Blinking in the spotlight ~ an interview with me

Earlier this week I was interviewed by Jorge Salgado-Reyes at the Indie Authors Press. It’s ever so slightly daunting being questioned by someone you know to be a private investigator (and the Dire Straits song Private Investigations was playing off and on in my head during the interview) but the results are enjoyable.

It was good to get a chance to review the writing process and also to get some exposure for the forthcoming novel Square Peg too.

Enjoy!

http://www.salgado-reyes.com/breakingnews/shining-the-spotlight-on-vivienne-tuffnell/

“She’s only after the attention!”

“She’s only after the attention!”

I bought a new chair a few weeks ago.

Bravo, you might say and then look puzzled. A new chair? Yes. Very nice. But why are you telling us about it?

Bear with me a moment. It’s a chair I’ve wanted to buy for about ten years but we never had anywhere to put it so it was never bought. It’s that classic design from Ikea, rejoicing in the delightful name Poang. You might know it; it also has a matching footstool. Neither are expensive and so I put one in our trolley on our last Ikea visit.

Poang armchair

Poang armchair

Poang armchair

When you sit in it, this chair seems to be tailored to fit your contours perfectly. Put your feet up and it’s even better. But the slightest movement results in a gentle, soothing rocking motion that is supremely relaxing as long as you’re not prone to sea-sickness. Once the chair was assembled, I sat in it and found myself rocking automatically, and I pulled a blanket over me and felt safe. The phrase “self-soothing” sprang to mind. Babies and small children are difficult sometimes to persuade that bed and sleep are good things, and part of what parents are expected to teach them is a process of self-soothing whereby the children can just go to bed and get themselves off to sleep without the endless round of rocking, cuddling, holding, bottle(or breast), music and so on. It’s part of the process of encouraging our off-spring to be independent beings who don’t need us for their security and sense of safety and comfort.

What bothers me is that it seems to begin at birth. No sooner is the babe out of the womb than we’re encouraged to shove them in a cot or pram and expect the poor little things to cope with it. Imagine: your whole existence up till this point, you have been cocooned and held in warmth and have your every (albeit basic) needs met without having to seek it. Now you’re out in a world where you have to scream to be fed and held, and nothing feels right. You’ve never been alone before. No wonder babies scream so much.

As parents (if you’ve been lucky enough to have kids, that is) you have little or no preparation for this, and if you are like me, you have no one around you to advise except mid-wives, health visitors, and a few friends in the same boat, trying to figure it out and get sufficient sleep. You’re often bombarded by conflicting advice from relatives and from books and TV and websites(when mine was born, the internet per se did not exist) and the most common advice is that you bend the infant to your will, to your way of living. Don’t give in to this miniature tyrant who bosses you around and makes you do their bidding, is the general opinion, and you are told you will “spoil” your baby if you do.

I remember a close friend who had a daughter a bit older than mine, being told by another young mum that the child who was having a tantrum was “only doing it for attention.” My wise friend retorted coolly, “Then I had better give her some attention.”

Fast forward to the present day.

With the internet, cries for attention pepper the time-lines of Twitter, the pages of Facebook and are the staple of blogging. Indeed, to some, blogging itself is regarded as the most vile of attention seeking. I recall TV presenter Andrew Marr saying something of the sort.

A baby that does not have its emotional needs met in infancy usually is damaged by the experience. Bodies can thrive and grow but the spirit can be stunted and scarred by lack of attention. It’s a fundamental human need to be of value & importance to those around us, and when it is lacking, however much notional love is present in a family, there remains a void in the centre of a person’s soul.

I belong to the generation whose mothers were told to feed Baby and put them in the garden in their pram to watch washing blowing on the line and ignore their cries until it is time for the next feed. A friend of my mother’s used to put the pram at the bottom of the orchard, a considerable distance from the house, so she could not hear the baby crying. I was myself kidnapped as a ten day old baby. Obviously I don’t remember it but I do sometimes feel sure that the impact on me at the time has resonance to this day. My generation were not cuddled and coddled and the worst thing you could be as a child was an “attention seeker”, especially if you were a girl. The truth is that there’s a good chance that much of what is going hopelessly wrong with the Western world has its roots in children who grew up craving attention but seldom getting it in ways that fed the soul. To learn to self-soothe is still encouraged by popular psychology that dictates that no one cane truly help you except yourself. I disagree. We are a tribal people whether we accept it or not; we are not built to be totally emotionally and physically isolated. John Donne’s famous words, No man is an island, are true to this day.

So the next time you see someone attention-seeking, whether online or in “real life”, perhaps it is worth considering why they might be behaving this way and what deep need is being exhibited. Compassion for the self and for others might well be the best first step towards healing generations of people damaged by the myths of strength and independence that have filled our national identities and characters and have damaged the souls of so many.

Kindness and compassion. It’s a good place to start.

Different books for a friday reading session ~ #Fridayreads

Friday Reads Feb 2014

Ages back I said I would report back on books I’ve read by indie writers that I have enjoyed and I didn’t. Not because I didn’t find any I liked but because there are so many!

I thought I’d slip in a few today of my more recent ones. They’re all very different.

For what I’d call soft sci-fi, why not try Kay Sluterbeck’s Educating the Human?     It’s the story of interspecies communication and is funny and touching. Light enough for a comfortable read, it does bring up some less than comfortable thoughts but is an entertaining shortish read.

For something with a bit more bite (haha) try Gev Sweeney’s Salutaris.  A very original and different take on the rather tired (unless you’re Anne Rice, that is) vampire trope, it delves quite deep into the human psyche and into matters of the spirit.

For a quick, spooky read, try Suzie Grogan’s trio of ghostly tales, The Marrow Scoop and other  The first two are close enough to the style of M.R. James for afficionados to enjoy, while the third is in the author’s own voice.

For anyone with a desire to go on a dark journey, Sam Pennington’s A Very Ordinary Madness  will draw you in but heed the trigger warning if you have a sensitive nature; it contains some harrowing scenes of self harm and scenes from a mental ward. The voice Sam uses is so authentic and powerful, reading it you are rooting for the charismatic main character to make it through wrestling with his demons.

There are more but I think that will be enough for the moment. It’s a very personal selection of books that have appealed to me recently. Have a great weekend!

PS: all books are available on Amazon.com. Go into the URL for each book , find the .co.uk and replace it with .com (or .de or .ca or whatever) and then hit enter. It will bring you to the right page for the book in your country. If not, then enter the author name and book title into the search bar on Amazon and find it that way.

Sisyphus’s rocks ~ when is it time to give up and stop pushing?

Sisyphus’s rocks ~ when is it time to give up and stop pushing?

Last week, this blog passed both its five year anniversary and 150 thousand ‘hits’ in that time and I failed to blog about either milestone. We were away for the anniversary but I could have written a post and scheduled it for the 9th, the day itself. A few days later, I watched as the numbers on my stats page ticked up to and past the 150k mark, and while I mentioned it here and there, I had no real sense or feeling of achievement.

When I began blogging I had no idea where it would take me. Very few of my earliest blogging friends still blog; some have vanished utterly, some have deleted blogs and some seldom if ever add new posts. But there are millions of new blogs, across the various platforms, and from a brief glance, the ones that tend to be the most popular are the food blogs, the parenting (Mummy) blogs and a few massive writer blogs. Mine is insignificant in the greater scheme of things. I’ve seen my average daily number of visits fall steadily.

It’s not the only thing to fall steadily. Book sales have diminished too. This time last year I had begun to believe I might be close to making a small living out of writing. Now I can say no such thing. There are conspiracy theories abounding, suggesting underhand and dishonest dealings from the biggest of the e-book retailers, Amazon, and while I am tempted to believe in such theories, the truth is probably far more prosaic. E-book growth has slowed in the last year, despite the proliferation of titles and the emergence of many new authors. Amazon itself has responded to the slowdown with new promotional ideas such as Countdown, and Matchbook as well as the Select programme. I hear constantly of other writers who had been doing really well, seeing steady growth of their book sales, finding that their sales numbers have fallen and nothing seems to halt it. While in my worst moments of depression lately I have feared that my personal decline in sales is down to me being a crap writer (and I don’t dismiss that entirely, because we can all delude ourselves), the fact is that the market share for every mid-list author is getting smaller the more books there are out there, and the harder it is to be visible. Yet those who have paid for advertisements report diminishing returns for their outlay, just as those who used the Select programme find that using their free days has been less and less effective in getting visibility and subsequent sales.

There’s also the fact that with the bonanza of free books (as well as extremely cheap ones) many people with e-readers may never finish reading all the freebies they have amassed. There are plenty of folks who declare they will never BUY another e-book again. While some of the free books are certainly going to be dross, it’s FREE dross, and if you don’t have any particular taste for reading except as a way to pass time, it matters very little what you read. It’s depressing to think that there are readers who care little about the work and thought and sheer heart that goes into writing a good book, and who only look at the price. I reduced the price of The Bet, in the hopes that bringing it into the same range as my others might entice new readers.

I’m told that the best way to gain readers is to bring out more books, which is fine and dandy, except I am far from convinced that this will work any more. I know of authors who bring out several (or many) new books every year, and who are also seeing falling sales. I believe that the wonderful readers I already have will be very pleased when I bring out a new book (and I have had requests to know when the sequel to The Bet is coming out) and for those I say, soon. Yet this brings me to the other thing.

If you have been following this blog, you will know I have been diagnosed with a parathyroid tumour. I’m waiting for a date for surgery to remove this non-cancerous growth, but it’s still uncertain when that will be. But Dexter (my tumour) is causing huge physical and mental health problems. I’m in pain constantly despite pain relief that itself causes problems. I’m suffering from low mood that makes staying upbeat VERY hard, despite my best efforts to keep positive and to be thankful for the good things. Even the fact that I try and fail makes me feel horribly guilty; am I so weak and ungrateful that I cannot overcome my feelings when so many around me are suffering so much more and despite all the many blessings I have? No. I’m fighting an unseen enemy that upsets every system in my body, from hormones to muscles to bones and kidneys.

The esoteric side of this tumour needs a mention too (bear with me if you can’t cope with the woo-woo aspects) . The throat area is seen as housing an energy centre (usually referred to as a chakra) and these energy centres are referenced in many systems from Tibetan Buddhism, through Kabballah and on to Hinduism. Jung himself worked through the theories of kundalini yoga and examined the chakras in detail: http://www.dedroidify.com/kundalini.htm

The throat chakra is known as Vishuddha: “Vishuddha may be understood as relating to communication and growth through expression. This chakra is paralleled to the thyroid,(1) a gland that is also in the throat and which produces thyroid hormone, responsible for growth and maturation. Physically, Vishuddha governs communication, emotionally it governs independence, mentally it governs fluent thought, and spiritually, it governs a sense of security.[37]

In Tibetan buddhism, this chakra is red, with 16 upward pointing petals. It plays an important role in Dream Yoga, the art of lucid dreaming.”

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chakra

The vishuddha chakra allows full self-expression. The first four deal with more basic human functions, but this energy center is where individuality shines and you can become your own person, freely expressing your opinions and truths regardless of other people. Lying to ourselves and obstructions from our own happiness that we accept into our own lives is what prevents us from maintaining a healthy throat chakra, so any lies such as these must be eliminated in order to fully open this chakra. This is a very important chakra, and without it, none of us would show any signs of what we consider to be humanity, so it is vital to keep it opened to allow our inner selves to flow.

  • Summary: Expresson

http://psi.wikia.com/wiki/Chakras

  1. The parathryoid glands were not known either in antiquity or until relatively recently, so they are seldom mentioned. I’m getting a little fed up of explaining that PARATHYROID is totally different to thyroid, because most people assume the terms are interchangeable. Their function was not even known until 1925 when research began to investigate their possible  role in the body.

The possibility that the presence of this malfunctioning and tumorous gland in the area of my throat chakra is responsible for the emotional distress I am feeling, this sense of my expression of self is blocked, is not to be discounted. Body, mind and spirit are closely tied. Some might suggest that it has been my blocked self expression that has caused the malfunction. I would find such a suggestion pretty offensive, because it pours a whole vat-load of blame on me. I also don’t think that until this began (and I have no accurate date, just a suspicion that it began around 7 years ago) I was blocked. I’d written 7 novels in 3 years, and beginning this blog was the start of a more intimate form of self expression, confessional rather than fictional.

This brings me back to my title and Sisyphus. Sisyphus http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sisyphus was condemned to roll a rock up a hill and have it roll back down for eternity. That’s what I’ve been feeling like these last years. Every good thing I have done, have worked at, struggled to achieve, has been the result of momentous effort, and yet which has failed to reach a pinnacle, and has begun to roll back down to the start. Over and over again, often crushing me as it plummets down the mountainside.

I’m wondering at what point can I, a mere mortal, just stop, and instead of pushing that damned rock, can sit on it and refuse to go on with what feels like a fruitless and depressing path.

Valentine’s Day ~ love, or obsession and lust?

 

I thought that since it was Valentine’s Day I would offer something about love. I’m so far from being romantic as to be almost anti-matter to romance’s matter. But I do understand a little about love and about the things that sometimes seem to pass for love.

Obsession is often mistaken for love, as is lust and desire. But neither come anywhere near the real experience of love. Sadly, many settle for those three, believing that a combination of them is surely a close enough match for the experience of being in love or of learning to love. Much of fiction seems to focus more closely on those because to be honest, the drama and emotion they generate is also more enticing in these high octane times than the quiet experience of deep love or the soaring brilliance of requited grand passion.

I thought I would share with you a chapter from my novel, The Bet. This is from chapter 16. The obsession and the lust and the desire are there in spades.

Jenny became increasingly frustrated and isolated as the weeks went by without results; frustrated because Ashurst refused to sleep with her, isolated because she had to be very careful of what she said to her friends. She had mixed feelings about talking to Judy, who did occasionally ask her how the hunt was going, and then simply looked superior when it became plain success was eluding her.

I don’t know why I don’t just lie to you,” she said to Judy in their usual bar corner.

Because I can spot a lie at fifty paces,” Judy said smugly. “You’d be looking like the cat that got the cream if you’d really screwed him. Oh, don’t worry; you’ve got a while yet. First of March was the deadline, I think we agreed. But I’ll make it a thousand if you get him by Christmas.”

Kay wasn’t much use; Jenny could tell her very little that would make her feel better. She only hung round Jenny in the hope of leftovers, and she was obviously delighted that Jenny was not getting what she wanted for the first time. But Kay was her only friend who wasn’t a gossip, who wouldn’t tell the others how often she sat in some bar or other waiting for him to come in, how often she had to play the part of the plain friend being taken out for the evening.

You should call him,” Kay said one evening when it was clear he wasn’t going to be there.

I don’t have his number,” Jenny said hopelessly.

Kay made herself not laugh out loud.

You’re kidding, you must have his mobile number by now,” she said.

He doesn’t have one. Can you believe it? He must be the only kid not to have one. When I asked, he just shrugged and said he didn’t need one. I was so put out; I didn’t get round to asking for his home number and he didn’t offer.”

She didn’t add that he’d left immediately after that, clearly unhappy about the way she was pushing him.

How am I supposed to contact you then?” she’d called as he left the busy pub.

He’d not answered, just shrugged as he walked away.

He’s got to be gay,” she said another evening to Judy.

Believe me, he is not gay,” Judy said. “It’s all there in good working order. Why do you think he starts shaking every time you touch him or even go near him, if he doesn’t find you sexy.” She thought about it for a moment. “I shouldn’t give you any hints, really; it’s not in my interest really, but I’m a softy at heart. Try being kind, you know, back off obviously trying to seduce him. Oh, and I would also suggest you find yourself an extra lover if that Paul isn’t cutting the mustard enough. It’s a well-fed cat that catches the most mice, if you know what I mean.”

She was reduced to ringing him at work, relieved to catch him without the old man around.

I was thinking, I’ve not seen you around for a while,” she said. “Why don’t you come over to mine tonight and I’ll cook us both dinner?”

Sorry, I can’t. It’s very kind of you but the boss has gone home early sick and I need to work late, and then I’m meeting my father this evening.”

Well, later on then?”

I’m not sure when I’ll finish,” he said, but she could hear the doubt in his voice.

OK. What if I pop round to you after I’ve finished at school and before you need to go out, and I’ll bring something. I’ve been missing you. It’s been tough at work, lately. You’re so soothing. I always feel much more chilled when I can talk to you. Look I’ll come over as soon as I’ve finished at school, bring some sandwiches or something.”

That’s very kind of you,” he said. “Look, I’ve got to go now, but if you come round to the back of the museum, I’ll leave the gate to the courtyard on the latch and you can ring the bell at the back door and I can let you in.”

It was after six when she got to the museum; she’d gone home to change, and then had had trouble finding somewhere to buy sandwiches. All the lunchtime places were closed and she’d been obliged to go to the supermarket. The gate was unlocked, but when she rang the bell at the back door, the place seemed empty and deserted. Damn it, had he stood her up? She rang and rang again, and eventually she heard the door being unlocked.

He was in shirtsleeves, tie askew; his face and hands filthy, his hair full of dust, and a cobweb was draped from his ear.

Sorry, I was in the basement. I didn’t hear the bell at first, so I was hoping you’d still be here when I got up the stairs,” he said.

How did you get so filthy?” she asked as he let her slip past him.

Oh, am I? So I am. Sorry. The records said there was something we need for this new gallery down in one particular box, but it wasn’t where it was supposed to be at all, and I sort of got distracted. Come upstairs and I’ll try to get clean.”

He showed her into an office similar to that of the old man, but there were no stuffed animals, just more boxes and cartons.

Please make yourself at home,” he said, and then grinned. “Well, as much as is possible in this shoebox.”

How come you don’t have any of those dead things your boss has got?” she asked.

I put the owl and the badger in Greville’s office just to see how long it would take for him to notice, but it was weeks before he said anything. I think he assumed one of the cleaners had put them there. He just stuck the owl on his shelf and left the badger on the chair. Once I’ve got an idea what I can do with them, I’ll get them back. Look, I must wash. I didn’t realise what a mess I was in. There’s a kitchenette thing just up the hall if you’d put the kettle on for me. I won’t be long and then I’ll make us some tea.”

She followed him out along the corridor and when he had shown her the tiny kitchen, he vanished into another small room, from which, after a moment she heard the sounds of running water. She filled the kettle, then sat down at the small table and waited. The kettle had boiled by the time he came back, hair damp and rumpled but clean, face and arms clean, though his shirt was still grimy and damp.

You should keep a spare shirt here if this happens often,” she remarked.

I do; this is it. You should have seen the other one. I had a box fall on me this morning. Twenty minutes before I had a class coming in, it had something, well, organic and probably mammalian in it, but it had decayed rather spectacularly. There are some areas of the basement that are damp, and things are not in a good state in some of the boxes. So when I went to look for something, first I got all the dust from the lid, because I reached up just to see if I could check what was in it without having to go and get the steps, then I slipped and pulled it down and got the rest of the contents over my head. Greville was furious when I got back upstairs looking like, well, I don’t know what I looked like, with about five minutes to go before the class arrived. I did get clean in time though.”

He made tea as if he were in a hurry, and then they ate sandwiches in silence. She wanted to reach across the table and touch his wet untidy hair, but she stopped herself.

You seem ever so tense,” she said.

Do I? Sorry,” he said, and then hesitated. “I’m supposed to be meeting my father later this evening, and I do get a bit nervous. I never know quite what’s going to happen, there’s so much we never talked about and now… I think he’s trying to make up for lost time.”

She got up, to put the wrappers in the bin, then stood behind him, and decisively put her hands on his shoulders. He jumped a little as she’d expected but didn’t try to move away.

God, you’re tense,” she said, kneading at his shoulders. “Relax, I’m only trying to help.” After a minute, when she could feel him beginning to relax with the neutral touch, she said, “It’d help if you took this shirt off. I can’t massage so well through cloth.”

There was a moment when she thought he’d refuse, but her strong fingers were clearly easing some of the knots, and he surprised her by pulling the shirt off over his head, not bothering with buttons except the top two.

That’s better,” she said, leaning closer and digging her fingers firmly into the muscles, enjoying the chance to see him properly. He was slender but well-muscled, and his skin was very smooth, like a child’s, and as she leaned closer to him to concentrate on kneading his shoulders and back, she could smell his skin, sweet like a child’s with that primrose-like odour, overlaid by a deeper muskier scent. She could feel her own breathing quicken slightly. If she tried anything now, he’d never let her get this close again, at least not soon, so she simply rubbed and kneaded his shoulders and back and was gratified by his closed eyes and occasional small noises of appreciation.

There you go, that’ll feel better,” she said finally, and watched him pull his shirt back on.

You’re very kind,” he said, wriggling his shoulders. “I hadn’t realised how tense I was. Thank you.”

You’ve been very kind to me, so it’s about time I returned the favour,” she said, sitting back at the table and taking hold of his hand. He’d relaxed enough not to pull away, but she wondered if he’d kiss her. He was smiling at her; that was good. He’d been unusually talkative this evening; it might be a good moment to try and get a few answers.

Look, I can’t help noticing that you don’t seem to like being touched,” she said. “You jump if I so much as touch your shoulder, and when I’ve hugged you, you just seem to shake.”

He flushed very slightly, and she could see him become very tense again, as if he was expecting her to ask him again to go to bed with her. Then he smiled nervously and said, rather evasively,

I’m just not used to it.”

She looked at him quizzically and waited. Maybe silence would work better than specific questions. After a moment he squeezed her hand and let go.

I don’t know if you know, but I grew up mostly with my aunt and uncle and their family. My aunt isn’t big on cuddles, not even for small children. You know the sort; she kisses the air rather than the cheek? Not exactly a tactile family,” he said, trying to smile. “So I’m really not used to it and…” He stopped, clearly panicking.

It’s OK,” she said grabbing his hand again. “What about your mum? Did she not cuddle you when you were tiny?”

There was real alarm on his face, but he managed to control it.

I don’t really remember,” he said. “I left when I was about six. I don’t know if you know any of this, don’t suppose there’s any reason why you would anyway, but my mother killed herself in April, and I really don’t like talking about it, so if you don’t think me rude, I’d like to change the subject.”

He was obviously upset, so she got up, went round behind him and leaned over and put her arms round him and just held him, feeling the heat of his body and the slight tremor, and just whispered to him, “I’m sorry.”

He let her hold him for a moment, then stood up and held her back, standing together in a wordless embrace, until she turned her head up to him and he kissed her. She had been about to kiss him, but this was much better. She kissed him hard, pushing her tongue through his lips, feeling his mouth open to hers. Oh, yes, this was working. She very carefully undid a button on his shirt, and slipped her hand inside, feeling the smooth hot skin, feeling him shudder as she touched his nipple. He broke away from the kiss.

No,” he said.

Why not?” she asked, not moving.

He just shook his head. She looked at his eyes; the pupils were dilated so far that his eyes looked black, but he was barely looking at her.

I’ve got to go,” he said. “I need to change and I’ll be late. Thanks for the sandwiches; it was very kind of you.”

He’d suddenly changed from being clearly, even passionately interested, to being polite, distant, cold even. But when she passed him to get to the door, she could see he was still shaking. 

You can see more about the book at the following links, and check out the reviews. There are 14 excellent reviews on the UK site, 3 of which are also on the US site. You can download a free sample, if you have a Kindle or use a Kindle app for pc or phone. The price has been lowered too, to bring it in line with the prices of my other books.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=la_B00766135C_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392225792&sr=1-6

http://www.amazon.com/Bet-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B009ISHLYI/ref=la_B00766135C_1_6?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1392225792&sr=1-6

Tales of Amber

A few weeks ago, I was asked if I would write an article for Women Writers, Women’s Books

It took me a week of letting my mind go blank, letting it off the lead before it came back with the ideas for the article. It’s combined my love of the semi-precious material amber and my love for writing (and reading)

Do go and have a read, pass it on, share it and if you would like to comment, do please leave your thoughts on the article.

 

http://booksbywomen.org/tales-amber/