Dandelions and Bad Hair Days: Everybody loves it so let’s go for the top 10….!

Really proud of my involvement in this book, so please pass this on to anyone you think may find it helpful:

No more wriggling out of writing ......

Last month Dandelions and Bad Hair Days; Untangling lives affected by depression and anxiety was published on Kindle. Available around the world to read on Kindle, PC or even iPads and smart phones, alongside the paperback version it is now available to millions of people. All the reviews so far have been 5*, with comments such as ‘moving’ ‘enlightening’ ‘uplifting’ ‘accessible’. The book has been featured at a Psychotherapy conference where a reading by Vivienne Tuffnell of her piece that gives the book its title was viewed by many therapists present as one of the highlights of the day.


All good then. Since going to eBook DABHD has featured in two Kindle charts, reaching the top 50 of one of them and the royalties available from Amazon mean that selling at 2.99 we get nearly as much in royalties as we do for a paperback at twice the price.

But we really…

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Kissing moths, not frogs


Kissing moths, not frogs

Folklore fascinates me, and its younger sibling, the urban myth comes a close second. Once you start looking at them both, you realise there is a hoard of inspiration for writing but also they’re something that thread through much of modern consciousness. When it comes to superstitions, most people claim to be above it all, but there are things that seem to undermine that.

The tear-drinking moth is one of those things.

I thought it was a myth and I casually asked my brother to confirm this. His area of expertise is lepidoptera, and I grew up with bugs of all sorts so I’m deeply grateful that he stuck largely to butterflies and moths as his primary interest. He’s had a room full of tarantulas since I left home, and would like to breed scorpions too. When I mentioned the moth that drinks tears he surprised me. It exists, and he sent me links to some photos of it. It looks harmless enough until you realise that this moth does not merely wait patiently for tears to spill from sleeping eyes, but rather it provokes them. It uses its sharp proboscis to poke the eye and make it water, causing serious irritation and spreads various disgusting diseases. Creepier still is the evolution of a moth that drinks not tears but blood: http://news.nationalgeographic.co.uk/news/2008/10/081027-vampire-moth-evolution-halloween-missions.html

I’d be lying if I said I set out to write a story about the tear-drinking moth. I didn’t. I’d got to a part in a novel I was writing where I needed to step back and look at the narrative from the outside. The novel in question is the third in a series, the first of which is The Bet http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bet-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=la_B00766135C_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1368440880&sr=1-5 , and I was trying to create a penetrating sense of menace, of that creeping sense of being watched. So I stepped outside and in a number of pieces, I became the observer, watching and waiting and plotting. Most of it is liable to sit on my hard-drive, unseen but the short story I named The Moth’s Kiss for its reference to the tear-drinking moth http://www.cracked.com/article_19073_the-8-most-terrifying-diets-in-animal-kingdom.html was obviously capable of standing alone as a story in its own right.

I enjoy writing short stories; it’s a very different discipline to that of writing a novel. As a result I write a few in bursts and often do nothing more with them. I’ve published one collection of shorts, with a theme of ancient deities interacting with the modern world, and I wondered if among the many stories stuffed onto my computer I had sufficient to produce another collection with a theme.

That’s when I had the idea of The Moth’s Kiss as first tale in a sequence of stories with related themes. Initially I thought of it as scary stories, but on reflection I realised that each of the selected tales dips into some well-embedded folklore and urban legends. A Devil’s Pet visits the abiding belief that cats are uncanny and evil. Black Hole is entwined with some quite new beliefs, made widespread by such books as The Secret, that we can draw to ourselves what we need or deserve by merely focusing our thoughts on our goals with sufficient confidence; I took this so-called Law of Attraction and had a little fun with it. Both Green Willow and Bitter Withy incorporate both ancient folklore of the willow tree being the champion of the discarded lover and other more recent legends, such as the oracle of iPods on shuffle.

Each of the ten stories links to some abiding belief whether ancient or modern or a combination of the two. I have heard that Einstein is said to have recommended that for intelligent children you should read them fairy-tales and for more intelligent children, read them MORE fairy-tales. I’m not convinced about the intelligence bit but fairy-tales, folklore, urban legends all emerge from various strata of the collective unconscious and point not just to our primal needs but also our collective primal fears. This is why we can be transported back millennia by a good story well told; it takes us back to a time when that prickling feeling of being watched was worth heeding for it may have meant that Smilodon or other ambush predator was lurking in the long grass licking its lips. Such a tale reminds us of our fragility even in our technological bubble and there’s really nothing like being shocked by a brush with death (even fictional) to make us feel vibrantly alive again.

UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Moths-Kiss-ebook/dp/B00CPLPYJY/ref=la_B00766135C_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1368437886&sr=1-4

USA: http://www.amazon.com/The-Moths-Kiss-ebook/dp/B00CPLPYJY/ref=la_B00766135C_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1368437886&sr=1-4


Summer Solstice Morning

Summer Solstice morning

I have not slept. I have spent the night tending the fire, gazing into the dancing flames and the embers that glow red amid the grey ash that coats them. It may be summer but the night has been chilly and my body aches with it, and with the enforced stillness. I’d like to feed the fire now, coax it into new life, but the purpose of the night was to keep the fire barely alive till the first sunlight breaks over the tree-clad horizon. I have fed the fire one stick at a time, keeping the balance between it remaining alight and the spark being extinguished for lack of fuel. On a normal day I would have banked the fire with slabs of turf hacked from the grass-clad slopes below my cave but this is part of my ritual, this meticulous slow tending to the spirit of the hearth.

Inside my cave, my cooking fire has burned low too, but I know I can rekindle that quickly and easily. My stomach growls and I think of hot tea and cakes made from the last of the autumn’s chestnuts, cooked on a flat stone in the margins of the hearth.

This is not about fire; this is not about light. And yet both are fundamental to this morning. If morning ever comes, that is, for the sky is midnight blue, speckled with stars and frayed with wisps of clouds that blur their twinkling.

But I can hear birds beginning to stir, to emit the first notes of their songs to greet the daylight with, and when I look again I can see that the stars are going out, one by one. The midnight blue has become greyish, and as I gaze into the blackness below the ledge where my cave opens out into a half moon of soft sand, I can see that the forest beyond is no longer a sea of darkness. I can see that there are trees as diffuse light strikes the leaves and branches, and very far off the line of night is vanishing as the first rays of sun pierce the sky. It will not be long, but my legs are cramping and I struggle to my feet, stamping and waving my arms to restore the blood flow to my body.

Like red eyes, the embers glow more brightly as the morning brings a stiff breeze that scatters the ashes and whips the last of the dying fire into one final bloom of flames. I stand very still, hearing the soft crackle, and I wait. The golden burst of sun-rays is sudden; it always takes me by surprise how swift it comes, this morning. As the light touches the forest and then reaches my little dwelling, I take my flask and I hold it up to the rising sun. Mead, from last year or the year before, sweet and strong. I drink deeply, gulping and letting it pour into me. Half for me, then I upend the flask so that the rest floods the fire. There is a hiss and a smell of honey, and the fire is out.

This day is the longest day and will need no ritual fire. The furnace of the sun is at its peak now and we shall need no more reminders of its power until the harvest comes.

I turn, wobbling slightly as the mead has gone to my head, and go inside to brew tea and brown sweet cakes before going about my day’s work, while outside the mountain I live on is warmed by the midsummer sun and the creatures I share the land with start their day. 

“Religion is the opiate of the people” ~ on why pain relief is important for all of us

Religion is the opiate of the people” ~ on why pain relief is important for all of us

Marx’s words on religion has surely been one of the most quoted of sound-bites and possibly the most misunderstood and mistranslated. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opium_of_the_people

Main article: Marxism and religion

The quotation, in context, reads as follows (emphasis added):

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man – state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d’honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.

Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation, but so that he shall throw off the chain and pluck the living flower.[1]

I’m a fan of opiates. Opiates are what can make impossible pain bearable; they can ease the inevitable exit from this life, changing it from what can be screaming agony for days to a relatively peaceful death. They can soften chronic pain enough that life can go on. If you have ever had any major surgery, then you know the value of morphine.

As a society we have become brainwashed into toughing it out, believing that any sort of softening is wimping out, that is shows moral failure, a character flaw. The ability to endure pain without reaching for help is seen as something admirable. Some years ago, when I was at the height of my battle with endometriosis and depression, a colleague said sneeringly at me, “You take too many pills, girl.” At the time, I was taking nothing other than the bare minimum of pain relief that allowed me to get through my teaching day without passing out in pain. She had assumed that I was also taking anti-depressants and was passing judgement that I must therefore be weak and I really ought to just ‘man up’, grit my teeth and stop being a wuss. I wasn’t taking anti-depressants, not because I believed that to do so made me weak but because I’d found the side effects out weighed the very small benefit they might have had.

This illustrates what has become a strong undercurrent in our society, a hidden belief that we must push our selves beyond the pain, beyond the limits of our minds and bodies or become worthless. Media stories are jam packed with so-called inspirational stories of people who didn’t let their disabilities stop them from following their dreams. We are encouraged to see these stories as examples of how if someone with no legs can become and do what they want, then surely we can also achieve greatness.

I’ve discovered that pushing yourself when you are in pain is not always a good thing. In fact, it can be very damaging indeed. Pain is a warning from your body. It’s not a barrier to push through. It’s a very clear warning that you are about to exceed your limits. We tend to think of our bodies as somehow elastic, with endless rebound. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is the biggest lie.

We have become a people aspiring to be superheroes. Whether in physical ways or in mental ones, we’re constantly exhorted to push push push past our pain. Well, I’ve begun to believe that this way leads to more pain. The effects of chronic pain on brain chemistry are well documented. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=how-chronic-pain-affects-memory-mood . We’re accustomed to the belief that toughing it out makes us stronger as people but the evidence is it weakens us in very real, physical ways.

For many years the quote from Marx has been bandied about as a denigration of religion. Until I read it in full, I saw it as such. But my own health has made me try to re-evaluate the problem of pain and pain relief and putting it into the context of world health, I’ve begun to wonder something. Life is painful, and no one gets out of it alive. So why do we fight against things that ease suffering?


Why I am NOT proud to be British

Why I am NOT proud to be British.

In the last year or two this country saw several events that brought out the bunting and the Union flags by the million. A royal wedding, a Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. I had zero interest bordering on outright boredom for the royal wedding, a mild feeling of goodwill towards the Queen for her jubilee and outright hostility to the Olympics. Explaining quite how opposed I was to what many termed the event of the century is going to be complicated so suffice it to say it was a combination of an objection to the hidden machinations that went on, the vast overspend of public money at a time when public services are teetering on collapse, an indifference to spectacle and sport and a few other issues.

What I heard a lot last year was the phrase, “It makes me proud to be British!” It baffled me. Let me explain why before I get strung up.

I’m British. Not only was I born here, but my ancestors back to the start of the eighteenth century were born here for sure (before that time, there’s a lot of Irish; go back to the tenth century and my ancestors were Norman warlords from Anjou. ‘Nuff said I think). I love this country, with its quirks and traditions and the countryside, and the mad weather and the melting pot of cultures. But I’m not proud to be British. To be proud of something like that is somehow claiming credit for a choice, a decision, a participation in that collective identity. I did not choose to be born here. I have done nothing in my life time to add to that sense of national identity, of being an integral part of what makes Britain, Britain. I’m just one citizen among around 62 million other citizens. I have no special claim to have added something to this country, to give me a sense of being proud of a collective achievement that being proud to be British might suggest.

In my forty or so years, I’ve learned to love (or endure!) the peculiarities of my country. I sometimes watch cricket, that sport so baffling to almost every American I’ve known, and while I’m indifferent to the sport, the quintessential English-ness of the game charms me. I’ve had to explain the British reticence and politeness and sense of humour to hundreds if not thousands of TEFL students. We’re a strange nation.

In the last five years I have watched with dismay as some of the things this country got right, like education, health care and the arts, are being ruthlessly undermined till they begin to collapse, set upon by a ruling elite arrogant enough to think we will just accept it. This is the nation whose women fought for suffrage, put their fight on hold during the Great War and took up the struggle again once war was over. We are not passive doormats; we fight back against iniquities. Yet now the people who are taking to the streets and demonstrating about what they feel is wrong are focusing entirely on the wrong things. Manipulated by media, blame is being laid on groups perceived as outsiders, immigrants and overseas minorities. It makes me very sad and very angry. Understandable outrage at lack of jobs is being twisted into hatred against groups that have very little to do with the issue.

I’m not politically savvy. But I’ve watched the way the government has been cutting and cutting and cutting at the most vulnerable of targets, from the disabled to our treasured health service, and it appals me that it’s just being allowed to happen. Recently, there was a leak of a proposal to cap GP visits at just 3 per year. Current health minister Jeremy Hunt has now gone on record saying this will NEVER happen (and also casting aspersions at various pressure groups, suggesting they’d made it up) but only after a high profile campaign and petition made it quite clear how much of a vote loser this would be.

Once, if asked, I would have had no hesitation in agreeing that had I had such a choice, I would have chosen to have been born in this country. Now I would hesitate to answer it in such a way. I love my country, but I am seeing less to be proud of as I get older and more to grieve for, for what has slipped away and for what has been stolen by greedy, amoral people who are the ruling so-called elite. 

Finally the wait is over: Dandelions and Bad Hair Days out on Kindle

Finally the wait is over: Dandelions and Bad Hair Days out on Kindle


A few days ago, the news I’d been waiting for came in. Last October, to coincide with World Mental Health Day, I went to the launch of a book written to raise awareness and funds for mental health charities. Complied and edited by Suzie Grogan Dandelions and Bad Hair Days sold a hefty whack of the first print run on launch day and has been selling steadily ever since.

But now it’s out on Kindle and in its first week it soared into the top 100 for not one but three categories on Amazon.

This is not a self help book, as such. It doesn’t tell you how to deal with mental health crises in ten bullet points. It doesn’t go into the theories behind why mental distress occurs. It’s written by people closely affected by mental health issues, as sufferers or as carers, and not one of the stories will fail to move or inspire you. It contains poetry and prose, and even humour.

In the last week, mental health has been in the news. Ruby Wax has a new book out about it. Stephen Fry has been talking about a suicide attempt last year. This isn’t an issue that is going to go away.

Dandelions and Bad Hair Days doesn’t have a celebrity cheer leader to get it onto TV or into the newspapers. This is very much a grass-roots project, but it relies on word of mouth to pass the news on. I have three entries: two essays and a poem. In fact, the book title is from my essay, something I am still very proud of. All of the profits go to SANE and to OCD Action; none of the contributors are paid. This is a topic I am passionate about: 1 in 3 people will experience mental health issues at some time in their lives. I’ve been affected my whole life and if I can do anything to help ease the suffering of another soul, then I shall.

This book is part of my own reaching out to help others. Pass it on.





Me and my Shadow ~ living with the unseen

Me and my Shadow ~ living with the unseen

I’ve been pussyfooting around doing any real shadow work because I’m really not sure where to start. All the reading I’ve done suggests that there is no one path to integrating the shadow, but rather many. There is no one size fits all method, no programme to follow. So instead I’ve been exploring metaphors and bits and pieces of myself and getting a slow view of what lies beneath.

The thing about shadows, real or metaphysical, is that they’re not visible until there’s a very bright light. Diffuse light produces no shadows, generally. And we’ve had very little sunshine for a long while so I can’t remember when I last saw my actual shadow. But shining a bright light into the soul is pretty uncomfortable so I’ve resisted doing that on purpose.

Those who are sceptical about the effects of the shadow on a person would perhaps be asking, well, if you can’t see or notice the shadow much, then it can’t really be having much effect, can it?

Good question.

I’m going to reply to that with something from my own life that has emerged in the last week. Some months ago I went to our GP with various symptoms that were causing me a great deal of pain and problems. Because my medical records are peppered with depression and anxiety, his instant response was to ascribe these symptoms to that. I refused to accept this and eventually he agreed to refer me to a specialist. By the time the appointment came round, I was very nervous and worried. I made up my mind that should I not receive respect and empathy, this would be the last time I would agree to see a medical practitioner outside of emergencies.

Someone somewhere was listening to my pain. It turns out I have a congenital condition that has been present my whole life, causing a whole raft of issues, but in recent years, the damage to my body is showing up more and more. There is permanent damage already. I’m being referred for more tests and also for more help, in terms of various gadgets and gizmos that may help to prevent further damage and that will hopefully make life more comfortable. I’ll have to learn to readjust the way I do certain things, and instead of being stoical, actually saying no to the things that will increase the damage.

This has been present since birth. Some has been visible but has only been seen as “That’s a bit odd!” and over my lifetime, NOT knowing it was there has meant I’ve not known to avoid certain activities. That unacknowledged condition has meant that damage in small and large increments has gone on and on. Some of it is visible now, but another person can’t see the pain or the internal damage that underlies it.

I suspect the Shadow is like this. Present in every human, it remains unseen, working away inside, and the damage it can do while it remains unrecognised is unimaginable. But bring it out where it can be seen, shine a spotlight on it, examine and explore it, and who knows? The Shadow may prove to be helpful and not harmful, as long as you know it’s there and work with it, not against it.