my youth I’ll always remember.

The book itself especially to me now as an adult reader seems like fast food. You can swallow it in one bite, yet it is so wonderfully delicious. Fifteen is a peek-a-boo window into the 1950s. Published in 1958, it was the era when my parents were young, when girls wore dresses and full skirts to formals or dances, walked to school, and sat in malt shops to drink soda. It’s like entering a time machine to read it now, and something tells me this innocent tale of young love would be a total yawn fest to the modern fifteen-year-old, although possibly still easily consumed by the 9–10-year-old crowds.

The coming-of-age story is about fifteen-year-old Jane Purdy, an average girl with a babysitting job and how she meets the dreamy Stan Crandell, who has a tan, green eyes, brown hair with a dip in it, and a genuine smile. Stan might deliver horsemeat, but he rescues our damsel in distress at the outset and proves himself to be just as nice throughout the story. Jane has never had a boyfriend before. She is the picture of flustered youth. Her awkwardness reaches into the heart of any girl and Beverly renders the angst truthfully and winningly.

While some aspects of Fifteen seem dated now, the themes persist today, underlying this story of a crush, is the story of a young person trying to fit in. Jane looks up to the most popular girl in school and tells a few fibs as she tries to be like her before Jane figures out that Stan likes who she is and wants her to be herself. Aw!

I love that there is this wonderful sense of place in this story. I can clearly remember my fifteen-year-old self feeling as if I were in the Purdy’s comfortable family home or in the quiet house with Jane when she was babysitting and her charge was finally asleep.

An admirable talent, Beverly Cleary was born in McMinnville, Oregon. Her books have earned her many prestigious awards, including the 1984 John Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. Henshaw. They have published her books in twenty-nine languages and her characters, including Henry Huggins, and Ralph S. Mouse, Ribsy, Socks, as well as Beezus and Ramona Quimby, have delighted generations of children.

They celebrated Beverly Cleary’s one hundredth birthday in 2016, by reissuing three of her books with forewords by Judy Blume, Amy Poehler, and Kate DiCamillo. In 2017, they reissued the Henry Huggins books with forewords by Tony DiTerlizzi, Marla Frazee, Tom Angleberger, Jeff Kinney, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, and Cece Bell.

I love Beverly Cleary’s writing. I think it is because she was a luminary in relating what my writing teacher would call ‘the minutiae’ of family life and social life. She was relatable, her stories truthful, pure. What a legacy she has left the world. Beverly Cleary, you will be missed.

My rating: Five stars.

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette Carol

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“I don’t think anything takes the place of reading.” ~ Beverly Cleary

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

February 3 question – Blogging is often more than just sharing stories. It’s often the start of special friendships and relationships. Have you made any friends through the blogosphere?

I have! Before I started out on social media about 8 years ago, I expected people to be hostile and for other writers to treat me like the competition. I feared I would shout into the silence and hear my echo, but it’s been the absolute opposite experience. I have found the online writing community to be warm and welcoming. It’s been wonderful. Of course there has been the occasional troll and the occasional pain in the a.. e, but you get that in actual life too. It’s not exclusive to social media.

I’ve mostly met incredible, inspiring and supportive folks.

When I first started out, I was following the advice I’d read in a book by social media guru Kristen Lamb. She had launched an online support group called WANA (We Are Not Alone), which I joined straight away. I set up a group called Writing For Children. The fab group of writers I met were there at the very start. I attribute to them nearly every step forward. At their advice, I branched out into many platforms; I set up my website, had a professional author photo taken, joined critique groups, and had the courage to instigate my email list and to release a monthly newsletter.

Best of all, I established a firm foundation of friends with whom to navigate the world of online writers, and to bounce ideas off along the way.

Some friends I met doing online writing courses and they’ve become my most faithful pen pals.

Some friends I made because we were always commenting on the same blogs and followed the same authors. Those beautiful souls invited me to like their pages in other places. We ended up becoming friends on Facebook and keeping up a steady banter and the usual well wishes at birthdays and in the holidays throughout the years. One cool gal I met through commenting on the same blog posts was a blogging queen. She ran three at once for her different styles of fiction.

She said, “I just love the discipline of sitting down each week and writing new posts.”

It was 2014. Though I knew Kristen Lamb and my friends in KiwiWrite4Kids strongly advised to write a regular blog as a tool for writers to reach readers and to practice their writing in a different format, I was too nervous to do so at first. I felt terrified of the idea of having to come up with something new to say every week. (Seriously, when do I run out of things to say?) I didn’t want to commit to readers and then be responsible to providing material for them. (Seriously, when was that not part of being a writer?) I feared falling flat on my face and no one liking or responding to anything I said. (Seriously, when was that not part of being a writer?)

But my dear friend from Writing for Children, Robyn Campbell, said to me, ‘If you write posts regularly, the people will come.’

And come they did. I started my blog. Week by week a few likes and comments trickled in. I didn’t fall flat as I’d feared. People literally replied to me and were really nice. Then a pal from Writing For Children, suggested I join IWSG, as she was a nervous blogger and had found succour there. So I joined. The joy of putting out a blog post each month and having a regular handful of people like it and comment was great. The joy of popping around a bevy of other bloggers and reciprocating was so fun it was infectious. I’ve met cool people, joined more groups and made more friends. What’s not to love?

Have you made friends through blogging?

Keep Writing!

Yvette Carol

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Reach out to other writers, encourage one another, and come up with some new strategies. ~  Alex J. Cavanaugh,

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