On Monday morning, I got the phone call most people dread, and heard the words no one wants to hear, “Dad’s died.” The bottom fell out of my day and my world.

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After my father’s miraculous recovery from double pneumonia last year, we had gotten another precious seven months with him. I wonder if it took a toll on his heart. Last weekend, dad suffered a massive heart attack, and he died three days later in hospital, surrounded by family loving him to the end.

At first, I went into a state of shock. Nothing seemed real, and everything seemed to happen around me without touching my bubble.

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I threw the boys and bags into the car and we headed for dad’s seaside town, as I wanted to ready the house and prepare for my sisters and brother to return (they’d been the amazing support team for dad through his final hours in hospital).

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Driving along, I searched the landscape for some sort of message or reflection of dad passing into the realm of spirit. Then, as we arrived in his town, we saw an unusual sight; the peak of the mountain where my father lived was obscured by a cloud. The headless mountain seemed to echo my feelings at the idea of our family continuing without dad at the helm. When my siblings arrived, we agreed, it was as if the mountain were “flying at half mast.”

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At dad’s house, we could hardly see the surroundings for the white-out. The entire place remained cocooned in this soft white cloudy mist for two days, as the rest of the family arrived in dribs and drabs, and the crying began anew.

We spent a lot of time sitting talking, sharing Grandpa stories and making the necessary arrangements, trying to get our heads around our new reality. Dad ‘had had 85 years of excellent health’ and ‘a life well lived,’ he’d left ‘a good family’ and an even better reputation as people told us, kindly. Yet, nothing could ease the pain of the loss.

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The service was held at dad’s beloved church, which he’d raised funds to build for the community over many years and had helped to run and maintain. People turned out for his Committal Service saying, their town would ‘never be the same again,’ and that everyone was scrambling to find volunteers willing to take over his many roles in the community, and how much they’d miss him. Boy, so will we.

All in all, we were happy we gave dad a fitting send off. The whole family contributed at the service. At the cemetery, extended family sang ‘Let not your heart be troubled’ (John Ch 14:1-6).

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After baking in the sun at the church and the interment, and attending the reception at lunchtime, we headed back to dad’s place to change out of our hot mourning attire. We went to the beach for the afternoon, and I can’t even tell you how refreshing and good it was to bathe in the sea and let the salt water wash the remaining residue of the emotional preceding days away.

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Those of us who could, elected to stay and hang out together another day and night at Grandpa’s house. There were more conversations to be had, there were more tears to shed, and we needed extra time to continue to come to terms with the enormous loss. The patriarch is gone. It’s inconceivable and yet it is real. The whole notion of dad’s absence still messes with my head.

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This morning, before we left, we trekked to the top of the mountain.

Every scene takes on more poignancy when you’re in the throes of grieving. Every situation, every conversation seems heightened to new degrees of sensitivity. Even the light streaming through the trees as we descended seemed to be imbued with special cast and resonance, as if the environment was trying to speak to us.

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We made the drive back to the city around noon. I’m home, and yet, everything feels different, my foundations have changed.

Looking back on the last week, I think the family worked together and we did well with a difficult situation.

Despite terrible initial writer’s block, in which it took me the whole four days after my father’s death to come up with the words for his eulogy, I gave it my best.

The speech I gave at the service will appear as Part Two, next week.

Joy will return one day, but for now, life as I knew it has disintegrated, and pieces of my heart have dispersed with my father.

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Talk to you later,

Yvette K. Carol

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‘The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.’ ~ E.B.White

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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. I encourage everyone to visit at least a dozen new blogs and leave a comment. Your words might be the encouragement someone needs.

Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!!

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OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

Writing fantasy for children is a not exactly a hot genre. It’s difficult to do well, and as Terry Pratchett once said, there’s always been this ‘cloud of disapproval around the fantasy genre,’ as if it’s somehow the second cousin of more serious or entertaining popular fiction.

‘But some of the reasons are easy to see. The sheer torrent of the stuff for one thing. The telling and retelling. All those new worlds and eternal heroes.’ Yeah, I get it, too. Even for me, fantasy can get annoying, and yet, I can’t deny the draw. It’s what I loved to read as a child, and it’s what I love to write now.

Who cares about being cool or trendy?

For most of my thirty-five years writing for children, I’ve been writing “fantasy animal tales’ and they’re even less of a hot topic than pure fantasy. Yet, the roots of fantastic tales about animals, especially talking animals, go back to our very first oral traditions of storytelling, as far back as 600 B.C. and the time of Aesop.

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Why does this particular niche appeal to me? Kate de Goldi said once ‘writers always have their story, their palette, driven by something they find interesting that they can’t explain.’

I feel the answers lie in childhood.

I look back at my past, and I think I was a total nerd. Oh, the joy I used to get from reading a new book. To visit the library and get new books for free seemed such a delicious and exciting power to have. What to read? The choices were endless.

As a young child, I recall the impact of unexpected bliss I felt on the day I opened Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson, and read ‘Chapter 1. In which Moomintroll, Snufkin and Snif find the Hobgoblin’s hat; how five small clouds unexpectedly appear, and how the Hemulen finds himself a new hobby.’ It was a profound moment.

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I was immediately transported somewhere else. I flew away to a far more fascinating place than my powerless world, as a small child growing up in the urban landscape and a working class family.

Pure fantasy seems to deal in the fulfilment of desire, the yearning of the human heart for a kinder world, a better self, a wholer experience, a sense of truly belonging, wrote David Pringle.

Through these fantasies I read: the Moomintroll series, and the Chronicles of Narnia, the ghost stories, myths and legends, I escaped through their portal, to lands far away, where exciting magical things happened that matched the limitlessness of my imagination.

These books made my childhood more wonderful and alive.

When I first approached writing fiction for children, it was natural to reach for the subject matter which intrigued me as a young person, the genre of animal fantasy. That’s where the heart lay. It was as simple as that.

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I think it was Thoreau who coined the famous advice for writers ‘know your own bone.’

It was writer/teacher, Kate de Goldi, who said, ‘Your idiosyncratic fascination is why you were made and set here.’

In other words, in order to be true to who we are as writers, we have to find the courage to follow what truly moves us, to write what our hearts sing to read and what lights us up inside. That takes undeniable courage, to dig down to the core and come up with one’s raw innermost truths, and then own them.

I used to be ashamed of my genre. I did a lot of writing but not a lot of submitting. When I did submit, I got responses like, “no one’s buying fantasy,” or “no one’s interested in reading about talking animals.” So, I submitted less often until I stopped altogether.

That’s where self publishing is king for authors like me, who write in less than popular genres. We don’t need a nod from the gatekeepers anymore to see our books in print. We nerds can say, “I’ll publish fantasy animal tales if I want to.” And, “Nerds rule!”

What do you love about the genre you write in?

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Talk to you later…

Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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When she is most lucky, the poet sees things as if for the first time, in their original radiance or darkness: a child does this too, for he has no choice. Edwin Muir

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Our fifteen-year-old Sam-the-man has the face of a flower and the temperament to match. People love him. ‘He has something special,’ said a friend, ‘he’s open.’ At the same time, the fact he has Down’s syndrome means he is five years younger mentally than his actual age. So, while his physical self might be fifteen, his mental self is 9-10-years-old. And just as when you have a small child, when he leaves to spend the weekend with his father, the first thing that needs to be done to restore the house to sanity is to clean up.

Having a child with special needs is like raising a perpetual child. There are joys and there is continuous work to be done.

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As the parent to a special needs child, there is only the unknown instead of a finish line in sight. I use the metaphor of ‘the child who can never grow up’ to try and share my understanding thus far.

Sam’s our Peter Pan. God love him, he does a chore when I ask but, as the eternal child, he simply also creates a mess wherever he goes.

There’s always a sea of crumbs extending out from where he’s been sitting and sometimes funny smells, I find old bits of food, sticky patches on tabletops, writing on the wall, or the furniture, and globs of unmentionable things. The bathroom always needs a good clean.

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Sam has no concept of keeping track of things or the consequences of his behaviours. Sometimes, I find a random object has been broken, or – as I did yesterday, I literally walk into a sea of orange juice and discover that Sam had spilt his drink. He’d put the cup away carefully in the kitchen and then moved to a room where there was no sticky juice spilt all over the floor and started playing happily there. He would have been completely oblivious to the possibilities that could follow leaving a sea of liquid on the floor. Luckily, I was barefoot and ran away for a mop and bucket.

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I looked into Sam’s guilt-free, innocent eyes afterwards, and I marvelled at him anew. His motivations are never vindictive, his motivations are always pure. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He’d never hurt someone on purpose. His mind doesn’t work that way. It’s not preoccupied.

Sam doesn’t worry about things, he doesn’t anticipate harm. He’s always right here now in the present moment.

A year ago, it took me six weeks; from the moment the first bruise appeared on his legs, to realise someone was harming him. I discovered the boy called James next to him in the taxi, was a serial abuser, who had a reputation for hurting other kids. Sam had suffered this boy’s advances, an hour each way, to school and back every day, and never said a word, never showed any change in the way he felt about going to school or coming home.

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And he’s intelligent, Sam is smart. He can read, write, use a computer, he can use any device after watching someone use it once. He’s not dumb. Although he can’t speak clearly, he can get his message across. No. It wasn’t about being unable to communicate the fact he was being bullied every day. Rather, it was his ability to take anything in stride and to be in the moment. The bullying didn’t exist the instant he left the van or prior to getting back into it, simply because it wasn’t happening before of after.

Yes, Sam teaches me every day.

Anything that happens in his life, he’s able to take it in stride. It’s like living with a mini guru.

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I remember when Sam was born and we found out all the facts like one baby in 600 is born with Downs’ syndrome, they still don’t know why. We found out the official name is Trisomy 21 which stands for the extra chromosome.

Being classed as a “severe disability,” the embryos can be aborted right up till birth.

His father and I had no idea then, the amazingly transformative journey which lay ahead of us, raising Sam: through all the trials and the tribulations, through the years of watching him struggle, taking one step forward three steps back, to achieve every little milestone other children take for granted.

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It took Sam a year to be able to sit by himself, four years to learn to walk; it took him till the age of ten to be able to walk down a flight of stairs, and thirteen years to become fully toilet trained. Everything he’s learned has been hard-won. Yet, that has made every goal achieved much more satisfying. To watch Sam today wash himself in the bath, dress himself, shave his own stubble, and walk confidently to the taxi in the morning, I brim with pride, because I know how far we’ve come. And I also know how far we have yet to go.

It’s not easy but it’s a real privilege to raise a child with Downs’ syndrome.

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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What’s so dreadful about Downs’ syndrome? ~ Sally Phillips

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I’m sorry to tell you, but you are not equal. And neither are your daughters. ~ Dina Leygerman

Just prior to Christmas the local authorities took a chainsaw to our driveway in order dig a trench under the lower concrete pad and to put fibre into our street. The gravel-covered trench has remained open until now. The natural forces of our vehicles driving over it combined with gravity are causing the other sections of the pad to weaken and subside. Knowing the guys were only planning to patch the gap, I realised we could end up left with the damage. So, I decided to have a talk with the workmen the next time I saw them.

It just so happened that when I walked down the drive to speak to the workers, my ex husband had arrived.

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The head engineer stepped over the hole in the driveway and shook my ex husband by the hand.

Undaunted, I began explaining to the engineer what had happened so far with the drive. He listened, and then replied to the ex husband and not to me.

No matter who I spoke to, these guys were oblivious to me. When it came to talking about the job needing to be done, I was invisible to them and they were deaf, dumb and mute towards me. We did reach an agreement, via my ex as go-between, that they’d re-concrete the lower pad as well for a fee. And, I came away, fuming.

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Later that day, I said to my nephew, who is half Maori, ‘You experience racial inequality, I experience gender inequality.’

He said, ‘You should have just marched in between them, shook the guy’s hand firmly and said, “I’m the owner of this house, you talk to me”.’

He’s right, of course.

I thought about it afterwards. These are very complex thought and belief systems being dismantled, at present.

It’s clear that however much we might think we have striven to move beyond such limiting concepts as gender definitions, that we will continue to experience those beliefs as the negative attitudes of some people. And, further, that because we’re used to these old thought systems, we still sometimes play along with them.

Thanks to those women who have gone before us, we have come a long way in the march to equality. It’s sad we still do not have equal rights. In reality, women are still paid less to do the same work. In New Zealand, we have the smallest gender gap in wages, at 5.6%. In the United States’ the pay gap is 20%. (D.L’s post)

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There are still imbalances within our society which are not okay and haven’t changed a lot. I think writer and blogger, Dina Leygerman, put it best in her latest post, when she said of the modern woman, ‘You are still objectified. You are still catcalled. You are still told you’re too skinny or you’re too fat. You’re still told you’re too old or too young. You’re applauded when you “age gracefully.” You’re still told men age “better.” You’re still told to dress like a lady. You are still judged on your outfit instead of what’s in your head. Our equality is an illusion.’ “You Are Not Equal. I’m Sorry.” by @dinachka82

Yes, it is a trick of the mind to think we’re all equal.

But, I venture to put forth the notion, that it’s just as much a trick of the mind to think we need be restrained in any way from bursting free of that idea. Gender inequality is, after all, another thought or series of thoughts.

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As the ancient Hawaiians said, where attention goes, energy flows.

What my brilliant nephew did was to remind me, ‘you could have reacted differently. But you didn’t. You kowtowed. You gave up. You didn’t stand up and get strong in the face of sexism.’

I saw myself from his point of view. In his eyes, I had let myself become less and I conformed to the definition, instead of having a fresh reaction and changing it.

I learned a lot from that encounter with those workmen and then, the conversation following it with my nephew.

The next time there are a group of men working on my property, I can say, ‘I own this house, talk to me first.’ There’s my side of this equation too, as a woman that I start to act equal. At the same time as men need to cast off those old belief systems, I do too.

The challenge is there, can I find my own reserves of strength? Can I locate my voice and plant my feet, when I need to stand up and assert myself? I don’t know but I intend to find out.

So, are the genders equal, yet? No. But we can take the steps together towards the goal.

Which ideas do you want to break free of in 2018?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. E.e. Cummings

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I think when you have kids at the age of fifteen and twelve. you’re daily reminded by the sheer size of your children that the days of raising them are nearly over. At this stage, every milestone, every Christmas and New Year’s, has a slight touch of pathos, and there is the ever present awareness of appreciating their last days of childhood, their last carefree days of their youth.

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The six weeks the boys have off from school every summer has been one of the parts of parenting I’ve relished over the years. Never more so than now.

Of course, for a writer, who works from home, it is also a lot noisier, and it is more chaotic and harder to concentrate having the kids underfoot, yet, it’s an undeniable opportunity to spend time and bond together.

I would never allow myself to take that sort of time off writing usually, but because the kids need shepherding, help, driving about, as well as to be fed and watered during the holidays, I say, ‘it’s okay, I must.’ I end up taking the breaks with them.

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That’s no mean feat, because it takes a lot to stop me. I’m like a speeding locomotive. I get so much done during the year that when the festive season approaches, I’ll typically keep writing right up to Christmas Eve. This last Christmas, I stayed at my desk until 11.30 p.m. on the 24th before I finally conceded and closed the file on the work-in-progress, The Last Tree, and put the computer away.

When I finally do go on holiday, I like to go off the grid. I don’t take any devices with me, not even a phone. I think time away from the internet is very important for the creative soul, to replenish itself in nature and natural things.

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The kids and I, along with my eldest son spent the festive break with family at dad’s place, from Christmas to after New Year’s, for days of sun, sand and surf.

Burying children repeatedly in the sand

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hanging out together

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climbing mountains…

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…and more eating together.

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Once the kids and I returned to the city, we spent a day at the beach, a couple of days shopping for gadgets and supplies, a picnic with the family, friends coming over, dinner out, as well as a day trip to the fun fair.

It’s two weeks into the New Year and I still haven’t returned to work fully. It’s lovely to let go of the reigns, to take the foot off the accelerator for a few weeks, and remember what it is to have no agenda apart from having fun and connecting with the family, with no jobs to do other than to keep the food coming!

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We’re nearing the end of the kids’ long break, though. There are only one and a half weeks left. Thoughts turn towards preparation for school: stationary, uniforms, shoes, and of course, paying the various fees. But, there will be one or two more “play dates” for the boys and most likely, a few swims first.

All in all, our break has covered the bases, and I have to say, I like the feeling of 2018. Heading into the year of the Earth Dog, despite everything going on in the world, I feel a tentative optimism.

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I’m reminded of a great one of my dear grandmother’s invocations, once said to my sister and me and never forgotten.

One day when Gran was struggling with her health issues, she said to us, ‘let us go forward with a confident sense of anticipation.’ That quaint saying or “Nanism,” as I once coined my grandmother’s little repeated phrases, has become a favourite of ours, and it encapsulates my sense of the year ahead.

What’s your sense of 2018? Can you move forward with a confident sense of anticipation? 

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Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Remember there are more aspects to good health than the physical body, work just as hard on finding your mental, emotional and spiritual happiness too. ~ Holly Butcher

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Over the festive period and summer holidays this year, I’ve been getting out more socially. My oldest friends finally managed to prise me out of my writer’s cave. I get so intense about my work, that it’s actually quite a relief to take a minute off and be reminded to cut loose again. When a girlfriend I hadn’t seen in thirty-five years, turned to greet the rest of us old high school mates, as we arrived in the bar last night with, “Right ladies, it’s time for cocktails,” you know it’s time to party.

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Now that my friends and I are into our fifties, the conversation topics will always include stories of our children and aging parents. Romy Halliwell put it best when she said; Middle age is that time in life when children and parents cause you equal amounts of worry.

Yet, there is great comfort and surcease to be had by sharing these stories of anxiety. We hear tips, we gain new ideas for how to do things.

Each event has been a lot of fun! It’s nice to see everyone again and catch up.

At the same time, I approach social events a little differently to other people. As a writer, I absorb lots of details, and a party is like being bombarded with information. Israeli author, David Grossman, once said, ‘Telling your secrets to an author is very much like hugging a pickpocket.’ That’s a great analogy. I come home from social events loaded with ideas and voices and colours, enriched with the minutiae of people’s lives.

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The conversations have covered all the important bases, too: we’ve discovered one another’s current home locations, marital status, and career situations.

There is one subject however, which I try to avoid at all costs. Money. The stark reality for the majority of authors, is that they will never recoup the production costs, let alone make a living out of writing fiction.

From what I understand, very few fiction authors do.

When talking about the subject of money, I always think of a friend who collaborated with us on the Kissed by an Angel anthology. Ellen Warach Leventhal. Ellen said that, during an author visit to an Elementary School in the States, this was her favourite response from a fourth grader: “You work hard, you don’t know if you’ll ever get paid for it, and you aren’t rich? Man, not sure I want to do that.”

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Or, I remember picture book creator, Don Tate’s recent Facebook post, which said, ‘Book birthdays are exciting but, let’s face it, they’re quiet. After many years of hard work, a book is finally available for sale. There are no trumpets. There is no confetti. Heck, there ain’t even no money. So, I like to make my book birthday’s as special as possible.’

Good on him, for throwing a big shindig to celebrate every book, and for being honest about this business.

A top tier of authors do make a fantastic living, and there is good money to be made. The rest of us have to slog it out for the sales. Like most authors and artists I know, I have to maintain a whole variety of other income streams, in order to survive.

Therefore, when I go out socially, and I’m making conversation with old mates, it gets awkward when everyone is comparing “what are you doing now” stories.

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My tale of hard won self-published books comes across sounding pretty weak, even to my ears, alongside the dizzying career heights of my professional female friends.

After listening to their stellar achievements I heard myself saying, “Producing a book is a lot of hard work.” “I need to sell a hundred books to get my first royalty cheque.” Somehow, it didn’t sound quite as glamorous!

Then, I thought of the letter left by Holly Butcher, the twenty-seven-year-old with cancer, which I read on Facebook today. She said of our worries, I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go.

This reminded me about to get real about what matters.

Last night, instead of trying to compete with success stories, I concentrated on sharing with my friends how much fun and fulfilment I get from writing fiction for children. Do what makes your heart sing, right? In the end, that’s what really matters.

Is your profession your passion in 2018?

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Talk to you later.

Keep Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘I’d rather sing one wild song and burst my heart with it, than live a thousand years watching my digestion and being afraid of the wet.’ ~ Jack London

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The fourth day of the year and 2018 is already off to a promising start. The boys and I have just returned from a family Christmas and New Year holiday visit to Grandpa.

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We opened the boys’ presents at home on the 25th before driving down to the Coromandel Peninsula. We arrived before lunchtime, joining a large number of the family, who had travelled from far and wide to spend Christmas day at the seaside. The feast was divine: a first course of turkey, roast lamb, baked ham, roast potatoes and vegetables, green salad, fresh peas, and vegan nut dishes. Dessert was pavlova, fruit salad, chocolate éclairs, and I had iced the traditional fruit cake which the boys and I made with a rich brandy butter icing.

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Being summer, as soon as the dishes were done and the kitchen cleaned, the family headed for the beach. We were so hot and full and tired by that point; the only alternative would have been sleeping! Instead we were refreshed and swam about like fish for the afternoon before going back to the house for a glorious dinner of Christmas leftovers. It was lovely.

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Towards evening on Boxing Day, my father pointed out that various tips on the outlying island were tipped with bright orange light, an effect he’d not seen before in more than fifty years. I noted that near the island rising from the ocean was a “grandma rainbow,” or small rainbow. I said hi and a few words quietly to my mother and wished her a Merry Christmas.

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We spent the week in between Christmas and the 31st relaxing. Each day, we’d meet down at grandpa’s favourite café for lunch, before going to the beach for a swim and play in the waves. In the afternoons, we shared the job of creating big meals for more than a dozen people. In between meals were ice creams, hot chips, cold beers, and trips to see the Xmas lights, cards, sandcastles, playgrounds, kayaking, body surfing, and walking.

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There were many special moments throughout the week, like burying the youngest son in the sand. The boys had electric fly zappers and spent hours hunting down and killing wasps and mosquitoes, which was hilarious. One of my nephews and his wife brought their gorgeous six month old baby to visit. The boys and I walked to the top of the mountain behind my father’s house. From the peak, we could see pohutakawa in bloom, “New Zealand’s Christmas Tree,” which makes any landscape look more beautiful.

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On New Year’s Eve, there was a big fireworks display. The kids stayed up late and they were so excited. Most of the adults were tired and having difficulty staying awake, while the kids were bouncing off the walls.

The whole evening went smoothly despite losing my son Sam-the-man, a fifteen-year-old with Down’s syndrome at about 10.30 p.m. We discovered Sam was missing, and we spilled out of the house in all directions with torches to look for him. Luckily he hadn’t gone far. I found Sam about five minutes later, sitting with a group of neighbours watching some domestic fireworks being let off in the reserve below Grandpa’s house.

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A few minutes before the countdown at midnight, the kids and I walked together with our family to the lookout point. From there, we had a grand view of the harbour. At midnight a firework display was set off from a barge on the water, exploding in the air above the amphitheatre of the harbour and mountains and in the sky above us.

As we walked back to the house, my nephew said, ‘Isn’t it amazing to think that all of us are here tonight because of Grandpa.’ Yes, it is wonderful.

A friend’s daughter coined the term, “Thankmas,” as a way of making Christmas also a celebration of gratitude. Our Thankmas was the gratitude our family felt to be celebrating another festive season with Grandpa. We came so close to losing dad to double pneumonia in 2017, that to be together again for another precious holiday was a gift to be thankful for. Happy Thankmas!

What are you grateful for as you start the New Year?

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Talk to you later.

Happy New Year!

Yvette K. Carol

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Some of us think holding on makes us strong, but sometimes it is letting go. ~ Hesse

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Any book that helps a child to form the habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him. ~ Maya Angelou

When I was small, our father used to read us a bedtime story every night. My brother and I would lie in our beds after all the bedtime rituals had been done. We’d yell, “Ready!” and dad would come down to sit in our room and read us the next precious pages in whatever book we were reading. He read us the classics, Wind in the Willows, The Water Babies, The Jungle Book, Treasure Island, and Robinson Crusoe. We grew up with a love for stories.

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It is as writer, Sage Cohen said, that we ‘come into this world hard-wired for the repetition of sound, rhythm and pattern in language. Before we can even speak, we delight in recognizing our own experience and learning about those unlike ours through the stories we are told.’ There is a primordial response of satisfaction to hear a good story, and for the writer it is the same joy to write one.

When you start out as a book lover who turns into a children’s writer you are deeply connected to the meaning and purpose of fiction. Michael Morpurgo said, ‘It’s not about testing and reading schemes, but about loving stories and passing on that passion to our children.’ We write because that love still lives and resonates inside us. Writers'_Week_Kate_de_Goldi_Adelaide_Festival_medium

We can still remember the special hushed feeling, like we had entered a cathedral, which we had as a young person every time we opened a book and stepped inside another world. We can still remember some of the tales and how we felt.

As author, Kate de Goldi once said, ‘We still remember readings that acted like transformations’.

I took a couple of writing for children courses with Kate de Goldi. I was struck when she said that she ‘never writes about or for children. I write for the once and always child in myself.’

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I related to that idea and I let rip, writing what the wild little girl inside wanted to say.

The danger for me, as an introvert, is that I can go far into my own world and lose contact with people. It’s easy to become distanced from the reading audience.

Yesterday, I was pried out of my bunker by well-meaning friends and forced to go to a Christmas party. I trooped along with an eye on the clock. Yet, the most extraordinary thing happened. I had the experience of meeting my first “fan.” Blake is the 8-year-old grandson of a friend. He happens to be a voracious reader, bless his soul, who ‘devours books’ as his grandmother put it.

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Blake had read my first book, The Or’in of Tane Mahuta, and had been waiting for the sequel. When I gave him The Sasori Empire, he carried it with both hands, staring all the while at the cover. He walked straight to a chair, sat down and started reading. When I left the party two hours later, Blake was still reading.

I could have wept. This experience was revelatory for me. I saw with my own eyes, a child who loves to read, diving headfirst into my world. A child who was engrossed in my story.

This simple situation took me out of my “shoes” as the author and put me into the shoes of the “reader.” I felt the responsibility to do justice to the world I’ve created, and to honour the needs of the reader, to deliver the best story I can.

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It had the singular effect of realigning me with my writer’s oath. I was reminded that once one has taken the reader on a journey, the responsible author ushers them safely home to a satisfactory conclusion. I recalled the pinkie swear to resolve all the questions and storylines raised.

Seeing that precious beautiful young reader deep into his book, (my book!), reminded me that my pen is a direct conduit to young readers’ hearts and minds. I have a duty to him and to all young readers to do the best I can. These years of reading literature will be some of the best and most exhilarating of their lives. I have to raise my game to be worthy of the challenge.

What a gift. And, just in time for Christmas.

That’s the New Year’s resolution sorted! Have you ever had a situation which made you remember your reader?

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Talk to you later.

Happy Holidays!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart.’ ~ E.B.White

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I have talked about my homemade festive cards in previous posts, however, since there have been lots of new subscribers to this blog in 2017, in the spirit of the season, I’d like to welcome everyone aboard and share the idea again.

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I make a festive card featuring my kids each year. The tradition began with the birth of my middle child, Samuel in 2002, and continued when the youngest was born three years later, featuring both the youngest boys on the cover.

In one little festive-themed image, I could instantly update friends and family about the kids’ progress, and using cards recycled from the year before. It was a win-win situation. The homemade card is easy, super cheap being made out of mostly recycled materials, and most importantly, it’s fun to do.

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Every year, towards the end of November, I make my kids sit and pose for the Xmas photo. There’s always a lot of moaning and groaning. But, eventually they cooperate, and we always get a good picture. Sometimes they help with the crafting of the cards, yet even if they don’t, that really is the fun part, crafting the end result.

So, if you’d like to start a new family tradition and try making the card yourself, here’s the process:

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Start by taking your chosen photo and reducing the size to fit your choice of card size. I like to do miniatures so the pictures are small and dinky. I am able to get eight miniatures onto an A4 page. Once you’ve set them out on the page the way you want it print as many pages as needed. I usually limit it to sixteen cards in total, as they do take a bit of time and one has to divide one’s time between a lot of activities at Christmas.

Next, cut out the pictures.

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I make templates for the size of the card and the layer of decorative paper in between, and the photo, so a bit of the decorative paper and a border of the card itself will show around the image, in other words, each is progressively larger. Using a template keeps things uniform and pleasing to the eye, and saves time each year.

For the cardboard, I buy cheap bulk packs of old Christmas cards from charity shops. Sometimes, I save the cards we’ve received from the year before and recycle them by pasting white paper over the writing inside.

Either way, cut out sixteen pieces of cardboard to the size of the first template.

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Cut out sixteen pieces of festive themed paper, to the next size template.

Glue the paper onto the front of the card. Don’t worry about whether the patterns match or if you’ve got the layers running in different directions. This is art. Be funky and wild and have fun with it. Go crazy, man!

Then, trim your photo to the size of the picture template.

Choose your bling. I use a type of synthetic crafting fibre which my mother bought for me at a crafting fair many moons ago, which forms a sheet of shimmery stuff. With names like Cotton Candy and Lemon Sparkle you can’t go wrong. I take a clump of that, and iron it flat, then I cut the sheet into small strips or rectangles to add a touch of shimmer. You could also cut up cellophane or tinsel. Alternatively, you could use good old glitter.

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Paste your family photo on top of this background decorative paper, trapping the synthetic fiber, tinsel or cellophane in between.

Decorate! Let ‘er rip and have fun embellishing the fronts of the cards. Sometimes I use glitter, beads and doodads. But, this year, I just added stickers, using up all the kids’ festive themed stickers. Double bonus!

Write a personal message inside each card and send them snail mail to friends and family.

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Fifteen years later and the satisfaction hasn’t waned. I’ve just mailed fourteen handmade cards to friends and family and it feels lovely.

I always make sure there are two cards left over, one for me, as a keepsake, and one “spare.” The funny thing is, every year without fail, I get asked by a random person whether they could receive one of our cards, and I say, ‘yes, I happen to have one left over.’ The spare always finds a home! Last year, the spare went to Paeroa, New Zealand, and this year, it went to Istanbul, Turkey!

We get a terrific response to our cards. Let us know if you do, too!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love. ~ Hamilton Wright Mabie

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There is nothing quite like the smell of an extra spicy fruit cake baking in the oven, however, the Queen of them all is the old English style Christmas Cake. In essence, it’s a deeply rich fruit mixture heavy on the fruit and steeped in rum or brandy. Thick and dense, it bakes for up to four hours on a low heat, which is a nice long time for the smell to permeate the house. We love it.

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I come from a family of British immigrants to New Zealand, and despite the fact we have summer in the festive season, my parents continued the tradition of the “Christmas Cake.” I have raised my boys with our own version of the family tradition. At the end of November, my kids and I don our aprons and head into the kitchen for the labour of love.

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I think the secret to a good result is in soaking the fruit in orange juice and rum or brandy overnight. In the old English style, the ratio of dried fruit to flour is about four to one. Typically, there will be raisins, currants, sultanas and chopped dates. Most recipes call for glace cherries and crystallised ginger, but, as I’m not fond of these ingredients, I like to add chopped dried apricots and figs and extra blanched almonds.

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This year, my boys and I came up with a fun idea for a crafty gift. We only used half the batter for the traditional rectangular cake, which will be iced closer to Christmas with brandy butter icing.

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The other half of the batter, we fashioned into rough balls and baked in muffin tins. In this form, they take half the time, roughly two to two and a half hours at a low heat. They form a nice firm ball. Once cool, we dusted them lightly with sifted icing sugar.

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We wrapped the individual balls in baking paper, making neat little parcels with cotton gift ties.

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I had been collecting gift boxes and tins from the thrift stores the last few weeks. We wrapped the paper parcels in cellophane wrap to ensure they will stay fresh as long as possible and divided the balls between the tins and boxes.

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We wrote a personalised message on a gift tag inside each lid.

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We tied a ribbon on each box and there you have it, our Christmas Cake Balls as a gift you can make with your kids and give away at this year.

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Do you make your own gifts or have your own crafting traditions at this time of year? If so, let us know!

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Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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It is never too late to start enjoying a happy childhood. ~ Joy Cowley

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Subscribe to my Newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com