A Shattered Faith

Yesterday I posted a blog which touched upon a number of negative experiences I have had within the organised church. It was written on the hoof without much forethought or planning. Much of my writing is produced this way, I tend to make it up as I go along. Such writers are known as ‘pantsers.’ I shoot from the hip. Sometimes I hit the bullseye and others I miss my mark, that’s how it is.

I meant every word I wrote and don’t regret what I said. The post remains, I won’t be deleting or editing it. And, as ever, the response from those who commented was largely supportive and understanding. Many sympathised, others wrote of similar experiences. When I write, I always aim to engage and connect with my fellow bloggers. Otherwise what is the point.

All bar one. A woman, who from her comments I believe identifies herself as a Christian, responded to say she viewed my comments as arrogant and unkind. She said I lacked compassion and grace. She said she did not want to criticise me but the entire tone of her lengthy reply was critical. She also threw in a bit of Scripture for good measure. To say I was shocked and disappointed by her passive aggressive stance is an understatement.

Not only did I view her comments as an attack on me, I viewed them as an attack on my wife and kids, who have been treated horrendously at various times by organised church and those within it. I have referred to such experiences in previous posts but don’t wish to dredge them up again. Some hurts are best left buried, sometimes the pain is too much to revisit. The responses of this lady were, at best, ill informed and presumptive.

Having reflected on the matter, I have decided to no longer write about faith issues. This may sound a little contradictory given the name of the blog, but I believe it’s best for all, most importantly my family and my own mental health. I believe in God and the teachings of Jesus but the damage caused by supposed Christians can no longer allow me to engage with such establishments or organisations.

I am far, far from perfect and every day ruminate on my own failings and inadequacies. I am sorry if this disappoints some, you may no longer want to follow the blog after this change in direction. If so, I understand your stance and no hard feelings. I will continue to try and help others through my writing, to encourage and offer hope when there appears to be none. I’ll keep on being me.

I have prayed long and hard regarding a number of issues relating to my family this year. None of them have been answered and with regards one we were delivered a crushing and heart breaking blow which knocked the wind totally from our sails. Thanks to incredible family support we are recovering and picking up the pieces. The church, however, were nowhere to be seen.

Our fractured faith has been shattered in recent times. It is one thing to have prayers unanswered, it’s entirely another to see the complete opposite being delivered and innocent parties having their hopes and dreams blown out of the water. I’ve said my piece, however, and won’t comment any more on the matter. Thank you for taking the time to read the post.

Bomb Girl Chapter One – Six

Chapter One

The day they blew up her home town was meant to have been the happiest day of Annie Hennessy’s life. This is how it started.

The impact of the explosion ripped through the hospital like an aural tsunami. Windows shattered inwards, showering staff and patients alike in a withering wave of glass shrapnel. Doctors and nurses were tossed to the ground and patients flung from their beds, bringing monitors crashing down on top of them. The fluorescent lighting on the ward flickered momentarily as if some unseen giant had casually inhaled and sucked the electricity from the building, before returning it to illuminate the chaos below.

For what seemed forever there was nothing before the first scream punctured the silence. It would be the first of many that day but for those who heard it, was a sound they would take to their graves. A throaty guttural groan which gradually rose in pitch and volume, soon to be joined by others, a prophetic choir already mourning what lay in the days and months and years ahead. As if on cue, staff began to clamber to their feet, their training kicking in and overriding any desire to curl into a ball until it was all over. Instructions were barked out and a siren outside announced the first ambulance was on its way.

On its way to the hell that awaited at the seat of the explosion, less than a mile away.

Secreted in a side room off the main ward, Annie gingerly unfurled from the foetal position she had adopted at the initial explosion. She peeked from beneath the bed covers as a young doctor flashed past the open door, his flapping white coat adorned with a bloody drizzle. Thankfully there were no windows in Annie’s room, but beyond the door she could see the floor of the ward adorned in a carpet of glistening glass, like fresh dew on a crisp spring morning.

Except this wasn’t spring and she wasn’t sitting in some idyllic meadow watching as the first rays of morning sunshine warmed the cold, damp earth. No, she was in Monksbridge Area Hospital, heavily pregnant and on the cusp of giving birth. Afraid and alone, nineteen years old and without the first clue how to be a mother to the new life waiting to emerge from within her. Annie watched as more staff flew past in either direction, fully expecting the kindly midwife who had been dealing with her up until now to appear and reassure her everything was just fine.

But everything wasn’t fine.

Nothing would ever be fine again.

Annie Hennessy was a forgotten spectator to the bedlam outside. The sirens were incessant now, wailing as emergency services roared towards what was left of the town centre. They would return later in waves, like angry wasps, conveying the dead and dying to a hospital hopelessly ill equipped to deal with the magnitude of such a tragedy.

It would become an epicentre of grief, around which dazed survivors and crazed relatives would gather, desperate for any crumb of comfort they could seize upon, hoping beyond hope their loved ones were alive. Through that dreadful first hour Annie lay on her back, elbows resting on sweat stained sheets, trying to process what was going on outside, while dealing with the incessant urges of her child to be born.

Teeth gritted and damp hair matted to tear stained cheeks she rode each contraction, emerging from the other side weaker but no less determined to embrace the next. For this child would be born, with or without a midwife in attendance. She had carried it inside her, a living, growing testimony to the shame she had brought upon her family. A child born out of wedlock, to a father even Annie wasn’t certain as to whose identity.

Tramp.

Slut.

Whore.

Monksbridge was a sleepy market town, where nothing ever really happened. The Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ had largely passed it by, so any nugget of gossip was gleefully seized upon and dissected, before being disseminated to the next straining set of ears. Everyone knew everyone’s business. It hadn’t taken long, therefore, for the rumours to circulate about the Hennessy girl, the black sheep of an otherwise pure as the driven snow family. Annie’s mother screamed and roared when she broke the news to her parents at the kitchen table. Mildred Hennessy hadn’t been to church since, a self imposed house arrest, too ashamed to face the sharp tongues and sly eyes of her fellow parishioners.

‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Yeah right….

‘You’re a disgrace Annie. Your father would be so ashamed of you.’

Possibly, had he still been alive. Yet Jack Hennessy possessed a kind heart, and Annie had always been the apple of his eye. He would have been disappointed, hurt, angry even but he would have forgiven Annie eventually, of that she was certain. Unlike her mother, who bore grudges to the grave, eaten up by spite and recrimination, hurling the first stone while others were still rooting around for potential missiles.

Had. For Jack Hennessy was dead. Ravaged by cancer he slipped away from Annie three years previously in the same hospital where she now lay, frantically trying to compose herself and focus as another contraction threatened to rip her apart. The baby was coming, irrespective of what was going on in the outside world. Annie succumbed to the pain, the anguish of the past eight months temporarily forgotten, and unleashed a scream which normally would have brought nurses and doctors hurtling to her bedside. Not today, though.

For her scream was but one of many in an avalanche of human agony descending upon the beleaguered hospital. Ambulances formed a snaking queue outside the A&E department , their blue lights clashing vividly with the grey, overcast skies above. Hospital staff desperately struggled to contend with the seemingly endless line of victims being rushed through the automatic doors by paramedics, bellowing vital stats, their voices cracked and on the verge of collapse.

Even those who were supposed to know what to do, didn’t know what to do.

Nobody came. Nobody heard Annie scream. Nobody was there to mop her brow and encourage her, cajole her through the trauma. She remembered what she could from the pre natal classes she had attended, focusing on breathing and trying to ignore the pandemonium on all sides. Breathe, focus, ride the pain. It’s a bomb, it must have been a bomb. No, you stupid cow, think of the baby, the baby, she’s all that matters.

It was there, in a cramped side room off a deserted ward that Ariana Hennessy entered the world, six pounds eleven ounces of mewling, bloody life. A life which Annie clutched to her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks, screaming for someone, anyone to come to her aid. Eventually they did, to find the newborn child with her mother, exhausted yet alive. Alive to tell the tale. Or, in the case of baby Ariana, to be the tale.

For the town of Monksbridge needed something, anything to cling to. Forty three people died that day, forty two of them innocent souls. Hundreds more injured, bearing seen and unseen scars they would carry for the rest of their days. A town, a nation in mourning for the day the clock stopped for so many. They needed a light, a symbol that all was not lost.

They found it in the baby girl born amidst the horror. They found it in the story of Annie Hennessy and her daughter. The press, who descended on the town like a pack of scavenging hyenas, latched onto the story and squeezed every last ounce of pathos from it. They had their villain, and no shortage of heroes for their screaming front pages. But they needed something more, the missing ingredient.

What they needed was an angel.

What they needed was an Ariana Hennessy.

So they created Bomb Girl.


Chapter Two

Ariana Hennessy was not one for grand entrances, her birth had seen to that. She ghosted into the cavernous lecture theatre, head down,

focus entirely on finding an unoccupied seat and disappearing into the welcoming anonymity of the student body. This was her third week at the University of Ulster and she was just another disorganised fresher trying to make her way around the sprawling campus without getting lost. Nobody knew, and that suited her just fine.

She slid into an empty seat four rows back and began unpacking pens, pads and textbooks from her bag. The lecture was scheduled to be on the Boston Tea Party, her love of all things American having drawn her to select this module as part of her first year studies. Yes, three decent ‘A’ level grades and here she was, a Modern History student, finally free of the stifling prison that was Monksbridge. There she was a pariah to some, an oddity to others. Here she was just plain old Rebecca Hennessy. Her home town and the university were no more than sixty miles apart but, to Ariana, they could have been on opposite sides of the world.

Rebecca was her middle name after her Granny Hennessy, a more neutral, traditional Irish name. People didn’t bat an eyelid when you told them you were called Rebecca, although annoyingly some of her fellow students insisted on abbreviating it to Bex. She could live with that, though. Had she told them her real name, then brows would have furrowed and distant memories surfaced. For, despite the arrival of her namesake Grande on the music scene in recent years, to the best of her knowledge there was only one other Ariana in the country.

Ariana Hennessy.

Bomb Girl….

Thanks Mum.

She had battled the stigma her entire life. To be associated with the largest terrorist attack in Northern Irish history hung around her neck like a rotting, stinking albatross. Every anniversary the press pack descended from the city, eager to pick at old scabs and draw fresh blood. What had become of the tiny baby, born at the very moment a car laden with explosives devastated the town. There was no point in correcting them that she arrived almost an hour after the explosion. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story, right?

‘Settle down, folks.’ The booming baritone of Dr. Lancaster, their American Studies lecturer, cut through Ariana’s thoughts and the surrounding babble of her fellow students. She risked a glance over her shoulder and saw the theatre was two thirds full. Not bad for first thing on a Wednesday morning, although this was the ‘big night out’ on the campus so many of her contemporaries had arrived early, planning to be in the Student Union bar by lunchtime.

She caught the eye of a distinctive short haired girl, who waved enthusiastically at her. Tess Cartwright, the one person she had confided her dark secret to since arriving, after a night of cheap cider at the Freshers Ball two weeks ago. Ariana had woke up the next morning with a horrific hangover, kicking herself at having allowed her toxic past to seep so easily into the new life she was hoping to build at college. She had pleaded with Tess not to breath a word of it to anyone and, to date, her newfound friend had kept to her word.

Dr. Lancaster began to speak, his deep, melodic tones allowing Ariana to blissfully slip away from the jagged memories to tales of valour and derring do as the plucky colonists rose up in arms against the might of the British Empire. She scribbled copious notes, keen to soak up as much knowledge as possible, not allowing a date or reference to pass her by. This degree course was a lifeline, a step away from the shackles of a life she no longer wanted to be a part of; good A level grades were a stepping stone to university, a better degree and….well the world was hers for the taking.

‘That’s it for today folks,’ concluded Dr. Lancaster. The hour had breezed past. ‘Remember, your first assignments aren’t due for another month, but now is the time to start preparing. You have your reading lists. Organisation is key, remember.’ With that, the stampede for the exit commenced. Ariana was caught up in the rush and carried through the double doors where the large majority of her peers swung left, towards the stairs leading to the coffee bar on the mezzanine floor above. Ariana started to turn and fight the flow, back towards a lesser stream of students heading for the library in the opposite direction. She fully intended to heed Dr. Lancaster’s advice and make serious inroads into the extensive reading list the lecturer had circulated at the same time as the assignment title.

‘And where do you think you’re going Becky Boo Boo?’ Ariana felt herself being spun around and led back into the human tide heading towards the mezzanine stairs. Tess Cartwright, all silver haired pixie cut and sparkling teeth, hooked her arm beneath Ariana’s and guided her away from her original path. ‘An hour of that drivel and I’m on the verge of lapsing into a comatose state. I need a cappuccino to return me to the land of the living….’

‘But Tess I….’ spluttered Ariana, vainly gesticulating with her free hand back towards the library.

‘But Tess nothing. I have a busy day planned for the two of us and it most certainly does not involve sitting in a musty old library reading boring books about dead men who wore wigs and tucked their trousers into their socks.’

‘I don’t think that’s strictly accurate,’ protested Ariana but she knew she was fighting a losing battle. She had only known Tess Cartwright a short time but already learnt one thing. Here was a young woman who was used to getting her own way and rarely took no for an answer. She was already carving out a reputation amongst the student population with her striking looks, vivacious personality and seemingly bottomless capacity for 2 for 1 drinks promotions at the Union bar.

‘Well I guess one coffee then,’ surrendered Ariana meekly. ‘But after that I really must study.’

‘Yeah, Yeah. We’ll see.’ Tess bounded up the steps to the mezzanine two at a time, her designer leather jacket flapping at her sides as Ariana struggled to keep up. Everything was designer where Tess was concerned as she carried the expensive student scruff look off to a tee. Ariana permanently felt the poor relation when they were together, and wondered what their peers thought of her dowdy appearance compared to her glamorous companion. Tess didn’t seem to mind though and for reasons unknown to Ariana had adopted her as university bestie. They had nothing in common but somehow it was working. So far….

Tess paid for two coffees, and a gigantic blueberry muffin, before commandeering a booth in a far corner of the bar. Floor to ceiling windows afforded them a view across a sleepy river to the halls of residence where they first met, during a hectic registration day. A concrete walkway connected the halls to the main campus, a campus Ariana hadn’t left since arriving. No weekend trips home for her like the majority of the other students, hungover, laden down with dirty laundry and desperate for a proper meal. Home was the last place Ariana wanted to be.

‘So here’s the plan,’ the forever chirpy Tess interrupting Ariana’s thoughts, her mouth crammed with muffin. ‘Finish these, back to the halls, make ourselves even more beautiful than we already are and then hit the Union. ‘What say you, Becky with the good hair?’ She smiled sweetly and fluttered her eyelashes before slyly adding, ‘Or should I say Becky Bomb Girl?’

‘Shut up,’ hissed Ariana, looking all around. ‘You call me that again and I’m never speaking to you again, Tess. You swore you wouldn’t tell anyone.’

‘Oh relax,’ sighed Tess, rolling her eyes and leaning back. ‘As I’m consigned to this hellhole for the next three years, I need a project. And I see no greater challenge than changing the most socially awkward girl alive into a reasonably functioning human being. Although I admit I may have bitten off more than I can chew, you enormous dork.’

‘Alright, alright.’ Ariana sipped her coffee, admitting defeat, an all too common feeling since she fell under the spell of Hurricane Tess. ‘But can I at least have a couple of hours this morning in the library. Then I promise I’ll head out with you.’ Tess clenched her fists and squealed with delight, attracting a few curious glances from adjacent booths. ‘It’s a deal. I’ll see you outside the Union at three. Do not be late. Organisation is key, Rebecca.’

With a final peal of laughter, Tess stuffed the remainder of the muffin into her mouth and bounced out of her seat, a flurry of long limbs and immaculate cheekbones. Ariana stared gloomily into her coffee. Was this a case of out of the frying pan, but into the fire? Yes, she was no longer Bomb Girl but buying the confidence of Tess was doing her plans of keeping her head down and studying hard no favours. Nor her modest bank balance.

She drained the last dregs of the coffee and, slinging her bag over a shoulder, made her way back to the mezzanine and down towards the library. Nobody looked at her twice. No whispering, no people going out of their way to avoid eye contact. Just another unremarkable eighteen year old, going about her business. Ariana blew out both cheeks and allowed herself a slight smile. She forced herself to relax. Tess was the friend she had been craving for years. Her new life didn’t have to be all books, books, books. She could balance that by occasionally letting her hair down. Couldn’t she?

Maybe then, this could work out after all.

Maybe….


Chapter Three

At first, second and even thirty fifth glance, there was nothing remarkable about her. Just another fresher, full of good intentions, hitting the books. It wouldn’t last, of course, he was certain of that. The irritating blonde girl was already chipping away at her resolve, luring her astray at every possible opportunity. By the end of term, such diligence would be a rarity, as the student formerly known as Ariana Hennessy would be a long forgotten memory, overridden by the various temptations the student lifestyle had to offer.

He watched as she struggled through the security scanners at the library entrance, laden down with bags and books. She was a clumsy, little creature, always appearing as if she was on the verge of keeling over. She screamed vulnerability, it oozed from every pore of her pale, awkward frame. One of life’s victims, she stumbled from one calamity to the next, never more than a few steps ahead of the tragic past which had dogged every one of her eighteen years to date.

Their shared tragic past.

He maintained a discrete distance, as she made her way down the steps from the mezzanine onto the main concourse, where she was swiftly swallowed up by the student mass, scurrying this way and that towards the various arterial corridors which starburst outwards in all directions from the campus hub. He ducked and weaved through the crowd, always scanning ahead to maintain visual contact with her. Even if she had glanced back and caught his eye, it wasn’t an issue as she didn’t know him from Adam.

Adam O’Sullivan smirked. That saying always brought a wry smile to his lips. Adam, the first man, whose fall from grace in the garden had cursed mankind from the gates of Eden to the sorry mess it was in today. A world with no redeeming features, a toxic, stinking morass where nothing mattered and nobody cared. Nobody except him, that was, for he saw dear Mother Earth and her inhabitants for what they truly were; weak, vacuous fools leading pathetic, pointless existences. Obsessed with image and little else, drowning in their ever decreasing circles of self.

The girl pushed on, exiting the concourse onto a less populated corridor which led towards the halls of residence. He quickened his step, keen not to lose her, catching the shoulder of a burly male student headed in the opposite direction.

‘Here, watch it mate.’

He didn’t afford the male a second of his time, such was his focus on the task at hand. He’d been monitoring Ariana Hennessy ever since she set foot on campus less than a month ago. Little girl lost, trying to put her horrendous past behind her and strike out into the big bad world. All soulful brown eyes and shy, alluring smile. She was pretty, in her own pathetic way. Pretty, but utterly repulsive to him. Every second she drew breath was a painful reminder of his own shameful secret. Every day she remained on the planet, a testimony to his own inadequacies and failings.

But all that was about to change. For Adam O’Sullivan had changed, evolved, matured, call it what you will. The penny had dropped, the scales fallen from his eyes. He saw clearly now, 20/20 vision bathed in the blood he was going to spill before this week was over. The blood of innocents, the blood of the damned, he did not care, so long as it flowed freely through the lecture theatres and seminar rooms of this university. Cleansing, purifying, sweeping aside all who stood in its path.

It was his right, his destiny, for he had been birthed in the blood of his father, all those years ago. His faithful father, who had risen from his bed, leaving his heavily pregnant partner to go to work that infamous day. He had to work he told her, their child was on the way and so much was yet needed. Nappies, clothes, a cot, so many things. A caring, doting, expectant father, to the outside world at least.

But as he left the house that morning, the last thing on Cormac O’Sullivan’s mind was his partner and child. His mind was full of other people. Fallen comrades, their names forgotten by all but the faithful few. Brave men and woman who had given their lives for a glorious cause which was then dragged through the gutters by their former leaders who sold out and desecrated the memories of the valiant. More interested in column inches and fat cat political careers than ridding their land of the pestilence which had dogged their ancestors for centuries.

People got in the way, organisations diluted and filtered the fire which burned in the likes of Adam O’Sullivan. They spoke of restraint and diplomacy, two words which caught in his caw, beliefs and strategies they had attempted to ram down his throat all his young life. He had no time for that, it sickened him, just like their pandering to the system sickened the memory of men like his father. Men who sacrificed everything, who understood what needed to be done. Who knew the work was dirty and bloody, but embraced it, pushed through the quandary of conscience to see the greater good, the bigger picture.

His father would go down in the annals as the Monster of Monksbridge, the man who drove a car laden with explosives into the middle of the town, all those years ago. The man who walked away, yet was caught in the blast, the victim of an inept bomb maker whose knowledge of a timing switch could be written on the back of a postage stamp. Adam had leant so much from that day, not least the consequences of working with others, relying on people who inevitably let you down. His father had died a martyr’s death, but an unnecessary one. Sins of the father, maybe, but Adam would not make the same mistakes.

His planning was meticulous, excruciatingly detailed, every eventuality considered, no stone left unturned. Monksbridge had dominated the headlines for months, but it would be small fry compared to the dish he was about to serve up. They would villify him, demonise him, he did not care. This would be the crowning glory of his lifetimes work. It would tie up all the loose ends and be a fitting homage to the work of his father. He was taking it to the next level, a higher plane, a new horror marking a fresh dawn.

The day the bomb went off, his mother heard it on the news headlines and knew, just knew, Cormac wasn’t coming home, long before the police arrived and started to rip their home apart. Sending her into an early labour which took her life, but produced a son. A son who became a pariah for all that was wrong with the country, ferried from one foster home to the next. Vilified, despised while the girl born on the same day was feted and fawned over. ‘Bomb Girl’ they called her, yet she knew nothing of that day, the day his parents died. What did she lose, bar her privacy? Nothing.

He had bided his time. Taken the beatings and bullying, worked his way through the system and emerged scarred but unbowed on the other side. For Adam O’Sullivan was blessed, baptised by the blood of the Monksbridge dead. He knew it was from God, a gift justifying the work of his father, work he had been ordained to complete. He was an Angel or Death, reigning fresh fire down upon this troubled land.

He watched as Ariana entered the halls of residence, then followed as she shuffled into the shop in its main foyer. Watched as she stopped and contemplated which chocolate bar she would purchase as reward for her library exertions. He knew she would pick white chocolate, it had been her favourite for many a year. Adam smiled, he knew the bitch inside out and back to front. Slipping into the mind of Ariana Hennessy came as easily to him as putting one foot in front of the other.

‘Go for the dark chocolate, Ariana,’ he whispered as he watched her from across the aisle. ‘Just for me.’ He watched as, with a quizzical expression, her hand wavered over her original choice, before plumping for a bar of dark chocolate. Ariana stared at her selection dubiously before shrugging her shoulders and striding towards the checkout till.

Adam smiled. His gift. The gift of making people do exactly what he wanted them to, without them even realising it. It had served him well, he doubted he would have survived otherwise. And now that little ‘Bomb Girl’ was exactly where he needed her to be, it was a gift he would reveal to the world with devastating effect. It was time to revenge his father and how ironic it would be to utilise the object of his festering hatred to deliver the final coup de grace.

‘Monster of Monksbridge,’ he hissed as he exited the shop. ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet.’


Chapter Four

Dark chocolate. Darker thoughts. Ariana chewed thoughtfully on a chunk of her bar as she stared across the river towards the main university building. Seated at her desk, she groaned and pushed away the opened text book which had proven utterly impenetrable to her for the past twenty minutes. Was it just her, or did her class mates struggle just as much with the reading list she had been valiantly battling through since the start of term? There was little point asking Tess, whose attention span barely allowed her to consume a Kardashian tweet, let alone a 450 page tome on post-war Europe and its fragile fledgling economy.

Her room was small and plain, but to Ariana it was freedom. Freedom from Monksbridge and the stigma which had hung over her like an obstinate rain cloud, these last eighteen years. She had a bed, desk, books and most of all it was all hers. No intrusions, no being checked on every five minutes, no curfew or 50,000 questions every time she opened the front door. She could go where she wanted, when she wanted and with whosoever she wanted. Not that her social diary was overflowing with engagements. Her conscious decision to fly under the radar was a constant source of irritation to the limelight hogging Tess.

‘Be careful how low you fly, my dear Ariana. We don’t want you clipping the ground and bursting into a ball of flame.’

Ariana winced, altogether unconvinced by her selection of chocolate. She reluctantly forced down the piece she was chewing on, before picking the remainder of the bar and lobbing it towards the overflowing metal bin in the corner of the room. It ricocheted off the rim, before settling on a crumpled mass of clothing where it balanced precariously next to a rolled up pair of unwashed socks. Another luxury of the student lifestyle.

‘For God’s sake, Ariana, your room is a pigsty. I want it cleaned, cleaned do you hear me. Or you know what’s coming.’

Ariana shuddered and shook her head, shutting the venomous voice our of her head. Most days it lay dormant but, occasionally like just now, it would squirm free and wriggle past her mental defences, whispering accusations and false truth into her ear. Stupid chocolate, she thought, what had possessed her to buy it. She hated dark chocolate, always had. Yes, student life was all about experimentation, but she knew what she liked and that was that. Plain Jane, under the radar, forever and ever, amen.

Plain Jane. Hallowed be thy name.

Ariana jumped, the squawk of her mobile phone dragging her back to the present from the introspective pity party. She peered at the screen although she already knew who it was from and what it was about. Tess.

‘I’m outside the Union. Where are u? U better not still be in that bloody library? 😡

Ariana smiled, before picking up her phone and tapping out a suitably pithy response.

‘And what if I was? You’d never find me as you don’t even know where the library is?’

Her finger hovered over the 😊 emoji button, before she thought better of it. Ariana didn’t do smiley emoji, in fact she didn’t really do smiling at all, despite the best efforts of the eternally effervescent Tess Cartwright.

‘Remind me we have to work on your sense of humour in addition to all ur many other social inaddequacues. Hurry up!!’

‘I’ll be there ASAP. And it’s inadequacies.’

‘Whatever swotty pants. Just hurry up. The cider calleth.’

Ariana tossed her phone onto the bed and frowned at the floor, where the majority of her wardrobe currently lay. She eventually settled on a regulation pair of black leggings and formless green woollen jumper she had picked up in a charity shop the week before last. She decided against taming her mop of dark curls, a losing battle if ever there was one. Besides, the earache she would receive from Tess for being any later than she already was just wasn’t worth the hassle.

‘Are you going out looking like that? Why can’t you wear a nice dress? You look like a boy, and a not particularly handsome boy at that. You could be so pretty, if you’d only make the effort.’

Twice in one day. Ariana froze, hand outstretched to grab her phone from the desk. She had finished her last prescription ten days ago and resolved she was going it alone this time. She was finished with pharmaceutical crutches, another Monksbridge hangover she no longer wanted dogging every step of her new life. A tablet a day keeps the voices anyway. Possibly, but the only way to find out for certain was to tough it out and go cold turkey. Seven years of counselling and pill popping didn’t unmake the story that was ‘Bomb Girl.’ The scars were there, just beneath the skin, waiting to be picked at, reopened.

Scabs are a natural part of the healing process. An ugly necessity before the beauty beneath can be revealed.

Ariana snorted. A counsellor had said that to her once. She hadn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She stuffed the phone into her battered leather satchel, before hauling it over her shoulder. The first few days off her medication had been plain smiling, despite a mild, yet persistent neck ache which refused to budge, no matter how often she cracked or massaged it. A small price to pay, though, and a bonus was her skin seemed less greasy and prone to spotty outbreaks.

Every cloud has a silver lining….

But now the ghosts of her past were starting to converge, rather one ghost in particular. Her not so beloved mother. Ariana flung open her room door and made her way out of the halls and along the concourse towards the Students Union at the rear of the main building. She ignored another beep from her bag. Honestly, Tess was so impatient but a godsend, nonetheless. That’s if God existed. A once irrefutable fact and standing fixture in her life which now looked increasingly shaky with every passing day.

‘An untested faith is a useless faith.’

‘Yeah about as useless as all those Christian cliches you shoved down my throat every day,’ she snarled under her breath, earning a curious glance from a male student headed in the opposite direction. Ariana smiled weakly, feeling her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She hurried on, determined to shove the ongoing argument with her dead mother to the far recesses of her mind. Where it rightly belonged. Up ahead, she caught sight of Tess, hopping from one foot to the other like an over excited toddler who needed to use the bathroom. Was she wearing…..a ballgown?

‘Well?? Do you like it?’ Tess spun around, an ocean of pink chiffon fanning out in all directions. ‘I picked it up dirt cheap. Less than £200. I’m going for the Lily Allen look.’

‘Lily Savage more like,’ sniggered Ariana, earning a petulant pout from her unimpressed friend.

‘Honestly, Ariana. For one with such a theatrical name, you can be an utter bore at times.’

‘One tries.’ Ariana smiled sweetly as Tess grabbed her forearm and proceeded to frogmarch her through the doors of the Union into an already packed bar. ‘Come on,’ she squealed, the jibe at her attire already forgotten. ‘There are cheap drinks to be necked and boys aplenty.’ She momentarily halted and, eyeing Ariana up and down, scrunched her nose in mild disdain.

‘You really should make more of an effort. You could be so pretty if you only tried.’

Tess froze, the crestfallen expression on her friend’s face confirming she had overstepped the mark. ‘Oh God, Ariana, I’m so sorry. You are fine just the way you are. Ignore me, shooting my big fat mouth off as usual without thinking. ‘Friends?’ She affected her most hangdog expression until Ariana could resist no longer, bursting into laughter.

‘Fine. It’s just someone else used to say that to me when I was younger and it brings back crappy memories. And stop calling me Ariana. It’s Rebecca, okay?’

‘But of course, your most excellent Rebeccaness.’ Tess dropped into an exaggerated curtsey, causing the doorman to eye her suspiciously before deciding all was well and allowing them to enter the Union complex.

‘You’re a clown, Cartwright, an utter clown.’

‘Yes. But I’m your clown.’ Tess fluttered her eyelashes and the two of them were soon subsumed by the scrum of bodies trying to catch the eyes of the besieged bar staff.

‘Two pints of cider,’ screamed Tess, gesticulating wildly with raised digits in the air, while elbowing her way through the throng. Ariana rolled her eyes and offered up apologies to those shoved aside and left in the wake of her friend.

‘Sorry,’ she shouted, struggling to be heard as a beating bass began to reverberate across the cramped dance floor, situated to the right of the bar. ‘She doesn’t get out much.’

Unknown to her, a lean, nondescript male watched from the other side of the dance floor. He raised his pint of Guinness and took a measured sip, savouring the sharp aftertaste. The mad one had turned up looking like a reject from Dancing With The Stars, but nothing surprised him where she was concerned. Adam O’Sullivan smirked for she was nothing more than an embarrassing sideshow which he could dispense with in an instance. He was far more interested in her dowdier companion.

The man began to stride across the dance floor, weaving through the smattering of early revellers submitting to the rhythm and throwing drunken, uncoordinated shapes in a pretence at dancing.

‘Time for you to meet the famous O’Sullivan charm, Ariana.’


Chapter Five

Ariana shivered against the biting cold, bunching her hands into tight fists and burying them deeper into the pockets of her parka. Three pints of extra strong cider provided a degree of internal central heating but the coast was less than a mile away and a fierce Atlantic blast was rapidly dissolving the core of warmth she had kindled within the sweltering Union bar.

‘I don’t know why we bothered paying in if we’re going to stand out here half the night, freezing our backsides off.’

She stared pointedly at Tess until a cloud of smoke doubled her over hacking, as a dozen bemused students watched as they huddled in the roofed smoking area outside the Union’s main entrance.

‘Oh don’t be such a drama queen,’ scolded Tess, a lit Marlboro Light hanging from her bottom lip. ‘We’ve barely been out two minutes. Anyway, you can’t hear yourself think in there. Dance music is killing the art of conversation. It’s up to us smokers to preserve a dying art form.

‘Smokers?’ spat Ariana incredulously, now upright again. ‘Doesn’t smoking involve inhaling said smoke into one’s lungs? All you do is inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. It’s like watching a little steam engine huffing and puffing to its hearts content. Have you even smoked before tonight?’

‘Course I have,’ pouted Tess, self consciously lowering the cigarette and nervously checking if any of the nicotine addicts around them had overheard Ariana’s critique of her smoking technique. Content that her reputation was still intact she stubbed the butt out and grabbed her sarcastic sidekick by the forearm, dragging her back towards the Union. ‘Come on. Once more unto the breach, dear friend.’

‘Do we have to? I’d be quite happy grabbing a cheesy chip and calling it a night. I’ve a 10:00 o’clock seminar with Professor Ickringill in the morning.’

‘Ooooooooh. Professor Ickringill,’ squealed Tess, placing her hands to her cheeks in open mouthed mockery. ‘I wonder if he’ll be packing his pipe? Or wearing that sexy tweed jacket. You know, the one with the leather elbow patches.’ She giggled before a wicked smile traversed her face before pushing Ariana without warning against a wall.

‘Ow, what was that for?’ groaned Ariana, rubbing the small of her back. ‘Just because you’re allergic to hard work doesn’t mean the rest of us need to stoop to your level.’

‘Shhhhh,’ hissed Tess, before making frantic eye movements in the direction of the Union entrance.

‘Are you alright, Tess. It’s just you look as if you’re having a stroke. Smoking kills, remember.’ She looked over her friend’s shoulder to determine what the cause of the drama was. Standing at the entrance stood a young man, smiling shyly at them. He looked away quickly upon realising he had been spotted, suddenly engrossed with the contents of his mobile phone screen.

‘Did you twig tall, dark and exceedingly handsome guy at the door?,’ whispered Tess at something approaching several thousand decibels. ‘He is totally checking me out.’

Ariana sighed, reverting her gaze to the bouncing pink blancmange in front of her. ‘I hardly think so. He’s probably trying to process the sight of a deranged lunatic in a ballgown flouncing about in front of him.’ She looked over again towards the young man. This time he maintained both eye contact and the smile before turning and walking back into the Union past the door staff.

‘Come on,’ urged Tess, grabbing Ariana’s hand. ‘We’re going back in. I’m determined for tonight not to be an utter waste of time. Once the famous Cartwright charm is unleashed no man, or woman for that matter, can resist.’

‘You really are a catch, Tess. Is that all you’re interested in?’

‘Of course not,’ she replied, marching past the door staff with Ariana in tow. ‘There’s also the possibility of a free drink or three.’

‘Oh my Lord. Hark at the feminist of the year.’

The noise and heat of the crowded bar hit her like a sticky, sonic wall as Tess steered them through a mass of bodies, her sights honed on the back of the young man’s head. Ariana estimated he was at least 6’2’’, possibly taller as he towered above the majority of those around them. She really, really wanted nothing more than to be buried beneath the bed covers, nose poked in her latest Kindle Fire purchase. She avoided social events whenever possible and her relationship history extended to a handful of disastrous dates during final year at school with the President of the Chess Society.

Tess veered left without warning causing Ariana to cry out in protest as her wrist was almost wrenched from its socket. They burst onto the dancefloor where several dozen inebriated students threw a variety of uncoordinated shapes to a grinding drum and bass beat. Whatever happened to melodies, harmonies, tunes? Ariana often thought she was born several decades late. She was brought back to her senses as they crossed the floor before Tess deposited them in a booth where the young man sat, nursing a pint of Guinness.

‘Hi, I’m Tess, and this is Ari….Becky. Bex. Rebecca, yes, this is Rebecca.’ She blew her fringe back and puffed out both cheeks. ‘Gosh it’s hot in here,’ she sighed, fanning her face in such a theatrical and obvious manner that Ariana wanted the ground to open and swallow them both up, there and then. To be fair to him the young man merely smiled and held out a hand in greeting. ‘I’m Adam. Can I get you ladies a drink?’

‘That would be lovely thank you,’ babbled Tess. ‘Two vodka and Diet Cokes please. Large ones.’ She sat back, looking immensely pleased with herself as Adam rose returning a short time later with the drinks.

‘Thanks pet,’ gushed Tess. ‘So, Adam, What are you studying and what are your intentions once you leave uni?’

‘Is this a job interview?’ Adam winked and smiled at Ariana, who could only smile back. He was very handsome. She couldn’t quite place his accent due to the cacophony around them but there was a hint of a Southern lilt. Dublin?

‘If it is, you’re off to a fantastic start,’ gushed Tess, laying on the clumsy charm with a shovel. The next twenty minutes were a shouted exchange as Tess flirted outrageously above the din of the music. Adam fended off most of her more direct questions with ease, all the while rolling his eyes and smirking at Ariana whenever her friend wasn’t looking. Part of her fumed at the casual way he mocked her best friend but she silently sipped her drink, at the same time secretly thrilled at the attention he was affording her. Ariana Hennessy, social wallflower and forever in the shadow of the glorious Tess Cartwright.

The night meandered on. Tess dragged Adam onto the dancefloor but all the while his gaze returned to Ariana sitting awkwardly in the booth. At one point Tess badgered her reluctant friend into joining them but she hated every second as drunken louts careered into them from all angles, the dancefloor resembling a human pinball machine. Finally the lights came on and a mangled voice informed them over the tannoy to make their way towards the exit in an orderly fashion. Ariana checked her watch. It was well past the witching hour. She groaned internally, chastising herself at being lured out when she had such an early start the next morning.

Tess attached herself to Adam like a limpet, hooking arms with him as they edged towards the doors with the rest of the revellers. Ariana shuffled behind, zipping her parka in anticipation of the bracing night air. She wasn’t disappointed and shivered involuntarily despite the several layers she had on. If Tess didn’t end up with hypothermia it would be a minor miracle but she appeared oblivious to the cold as she hung on Adam’s every word. Emily Pankhurst would be turning in her grave, thought Ariana, as the cheesy chat from her best friend showed no sign of abating.

‘Sooooo, Adam, did you have a pleasant evening?’ she cooed, all wide blue eyes and parted lips.

‘I’ve had worse. You?’

‘Oh, I’ve had a wonderful time.’ She swayed unsteadily in front of him as an uneasy silence enveloped them. Finally Tess could contain herself no more. ‘This is the bit where we swap phone numbers.’ She smiled sweetly, before rolling her eyes at Ariana in faux dismay as Adam began to punch numbers into her phone which had been thrust into his hands.

‘There you go,’ he said handing her the phone back. ‘Another notch on your fantasy bed post. Now why don’t you run along now and I’ll walk your friend home.’ Suddenly the charm was gone, replaced by an unpleasant tone that immediately sobered Ariana up and set alarm bells ringing.

‘Er, that’s not how it works.’ Flirty Tess was gone, replaced by a cautious tone. Ariana looked around and realised it was just the three of them outside the Union, everyone else already half way to where they needed to be.

‘Look, I think we should go, Tess. We have that early start in the morning. Professor Ickringill, remember?’ She grabbed her friend’s hand but Tess resisted, refusing to be the first to look away in her staring duel with Adam.

‘I don’t know who you think you are but….’

‘Oh I know exactly who I am just as I know exactly who you and your little friend are. Isn’t that right, Ariana?’ He turned and leered at her, no longer disguising the contempt in his voice.

‘How did you know my….?’ Ariana’s stomach froze over and her legs threatened to give way beneath her.

‘Oh I know all about Bomb Girl. In fact, you could say you’ve been my specialised subject for a number of years now.’

‘Wait a minute you creep, you can’t speak….’

Adam turned and placed a hand on Tess’ bare shoulder. ‘Like I said, my dear, I strongly suggest you turn around and flutter off to where you came from, while I walk your lovely companion home. Now please don’t make me ask again. I’m a patient man but I have my limits. Please.’

He smiled, an icy, humourless smile, as Tess nodded slowly, a vacant expression settling on her formerly feisty features. She looked at Ariana as if it was the first time she had ever set eyes on her best friend. ‘Yeah. Maybe I should go. Early start and all that.’ Without another word she turned and walked away. Ariana froze, a half formed scream in her lungs as a large hand clamped over her mouth and dragged her backwards towards the darkness beyond the half glow of the Union’s security lighting.

‘Time we had a little chat, Bomb Girl.’ They were the last words Ariana heard before she drifted into unconsciousness.


Chapter Six

The faint thread of noise grew steadily stronger and Ariana clung to it, hauling herself inch by inch back to the surface. The closer she got the more intense the pain became. Initially a dull ache centred above her left eyebrow, no more inconvenient than a buzzing bluebottle trapped in a jam jar. As she grew more aware of her surroundings, however, it intensified, growling and grating until it ripped through her forehead like a steel trap clamping down on its helpless prey. Other sensory clues solidified, and she became aware of a pungent, acrid odour polluting her nostrils. Chloroform? The recognition triggered a series of distorted memories which flooded her mind like a rushing tide roaring up a shingle beach.

The Union. Tess. Where was Tess? Ariana started to thrash about wildly, to only realise her arms and legs were tightly bound. She opened her mouth to scream but the gag put paid to that plan. Secreted in darkness she fought the growing urge to choke on the rag wedged between her teeth. Summoning every grain of self control she pushed down hard on the panicky jack in the box waiting to explode across her mind and scatter any semblance of rational thought to the four winds.

Breathe, Ariana, breathe. Forcing stale, oily air into her lungs she inhaled and exhaled through her nose for several moments until her galloping heart rate steadied to a canter. As her equilibrium returned, she became aware of motion, the undulations beneath throwing her upwards where her nose grazed metal. She was in a moving vehicle, the boot of a car? Further details swam within her grasp. That guy at the bar, the handsome one who Tess was fawning over. What was his name? Alan? No, wait it was Adam, definitely Adam, she had a cousin of the same name. He’d bought them vodkas, then outside afterwards Tess asked for his number and….

Her stomach lurched as the details accosted her, struggling to keep down the vodka purchased by her assailant. The thought of choking to death on her own vomit, alone in the boot of a car suddenly seemed a distinct possibility. Oh my God, Oh my God, I’m dead. He’s going to rape me, then torture me, then chop me up into a thousand pieces and….But Tess, Tess, why had she allowed it to happen? Why hadn’t she fought him? The memory of her friend’s blank face as Tess nodded and walked away from them outside the Union. It was as if she had been hypnotised….

The vehicle lurched violently to the left and she was thrown about the confines of the boot, suggesting the driver had exited the main road and was now driving along a rougher road surface, a track or laneway. Ariana winced as every jolt sent spasms of pain shooting down her spine. She continued the breathing exercise she had been taught once in a counselling session, one of the few useful tips she had picked up from years of enforced therapy, attempting to come to terms with who she was, who Ariana Hennessy wanted to be, needed to be.

Anything but the Bomb Girl.

The surface underneath changed again, this time the crunch of gravel as the vehicle turned in a tight circle before coming to a halt. Ariana realised she was holding in what little breath she had as the engine idled for an eternity. Tinny music seeped into her prison, a car radio. What was it? Some soulless dance tune, the thumping bass and moronic drumbeat setting a ridiculous soundtrack to what could well be the last moments of her life. A door opened, the music ceased, and the sound of boots crunching along the side of the vehicle sent her adrenaline levels soaring to new, unprecedented heights. Ariana tensed as the sound of jangling keys alerted her that whoever conveyed her here was standing directly at the back of the car no more than a few feet from her.

‘Are you in there, Ariana?’ The voice of a man, heavy with sarcasm. ‘Well, of course you are, where else would you be. Now, I’m going to open the boot and realise you’re all trussed up like a Christmas turkey but, all the same, no funny business, right? I’ve been very good to you so far, buying you drinks all night, listening to them feeble attempts of your friend to chat me up.’

Without further warning the boot swung open and Ariana found herself staring up into the angelic face of Adam O’Sullivan, his chiselled features bathed in a milky moonlight. Beyond him she could make out little else, bar the murky shadows of trees.

‘What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?’ Adam laughed, a deep, somewhat unhinged baritone bark. Arianna stared back wide eyed until he finished making merry at his own dubious humour, unable to utter a sound because of the gag. As if only becoming aware of this fact, Adam stopped abruptly and leaned down until his face was no more than inches from hers. She could smell the stale Guinness on his breath, count the flecks of stubble on his dimpled chin.

‘Sorry, that was in poor taste. Now, if I were to loosen the gag and allow you to talk, do you promise to be on your best behaviour and not cause a scene?’ His brow furrowed and he nodded for Ariana to respond. ‘One nod for yes, two for no, there’s a good girl.’

Ariana nodded slowly, earning a smile from Adam that, in any other setting, might have melted her heart. ‘Excellent,’ he exclaimed, standing tall again. ‘Now I’m a man of my word and I expect you to keep yours on this one. Otherwise I might have to hit you over the head with a shovel.’ He paused, as if weighing up his options, before shrugging. ‘Or maybe a hammer. Who knows, whatever’s to hand.’ He reached down and gently loosened the gag until it hung against Ariana’s throat.

‘There, isn’t that better?’

‘Who are you? Wh…what do you want?’ Ariana’s voice was little more than a tepid croak, her throat parched from fear and the fume soaked gag.

‘Patience, wee girl, patience. One question at a time. Name doesn’t ring a bell then….Adam….O’Sullivan?’

Ariana dredged her memory for a sliver of recollection but drew a resounding blank. ‘I’m sorry, no. Should it? Please let me go, this is a mistake. I swear to God I won’t tell anyone about this, on my….’

‘Mother’s grave?’ interrupted Adam. ‘Yes I heard about your ma. I guess mixed emotions on your part given the way she paraded you in front of the press every year. Bit of a one trick pony wasn’t she in the end, but I guess it paid a few bills.’

Ariana’s blood was turning to an icy slush. How did he know all this about her? This wasn’t mistaken identity after all, she was his intended target all along.

‘Well, I know all about graves,’ continued Adam, seemingly oblivious to the devastating impact his words were having on the young woman cowering helplessly before him. ‘Buried my own father at an early age. No worse feeling than walking behind the coffin of a loved one is there?’ He sneered, the charming mask slipping to reveal what lurked beneath. ‘Got a taste of your own medicine, eh, you wee bitch.’

O’Sullivan, O’Sullivan. Ariana eyes widened as the hitherto evasive answer slithered into view, a most unwanted visitor.

‘Diarmuid O’Sullivan. You’re Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s son.’ All previous efforts to rein in her heartbeat vanished in a puff of well intentioned smoke, as it careered out of control once more. The Monksbridge Massacre. It was his father who was the architect behind it.

‘Bingo,’ trilled Aidan, jumping back and flashing jazz hands in her direction. ‘In the flesh, for one night only. Your last night, little Ariana. But worry not, what a time you and I are going to have. I’ve got so many treats lined up for you, all sorts of treasures. You’re going to go out in style, young lady, I can guarantee that.’ He fixed her with a toothy grin. It was the final straw, tipping her over the edge. She opened her mouth, fully intent on screaming until her throat bled.

‘Ach, now there’s no need for that.’ Adam bent forward into the boot and clamped a callused hand over her mouth, securing the gag tighter than before. Ariana squirmed and twisted, desperately trying to find some purchase but it was a futile battle.

‘I must say I’m disappointed, Ariana. I’d been looking forward to getting caught up with you, but you obviously can’t be trusted. He toyed with a chunky sovereign ring on his right forefinger before holding it out towards her. ‘See this. That’s all was left of him after the explosion. Cheap Eastern European detonators. Left me walking behind an empty coffin, at least you got to say goodbye to your ma properly. I wonder what will be left of you after tomorrow? When you finally get to live up to that illustrious nickname.’

Ariana whimpered in horror as his clenched fist descended upon her. The last thing she saw was the golden glint of the ring, fringed by balmy moonlight. There followed a brief explosion of searing pain before Ariana slipped back beneath the still, black surface she had only recently emerged from.

Adam O’Sullivan slammed the boot shut. The night was young and there was still so much work to be done. Tomorrow was going to be the greatest day of his life.

And the worst of theirs.

Shiny Happy People Not Holding Hands

Don’t you just detest them? You know the type, the perfect, airbrushed families you see at the school gate or in the supermarket? The kids are always perfectly behaved and immaculately attired. No snotty noses or cheeky answers from these little darlings. They are top of their class and destined for great things, just like their parents, for that’s how the world works, right? Them and us, the have and the have nots. The shiny, happy people.

The dads high five each other a lot and laugh a little more loudly than is required. When you attempt to strike up a conversation with them on the sideline they will humour you but edge away ever so slightly. They congregate at social events such as barbecues and stand as far from the great unwashed as is humanly possible. Their BMWs are always spotless and you could cut your finger on the seam of their chinos. They are called Chad or Brad. Or Tad.

And then there are the mothers, bless them. Permanent grins plastered across their perfectly made up faces, dripping in designer labels and faux sincerity. They nod a lot and are often found at coffee mornings and on school fund raising committees. They were no doubt captains of their high school cheerleading teams. They don’t mean to come across all superior but, well, when in Rome….

These folk, when asked, are always ‘fine.’ Life is wonderful, as depicted on their Facebook and Instagram accounts. Their kids never cry, they never argue with their spouses and the ‘f’ bomb has never crossed their lips. The highlight of the week is invariably Sunday when they attend church to meet and mingle with other like minded types. They are often to be found on mission trips to far flung lands helping those who so desperately need them.

They are experts at nose crinkling. Confused? Well let me explain. When you are in conversation with them look beyond the immaculate haircut and gleaming teeth. Look into their eyes and tell me what you see. That’s right, there’s nothing there. You will have seen more compassion in the black dead pools of a great white about to lock its jaws on a doomed swimmer. Then look at their perfect, surgically enhanced, noses and spot the crinkle.

It’s that faintly disgusted flare of the nostrils as if someone has passed wind in the vicinity. They are uncomfortable in your presence as you are not one of them. Come Sunday morning they will hug you, engage in small talk and ‘promise to pray for you’ but the second you turn your back their memory banks are erased of all knowledge of you. Until the next Sunday, that is, when the same tired old routine will be played out again.

You won’t see much of them during the week. They are far too busy on the golf course, at yoga class or being ‘fine’ at some other unspecified location. If you encounter them in the street you’ll get the plastered smile and high pitched greeting but they’ll be too busy to stop and talk, gotta rush, so much to do. They leave you standing there, wondering what on earth you’ve ever done to deserve such appalling indifference from another human being.

They have doors and they have demons but they will never open or acknowledge them. For everything must be perfect, the facade must be maintained at all costs. There are cakes to be baked, holidays to be booked and all that other important stuff that a Proverbs 31 wife and mother does. They are good people and never let that be said against them. No snarling, no claws, no needless gossiping nor staggering hypocrisy from them.

Heaven forbid as they are the chosen ones. They are the shiny, happy people. But let’s not hold hands. Unless it’s a Sunday and the pastor’s watching.

Where are the shiny, happy people in your life?

Have you ever been the victim of a nose crinkling incident?

They Must Never Win

There are days when I want to give up. When book sales aren’t what I hoped they would be, when I put my heart and soul into a post and it sinks without trace. When I wonder what’s the point? There are thousands of other authors out there, what makes me any different, what makes me the one who thinks they are going to break through to the point where I can focus on writing as a career?

It’s a tough gig. Despite the support of loved ones, self doubt creeps into my mind at every possible opportunity. The voice snipes and sneers, undermining me at every twist and turn in this journey. You’re no good, you’ll never amount to anything, you’re a fake, a failure, a fraud. Writing can be the loneliest, most frightening place on earth. You put your everything out there and hope for the best.

There are silver strands of hope. An encouraging review, kind comments on your timeline, helpful words from family, friends and strangers. You cling to these like a drowning man clings to a life jacket for there is no alternative but to slip beneath the still, black waters never to resurface again. Just another wannabe, forced back down where he belongs. Ideas above his station, who did he think he was anyway?

I don’t think about this all the time, most days I am upbeat and positive. I’m going through a bit of a purple patch at the minute, if the truth be told. Book 2 has passed the 40,000 word mark and I’ve resurrected my short story as well. I’m averaging over 1,000 words a day and am grateful that the creative juices continue to flow, despite the dark thoughts which occasionally cloud my judgement and thinking. Like all things in life, they pass.

So there is sunshine waiting to peek out from behind the clouds, there is hope. It is that which I must focus on. If you never left the house because you thought it would rain, then you’d never start any journey in life. There are risks, they are part of the package. It’s how you confront and manage those risks that determine where it will all end up. I’m not afraid to face up to these, it’s part of the process .

I’m going to encounter obstacles, hurdles to overcome and barriers to breach. There will be dead ends which will force me to back track to where I started. Frustrating, time consuming and debilitating. There will be signposts which provide false information, fellow travelers will misdirect you, distractions and a million other scenarios will lead you astray, time after time. It’s tough, but it’s life. Stop whining and get on with it, many will say.

So, today, I’ll write, and tomorrow, and the day after that. I’ll not give up, I’ll not back down, I’ll keep hammering on the door until access is permitted. Giving up is not an option no matter how many times I’m ignored, how many times I’m shunned and sent scuttling back to square one. I’ll lose friends and followers alike but I won’t go away, I’ll keep writing my words and hitting the publish button. They are there….if you want them.

Do you feel like that? Have you a passion in life that you feel is stymied? Do you sense there are forces, seen and unseen, working against you? Are you sick and tired of the door being slammed in your face, of blank expressions and uncaring eyes when you tell others of your latest project or achievement. I want you to know, today, that you’re not alone and you must never give up. For that way they win and they must never win.

I Believe In You

Bomb Girl – Chapter 6

The faint thread of noise grew steadily stronger and Ariana clung to it, hauling herself inch by inch back to the surface. The closer she got the more intense the pain became. Initially a dull ache centred above her left eyebrow, no more inconvenient than a buzzing bluebottle trapped in a jam jar. As she grew more aware of her surroundings, however, it intensified, growling and grating until it ripped through her forehead like a steel trap clamping down on its helpless prey. Other sensory clues solidified, and she became aware of a pungent, acrid odour polluting her nostrils. Chloroform? The recognition triggered a series of distorted memories which flooded her mind like a rushing tide roaring up a shingle beach.

The Union. Tess. Where was Tess? Ariana started to thrash about wildly, to only realise her arms and legs were tightly bound. She opened her mouth to scream but the gag put paid to that plan. Secreted in darkness she fought the growing urge to choke on the rag wedged between her teeth. Summoning every grain of self control she pushed down hard on the panicky jack in the box waiting to explode across her mind and scatter any semblance of rational thought to the four winds.

Breathe, Ariana, breathe. Forcing stale, oily air into her lungs she inhaled and exhaled through her nose for several moments until her galloping heart rate steadied to a canter. As her equilibrium returned, she became aware of motion, the undulations beneath throwing her upwards where her nose grazed metal. She was in a moving vehicle, the boot of a car? Further details swam within her grasp. That guy at the bar, the handsome one who Tess was fawning over. What was his name? Alan? No, wait it was Adam, definitely Adam, she had a cousin of the same name. He’d bought them vodkas, then outside afterwards Tess asked for his number and….

Her stomach lurched as the details accosted her, struggling to keep down the vodka purchased by her assailant. The thought of choking to death on her own vomit, alone in the boot of a car suddenly seemed a distinct possibility. Oh my God, Oh my God, I’m dead. He’s going to rape me, then torture me, then chop me up into a thousand pieces and….But Tess, Tess, why had she allowed it to happen? Why hadn’t she fought him? The memory of her friend’s blank face as Tess nodded and walked away from them outside the Union. It was as if she had been hypnotised….

The vehicle lurched violently to the left and she was thrown about the confines of the boot, suggesting the driver had exited the main road and was now driving along a rougher road surface, a track or laneway. Ariana winced as every jolt sent spasms of pain shooting down her spine. She continued the breathing exercise she had been taught once in a counselling session, one of the few useful tips she had picked up from years of enforced therapy, attempting to come to terms with who she was, who Ariana Hennessy wanted to be, needed to be.

Anything but the Bomb Girl.

The surface underneath changed again, this time the crunch of gravel as the vehicle turned in a tight circle before coming to a halt. Ariana realised she was holding in what little breath she had as the engine idled for an eternity. Tinny music seeped into her prison, a car radio. What was it? Some soulless dance tune, the thumping bass and moronic drumbeat setting a ridiculous soundtrack to what could well be the last moments of her life. A door opened, the music ceased, and the sound of boots crunching along the side of the vehicle sent her adrenaline levels soaring to new, unprecedented heights. Ariana tensed as the sound of jangling keys alerted her that whoever conveyed her here was standing directly at the back of the car no more than a few feet from her.

‘Are you in there, Ariana?’ The voice of a man, heavy with sarcasm. ‘Well, of course you are, where else would you be. Now, I’m going to open the boot and realise you’re all trussed up like a Christmas turkey but, all the same, no funny business, right? I’ve been very good to you so far, buying you drinks all night, listening to them feeble attempts of your friend to chat me up.’

Without further warning the boot swung open and Ariana found herself staring up into the angelic face of Adam O’Sullivan, his chiselled features bathed in a milky moonlight. Beyond him she could make out little else, bar the murky shadows of trees.

‘What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?’ Adam laughed, a deep, somewhat unhinged baritone bark. Arianna stared back wide eyed until he finished making merry at his own dubious humour, unable to utter a sound because of the gag. As if only becoming aware of this fact, Adam stopped abruptly and leaned down until his face was no more than inches from hers. She could smell the stale Guinness on his breath, count the flecks of stubble on his dimpled chin.

‘Sorry, that was in poor taste. Now, if I were to loosen the gag and allow you to talk, do you promise to be on your best behaviour and not cause a scene?’ His brow furrowed and he nodded for Ariana to respond. ‘One nod for yes, two for no, there’s a good girl.’

Ariana nodded slowly, earning a smile from Adam that, in any other setting, might have melted her heart. ‘Excellent,’ he exclaimed, standing tall again. ‘Now I’m a man of my word and I expect you to keep yours on this one. Otherwise I might have to hit you over the head with a shovel.’ He paused, as if weighing up his options, before shrugging. ‘Or maybe a hammer. Who knows, whatever’s to hand.’ He reached down and gently loosened the gag until it hung against Ariana’s throat.

‘There, isn’t that better?’

‘Who are you? Wh…what do you want?’ Ariana’s voice was little more than a tepid croak, her throat parched from fear and the fume soaked gag.

‘Patience, wee girl, patience. One question at a time. Name doesn’t ring a bell then….Adam….O’Sullivan?’

Ariana dredged her memory for a sliver of recollection but drew a resounding blank. ‘I’m sorry, no. Should it? Please let me go, this is a mistake. I swear to God I won’t tell anyone about this, on my….’

‘Mother’s grave?’ interrupted Adam. ‘Yes I heard about your ma. I guess mixed emotions on your part given the way she paraded you in front of the press every year. Bit of a one trick pony wasn’t she in the end, but I guess it paid a few bills.’

Ariana’s blood was turning to an icy slush. How did he know all this about her? This wasn’t mistaken identity after all, she was his intended target all along.

‘Well, I know all about graves,’ continued Adam, seemingly oblivious to the devastating impact his words were having on the young woman cowering helplessly before him. ‘Buried my own father at an early age. No worse feeling than walking behind the coffin of a loved one is there?’ He sneered, the charming mask slipping to reveal what lurked beneath. ‘Got a taste of your own medicine, eh, you wee bitch.’

O’Sullivan, O’Sullivan. Ariana eyes widened as the hitherto evasive answer slithered into view, a most unwanted visitor.

‘Diarmuid O’Sullivan. You’re Diarmuid O’Sullivan’s son.’ All previous efforts to rein in her heartbeat vanished in a puff of well intentioned smoke, as it careered out of control once more. The Monksbridge Massacre. It was his father who was the architect behind it.

‘Bingo,’ trilled Aidan, jumping back and flashing jazz hands in her direction. ‘In the flesh, for one night only. Your last night, little Ariana. But worry not, what a time you and I are going to have. I’ve got so many treats lined up for you, all sorts of treasures. You’re going to go out in style, young lady, I can guarantee that.’ He fixed her with a toothy grin. It was the final straw, tipping her over the edge. She opened her mouth, fully intent on screaming until her throat bled.

‘Ach, now there’s no need for that.’ Adam bent forward into the boot and clamped a callused hand over her mouth, securing the gag tighter than before. Ariana squirmed and twisted, desperately trying to find some purchase but it was a futile battle.

‘I must say I’m disappointed, Ariana. I’d been looking forward to getting caught up with you, but you obviously can’t be trusted. He toyed with a chunky sovereign ring on his right forefinger before holding it out towards her. ‘See this. That’s all was left of him after the explosion. Cheap Eastern European detonators. Left me walking behind an empty coffin, at least you got to say goodbye to your ma properly. I wonder what will be left of you after tomorrow? When you finally get to live up to that illustrious nickname.’

Ariana whimpered in horror as his clenched fist descended upon her. The last thing she saw was the golden glint of the ring, fringed by balmy moonlight. There followed a brief explosion of searing pain before Ariana slipped back beneath the still, black surface she had only recently emerged from.

Adam O’Sullivan slammed the boot shut. The night was young and there was still so much work to be done. Tomorrow was going to be the greatest day of his life.

And the worst of theirs.

I hope you enjoyed Chapter 6 and would love to hear your feedback. Just add your comments below.

Like my words? Well, why not check out my fantasy novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ Available now via your local Amazon site in e book and paperback format. Or FREE if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. Thank you.

I’m Not One To Get Excited But….

I’ll be posting Chapter 6 of my latest short story, ‘Bomb Girl,’ tomorrow. The feedback from those who have read Chapters 1-5 has been incredibly encouraging so I’m eager to discover what you all think of this latest instalment. Is it the end of the road for our eponymous hero, Ariana Hennessy, at the hands of the silver tongued villain, Adam O’Sullivan? Or will her BFF Tess Carter snap out of his supernatural stupor to save the day.

All will be revealed tomorrow….maybe.

Have you been reading ‘Bomb Girl?’

What are you hoping for in Chapter 6?

I’m On Facebook. Come Visit

Are you on Facebook?

If so, why don’t you drop over and like my author page. I post content that you won’t find on the blog including writing updates, quizzes and the occasional competition. What’s not to like about that? It’s the perfect way to start your Monday and if it’s as grey and damp as the weather in Northern Ireland then it’s a complete no brainer. Let me know if you’re calling round so I can put the kettle on.

https://www.facebook.com/StephenBlackAuthor/

Support OCD Awareness Week

As today marks the start of #OCDAwarenessWeek I’m going to be blogging exclusively about this devastating and deeply misunderstood mental illness in an effort to educate and raise awareness. As many of you know, I have struggled with OCD for most of my life, particularly in my 20’s and 30’s. While I largely control it these days, it’s a dormant monster always waiting to pounce at the first sign of complacency or weakness.

Please show your support by liking, commenting on and reblogging posts.

If you too suffer from OCD, know someone who does or want to know more about the disorder then feel free to e mail me.

To those who have already done so, I apologise for the delay in responding. I’ll get caught up this week.

B Movie Blogging Challenge

I sometimes feel my subject matter can be a little depressing so decided to lighten the mood after seeing this on Twitter yesterday. It’s fairly explanatory, just follow the instructions below. The challenge, though, is to then write a blog post selling your movie. I’ll reblog my favourite entry next week. All you have to do is comment with your generated name and get writing. P.S. mine was….

The Naughty Camel From Mars!

38,000 Words

Sounds a lot doesn’t it?

Yet I’m not even a third of the way through the story arc of Book 2 of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles.’ I’m super pleased with the shape the new book is taking as the KSC universe has exploded in terms of new characters, worlds and story lines. But worry not. The old favourites are still there as Kirkwood, Meredith and little Harley continue to do battle with the sinister Augustus Skelly and the brutal might of The Company.

Book 1 in the series, ‘Skelly’s Square,’ is available now via your local Amazon store in e book and paperback format. Or if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited it’s completely FREE! Thank you to those of you who continue to support my writing through the blog and via my other social media platforms. It is much appreciated and never taken for granted. As long as you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.

Deal?

Do You Ever?

Do you ever feel invisible? Do you ever feel that, no matter how hard you try, your efforts are ignored and passed over? If you stood in the middle of a crowded street and screamed until your lungs burst, not one person would stop and come to your aid? Do you ever feel it’s one step forward, nine steps back? Do you ever feel like setting down your pen, for what’s the point? Do you ever despair it will never happen?

Do you ever look at the people around you and shake your head sadly? Do you ever wonder how it came to this, how your hopes and dreams lie bloody and bruised at your feet? Do you ever feel like lying down, curling up into a ball and sobbing uncontrollably for the rest of your days? Do you ever want it all to stop, to step off the caustic carousel into blissful oblivion, to a place where pain and anguish are no more?

Do you ever wonder what happened to all the people who said they cared, who used to be a part of your day to day? Do you think they think about the days that were, the days that could have been? Would they step over you in the street now, like modern day Pharisees bustling to their place of worship, too fixated on self and image to tend to your failing needs? Do you wonder where they are now?

Do you ever question God? Do you ever question is there is a God? For if there is, then why did he allow that to happen? And that and this and that? Do you ever question everything you’ve ever held close to your heart, the concrete absolutes of your being, which now slip through your cupped hands like grains of sand. Do you ever? Will you ever? The questions never stop.

Do you ever?

Disturbing, Unwanted Thoughts

I was watching a trailer for a movie last night, one where a huge tsunami was bearing down on a Japanese beach. Initially it was a distant speck, barely visible to the thousands of sun bathers enjoying their day on the golden sands. An idyllic scene, where families laughed and played innocently unaware of the devastation about to be unleashed upon their lives. For when it hit, nothing would ever be the same again.

As it rolled ever nearer, becoming more visible, people raised arms to shield their eyes from the glare of the sun’s rays. A dull rumble steadily increased as the first panicky voices rose to meet it. Within seconds chaos replaced the previous calm, parents screaming for children to run, sun worshipers abandoning their belongings and sprinting for their lives as the deadly wave bore down upon them.

It was too late, they could not outrun its deadly surge. As it struck the city, skyscrapers collapsed like decks of playing cards, mighty suspension bridges wobbled like punch drunk boxers before succumbing to its overwhelming force. Bodies and buildings were swept away like twigs thrown from bridges into surging streams. The carnage was indiscriminate, old and young, rich and poor, all gone.

This morning I started work on a new chapter of my book. A chapter where the main character, Kirkwood, wrestles with obsessive thoughts and compulsions which threaten to sweep him away. His OCD is just like that killer Japanese wave, it’s incessant power blowing away all who dare to stand in its path. Call it what you want but OCD is equally indiscriminate. It strikes where it wants, when it wants.

There is no cure. Yes, the right medication and therapies can help. I am armed with a variety of coping mechanisms which allow me to function from day to day. Look at me and, on the surface, all is well. But I fight a battle every day. A battle to lock away the monster and ignore its seductive voice. A sugar sweet voice dripping with paralysing poison, a voice that means you nothing but harm.

It’s not quirky, it’s not a slightly eccentric character trait. It’s victims do not fuss about their spotless houses, checking that the oven is off and straightening bathroom towels. We don’t all have it, you can’t have a ‘little bit of OCD’ any more than you can have a ‘little bit of cancer.’ It is a living hell for millions of people, people who did nothing to deserve what has befallen them. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is no laughing natter.

It twists, it turns, it shifts shape on a whim, adapting to changing circumstances, always seeking to strike where you are at your most vulnerable. The unwanted thoughts are planted and nurtured, growing from tiny seeds into choking, suffocating weeds which destroy any last vestige of logic and order within your beleaguered mind. OCD sucks you dry until there is nothing left bar a shattered husk.

Today my head is above water, I cope and I function. I talk to loved ones, I write, I run, I take my pills. I’m not a survivor but I survive. Living my life the best way I can, but always with one eye nervously scanning the horizon for that telltale speck. The speck that heralds unprecedented horror and suffering, that reduces my meticulous defences to ruin. It’s out there….waiting. Always waiting.

What is your knowledge of OCD?

Do you struggle with unwanted, disturbing thoughts?

How do you deal with them?

Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud

Last month I posted a blog titled Loneliness which you can read via this link https://fracturedfaithblog.com/2019/09/12/loneliness/ if you missed it. I had an idea about spreading some hope to people who do feel lonely by sending out Christmas cards/letters and asked if anybody would like to take part to send me an email.

This idea proved to be very popular with you all and I received a lot of emails so I am making another appeal. If this is something that would interest you please send me an email at fracturedfaithblog@gmail.com.

We as a family have been talking about this project and decided to give it a name other than Loneliness and we came up with

Be a Rainbow in Someone’s Cloud’

and one of the children drew the picture at the top of the blog.

I plan to get in touch with everybody in first few weeks of November with the name and address of their recipient and as Hannah is off school now for a while due to her pressure sores she will be assisting me it’s got her quite excited.

We look forward to hearing from you

Fionnuala

How Many Books Can You Read At The Same Time?

My TBR (to be read) list stretches far into the distance, largely because I can only read one book at a time. I imagine most female readers are now nodding knowingly, bemoaning the inability of the male of the species to multitask. Try as I might, numerous novels are a bridge too far for me. I have to plod along until a particular story is told before I can turn my attention to the next book on my list.

This puzzles me slightly as I can manage multiple projects at work as adeptly as a skilled juggler. Take today for example. I was writing two complex reports simultaneously while responding to e-mails and verbal queries from the team. I can be focused in one meeting while also mentally preparing for the next. I’m calm, knowledgable and largely unflappable. I almost always know what I’m talking about.

I’m also currently writing two separate stories. I’ve just passed the 35,000 word mark of my second book, while I’m also working on a short story which forms part of the same story arc. I work hard at both my 9-5 and writing careers. If I wasn’t able to spin multiple plates in respect of either, then I’d undoubtedly sink beneath the waves without a trace. Yet I can’t read two books at the same time.

It’s utterly beyond me. But what about you? How many books are you currently dipping into on a daily basis? Can you tackle fiction and non fiction, contrasting genres and authors? Or are you like me, a one at a time tortoise staring nervously at the pile of paper about to consume you? Put your book or books down and let’s get talking. Post your comments below. Thank you and have a great day.

How long is your current ‘to be read’ list?

How many books can you read at the same time?

My Wee Book Is 3 Months Old

My first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ is three months old this week. If you haven’t checked it out yet and like my writing it’s available on Amazon in e book and paperback format. And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited Subscriber it’s absolutely FREE! So feel free to check out this darkly humorous Northern Irish urban fantasy. Or check out the multiple 5 star reviews on Amazon if you want to see what other readers thought of it. Thank you!

How Is Your Mental Health Today?

I periodically revisit regular questions on the blog and this is one very close to my heart. It’s a topic I feel we are often too frightened or embarrassed to talk about, we duck the issue or brush it under the carpet for another day. We are all too quick to share our physical aches and pains with others but when it comes to our mental health we clam up. Some see it as a sign of weakness to admit we are struggling with our mental health.

Would we soldier on if we broke a leg? No, the pain would become too much and we would seek medical attention. Unless we’re John Rambo. So why ignore help if we are broken mentally? Ignoring our mental health leads to mental illness which impacts upon quality of life. Yet, so often, it can be nipped in the bud if we only speak up and ask for help at an early stage.

Recognising you are struggling is a strength, not a weakness. It should be applauded, not ignored. If you are struggling today, please don’t bury your head in the sand. Talk to someone, a friend, a relative, someone you trust enough to confide in. It could be the first step towards recovery and restoration. Don’t dither it’s delay. We only have one mind, one body. Let’s look after them.

Mental health and our inability to deal with it is a blot on the landscape of our society. The stigma attached to it is unwarranted. People are suffering excruciating pain in silence, people are sinking beneath the surface never to be seen again. We need to wake up and smell the coffee, before it’s too late. I urge you to speak up, to reach out, to be there if you are needed. For the next time it could be you.

How is your mental health today?

Are You A Good Decision Maker?

I have a series of early starts at work this week, meaning rising in darkness this morning to the sound of howling wind and rain battering the bedroom window. Thankfully I’m driving to the office so no need to stand, exposed to the elements, on a train platform. If I time it right I should be seated at my desk, bright eyed and bushy tailed, well before the majority of my fellow co-workers. The early bird catches the worm and all that.

Getting into work before others has its benefits. I’m ahead of the game and can get so much more done before phones start ringing and conversations commence about what you got up to at the weekend. E-mails can be answered, reports drafted, but most importantly it gives me time to think. Work on strategies, mull over tricky problems and wrestle with decisions that only I can make.

I probably achieve more in that first golden hour than I do in the rest of the day. I’m not a natural decision maker but the nature of my job now means the buck stops with me and I have to make them. Regularly. The same goes for documenting those decisions as, down the line, the rationale for what I did and why I did it may be subject to serious scrutiny. So that quiet time at the start of a working day is precious to me.

Have you a big decision to make today? How do you go about tackling it? Do you jump in feet first and grab the bull by the horns or adopt a more cautious, measured approach? Is it related to work or your personal life? I was once told there are three things that can happen in such a setting. The best outcome is you make the right decision, the next best you make the wrong one, but the worst is you make no decision at all.

I wish you well with your decision today. Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below.

Will You Join Me?

I’m working today. I know it’s a weekend, but needs must, and it’s going to be that way for the foreseeable future. Life’s like that. Spanners are continually being thrown into works and plans rarely pan out the way they are meant to. I’d much rather be spending the day with my family. Isn’t that what being a loving husband and father is all about? Yet I’m going to be in the office, chipping away at a huge workload.

The silver strand I cling on to is that I’m doing this for the family. Yes, it benefits me personally to clear the decks and hit the ground running come Monday morning. I have a very good job. It’s stimulating and well paid, I’ve worked hard in recent years to reach the position I’ve attained. I thought my days of working weekends were at an end. How wrong I was.

We all face situations in life where we are faced with roles and responsibilities we are not exactly enamoured with. Yet there is no other way round it but roll up our sleeves and get on with it. We all love a short cut but sometimes the long way round is the only way, it’s the shortest cut available to us. We need to suck it up and deal with what is staring us in the face. There is no other way, no Plan B.

Plans can be decimated in the blink of an eye. Years of work undone in a second. You spend countless hours clambering up a slope only to slip and slide to the bottom again. There is nobody to lend a helping hand, no action replay or second chance. You have to start again from square one, rip up the gameplan and grit your teeth. You feel hopeless, frustrated, angry. Why? Why has this happened?

You can cry, you can scream, you can rage to the heavens. Or you can take matters into your own hands, you can weigh up the options and consider what lies within your sphere of influence. You look inwards as opposed to outwards, to unlock skills and knowledge you never knew you possessed. You rise to the occasion and step up to the plate. For you are capable of so much more than you thought.

It’s a whole new ball game and you’re about to have the game of your life. Gone are the days of relying on others and waiting for things to happen. Gone are the days of talking about it, now is the time to grab the thistle and seize the day. Carpe diem. There will be pain, that’s an inevitable by product of the path you’ve taken. But it’s a temporary pain and the rewards far outweigh the discomfort.

Proving the doubters wrong, seeing their faces when that day comes, and it will, when you’re standing at the top of the heap again, staring triumphantly down at the haters and those who said they would never make it. One step at at a time, moment by moment, it will happen if you believe it will happen. Channel the rejection, funnel the pain and transfer it into a positive energy which will fuel your journey.

It’s a grind, a horizon which seems a million miles off, but you’re working your way towards it. The people around you are the right people, you’re convinced of it. You’re secure in that knowledge, the others have fallen by the wayside and it’s as if the shackles have been released. You’re on your way, I’m on my way. So I’m going to work and work hard to realise the dreams of my loved ones. You can watch me soar and turn away. The choice is yours. My path is set.

Will you join me on my journey? For together we are strong.

So Proud Of Our Kids

Now that Adam is sadly sidelined with a knee injury, Rebecca has taken up the mantle of sporting star for the Black family. After trying out a number of activities in recent years, everything from ballet to taekwondo, she has settled on football as her chosen sport. She started training with the local girls football team, Lurgan Town FC, last month and has now played two games for them in the regional Under 15 league.

Rebecca, at almost 13, is one of the youngest members of the squad, but has thrown herself fearlessly into the fray with her usual energy and enthusiasm. The hard work and positive attitude have paid off as the girls have won their first two matches, scoring a whopping 16 goals in the process, while conceding none. Rebecca has played her part in both games with some lovely passes and tough tackling.

Fionnuala and I are proud of all three of our children and hate seeing them injured or ill, through no fault of their own. Both Adam and Hannah have had tough weeks in that respect and, as parents, it is hard to watch and even harder to understand. They are good kids and deserve better than what they have been given these last few days. I’ve been amazed ,however, by the courage and belief they’ve shown in the face of adversity.

The one bright light in the gloom has been watching a fit and healthy Rebecca enjoying herself on the football pitch. She was representing all of us out there last night and was a joy to watch. I’m hopeful to see Adam back on the rugby pitch and Hannah on the theatrical stage in due course. Our kids deserve the limelight while we watch proudly from the sideline or audience. They are our everything.

Thank You Fellow Bloggers

Thank you to those who provided feedback and comments on ‘Bomb Girl – Chapter 5’ which I posted yesterday. They were just the tonic I needed after a fairly horrible day. Chapters 1-5 are available for those still willing to get caught up on the adventures of Ariana Hennessy, our eponymous hero. I’m planning to serialise the story, releasing a weekly chapter here on the blog.

Ariana’s tale is part of a bigger story arc which continues in my debut novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ It’s now available to read via Amazon in e book and paperback format. And if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber you can read it for free! And there’s more. It’s sequel, Skelly’s Tower’ is well advanced and coming your way in 2020. Please continue to support my writing dream and thank you once more.

Bomb Girl – Chapter 5

The story continues. This chapter contains scenes that may distress some.

Ariana shivered against the biting cold, bunching her hands into tight fists and burying them deeper into the pockets of her parka. Three pints of extra strong cider provided a degree of internal central heating but the coast was less than a mile away and a fierce Atlantic blast was rapidly dissolving the core of warmth she had kindled within the sweltering Union bar.

‘I don’t know why we bothered paying in if we’re going to stand out here half the night, freezing our backsides off.’

She stared pointedly at Tess until a cloud of smoke doubled her over hacking, as a dozen bemused students watched as they huddled in the roofed smoking area outside the Union’s main entrance.

‘Oh don’t be such a drama queen,’ scolded Tess, a lit Marlboro Light hanging from her bottom lip. ‘We’ve barely been out two minutes. Anyway, you can’t hear yourself think in there. Dance music is killing the art of conversation. It’s up to us smokers to preserve a dying art form.

‘Smokers?’ spat Ariana incredulously, now upright again. ‘Doesn’t smoking involve inhaling said smoke into one’s lungs? All you do is inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale. It’s like watching a little steam engine huffing and puffing to its hearts content. Have you even smoked before tonight?’

‘Course I have,’ pouted Tess, self consciously lowering the cigarette and nervously checking if any of the nicotine addicts around them had overheard Ariana’s critique of her smoking technique. Content that her reputation was still intact she stubbed the butt out and grabbed her sarcastic sidekick by the forearm, dragging her back towards the Union. ‘Come on. Once more unto the breach, dear friend.’

‘Do we have to? I’d be quite happy grabbing a cheesy chip and calling it a night. I’ve a 10:00 o’clock seminar with Professor Ickringill in the morning.’

‘Ooooooooh. Professor Ickringill,’ squealed Tess, placing her hands to her cheeks in open mouthed mockery. ‘I wonder if he’ll be packing his pipe? Or wearing that sexy tweed jacket. You know, the one with the leather elbow patches.’ She giggled before a wicked smile traversed her face before pushing Ariana without warning against a wall.

‘Ow, what was that for?’ groaned Ariana, rubbing the small of her back. ‘Just because you’re allergic to hard work doesn’t mean the rest of us need to stoop to your level.’

‘Shhhhh,’ hissed Tess, before making frantic eye movements in the direction of the Union entrance.

‘Are you alright, Tess. It’s just you look as if you’re having a stroke. Smoking kills, remember.’ She looked over her friend’s shoulder to determine what the cause of the drama was. Standing at the entrance stood a young man, smiling shyly at them. He looked away quickly upon realising he had been spotted, suddenly engrossed with the contents of his mobile phone screen.

‘Did you twig tall, dark and exceedingly handsome guy at the door?,’ whispered Tess at something approaching several thousand decibels. ‘He is totally checking me out.’

Ariana sighed, reverting her gaze to the bouncing pink blancmange in front of her. ‘I hardly think so. He’s probably trying to process the sight of a deranged lunatic in a ballgown flouncing about in front of him.’ She looked over again towards the young man. This time he maintained both eye contact and the smile before turning and walking back into the Union past the door staff.

‘Come on,’ urged Tess, grabbing Ariana’s hand. ‘We’re going back in. I’m determined for tonight not to be an utter waste of time. Once the famous Cartwright charm is unleashed no man, or woman for that matter, can resist.’

‘You really are a catch, Tess. Is that all you’re interested in?’

‘Of course not,’ she replied, marching past the door staff with Ariana in tow. ‘There’s also the possibility of a free drink or three.’

‘Oh my Lord. Hark at the feminist of the year.’

The noise and heat of the crowded bar hit her like a sticky, sonic wall as Tess steered them through a mass of bodies, her sights honed on the back of the young man’s head. Ariana estimated he was at least 6’2’’, possibly taller as he towered above the majority of those around them. She really, really wanted nothing more than to be buried beneath the bed covers, nose poked in her latest Kindle Fire purchase. She avoided social events whenever possible and her relationship history extended to a handful of disastrous dates during final year at school with the President of the Chess Society.

Tess veered left without warning causing Ariana to cry out in protest as her wrist was almost wrenched from its socket. They burst onto the dancefloor where several dozen inebriated students threw a variety of uncoordinated shapes to a grinding drum and bass beat. Whatever happened to melodies, harmonies, tunes? Ariana often thought she was born several decades late. She was brought back to her senses as they crossed the floor before Tess deposited them in a booth where the young man sat, nursing a pint of Guinness.

‘Hi, I’m Tess, and this is Ari….Becky. Bex. Rebecca, yes, this is Rebecca.’ She blew her fringe back and puffed out both cheeks. ‘Gosh it’s hot in here,’ she sighed, fanning her face in such a theatrical and obvious manner that Ariana wanted the ground to open and swallow them both up, there and then. To be fair to him the young man merely smiled and held out a hand in greeting. ‘I’m Adam. Can I get you ladies a drink?’

‘That would be lovely thank you,’ babbled Tess. ‘Two vodka and Diet Cokes please. Large ones.’ She sat back, looking immensely pleased with herself as Adam rose returning a short time later with the drinks.

‘Thanks pet,’ gushed Tess. ‘So, Adam, What are you studying and what are your intentions once you leave uni?’

‘Is this a job interview?’ Adam winked and smiled at Ariana, who could only smile back. He was very handsome. She couldn’t quite place his accent due to the cacophony around them but there was a hint of a Southern lilt. Dublin?

‘If it is, you’re off to a fantastic start,’ gushed Tess, laying on the clumsy charm with a shovel. The next twenty minutes were a shouted exchange as Tess flirted outrageously above the din of the music. Adam fended off most of her more direct questions with ease, all the while rolling his eyes and smirking at Ariana whenever her friend wasn’t looking. Part of her fumed at the casual way he mocked her best friend but she silently sipped her drink, at the same time secretly thrilled at the attention he was affording her. Ariana Hennessy, social wallflower and forever in the shadow of the glorious Tess Cartwright.

The night meandered on. Tess dragged Adam onto the dancefloor but all the while his gaze returned to Ariana sitting awkwardly in the booth. At one point Tess badgered her reluctant friend into joining them but she hated every second as drunken louts careered into them from all angles, the dancefloor resembling a human pinball machine. Finally the lights came on and a mangled voice informed them over the tannoy to make their way towards the exit in an orderly fashion. Ariana checked her watch. It was well past the witching hour. She groaned internally, chastising herself at being lured out when she had such an early start the next morning.

Tess attached herself to Adam like a limpet, hooking arms with him as they edged towards the doors with the rest of the revellers. Ariana shuffled behind, zipping her parka in anticipation of the bracing night air. She wasn’t disappointed and shivered involuntarily despite the several layers she had on. If Tess didn’t end up with hypothermia it would be a minor miracle but she appeared oblivious to the cold as she hung on Adam’s every word. Emily Pankhurst would be turning in her grave, thought Ariana, as the cheesy chat from her best friend showed no sign of abating.

‘Sooooo, Adam, did you have a pleasant evening?’ she cooed, all wide blue eyes and parted lips.

‘I’ve had worse. You?’

‘Oh, I’ve had a wonderful time.’ She swayed unsteadily in front of him as an uneasy silence enveloped them. Finally Tess could contain herself no more. ‘This is the bit where we swap phone numbers.’ She smiled sweetly, before rolling her eyes at Ariana in faux dismay as Adam began to punch numbers into her phone which had been thrust into his hands.

‘There you go,’ he said handing her the phone back. ‘Another notch on your fantasy bed post. Now why don’t you run along now and I’ll walk your friend home.’ Suddenly the charm was gone, replaced by an unpleasant tone that immediately sobered Ariana up and set alarm bells ringing.

‘Er, that’s not how it works.’ Flirty Tess was gone, replaced by a cautious tone. Ariana looked around and realised it was just the three of them outside the Union, everyone else already half way to where they needed to be.

‘Look, I think we should go, Tess. We have that early start in the morning. Professor Ickringill, remember?’ She grabbed her friend’s hand but Tess resisted, refusing to be the first to look away in her staring duel with Adam.

‘I don’t know who you think you are but….’

‘Oh I know exactly who I am just as I know exactly who you and your little friend are. Isn’t that right, Ariana?’ He turned and leered at her, no longer disguising the contempt in his voice.

‘How did you know my….?’ Ariana’s stomach froze over and her legs threatened to give way beneath her.

‘Oh I know all about Bomb Girl. In fact, you could say you’ve been my specialised subject for a number of years now.’

‘Wait a minute you creep, you can’t speak….’

Adam turned and placed a hand on Tess’ bare shoulder. ‘Like I said, my dear, I strongly suggest you turn around and flutter off to where you came from, while I walk your lovely companion home. Now please don’t make me ask again. I’m a patient man but I have my limits. Please.’

He smiled, an icy, humourless smile, as Tess nodded slowly, a vacant expression settling on her formerly feisty features. She looked at Ariana as if it was the first time she had ever set eyes on her best friend. ‘Yeah. Maybe I should go. Early start and all that.’ Without another word she turned and walked away. Ariana froze, a half formed scream in her lungs as a large hand clamped over her mouth and dragged her backwards towards the darkness beyond the half glow of the Union’s security lighting.

‘Time we had a little chat, Bomb Girl.’ They were the last words Ariana heard before she drifted into unconsciousness.

I hoped you enjoyed Chapter 5. Please feel free to leave any feedback or questions below.

Chapter 6 – NEXT WEEK.

I’m Not An Angry Person But….

I woke up at 4:30 am and that’s been that, sleep wise. Since then I’ve been frenetically tapping away, putting the finishing touches to Chapter 5 of my serialised short story, ‘Bomb Girl,’ which I hope to post later today. I hope you all enjoy it. There’s been a bit of a gap between Chapters 4 and 5 but I’m keen to progress it to conclusion, now that the creative juices are flowing again and I’ve got the bit between my teeth.

I posted a recap yesterday as to the story so far and received some fantastic feedback. Thank you to those who took the time to read the early chapters and comment, it was much appreciated, and has encouraged me to press ahead with Chapter 5. It’s been a tough week for our family so being able to dive into the Kirkwood Scott universe and forget for a while has been a welcome distraction. I hope there are better times ahead with more positive news around the corner.

I’ve experienced a flurry of emotions this week. Shock, sadness, worry but most of all anger. This is an alien one for me as I’m not, by nature, an angry person. It’s not the norm for me and I’ve found it an awkward fit. I mean, what do you do with anger? I’m not a shouty, punchy person so what do I do with it? It just sits in the pit of my stomach, growing in size and intensity. How do I quell it, make it go away and allow myself to move on?

There’s nobody to shout at, no wall to punch. I just type, trying to funnel my negative emotions into something else, something positive and creative. I look at those around me, those directly affected by the circumstances that have fuelled my anger and I’m ashamed. The grace and acceptance they display humbles and embarrasses me. I’m meant to be the grown up, the adult who has all the answers. Yet….

I hope it passes. I hope there comes a day soon where I don’t wake up feeling angry. As I said, it’s not me. Until then I get up and I go on, we go on as a family. I don’t have the luxury of wallowing in self pity for I have a wife and kids who need me as much as I need them. They are my everything, my raison d’etre. I need to rise above the casually inflicted pain, the indifferent arrogance, the silence and lack of explanations.

For I am better that.

How do you deal with anger?

A Short Story For You All

I’m relaunching my serialised story, ‘Bomb Girl.’ Chapter 5 will be posted later this week but for those of you who haven’t read it here’s Chapter 4, with a link to Chapters 1-3 at the bottom. Enjoy and please let me know what you think.

CHAPTER 4:

Dark chocolate. Darker thoughts. Ariana chewed thoughtfully on a chunk of her bar as she stared across the river towards the main university building. Seated at her desk, she groaned and pushed away the opened text book which had proven utterly impenetrable to her for the past twenty minutes. Was it just her, or did her class mates struggle just as much with the reading list she had been valiantly battling through since the start of term? There was little point asking Tess, whose attention span barely allowed her to consume a Kardashian tweet, let alone a 450 page tome on post-war Europe and its fragile fledgling economy.

Her room was small and plain, but to Ariana it was freedom. Freedom from Monksbridge and the stigma which had hung over her like an obstinate rain cloud, these last eighteen years. She had a bed, desk, books and most of all it was all hers. No intrusions, no being checked on every five minutes, no curfew or 50,000 questions every time she opened the front door. She could go where she wanted, when she wanted and with whosoever she wanted. Not that her social diary was overflowing with engagements. Her conscious decision to fly under the radar was a constant source of irritation to the limelight hogging Tess.

‘Be careful how low you fly, my dear Ariana. We don’t want you clipping the ground and bursting into a ball of flame.’

Ariana winced, altogether unconvinced by her selection of chocolate. She reluctantly forced down the piece she was chewing on, before picking the remainder of the bar and lobbing it towards the overflowing metal bin in the corner of the room. It ricocheted off the rim, before settling on a crumpled mass of clothing where it balanced precariously next to a rolled up pair of unwashed socks. Another luxury of the student lifestyle.

‘For God’s sake, Ariana, your room is a pigsty. I want it cleaned, cleaned do you hear me. Or you know what’s coming.’

Ariana shuddered and shook her head, shutting the venomous voice our of her head. Most days it lay dormant but, occasionally like just now, it would squirm free and wriggle past her mental defences, whispering accusations and false truth into her ear. Stupid chocolate, she thought, what had possessed her to buy it. She hated dark chocolate, always had. Yes, student life was all about experimentation, but she knew what she liked and that was that. Plain Jane, under the radar, forever and ever, amen.

Plain Jane. Hallowed be thy name.

Ariana jumped, the squawk of her mobile phone dragging her back to the present from the introspective pity party. She peered at the screen although she already knew who it was from and what it was about. Tess.

‘I’m outside the Union. Where are u? U better not still be in that bloody library? 😡

Ariana smiled, before picking up her phone and tapping out a suitably pithy response.

‘And what if I was? You’d never find me as you don’t even know where the library is?’

Her finger hovered over the 😊 emoji button, before she thought better of it. Ariana didn’t do smiley emoji, in fact she didn’t really do smiling at all, despite the best efforts of the eternally effervescent Tess Cartwright.

‘Remind me we have to work on your sense of humour in addition to all ur many other social inaddequacues. Hurry up!!’

‘I’ll be there ASAP. And it’s inadequacies.’

‘Whatever swotty pants. Just hurry up. The cider calleth.’

Ariana tossed her phone onto the bed and frowned at the floor, where the majority of her wardrobe currently lay. She eventually settled on a regulation pair of black leggings and formless green woollen jumper she had picked up in a charity shop the week before last. She decided against taming her mop of dark curls, a losing battle if ever there was one. Besides, the earache she would receive from Tess for being any later than she already was just wasn’t worth the hassle.

‘Are you going out looking like that? Why can’t you wear a nice dress? You look like a boy, and a not particularly handsome boy at that. You could be so pretty, if you’d only make the effort.’

Twice in one day. Ariana froze, hand outstretched to grab her phone from the desk. She had finished her last prescription ten days ago and resolved she was going it alone this time. She was finished with pharmaceutical crutches, another Monksbridge hangover she no longer wanted dogging every step of her new life. A tablet a day keeps the voices anyway. Possibly, but the only way to find out for certain was to tough it out and go cold turkey. Seven years of counselling and pill popping didn’t unmake the story that was ‘Bomb Girl.’ The scars were there, just beneath the skin, waiting to be picked at, reopened.

Scabs are a natural part of the healing process. An ugly necessity before the beauty beneath can be revealed.

Ariana snorted. A counsellor had said that to her once. She hadn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She stuffed the phone into her battered leather satchel, before hauling it over her shoulder. The first few days off her medication had been plain smiling, despite a mild, yet persistent neck ache which refused to budge, no matter how often she cracked or massaged it. A small price to pay, though, and a bonus was her skin seemed less greasy and prone to spotty outbreaks.

Every cloud has a silver lining….

But now the ghosts of her past were starting to converge, rather one ghost in particular. Her not so beloved mother. Ariana flung open her room door and made her way out of the halls and along the concourse towards the Students Union at the rear of the main building. She ignored another beep from her bag. Honestly, Tess was so impatient but a godsend, nonetheless. That’s if God existed. A once irrefutable fact and standing fixture in her life which now looked increasingly shaky with every passing day.

‘An untested faith is a useless faith.’

‘Yeah about as useless as all those Christian cliches you shoved down my throat every day,’ she snarled under her breath, earning a curious glance from a male student headed in the opposite direction. Ariana smiled weakly, feeling her cheeks flush with embarrassment. She hurried on, determined to shove the ongoing argument with her dead mother to the far recesses of her mind. Where it rightly belonged. Up ahead, she caught sight of Tess, hopping from one foot to the other like an over excited toddler who needed to use the bathroom. Was she wearing…..a ballgown?

‘Well?? Do you like it?’ Tess spun around, an ocean of pink chiffon fanning out in all directions. ‘I picked it up dirt cheap. Less than £200. I’m going for the Lily Allen look.’

‘Lily Savage more like,’ sniggered Ariana, earning a petulant pout from her unimpressed friend.

‘Honestly, Ariana. For one with such a theatrical name, you can be an utter bore at times.’

‘One tries.’ Ariana smiled sweetly as Tess grabbed her forearm and proceeded to frogmarch her through the doors of the Union into an already packed bar. ‘Come on,’ she squealed, the jibe at her attire already forgotten. ‘There are cheap drinks to be necked and boys aplenty.’ She momentarily halted and, eyeing Ariana up and down, scrunched her nose in mild disdain.

‘You really should make more of an effort. You could be so pretty if you only tried.’

Tess froze, the crestfallen expression on her friend’s face confirming she had overstepped the mark. ‘Oh God, Ariana, I’m so sorry. You are fine just the way you are. Ignore me, shooting my big fat mouth off as usual without thinking. ‘Friends?’ She affected her most hangdog expression until Ariana could resist no longer, bursting into laughter.

‘Fine. It’s just someone else used to say that to me when I was younger and it brings back crappy memories. And stop calling me Ariana. It’s Rebecca, okay?’

‘But of course, your most excellent Rebeccaness.’ Tess dropped into an exaggerated curtsey, causing the doorman to eye her suspiciously before deciding all was well and allowing them to enter the Union complex.

‘You’re a clown, Cartwright, an utter clown.’

‘Yes. But I’m your clown.’ Tess fluttered her eyelashes and the two of them were soon subsumed by the scrum of bodies trying to catch the eyes of the besieged bar staff.

‘Two pints of cider,’ screamed Tess, gesticulating wildly with raised digits in the air, while elbowing her way through the throng. Ariana rolled her eyes and offered up apologies to those shoved aside and left in the wake of her friend.

‘Sorry,’ she shouted, struggling to be heard as a beating bass began to reverberate across the cramped dance floor, situated to the right of the bar. ‘She doesn’t get out much.’

Unknown to her, a lean, nondescript male watched from the other side of the dance floor. He raised his pint of Guinness and took a measured sip, savouring the sharp aftertaste. The mad one had turned up looking like a reject from Dancing With The Stars, but nothing surprised him where she was concerned. Adam O’Sullivan smirked for she was nothing more than an embarrassing sideshow which he could dispense with in an instance. He was far more interested in her dowdier companion.

The man began to stride across the dance floor, weaving through the smattering of early revellers submitting to the rhythm and throwing drunken, uncoordinated shapes in a pretence at dancing.

‘Time for you to meet the famous O’Sullivan charm, Ariana.’

Missed out on Chapters 1-3. You can catch up by clicking the links below.

bomb-girl-chhttps://fracturedfaithblog.com/2019/07/14/apter-1/

https://fracturedfaithblog.com/2019/07/15/heres-chapter-2-of-my-new-story/

https://fracturedfaithblog.com/2019/07/28/bomb-girl-chapter-3/

Like my words. Then why not gorge yourself on 130,000 of them. My first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ is now available to buy on Amazon in e book and paperback format. Just click the link below. Thank you.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/KIRKWOOD-SCOTT-CHRONICLES-Skellys-Square-ebook/dp/B07V6HVLQV

Would You Like To See More Of My Creative Side?

I’ve been mulling this over for a while but am thinking of putting more of my fiction writing on the blog. It’s where most of my creative energies are focused at the minute as I’ve been blasting away at Book 2 for over a month now and have passed the 31,000 word mark. Disappearing into the Kirkwood Scott Universe also allows me to temporarily escape from the disappointments and doubt which I’ve written about in recent posts.

I’m also conscious that not everyone can afford to buy Book 1 in the series so it’s an opportunity to showcase my work for free, to those who would like to check out my work. It’s also a taster, a ‘try before you buy’ for those who may be interested in the book but want to see what all the fuss is about before they decide whether or not to part with their hard earned cash. I totally get that.

So, what do you think? If it’s a yaay I propose to relaunch my short story series ‘Bomb Girl’ prior to posting some new chapters of it in serialised format. I’ve parked up the adventures of Ariana Hennessy for several months but her story has been incessantly seeping back into my thinking of late. Predominantly, that Kirkwood and Ariana are part of the same universe and may meet some day. Shock! Horror!!

Please comment below with your comments, thoughts and suggestions. This blog is the cornerstone of my writing platform and I really value your opinions. It was the encouragement of fellow bloggers that convinced me to start Book 1 and dragged me kicking and screaming through the many dark points of that journey. Take two minutes to comment below. Thank you very much for your time.

Would you like to see more of my creative side?

Why?

I don’t really know what to say in this post so I’ll cut to the chase. Adam injured his knee in a match last weekend and underwent a MRI scan on Friday, the results of which we will receive today. We are hopeful it will be good news, but are prepared for the worst case scenario, which is he will require surgery. He’s in good spirits and no real pain, so there’s that to be grateful for. The scan cost a lot of money but had to be done as it’s the only way of finding out the nature of the injury.

It’s been a worrying and unsettling time for Fionnuala and myself as parents. Adam is a talented rugby player with a bright future in the sport. This was predicted to be a ‘breakout season’ for him so the injury could not have come at a worse time, given he’s just broken into a team who have a real chance of a trophy season. It has tested our wavering faith and left us, as ever, with more questions than answers.

To add to the fun & games, Hannah woke up this morning with a huge pressure sore on her heel. Hannah was born with spina bifida so her skin is especially prone to such breakdowns. Fionnuala has become, by sheer necessity, an expert at treating such sores. So much so, that the tissue viability nurses often compliment her on the quality of her care. My wife is a woman of many, many talents. It’s just we wish she didn’t have to exercise this one quite so often.

You might think this blog is all rainbows and unicorns, you might look at our lives and wish you were us. Just as we might look at your life and wish we were you. This post is not a cry for pity or sympathy, we don’t ask for prayers or positive thoughts. It’s just to say that we all get it tough, nobody is immune from the many downs we encounter in our time on this planet. We are grateful for what we have but why does it have to be so hard at tunes. Why?

I’m In The Money

I’m in the money!

Well, not really, but I received my first royalty payment for Book 1 this weekend. It won’t make me an overnight millionaire and I still have to go to the day job tomorrow, but that made it none the less exciting. I’m getting paid….to write. I must admit I’ve struggled a little to process this fact. Mind well and truly blown. I feel like a proper, grown up author, at long last. And it’s thank to you bunch.

Thank you so much for supporting the book. The sales and, more importantly, feedback have been incredible and kept me going when the well has threatened to run dry and the hard yards still needed covered. The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: ‘Skelly’s Square’ is available to buy via Amazon in e book and paperback format. Or FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

Book 2 in the series, ‘Skelly’s Tower,’ is also well advanced and coming your way in 2020.

Exciting times.

Have you experienced the Kirkwood Scott universe yet?

Do You Feel Like God Has Unfriended You?

Do you ever feel like this? After the initial thrill, the rush, the excitement of choosing to believe in it all, there follow periods of silence, of barren times, of….well, nothing. You serve and you pray, you listen for signs, search for answers. You hope and you hope, you want that one miracle you cherish more than anything. Yet, you are met with a brick wall. Is God listening, does he care, is he even there?

Not only are you rooted to the spot, going nowhere, but you actually feel you are being pushed backwards, while at the same time sinking ever further into this quagmire we call life. It doesn’t matter what your belief system is, we are all human and all assailed by the same doubts and questions. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist. What if we are wrong and the others right? What if we are ALL wrong?

Where’s the evidence, where’s the proof that there is something beyond what we know, another world on the other side of this veil we call reality. We cling to that hope during the hard times, during trials, when we are tempted and broken. We need to believe there is some order to the chaos, for otherwise we are adrift and lost. If we lose our hope, our faith, then surely we have lost everything?

Sometimes we are so fixated with seeking what we cannot see, that we are blind to what is sitting beneath our noses. Our family, our friends, people who need us in the here and now. We can’t see the wood for the ethereal trees beckoning us towards the horizon. We trample over the present in our frantic rush to find the future. We are wishing our lives away, yet we exist in a world we can see, touch and hear. We are a sensory species.

We need to shake off the spiritual scales at times, smell the coffee and take in our present surroundings. There is much we can do practically without signs and wonders to guide and inspire us. When you pray for the desires of your heart and they aren’t delivered then maybe it’s time to take matters into our own hands. Maybe it’s time to trust in your own ability, your own judgement.

It’s disheartening to see bad people flourish while those who deserve a break are seemingly ignored. When prayers aren’t answered, we despair. Believers tell us God knows best or the timing isn’t right, but such glib cliched responses do little to ease the pain of those who are in the firing line. Walk a mile in our shoes, then maybe you will begin to understand and appreciate the pain of an unanswered prayer.

So what is the answer? Do we stop praying, do we turn our backs on a higher power who appears to have turned his back on us, on our family, on our our planet. I don’t know, it’s just another of those huge questions I struggle to process on a daily basis. I see my wife, I see my kids, I see ways I can help them, support them, love them. There is so much work to be done, tiring but rewarding work.

As parents, Fionnuala and I will do anything for our kids. They are all finding their way through the teenage years, developing interests and talents we want to nurture and encourage. They are creating happy, proud memories we will have forever. When the higher power we seek doesn’t seem to be there or care, we focus on them, take the bull by the horns and do all we can. For them.

Hitting A Purple Patch

I’ve hit a purple patch this week on the writing front and passed 28,000 words on my current book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Tower.’ The KSC universe has exploded this week with a host of new settings and characters being introduced. As ever, most of these have come to me during the writing process itself as I continue to blast through the chapters in chronological fashion. Or as chronological as a KSC novel can ever be.

I’ve surprised myself with some of the new characters who have deposited themselves on my screen having come completely out of left field. Such has been the gush of ‘new stuff’ I’ve had to rein myself in at times and focus on the main characters – Kirkwood, Meredith, Harley and Emily. Oh, and not forgetting Skelly of course. They are the cornerstone of the book and it’s important I don’t disappear down a rabbit hole and neglect them.

Writing has mostly been on the commute to and from work although I’m also developing a habit of waking up before the alarm clock and putting down a few hundred words before I’ve even gotten out of bed. I write in short spurts, 200-300 words at a time. Then I walk away for a bit until the next creative wave hits me. It’s steady progress, small steps but I’m delighted as to how the book is shaping up. It’s scope and ambition knock Book 1 into a cocked hat.

It’s an exciting time writing wise, a welcome relief from the ‘one step forward, three steps back’ week we’ve had as a family. Our faith has been sorely tested this week, more fractured than ever. But amidst the doubt and disappointment I continue to believe in my ability to craft stories and characters which will appeal to a wider readership. I hope you all agree and will continue to follow me on this rollercoaster journey. Thank you.

What Are Your Remedies For The Common Cold?

The Black household has been smitten with all sorts of nasty germs this last week. We’ve been sniffling, sneezing and coughing our little hearts out. My cold has even developed into full blown man flu! Thankfully I had booked a couple of days off work anyway, but all Fionnuala and I seem to have done is drive from one appointment to the next in our ever packed schedules. No respite or time to retire to bed and sleep off the sickness.

Hannah’s school bus broke down at the start of the week so Fionnuala has been shuttling her back and forth to school in Belfast. Busy mothers don’t have time to feel sick or in any way sorry for themselves but when I asked her today had she any ideas for the blog she suggested I ask for your common cold remedies. The more bizarre the better, preferably those passed down through the mists of time by doting grandmothers.

Say Hello

We have had a flurry of new followers in recent weeks so let’s interact. Drop a few lines in the comments section introducing yourself to our little community. It’s an opportunity to build new connections and discover new writers. Who knows, you may even find your new BFF. Nobody needs to be lonely on WordPress. We are here for each other through thick & thin. Please like, comment and share. Let’s spread the word, people.

Some Days There Is Nothing

Some days there is nothing. Yet, here I am. Maintaining the blog, pursuing my desire to scribble down the jumble of thoughts and prompts which traverse my mind on a never ending spin cycle. Some days I am clear as to what I want to say and how I wish to say it, others I just feel the urge to write and see what words appear upon my screen. Some days I surprise myself, others I am utterly unimpressed.

Some days they flow, a torrent of imagination and creativity. I run alongside, struggling to keep apace. I am amazed at what I’m capable of, hungry to create and connect. Others it is akin to chipping away at a mountain side with a tea spoon. The well is dry and I am a spent force, screaming into the silence. There is nobody there, my message in a bottle drifts aimlessly never to be read by another living soul.

Eyes are closed, backs are turned, yet still I write, I hope, I try and try and try again. The battle with the self is incessant, the voice whispers honey glazed lies with an intensity I struggle to offset. Nobody is listening, nobody cares? You are a laughing stock, they talk and mock as you pass them by. The class clown, court fool and office geek rolled into one concise ball of vanity and self.

The camera never lies, look at what you have become, the voice urges. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee, realise the game is up and you’ve been found out. Walk away while you still can with a shred of dignity intact. You’re a fool, a fraud, a fake. They humour you but now the show must end. They tire of you, the tired routine, the one trick pony who flattered to deceive but has now fizzled out, the dampest of squibs.

The above words are how I feel some days. They only scratch the surface of the thoughts and emotions within me. We all have them, the inadequacy and doubt which often paralyses and chokes the hopes and dreams inside. When you write, you swing and hit, praying for that sweet, sweet connection that sends the ball sailing on it’s lazy, beautiful trajectory out of the park. It’s so simple, so easy, so worthwhile.

Other times it’s swing and miss, three and out, 4th and long, The ball bounces off the rim as the buzzer sounds and the crowd groan in disappointment. They shake their heads, mutter under their breaths and shuffle off, leaving you alone with rejection and failure. That’s how it feels when your writing sucks, when you give it your best shot and nobody’s home. Screaming into the abyss, all you receive in return is a garbled echo.

Do I give up? No, I do not. I keep going, I persevere, I reflect upon the little victories, the small gains that keep me motivated and hopeful. For without hope, there is nothing. I’ll be back here tomorrow and the day after and the day after that. I owe it to myself, to those who have stood by me when so many others have turned their backs and walked away. I want to prove them wrong, I want to prove myself right.

Some days there is nothing, but that’s not quite true. For there is always something worth fighting for, a crumb at the table. It’s not much but it’s a start. Or a middle, but never an ending. I write these words this morning knowing that it’s out there, all I need to do is hit publish, throw back the covers and see what happens. This is the path I have chosen, I walk it with hope in my heart. One step at a time. Always forward, never back.

Author Interview with Stephen Black!

Author Interview with Stephen Black!

https://hisnamewaszach.wordpress.com/2019/09/24/author-interview-with-stephen-black/
— Read on hisnamewaszach.wordpress.com/2019/09/24/author-interview-with-stephen-black/

Thank you Peter for asking me to be on your blog. I hope my answers tell you a little bit more about me, my life and my writing process. If anyone else would like to interview me for their blog then I’d be happy to participate. I’ve had a busy day and was struggling to post a blog so Peter’s timing today was perfect. Be sure to check out Peter’s blog and support a fellow writer.

Have You Read It Yet?

I passed 20,000 words on my new book over the weekend, the sequel to my first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ which was released in July. It’s received great reviews and is available to buy now on Amazon in e book and paperback format. Or utterly free if you’re a Kindle Unlimited customer. Like my words? Then check it out and help me make my writing dream a reality. Thank you!

Are You Over Your Past?

Before, during and after yesterday’s race I encountered lots of faces from my past, back in the days when I raced twice a month as opposed to twice a year. When I was obsessed with personal bests and trying to run faster than supposed friends on the race circuit. It was a period of my life when the ego reigned supreme and my vanity and selfishness outweighed all other considerations in my life.

I was glad to see some friendly faces and posed for photos with people I hadn’t seen in months, if not years. I was made to feel welcome and wanted in a community I walked away from for the sake of my family and sanity. Long hours away from home travelling to and from races were just as damaging to my private life as long hours in the pub or with my nose buried in the rabbit hole that was social media.

Others I avoided. The throngs of running clubs. Decent folk I’m sure but the way they grinned for group selfies, buzzed round their club gazebos and gathered for very public mass warm ups left me uncomfortable and anxious. You see, that used to be me, and try as I might to not think that way, it created feelings of resentment and distaste. These folk were screaming for attention, look at us everyone.

I know for I used to be one of them. We looked down our noses at ‘recreational runners’ who weren’t attached to a club as we were better, faster, more committed. The fact that many of these ‘lesser’ runners could have beaten me on one leg was immaterial. I wore a club top and was part of a tribe, the running scene. The past was staring me in the face and I wasn’t dealing with it particularly well.

At one point yesterday, at around the two mile mark, I felt someone clip my heel at a congested part of the course. It was accidental but I heard a loud tut and a harsh voice complaining about the lack of running space. I felt my hackles rise as a person I used to know very well breezed past me, without a sideways glance. I’m not even sure they saw me but they were decked head to toe in running club regalia.

I was a nobody to them, just a slowcoach getting in their way. I wasn’t matching their pace or wearing club colours. I wasn’t a proper runner to them, just some sad, middle aged jogger who wasn’t fit to lace their shoes. I was tempted to respond but bit my lip and said nothing, content to focus on my own race and plod along at a steady, but unspectacular space. I later learnt this person completed the course 13 minutes faster than me.

The old me would have been furious at this but I simply nodded, when informed, and said ‘well done them.’ We cannot avoid our pasts at times, they have a nasty habit of popping up at the most inconvenient of times. What we can do, though, is choose how we react to them. We can become annoyed, aggravated and angry; we can nibble the bait that dangles in front of us. It’s so easy to slip back into our old ways isn’t it?

Or we can rise above it, take the hit, and choose to move forwards as opposed to succumbing to the voices and faces from years gone by. They do not define who we are or who we want to be. They are signposts to avoid, we need to take the road less traveled. You are better than that. The past is fuel, channel it’s negativity and transform that into a positive force that will spur you forward and not drag you back.

I’m so over my past. Are you?

The Many Faces Of A Half Marathon Runner

I surprised myself a little today by completing the Belfast Half Marathon in under two hours. Weather conditions were horrific but at least I didn’t have to worry about getting dehydrated. Here are some photos that Fionnuala took at various points out on the course. Thank you to Rebecca and her for braving the elements to support me. I think that’s about 30 half marathons now, but I’m not sure, I lost count. 😳

20,000 Reasons To Wake Up

I woke up at 3 a.m. loaded with the cold and that was me wide awake. I contemplated getting up to watch the early match in the Rugby World Cup but ended up working on Book 2. By the time I finally got up to take Adam to his rugby match I’d polished off another chapter. I’ve now written 20,000 words and the story is flowing freely in chronological order. It’s certainly proving a lot easier to write than Book 1 but I guess practice makes perfect.

Here’s to the next 20,000.

What Are You Up To This Weekend?

One thing we are good at in Northern Ireland is complaining about the weather….whatever the weather. Most of time we moan about it being too cold, too wet, too windy. Yet the second the big yellow ball in the sky makes a rare appearance, we invariably fall to pieces. We are sweltered, roasted, ‘while warm’ or a combination of all three. Perched at the extreme west of the European continent we are utterly unsuited to anything remotely resembling a heatwave.

Take this week for example. It’s September, the hatchlings are all back to school and the leaves are starting to fall from the trees. Yet we have been hit with an Indian summer which has left the meteorologists scratching their heads and the rest of us scrambling for the suntan lotion. Nobody knows what to wear, leading to some weird and wonderful sights around the city centre. Shorts and hooded tops, anyone?

For once, the roving gangs of American tourists are not the most oddly attired. Us locals are giving them a run for their money. It’s Culture Night in Belfast this evening meaning all manner of street entertainment was being set up this morning. At lunchtime an Afro-Caribbean DJ began blasting reggae music across the square where my office is situated. I contemplated busting a few moves but wisely decided not to.

On the other side of the square, rows of food stalls were emitting all kinds of delicious aromas. I was sorely tempted to join the office workers sampling their wares and soaking up the rays but I had other business to attend to; namely the office charity walk which I had agreed to run. On one of the hottest days of the year. It’s normally snowing at this time of year, for goodness sake. I laced my running shoes, muttering at the inclement conditions.

Despite Hannah threatening never to speak to me again if I donned them, I had no choice but to set off in my short shorts and short sleeved t shirt. Normally I’m facing arctic winds in leggings, under armour, gloves and hat at this time of year. It’s a good job President Trump assures us there is no such thing as climate change, for I’d be tempted to disagree given our crazy weather conditions.

Within a mile it was as if a bucket of water had been thrown over me and I erred on the side of caution by maintaining a slow, steady pace. The city was buzzing with music and marquees on every corner. A food festival was in full swing in Custom House Square, Viking longship races were taking part in races on the river and, irony upon ironies, there was a climate change protest at Cornmarket. The entire city seemed to be out and about.

Thankfully there were dozens of other runners on my route so I was not alone in my huffing and puffing. On the way back I met the charity walkers who set off after me. They were already talking of retiring to a packed riverside bar on the return leg. There were going to be a few sore heads as well as legs come the morning. By the time I arrived back at the office I had hit the 10 mile mark.

Job done, I changed, packed up my gear and made my way to the train station for the commute home. Tomorrow it’s an early start for Adam’s rugby and then it’s the Belfast Half Marathon on Sunday. I hope it’s a bit cooler for that one. I’ll be looking forward to a well earned rest when I return to work on Monday morning. Thankfully I’m taking a few days leave next week. Can’t come soon enough?

What are you up to this weekend?

Making Hay While The Sun Shines

Sorry for the lack of content today but I’ve rediscovered my creative muse and have been typing furiously in order to keep apace with the flurry of ideas and dialogue assaulting my senses. I’ve now passed the 16,000 word mark for Book 2, having bashed out 5,000 words over the last three days. As a writer you have to strike while the iron is hot and mine has been white hot over the last 48 hours. So, I’m just going with the flow and making hay while the sun shines.

Today I’ve been working on a Harley scene. Regular readers will know that the character is based on our own teenage daughter, Hannah. I was excited today to squeeze Hannah’s favourite catchphrase into a piece of dialogue. It’s little in jokes like this which keep me sane much of the time. Plus it’s a tribute to a brilliant daughter whom Fionnuala and I are super proud of 24/7/365. Hannah is an inspiration to us, just as Harley is to her friends in the Kirkwood Scott universe.

The weekend ahead looks busy already. I’m taking part in a sponsored walk tomorrow afternoon for our office charity. The Rugby World Cup also starts and on Saturday I’ll be on the touchline cheering on Adam in his latest schools rugby match. Then on Sunday it’s the small matter of the Belfast Half Marathon which I’m running with my friend, ‘Fast Eddie.’ I’ll of course do my best to keep you all updated.

I’m Writing Again

After two weeks of inactivity on the writing front I sat down and blasted off 2000 words last night. The first few paragraphs were a struggle, like starting an old car which had sat neglected in a garage all summer. But once the engine started to tick over I found myself immersed again in the story as the characters welcomed me back and brought their AWOL creator up to speed on what had been happening in their peculiar little universe.

Writing is weird. Some days you can stare at the blank page or computer screen, inwardly screaming for a drop of creativity which will not come, no matter how desperately you crave it. Other times, like last night, the words gush from within, a life affirming torrent which you struggle to keep pace with. You hang on grimly, your arms wrapped round the neck of this runaway stallion as it gallops towards your literary horizon.

It’s exiting, exhilarating and more than a little scary. I’ve discovered I’m an impulsive writer, known as a ‘pantser.’ I have a rough idea in my head as to where I want the story to go, but the many grey areas are only filled in as I indulge in the actual act of writing. There are no detailed storyboards where I’m concerned. I allow the characters to write the story for me, to evolve and develop with each passing paragraph.

Last night was a Harley chapter, the plucky, wild haired teenager who has overcome adversity and heartbreak to join forces with Kirkwood and Meredith to save the world. Before then she was a nobody, broken both physically and mentally by a cruel, unrepentant world who cared not a jot about the brave, bubbly, beautiful girl it had conspired to destroy. But Harley’s back and fighting hard, as I discovered to my delight yesterday evening.

I’m hoping to strike while the iron is hot and write some more on the commute to and from work today. Hence, the ridiculously early morning blog. I’m just excited and when I’m excited I want to tell my blogging family all about it. Wish me well as I delve back into the Kirkwood Scott universe. It’s been a while and I’ve missed them all. I’ve some catching up to do and then some. Catch you all on the other side.

My Wee Book

Just a shoutout to my new followers that I’ve written a book which is now available to buy on Amazon in e book & paperback format. Here’s the back cover blurb:

It’s selling well and, at time of writing, has 23 five star reviews on Amazon from satisfied customers. Here’s one:

So if you like my words and want 350 pages of them, then what are you waiting for. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’

Are You Out There?

There have been a few technical issues with the blog of late, meaning my posts haven’t been reaching everyone. Fionnuala made me aware of this yesterday and we’re not quite sure what is causing it. Either way, I woke up this morning with the word ‘connection’ in my head. As a writer, it’s a key word. How do you connect with your readers? How do you strike that sweet chord of resonance and bridge that ethereal, invisible gap between one soul and another?

I know, when I write certain posts, roughly how popular they will be. My running posts tend not to do so well, but that’s okay as it’s a niche subject and not everyone wants to read about a sweaty middle aged man plodding along the country roads of this fair isle I call home. Likewise when I plug the book, as I must as a fledgling author, people who already know about it will scroll past that particular link.

It’s a tough one. I want the blog to do well and see its traffic grow. But, at the same time, I want to write about what I want to write about. I find it’s the more personal, introspective posts that seem to hit home and connect with people. The posts where I open up and expose my weaknesses and vulnerabilities to the world. That leads to engagement and interaction. For we all want to know we are not alone in this journey we call life.

As fellow bloggers and travellers I encourage you to do likewise. Writing reveals the true self. Blogging isn’t a popularity contest, it’s about reaching out and realising you are not alone. It’s about finding your tribe, building your community. It’s about connection. For when we connect, we live. Connection gives us the strength to carry on when all seems lost. It’s what makes me write. I hope the same applies to you, fellow traveller, for you are not alone.

I’ve Been Invited To A Book Club

While I continue to blog regularly, my creative writing has dried up over the last fortnight. After a burst of activity, which produced 10,000 words in just over a week, the well has run dry again. I know what I want to write, it’s waiting patiently in my head, I just can’t physically plant myself in front of our shiny new laptop and type the words. It’s frustrating and worrying in equal measure, and we all know how much Stephen likes to worry.

I think part of it is letting go of Book 1 and committing solely to writing Book 2. I’m still promoting the former and sales are steady, if unspectacular. I’m not in a position to retire just yet but they have been enough to encourage me to keep writing. I’ve gotten excellent feedback and lots of glowing praise on both WordPress and Amazon. It’s all a bit embarrassing for an introvert like me but I’m grateful nonetheless.

Perhaps the biggest boost of late has been two ladies approaching me independently, one in the village shop and one on the rugby pitch sidelines, to say that their book clubs are going to discuss the book and would like me to come in and talk to their members about it. This thrilled and terrified me. What if they hate it? This could be a bloodbath. Will my skin be thick enough to withstand their critiques?

Imposter syndrome kicked in until I had a firm word with myself and settled the jangling nerves. If I’m going to get anywhere on this writing journey I have to be prepared to front up and talk about my book. Can I answer all their questions? Well, I hope so, and I’m well used to public speaking from the day job. On paper, this should be a piece of cake, a walk in the park. Yet, I still worry as much of it is so deeply personal to me.

I’m trying to convince myself this is what I’ve dreamed about for years, the opportunity to write a book and then talk about it who are genuinely interested in what I have to say. Ignoring the insistent voice in my head which snarls I’m a fraud and a fake. This is the good stuff, the icing on the cake. Plus it’s a fantastic opportunity to promote my future writing plans, what’s in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond.

So, with beating heart and furrowed brow I’ve gratefully accepted both invitations to attend the book clubs. It will be a nerve wracking but, I hope, rewarding experience. In the meantime, I need to get my bum into gear and get cracking on my works in progress, ‘Skelly’s Tower,’ and ‘Bomb Girl.’ The latter is a serialised work that I’ve been posting on WordPress. It’s set in the Kirkwood Scott Universe and I’ve big hopes for it.

‘Skelly’s Tower,’ is the sequel to ‘Skelly’s Square.’ It starts an hour after the first book ends as Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley continue their battle to fend off an ancient evil threatening to overrun Belfast and throw the world into a new Dark Age. If you’re interested Book 1 is available to buy on Amazon in e book or paperback format. Here endeth my gratuitous plug for the day.

I like to keep you all updated on my writing journey, the rough and the smooth. When I post next about it I hope to have a first book club meeting under my belt, so watch this space. In the meantime thank you to those of you who have bought the book and supported my writing. If you have read and enjoyed the book please feel free to post a review on Amazon or WordPress. Reviews are oxygen for new authors like he.

Book Review: ‘Undivided’ By Vicky Beeching

I’ve just finished reading ‘Undivided’ by Vicky Beeching, a memoir of her life as a Christian singer/songwriter who played to thousands on both sides of the Atlantic until declaring she was gay a number of years ago. It was a moving, challenging and ,at times, unsettling account of the experiences of one woman within the evangelical church movement. One that left me saddened and inspired in equal measure.

Vicky knew from 13 she was gay but hid her sexuality from family and friends as she was raised to believe homosexuality was sinful and depraved. The early chapters tell of her struggle to serve and worship God through her music while battling to cope with the shame and guilt she felt at her sexual orientation. As a teenager she was told by ‘well meaning’ adult Christians that her sexuality was as a result of being possessed by demons.

She studied theology at Oxford, while continuing to develop her musical talent by playing major Christian conferences and festivals throughout the U.K. This attracted the attention of a leading American Christian record label. Before she knew it Beeching was based in Nashville, recording albums and playing at megachurches and stadiums where she regularly sang to crowds in excess of 20,000. She became the poster girl of Christian contemporary music.

Throughout this time, while outwardly living her dream, Vicky was sinking into an ever deeper trough of depression. Lonely and unhappy, she travelled across the States battling fatigue and jet lag, while unable to disclose her true self to another living soul. She was part of a community where elements professed extreme homophobic thinking and behaviour based upon their interpretation of the Bible.

Vicky eventually ‘came out,’ aged 35, when she could conceal her sexuality no more, given the impact it was having on her physical and mental health. Diagnosed with scleroderma, fibromyalgia and ME, she was also treated for depression and anxiety. Upon coming out, her performing and recording career ended overnight and she was inundated with hate mail and death threats from the evangelical Christian community.

Despite this, Vicky rebuilt her life and, while still struggling with extreme exhaustion, has established herself as a successful writer, columnist and social commentator. She is an influential mental health advocate and is fighting for the church to adopt a more open minded, inclusive and loving attitude towards gay and bisexual people. Now working towards her Phd. in Theology she argues that the Bible is a living document of mystery and revelation.

Throughout the book, Vicky Beeching comes across as a likeable, intelligence and sensitive young woman who grew up wanting nothing more than to share her love of Jesus via her music. Her message is one of love and acceptance, which contrasted starkly with some of the brutal attitudes and behaviour she encountered in the evangelical movement. How she emerged on the other side with her faith intact is testimony to her deep relationship with God.

I really connected with this book, even though I’m a heterosexual male who will never have to endure what the author did. Her story makes my own negative church experiences pale into insignificance. Church goers talk about walking in the footsteps of Jesus, but how many actually do? We are instructed to be the light of the world and to love unconditionally. The Vicky Beeching story tells me we all still have a very long way to go.

Big Day For Adam

A super exciting morning as Adam scored his first try for Lurgan College’s 1st XV in a 50-0 win away at Royal Belfast Academical Institute. After last week’s narrow loss this was a richly deserved win for the boys. I was bursting with pride at the final whistle and our normally camera shy sporting star even allowed me to take a photo to mark the occasion. Hopefully the first of many more victories in the months ahead.

Loneliness

Monday of this week was world suicide prevention day which Stephen blogged about. On this blog we try to reach out to anybody that is struggling with their mental health in any way at all. I struggle with my own head space as does Stephen sometimes a thought would take up residence in our mind for a while and play havoc with us.

For me this usually ends in me feeling lonely, unloved, unappreciated and worthless. I know all of that is nonsense I know that my family love and appreciate everything I do for them but that didn’t stop me feeling the way that I did at that time. I always try to overcome these thoughts on my own but it’s impossible the thoughts snowball out of control until I’m a blubbering wreck and the only way of release for me is to open up and tell Stephen and just like that it is broken and I feel lighter and can breath again.

I’m very thankful I have someone that I can talk to but it’s got me thinking today about those people who don’t have someone to talk to who are feeling lonely. You don’t have to be alone to feel lonely you could be lonely in a room or house full of people but your head is so consumed with negative thoughts that you simply just can’t interact.

Sometime ago Stephen wrote a blog about writing letters to fellow bloggers which was quite successful and yesterday we received a handwritten letter from a new follower of the blog and it really did make me smile. It touched my heart that somebody thousands of miles away who doesn’t know us had a thought to write us a beautiful letter telling us about their own struggles with life and how this blog helps them.

This letter flicked a switch on in my head and this is where I need your help and assistance if you are willing to take part.

I know it’s only September but I was thinking of the readers on here who are feeling lonely and especially so at Christmas which can be a very hard time of year for some. So I thought it would be a good idea to send a Christmas card or letter to a stranger somewhere in the world and be a shining light of hope to someone that is feeling hopeless or lonely and let them know that someone out there is thinking of them.

If you would like to take part please send me an email with your name and address and at the beginning of November I will send you the details of who I have randomly picked to receive a card or letter from you.

Emails can be sent to fracturedfaithblog@gmail.com

Please feel free to share this on any of your social media platforms I’m excited to see how this will turn out in our quest to be a shining light in what can be a dark time for some.

Questions Of The Day

Occasionally I’ll sit back and let you lot do the work. Fionnuala and I spend our weeks in a blur with work and family commitments. There are many days I have little opportunity to run, write or blog. So this morning I’ll leave you with a question. Or three. Please answer, especially if you are new to the blog. We encourage interaction and making new friends within the WordPress community. So don’t be shy and here we go….

Where in the world are you today?

What brought you to this blog page?

What’s your favourite movie franchise?

My Annual Hair Cut

I’ve been putting it off for some time now, but the day has finally arrived where I’m getting my hair cut. My unruly mop has reached the ridiculous stage where people are stopping and pointing at me in the street and young children burst into tears at the sight of the ‘strange man’ with Dickensian sideburns. I’m fed up with my fringe and flummoxed by the annoying sticky out bits I’m constantly having to flatten down with cold water.

I’ve written before about my morbid fear of indulging in smalltalk with barbers. The topics of conversation terrify the introvert within me; the weather (a Northern Irish standard), how Manchester United are doing (badly) and Brexit (don’t ask me, I haven’t a clue). The barbers at my local salon are hard core Belfast, bedecked with tattoos and talking a million miles an hour. I get around one word in seven if I’m lucky.

Their establishment is a shrine to local boxing legends, of which there are many, and the aforementioned under performing football side. I don’t know a lot about boxing but can pass myself off if required. ‘Did you see the Conlon fight?’, ‘Yes, that was some body shot,’ etc etc. Then we will bemoan the state of United’s midfield and how the current over paid primadonnas aren’t fit to lace the boots of dear old Georgie Best, God rest his soul.

Then there are the mirrors, an occupational hazard of entering any hair cutting establishment. They’re everywhere. And if there’s one thing I hate more than excruciating small talk it’s having to look at myself. The same goes for shop windows or anything that emits a reflection. I don’t like looking at myself. Maybe that’s the reason I delay getting my locks lopped off for so long. I don’t like what I see.

I’ll religiously avoid them where possible. Shaving in the morning is a challenge and you’ll never catch me preening in front of a full length like some of the sights I saw when I used to frequent the local gym. The same applies to photographs. I don’t mind getting mine taken but I don’t particularly want to view the resulting image as I’m forever disappointed by what I see. It’s illogical and infuriating but I’m not comfortable in my own skin.

You would think by this stage in life I would have grown accustomed to the man in the mirror. But no, he continues to surprise and irritate me. Both inside and out. I’m always striving to be better instead of accepting myself for who I am, warts and all. You eat too much junk, you don’t run enough, the weight is creeping back on, is that the suggestion of a double chin? The voice within never stops.

So I’ll get my hair cut today. When he’s finished the barber will ask me what I think and I’ll nod and mutter before shoving payment in his hand and departing as quickly as I can. I could be walking out with a pink, two foot Mohican, I’d be none the wiser. I’ll walk into the office where colleagues will remark ‘nice haircut’ as I try to curl up into a ball behind my computer screen. Please talk about something else, anything. Even Brexit.

My Wee Five Star Book

The book has now received 23 reviews on Amazon, 21 five star ratings and 2 four star. This amazing response has really encouraged and motivated me to continue writing. Thank you to all those who have posted a review. I’m eternally grateful, especially as I know they are all 100% genuine and honest. I haven’t had to bribe anyone (yet) and I hope I never have to.

If you’ve read the book, it would be great if you could post a review on Amazon. It only has to be a few lines but means so much in relation to boosting its visibility. And for those of you who are new to the blog, my debut fantasy novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ is now available to buy on Amazon in e book and hard copy format.

Thank you!

Support World Suicide Prevention Day

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Every 40 seconds a person chooses to take their own life. All life is precious and every suicide is preventable. The problem is as prevalent and relevant in Northern Ireland, where I live, but it also affects your community. Many of us feel powerless against suicide but we can do more, so much more, to help loved ones, friends, colleagues and complete strangers. Join us today by:

  • Improving awareness of suicide as a global mental health problem.
  • Improve your knowledge of what can be done to prevent suicide.
  • Reduce the stigma associated with suicide.
  • Help those struggling with suicidal thoughts know that they are not alone.

No age group is unaffected by suicide but it is the second leading cause of death amongst 15-29 year olds. You can make a difference, be it in a public or private capacity. I encourage you to take 40 seconds today to raise awareness of the issue. It can be a text, a conversation or a post on your social media accounts. This is an opportunity to show you care. But remember to respect the privacy of those who are struggling.

Thank you.

Delighted!

I was delighted to receive this on Twitter today from fellow Northern Irish author C.J. Campbell. She has a huge Wattpad following where her Lord of the Rings inspired fiction is immensely popular. Not just that, but she’s represented by a top U.S. agent and currently working on her debut fantasy novel which I predict will be brilliant and a big hit. I’m honoured and humbled that she has such good things to say about my wee book. Thank you.

Happy Anniversary Kirkwood

My first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ is two months old this week. What’s more, I started writing the book two years ago this week. It’s been an eye opening adventure and I still can’t quite believe I wrote it. So much so, that I’m just as nervous setting out to start Book 2, with the working title of ‘Skelly’s Tower.’ If you like my writing and would like to find out more then the book is available to buy on Amazon in paperback and e book format. There are also a load of reviews there if you want to see what people think of it.

Thank you 😊

How Do You Connect With Your Readers?

It never fails to amaze me that people regularly return to this blog to read my words. I’ll never complain about having to read and reply to comments because they are my oxygen, the main reason I write and post on WordPress. I want to make a difference and help people. So when I wake up some days and don’t feel like blogging or sharing what’s in my head with the world, I focus on this thought; words matter to people, my words matter to people.

What’s more, all our words matter to people within our spheres of influence, be they written or spoken. Words are a double edged sword, they can heal wounds or cause them. We need to be so careful as to how we wield them and think long and hard before we open our mouths or start to type. Words can save lives, but they can also destroy them. We carry weapons of mass destruction in our mouths and minds.

There are so many other things I could be doing, and maybe should be doing, when I write. I often feel guilty when I begin a new post or chapter of the book I’m working on. Shouldn’t I be somewhere else, doing something else? At times like that I think of the number of people who have encouraged me to write and share my story, who tell me it has and is making a difference to their lives. They fortify me to cast off the doubts and keep going.

I was approached yesterday by a lady I vaguely know and told the local village book club wanted to read my book. She invited me to attend the club and speak to the group about my novel. I was grateful but stunned. People taking the time read my story and then wanting to talk to me about it. I accepted, of course, even though I know I’ll be a gibbering wreck come the day. But I’ll be there.

These last few weeks I’ve posted copies to New York, Utah, Michigan and even Australia. Places I can only dream of ever visiting. I’ve been interviewed by four newspapers and signed dozens of copies for friends and strangers alike. I’ve read, in astonishment, the five star reviews on Amazon. From people I don’t know, people who I have touched on the other side of the world with words I wrote on my sofa.

Every day though I read the words of fellow bloggers whose literary boots I’m not fit to tie. They struggle as I do and question the point of devoting so much time to their craft. Some talk of packing it in, others already have. I can empathise with their thoughts and actions for I’ve been there myself many times. Wondering what’s the point, why am I banging my head off a brick wall when nobody is listening.

I’ve learnt this though these last few years, someone is always listening. Someone, somewhere will pick up on your post, article or book. And it will connect with them, an invisible, unbreakable bond between author and reader. A bond that will always be there and no power on earth can sever or destroy. A lifeline, a force that will always bind you together, even if your paths never cross in the world we call home.

So keep writing, reading and listening. Find your people, tribe, whatever you wish to call them. Form connections that will sustain mutually and carry you through the times of hesitation and doubt. They are out there, waiting for you, needing you. Just as you need them. Feed off one another and grow as an artist and a person. There is always someone out there who needs your words. Today.

Stuff I See On My Lunch Break

Yesterday’s lunchtime run took me out of the city and through the Titanic Quarter to H.M.S. Caroline. Caroline was a British battle cruiser which fought at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 during the 1st World War. It is the last survivor of Jutland but also operated as the H.M. Naval base in Belfast during the 2nd World War. From Caroline, the Atlantic and Arctic convoy routes were managed, many of the convoy protection fleet operating out of Belfast.

Caroline continued to operate as a training and administrative base until its honourable decommission in recent years. It is now a museum where visitors from all over the world can visit and learn more of its proud history. There and back was a 5.2 run along the waters edge, weaving through throngs of visitors in the midday sun. Be sure to check out Caroline if you visit Belfast. It’s worth the walk….or run.

An Apology

As a blogger, I enjoy interacting with other writers as well as writing myself. But due to a variety of reasons I have got behind in my comments and not replied to as many as I would like to this week. Life can be overwhelming at times and the hustle and bustle of daily life takes over. I’d just like to apologise to those I regularly interact with. I’m not being snooty or distant, and I hope to get on top of my replies to your comments and blogs in the near future. Thank you for sticking with the blog.

My New Toy

I’m looking forward to playing my new toy when I get home from work this evening. I wrote the first book on its beat up predecessor which was on its last legs by the time I’d finished. There was an alarming crack across the screen which seemed to expand every time I used it and it was proving increasingly temperamental when logging on. But it did the job and I’ll always have fond memories of our times together.

I haven’t got near Book 2 this week yet due to other priorities so I’m hoping to find some time this evening. I have Chapter 9 plotted out in my head, it’s just a matter of transferring that to a blank screen. The early section of the book has flowed very easily and I’m ahead of schedule. Here’s hoping this continues in the weeks and months ahead as I’m planning to have Draft 1 finished by the end of the year. Ambitious but attainable.

How is your latest writing project coming along?

Words Are all We Have

There’s are days I don’t see the point in writing. It’s like banging your head off a brick wall, screaming at the world but nobody is listening. You try, and you try and try some more but you might as well throw in the towel. Writing can be the loneliest, most frustrating of activities. Then I walked into a hotel this morning and found this piece of art staring at me. Was it a sign? I don’t know. But it gave me a glimmer of hope to persevere.

I Wake Into Darkness

As we creep into September and the days shorten I now face the pleasure of getting up when it’s dark to commute into Belfast for work. This situation will only continue to worsen in the coming months as the nights become ever longer. Soon not only will I be getting up in the dark but I’ll be heading home in the dark. I will know nothing else until next spring when the sun may choose to revisit our fair and pleasant land.

It’s a gloomy scenario. My fellow commuters look even more miserable than usual as we brave the elements on Platform 1 and desperately seek to avoid eye contact at all costs. The only light I have to look forward to is the artificial variety supplied by the open plan office where I do that 9-5 thing. The days are colder, bleaker and there seems no respite from the grind of the rat race. We batten down the hatches and wish our lives away towards Summer 2020.

Don’t get me wrong, it could be worse. We live in Northern Ireland, not the Arctic Circle. At least we don’t live in perpetual twilight for half the year. Plus we don’t have ravenous polar bears and melting icebergs to contend with. My daily train journey is far from riveting but it beats trying to steer a sled and eight huskies into Belfast during rush hour. I imagine the local constabulary might want to have a word with me about such antics.

No, I’ll take a world of partial darkness over one of permanent night any time. But what about those of us who feel as if they do live in the icy wastes. The sun may be splitting rocks outside but they don’t know as they can barely lift their head from the pillows, let alone get up, shower, eat, dress and face the outside world. The people who life has chewed up and spat out by the roadside. The collateral damage of our supposed caring, sharing society.

There are those of us who aren’t doing so well, who can’t cope, and who are slipping silently beneath the surface. We are oblivious to them as we are too engrossed in our own existences, too wrapped up in ego and self. When we should be throwing a life jacket to them, we are often looking the other way, immersed in the minutiae which occupy our every waking moment. We say we care but do we act as though we do? I know I don’t do enough.

Mental illness is a killer. It’s sucks the last drops of hope from our souls and leaves dry husks behind. Some stumble on, dragging themselves through life the best they can. Battling depression, anxiety, addiction, OCD, BPD, PTSD, and any other number of demons of the mind. They destroy our present and eradicate our future plans. These are the discarded, the unwanted, the people our governments want us to forget about.

Others, seeing no way out, choose to take their own lives. Suicide is a choice, a decision, a conscious act. But like the tip of an iceberg it only shows part of the story. Lurking beneath is the reason why they chose to do so. And that may have been as a result of weeks, months or years of living in the darkness. Until they reach breaking point and see no other option but to step aside, to let go, to slip away. Their journey ends and we scratch our heads in disbelief.

We need to do more. I need to do more. I can write about it, but is that enough? What more can I do to raise awareness of the mental health epidemic sweeping across our lands? What more can you do? I’ll leave that question with you as I travel towards another working day. The sun is out now, the skies are blue. I feel alive again as the light floods our carriage. I am grateful as so many others see nothing but the dark this morning.

What It Takes To Succeed

It’s a big week ahead as Adam’s rugby team get ready for their first match of the season this coming Saturday. It’s also a big season for him personally as he steps up into the college’s 1st XV and prepares to play top level Schools Cup rugby against some of the best teams in the country. He will take all this in his stride, of course, while the rest of us will be nervous wrecks on the sidelines, cheering him on.

Pre-season training started some weeks ago and before then even, Adam has been working hard in our garage which he converted into a gym. This is the unseen work, the hard yards which will give him the edge over his opponents when the whistle blows this weekend. Some of the weights he lifts would put me in hospital if I attempted them. He’s prepared to put the hard work in as he knows natural talent alone is not enough.

Adam has the physique and ability to play top level schoolboy rugby. It’s a brutal spectacle at close quarters and I’m convinced that many of those playing it are not ‘schoolboys’ but rather huge, grown men smuggled onto the field by devious coaches. The tackles are bone crunching and woe betide any opposition player who stands between my son and the try line this season. It’s frightening stuff to behold.

As well as technique and ability, Adam also has the necessary temperament to succeed. In the white hot heat of competitive schools rugby I’ve only seen him lose his cool once and that was with a member of his own team. While I’m leaping up and down on the sidelines he remains focused. He tells me he doesn’t hear the crowd as he is concentrating so completely on the match. I’m convinced he has ice in his veins.

He wants to win and plays to win. He gives 100% every time he crosses the white line. Yet, while he’s disappointed when the team loses, it’s not the end of the world. He has the ability to quickly put the experience behind him and look ahead to the next game. Rugby is important to him but it’s not his be all and end all. He has other things going on in his life and maintains a healthy balance between sport and life.

I can learn a lot from my son. I’ve been told I have ability as a writer and I’m prepared to put the work in. Where I fall short is temperament. Adam believes in himself and has perspective. I struggle on both these counts. I doubt myself and my obsessive nature does not serve me well when it comes to remaining calm and proportionate. I’m too likely to down tools at the first hiccup, throw my toys out of the pram.

So I’m looking to learn from my son this season as I travel the country supporting him and the team. I need to take the rough with the smooth and keep writing through the disappointment and rejection. Every day is a new opportunity to network and improve. I need to develop a glass half full mentality and turn my back on gloomy thoughts. This is what my son does, this is what it takes to succeed.

It’s That Time Of The Week Again

Yes, it’s that time of the week when I tell new followers about the little book I published in July. It’s called ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ an urban fantasy mostly based in modern day Belfast. It’s been getting very positive reviews on both sides of ‘the pond’ and is available to buy via Amazon in e book and paperback format. So, if you like my writing it would be much appreciated if you would invest in a copy and take me a step closer to realising my dream of becoming a full time author. Thank you.

Back To School

The alarm went off just before 6 a.m. this morning heralding the start of a new week and a new school year. It was dark outside as I stumbled to the bathroom to shave off my three day beard and attempt to look remotely human before battling through hordes of bag wielding hatchlings in a vain quest to secure a seat on the Belfast train. No more leisurely commutes with the carriage to myself.

When I was a teenager, back when Queen Victoria sat on the throne, I used to dread going back to school. I hated the place and, even now, several decades later, I still get an uneasy feeling in my stomach at this time of year. There is a change in the air, the temperature drops a few degrees and a general air of gloominess prevails. My memories of the Northern Irish grammar school system are not fond ones.

Which makes me eternally grateful our three hatchlings are made of sterner stuff. Adam and Rebecca announced yesterday that they were looking forward to going back. Adam is entering 6th Lower, having passed his GCSE exams. He now starts ‘A’ levels in History and Geography combined with a B Tec. Diploma in Travel and Tourism. Turns out he’s got brains to burn as well as being a star on the rugby pitch.

Rebecca is entering 2nd year at Junior High school. She took to her new school last year like a duck to water, allaying any concerns we had. She has worked hard in class and made lots of new friends. She is joining the local U15 girls football squad this evening, an event she is very excited about. Last night she compared returning to school as being similar to Christmas. My jaw dropped in astonishment but she was deadly serious.

Of our trio, Hannah is probably the least impressed at the return. She would much rather be spending the morning in bed, surfing social media and listening to her beloved Shawn Mendes. We know though, from experience, that when she gets into the swing of things she will be fine. Hannah can light up a room with her smile and makes new friends whenever she goes. She also has a new Drama group to look forward to on Thursday evenings.

Fionnuala is rejoicing at getting rid of us all at last. She will be super busy of course and if I attempted to type out what she does in an average week then I’d still be typing this post at midnight. She runs the household like a well oiled machine, keeping us all organised and getting us where we need to be without looking as if we’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards. She holds the family together.

I’m glad the kids haven’t turned out like me, the awkward, nervous, geeky teenager who turned into a….well….awkward, nervous, geeky adult. I’m amazed by their confidence and relaxed attitude towards an event that still sends chills up and down my spine. Thankfully I’m not quite as weird about returning to work after the weekend break. Although I still fret every time I check my diary to see what the days ahead hold.

So we dive into the year ahead. Time is passing so quickly. Our little Hannah is entering 5th Year. I’m proud of them all as they reluctantly pose for the annual ‘back to school’ photo in new uniforms. Our children are our greatest achievements, our most precious commodities. In another few years, these photos will be a thing of the past. I’ll hang onto them for as long as I can, regardless of the ‘back to school’ jitters.

Three Weeks To The Big Day

The Belfast Half Marathon is now a mere three weeks away and I’ve been anxious about the lack of long runs I’ve managed to squeeze in. My longest, to date, had been 10.6 miles with my brother in law several weeks ago but, since then, a combination of inclement weather, other commitments and a general lack of running mojo have restricted me from getting out there and pounding the roads.

This morning was my last chance until we were thrown into another week and a packed diary. The kids return to school tomorrow and all have after school activities this term. Adam has rugby training most days, Hannah is joining a musical theatre and drama society and Rebecca is starting at the local football club. Fionnuala and I will be sharing the taxi duties and, combined with the darker evenings, running opportunities are at a minimum.

Despite having run nine marathons and over two dozen half marathons I am a less than confident runner, always fretting over my ability to maintain the pace and distance I expect of myself. I had a couple of untimed runs during the week to ease this pressure but knew today I’d have to record the time and distance to ensure my training was on track. The plan was to run 11 miles at or around two hour marathon pace.

I was greeted by dry, pleasant conditions as I reluctantly dragged myself out the front door. I felt sluggish the first few miles as I’m not a fan of morning running. Mile 4 is always a problem mile for me, I’ve no explanation as to why, and as ever it was a slow one. I stopped briefly at the house at the half way point for a drink and energy gel, then it was off again for two further loops of the village, along a road called Rock Lane.

Rock Lane is an undulating 2.5 mile loop but I always seem to pick up my pace when on it. The energy gel also kicked in meaning my mile splits began to steadily improve. After the first loop I knew I had a sniff of getting back on sub 2 hour pace so dug deep for the final loop. With two miles to go I was back on track so focused on maintaining my breathing and rhythm as I counted down the distance.

I felt better at the 11 mile stage than I did at the 4 mile point, so much so that I latched on an extra third of a mile at the end. It was a relief to finish and I was tired but pleased to have eased four seconds per mile inside the desired pace. I’m pacing a colleague at Belfast and he’s aiming for a sub 2:15 time, it being his first half marathon. It was nice to know I’ve still got a sub 2:00 in the tank if need be.

We are also running for the office charity so the aim is to get round in one piece and raise some money for a worthy cause, the Northern Ireland Hospice. My days of killing myself over attaining personal bests are a distant, and somewhat unpleasant, memory. That was a different me, back then, a me I have no desire to return to. I’m much happier running for pleasure now, as opposed to my ego driven previous incarnation.

So that’s the dull running update over. Thank you to those of you who made it this far. You are real troopers. Despite the anxiety preceding it, I know the longer term mental and physical benefits outweigh any thoughts I might have of packing running in. I’ll continue to run where and when I can. One or two more long runs should have me ready for Belfast and I think 12 miles will be the next step up. Here’s hoping.

We Are Here For You

Excited as I was last month at the continued growth of the blog, I was even more thrilled yesterday to realise we had broken our monthly views figure again in August. With a day to spare, no less. Yes, 14,000 of you clicked the view button on a FracturedFaithBlog post. Or maybe 7 of you did it 2000 times each. Either way we are very grateful for your continued support of what we do. There have been some ups and downs so thanks for sticking with us.

We will continue to keep the blog running as long as you want it. While, yes I’m an author and use this platform to promote my writing, the primary purpose for existing is to provide a message of HOPE to those of you feeling HOPELESS. Less than three years ago that’s how I felt. Yet, through the grace of God and a loving family, I crawled back out of the abyss into the land of the living.

You might not believe in God, you might be unsure, you might want nothing to do with him even if you do think there’s something to it all. But whatever your belief system there is still HOPE. What’s more, it’s free and in unlimited supply. I’ll not sugarcoat the pill. There will still be crappy days and any of those happy clappy, ‘perfect’ Christians who tell you otherwise are liars. Which makes them less than perfect after all.

But, rain or shine, we will keep posting a message of HOPE. Realistic HOPE. This blog is for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Atheists, Agnostics, Gay, Straight, Black, White, Abled Bodied, Disabled and everything in between and beyond. If you comment every day or are an occasional visitor you are welcome. It takes a lot to ruffle our feathers or shock us. We’ve been around the block once or twice.

Thank you and keep clicking that view button.

Book Review

The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square

The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square
— Read on chelseaannowens.com/2019/08/29/the-kirkwood-scott-chronicles-skellys-square/

Thank you to my fellow blogger, Chelsea Owens, for her very complimentary review of my first book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ Chelsea’s blog is a cornucopia of creative thought and writing. Her weekly ‘Terrible Poetry Contest’ has reached near legendary WordPress status. If you’re not aware of Chelsea and her little corner of the bloggersphere then I suggest you hit that follow button now.

The book is now available to buy in e book and paperback format on Amazon.

Does Your Writing Ever Disappoint You?

There are times the words flow, they are an unstoppable tide which rushes up the shingle beach, taking all before it. The words, sentences and paragraphs form a not so orderly queue in your mind, tripping over each other to be unloaded onto the blank page or computer screen. It is a literary stampede, a runaway train and you go with it, delighted at the ease with which the story is forming.

I’ve felt like that at times this week. I’ve been writing consistently and my word count has pleased and perplexed me in equal measure. Pleased because every time I have a few spare moments I feel drawn to the story whereas often in the past wild horses could not have dragged me to it. I’m ahead of schedule and it shows no sign of letting up. I’m going with the flow and making the most of this Indian summer.

But I’m bemused as well. Because why can’t it be this easy all the time? What about the times when I sit staring at the blank screen unable to string two coherent sentences together, when the well is utterly dry and the word drought shows no sign of abating. Why it so often famine or feast when it comes to story telling, there is no comfortable middle ground where we can hone our craft in peace.

Then there are the times when the work is cast aside for days, weeks or months on end. There was a two month period during the penning of Book 1 when I couldn’t look at it. I still blogged but the laptop was otherwise neglected, sitting in the corner of the room staring at me forlornly every time I walked past. It could feel it’s rejection burning into back of my neck but I was powerless to pick it up.

Lastly there is the garbage shift, where you pour your heart and soul into a piece only to sit back and realise you have just created the worst piece of prose in living history. You clench your nose for it truly stinks. Did I really think that was any good? Self doubt creeps inside you, that old friend of even the most talented author. It whispers old truths in your ear, shaming and belittling your ability.

You angrily run a red pen through the line, rip the page from your notebook or hit the delete button on the keyboard. I’ve wiped entire chapters in the past, hours of work in a fit of pique. I’ve seen fellow bloggers delete multiple posts because they feel inadequate and unworthy. This saddens me because we are all equals within this community. We checks our egos at the door when we log on.

Writing, like every other art, is a process and, at times, that process can be tortuous. There are days when nothing seems to be going to plan and everything we touch turns to mush. My advice? Persevere. Don’t give up. Even the greats have struggled to create, to produce the works of greatness we purr and coo over today. There are no short cuts and there will be tough times when we can see no light at the end of the tunnel.

I’ll return to the book later, eager to pick up the golden creative thread and add to my burgeoning word count. I have plans of finishing the first draft by the end of the year and my hopes of that are growing by the day. Yet I’m always warily looking ahead waiting for the tensile thread to snap and for my dreams to unravel before my eyes. Leaving me alone and adrift, a writer who cannot write.

7000 Words Later – A Writing Update

I’m now 7000 words into Book 2 of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles,’ tentatively titled ‘Skelly’s Tower.’ I’ve been knocking out 1000 words a day and, to date, it’s proving a lot easier to write than its predecessor. I like to think I’ve developed and improved as a writer which has helped. I also know the characters so much better now, it’s like slipping into a pair of old comfortable shoes. They are almost writing the book for me.

I resolved to document my progress on the blog just like I did for the first book, now available on Amazon in e book and paperback format. The plan is to have finished the first draft by the end of the year, with a view to publishing it in 2020. The plot is unfurling in my head like a red carpet as I write. I need to write to determine the way forward, it’s like driving through a heavy mist. The outline of the story emerges from the gloom as I type.

Don’t Live Forever, Live For Now

25 years ago Oasis released ‘Definitely Maybe.’ Hearing this announced on the news this morning made me feel very old. It also brought memories of listening to the album on my ancient CD Walkman while walking to my first ‘proper’ job all those years ago. I was incredibly nervous but the music helped me to enter the premises and start a career which has taken me to where I am today.

If it wasn’t for that job I wouldn’t have the job I currently hold, met Fionnuala, got married, raised a family or all the other life events which have flew by in the last quarter of a century. Quarter of a century! Now I feel even older, like I should be in a museum or a dusty crypt. I’ve achieved a lot but know there is still so much to do, to cram into the time I’ve left on this little planet we call home.

Some bright sparks are marking the release of this iconic album by producing a musical based on the music and story of the band. It’s been provisionally titled ‘Live Forever,’ after one of their most famous hits. There are times I wish I could live forever or at least for much longer than our current lifespans. Oh, to be Methuselah who was 969 when he popped his clogs back in Genesis. What a guy he must have been.

Methuselah must have seen and crammed a lot into his time on earth. I wonder if he worried that his elongated existence wasn’t enough, if there was stuff still left undone when he breathed his last. I’d like to think there wasn’t and he died a contented man, surrounded by family and loved ones, and secure in the legacy he was leaving behind. Instead of worrying about living forever he lived for now.

Thanatophobia is the fear of dying. Also known as death anxiety, it is an affliction that affects many of us. The aggravating factor is that, by worrying so much about what he haven’t achieved we are losing our focus on what we are capable of in the here and now. Fretting about the future leads to decision inertia in the present. We freeze and fritter away the precious days and weeks we should be squeezing every last drop from.

Instead of day dreaming about living forever we should be living for now. So many are swallowed whole by the disappointment of what they haven’t achieved when they should be concentrating on the the potential for what is still possible, probable even, if they apply themselves fully to what is staring them in the face now. Hope is one of the strongest emotions we have, we need to release it’s power into our lives.

I read so many blogs where people are frustrated and struggling, where they are on the verge of quitting. Their dreams have been crushed, ground into the dirt by this juggernaut we call life. They’ve pulled the plug on their grand plan for life, flicked the off switch, turned out the lights. Some are so young as well, they still have so much to offer and achieve. They’ve given up on their stories as I’m still reading the prologue.

Live for now. Small steps, one at a time. Break your goals and targets down into bite size, manageable chunks. Even if it’s just getting out of bed and taking basic care of yourself. It’s a start, a step in the right direction. The present is life, it’s not behind or in front of you. Make the most of every minute you have for every minute is a new chance, a new start. Don’t live forever, for that’s a fairytale.

Live for now.

Can You See This?

I posted a blog earlier today but due to unknown technical reasons, it hasn’t appeared on a lot of timelines. Either that or I didn’t get the memo about the universal boycott of FracturedFaithBlog with immediate effect. The former is the obvious reason but my OCD addled brain latches onto the latter. It whispers ‘they all hate you and want nothing more to do with you or your stupid blog.

So, help me out. Can you see this blog post?

Too Hot to Handle

Sunday was a rarity in Northern Ireland. A hot, sunny day. We should have been out on the streets rejoicing, and many of us were. Apart from those who when they aren’t complaining about it being too cold, are complaining about it being too warm. It’s the nature of the beast. You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but when it comes to the weather there will always be those who have a permanent rain cloud over their heads.

I’m a bit like that and when I jumped into the car on Sunday lunchtime, it was no exception. Placing my hands on the steering wheel I discovered they were red hot from the sun’s rays. OUCH! It took several further ginger attempts before I felt comfortable enough to start the engine and proceed on my journey. But for the first mile or so, until the air conditioning kicked in and cooled down the interior of the vehicle, it was a decidedly unpleasant journey.

Heat. Flames. Fire. Pain. These are themes that I often visit in my creative writing. Indeed, I was working on a chapter yesterday where they featured prominently. Why are we so attracted to the flames of life when we know instinctively what the consequences are going to be? That train wreck of a relationship or friendship, just one more mouthful/drink/puff. When all the warning signs scream AVOID we stumble blithely onwards toward the cliff edge.

There are situations in our lives that are simply too hot to handle, like my fiery steering wheel from the other day. Yet we ignore the voice of reason screaming in our ears and embrace them with both hands. The temporary pleasure negates the nagging sensation that this will all end in tears and we will be picking up the pieces and licking our wounds for a long, long time. We are the architects of our own destruction. Time and time again.

I read a lot of blogs where folk have made bad decisions and are now repenting at their leisure. They are dealing with guilt, shame and a lack of self worth. They feel useless and broken, discarded by the wayside and left fumbling about in the dark, trying to rebuild what is left of their lives. Many talk of giving up, others have given up. The burns are too deep, the scars too visible. They have become pariahs, no longer able to look at themselves in the mirror.

I know this guilt. I’ve experienced this pain. I’ve grabbed the red hot steering wheel with both hands, gritted my teeth and careered into a brick wall at ridiculously high speed. I’ve sat dazed in the wreckage wondering where it all went wrong. My instincts overwhelmed the calm, rational voices in my life telling me to take my hands off the wheel, step out of the car and walk as fast as I could in the opposite direction. I thought I knew best. How wrong I was.

Let’s cut to the chase. I’ve learnt some lessons and earned my battle scars. Wisdom comes at a price, a sometimes terrible price, but when you accrue even a grain of it, cling on to it as if your life depended upon it. For one day it might. Not for nothing did Solomon offer up all the riches in the world for what he desired more than anything – wisdom. It is more precious than gold, worth more than all the tea in China. It is the key to a life worth living, the life you were meant to live.

If you’re perched in the driving seat as you read this, about to clasp the steering wheel and turn the ignition over, then please think again. Is it really worth it? Have you seriously thought through what you are letting yourself and those you love in for? Are you willing to live with the pain of those third degree burns for the rest of your life? You have a choice. It’s called freewill. Walk away. Now.

Hi, Hello & Welcome

I’ve been delighted these last few days by the number of new followers to the blog, in addition to all the positive comments about our recent posts. Just to introduce myself, I’m Stephen (waves awkwardly) and I write the large majority of the words, ably supported by my wife, PA, Marketing Manager and chief cheerleader, Fionnuala. She occasionally writes as well as do our two daughters, Hannah and Rebecca.

Our eldest, Adam, is much too cool for this blogging caper and can normally be found on the rugby pitch. We live in a small village about 20 miles outside Belfast, Northern Ireland, where I work at stuff I’m not allowed to talk about online or I’d get in a whole load of trouble – draws breath. In the little spare time I have I run marathons (9 so far) and eat copious amounts of honeycomb ice cream and German Biscuits. Go google what they are.

If you’re a regular follower you can look away now but for the newbies, just to let you know I’ve recently published my first novel, an urban fantasy set in modern day Belfast called ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ It’s got a bit of everything – see the blurb below. And don’t I look suitably ridiculous in the author pic, taken in the back alley where I first got the idea for it. I don’t make it a habit to hang around back alleys by the way.

Thanks for checking out the blog. If you like my words then 130,000 of them are available for you today on Amazon in e book and paperback format.

Mastering The Mist

I write this from a very misty train platform, waiting for my daily commute to work in Belfast. I would share a photograph with you all but it would show nothing but a grey shroud. You couldn’t tell if it was a train platform. I could be at the Grand Canyon, Yankee Stadium or standing outside your front door. Don’t worry, I’m not standing outside your front door. I would have called in advance if I was calling over.

The mist is rather beautiful. I can make out the morning sun struggling to break through and resume its mantle as the main attraction in the sky. The birds are happily chirping away and it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day. I’m running later so can look forward to the prospect of seven miles without being soaked to the skin or battered by hurricane strength winds.

There is a sense of calm on the platform. The schools aren’t back yet which might have something to do with that, no armies of chattering hatchlings to battle past in order to secure a highly sought after seat. Everyone seems fairly relaxed after the final bank holiday of the year, the last now until Christmas. Did I just mention Christmas? Has 2019 really scuttled by so quickly. It feels almost autumnal this morning.

Yes, all seems well. I look at my fellow commuters to be met by largely blank, unemotional faces. The shutters are down as we all adjust our 9-5 masks for the working day ahead. If this were a poker match or quick draw competition I reckon we could have a few world champions in our ranks. I recognise the regulars as they no doubt recognise me. Some of them I’ve known for years, but we’ve never exchanged a word in all that time.

Nobody is giving anything away, for to do so would be a sign of weakness and that wouldn’t do at all now, would it. We all exist behind a mist, where our real selves are but a shadowy outline in the background, reserved for a favoured few if even that. Some trundle through life never revealing their real selves to the waiting world. They fear the consequences, what their peers would say if they knew the truth, if they saw the real deal.

Us writers are an exception. We think, create, explore and most of all reveal. We reveal who we are, an act of bravery if ever there was one. What you see is what you get, hearts on sleeves, staring defiantly into the crowd. We are not perfect, we are weak and flawed and broken. Yet we don’t fear the mist. Our words burn it away just as the sun will prevail over the dank skies enveloping me this morning.

The mist can be a thing of beauty but only if we know it is a temporary feature. Some of us are prisoners, unable to escape its chilly tendrils. The mist is their world. They are trapped by guilt, shame and fear, unable to face reality. Some cannot open their front door, others are unable to crawl from under bed covers. Ensnared by addiction, mental illness, childhood trauma and any other number of internal demons.

Mastering the mist is no easy matter. Some of us don it as a suit of armour to discard at the end of the day. It is a flag of convenience which we walk under, safe in its protective shadow. Others are less fortunate. They will never see the light unless we focus less on ourselves, recognise their pain and reach down into the abyss. We reach down blindly and grasp their cold, helpless hands. They squeeze ours in gratitude. It’s a beginning.

Suicide – What Do We Do?

Over the last 10 days, 15 young people have taken their own lives in Belfast. There is not a week goes past when I’m on call, that I don’t receive a phone call to inform me there has been another suicide. It has become an epidemic in all our cities and communities, cutting a swathe through our society. And, I for one, feel helpless and don’t know what to do. So when I don’t know what to do, I write.

I wrote a post not long ago where I referred to the suicide of the American poet and author, Sylvia Plath. Suicide affects all echelons of life, money and fame are not the key to a happy, fulfilled existence. Robin Williams anyone? Depression does not discriminate and a 7 figure bank account protects you no more from its clutches than a paper shield on a battlefield. It cares not who it cuts down.

Some say only cowards take their own lives but I don’t buy that. I wouldn’t have the guts to step off that chair, to swallow those pills, to pull the trigger. People in such positions have been driven to the end of their tether, they are at their wits end. To choose to end your life must take a degree of personal courage. To take that final, irrevocable step into whatever you believe in, known or unknown. The decision to end your life is the biggest decision of anyone’s life.

Suicide is painless? I doubt that, for most it is a clean, quick death. They do it to escape from a pain I can’t imagine, a pain which has driven them to this most extreme of solutions. It is the pain they leave behind I struggle to comprehend. The broken lives of those left to pick up the pieces, to try and answer the endless questions that assail them but which all boil down to one simple word – why?

I believe those who take their own lives are not, by and large, selfish people. They are not insensitive, rather so sensitive they were never able to develop the necessary social and emotional armour to cope with the car crash we call life. They have entered a state of mind where they honestly see no other option for them which involves life. They are not thinking rationally, it is a place where fear and pain overrides everything else.

But, let me get one thing straight. Suicide is neither glamorous or romantic. It’s not candlelit baths and rose petals. I’ve been to the scenes. It’s dirty, disturbing and debilitating. It’s finality hits you over the back of the head so hard your teeth rattle and everything changes forever. There is no comeback, no second chance. It’s over. How many would say they regretted their decision if we could only speak to them now?

It’s so many unanswered questions, so many unfulfilled dreams. It’s the fear of a parent when their stroppy teenager throws a temper tantrum and storms off to their room. It’s that homeless person who you saw every day on the daily commute and now, we’ll they’re not about anymore. It’s the out of character comment that you don’t pick up on at the time but then ruminate over after the event. Was that a cry for help?

I don’t have all the answers, actually I don’t have any answers. I read poems and prose from fellow bloggers that hint at unspeakable pain, unmentionable depths of despair and depression which finds them teetering on the brink. I watch as bloggers disappear from WordPress and I wonder what if? I feel useless, helpless, hopeless. For without hope, there is nothing but the abyss, so deep and welcoming.

I don’t know what to do. So I write.

What do we do?

Stepping Over The Threshold

I met a man the other week, completely out of the blue, and immediately knew I wanted to include him in the next book. He was a walking, talking caricature, an absolute gift to a writer. His mannerisms, his speech, his appearance just screamed inclusion in the chapter taking place in my mind. He was literary manna from heaven, just too good an opportunity to miss out on.

Characters can be birthed in so many different ways. Some can be based on the author themselves, or exaggerated versions of their personalities. Others are based on friends, foes, work colleagues or complete strangers. And other times, they can be complete figments of the characters imagination. As I’ve said before, some of mine were born as I sat on the sofa staring at the blank screen of my laptop.

They just pop into my head unannounced, politely introduce themselves and I start typing. That’s why I’m not totally won over by books that tell you how to write. I can write about how I write but that won’t necessarily work for you. We all have different tips, techniques and tactics. That’s the magic of writing, why it knows no boundaries, why we never know what’s coming next when we lift our pens or sit at a keyboard.

Yet, as with my new character, sometimes as a writer you need to step across the threshold of your front door. Get out there, interact, live and let the characters come to you. Or maybe not a character but a location, object or conversation. I’m a natural introvert, as many writers are, and often have to force myself to attend social events. I tend to get anxious before them and am forever trying to talk myself out of such occasions.

I always find, however, that the risk is outweighed by the bountiful opportunities to garner fresh writing material. There is always something or someone who sparks an idea in my head which has me scrambling for my little black book to scribble it down before it slips away, never to return again. You need to live in order to write. A lucky few are able to make a living from their art, the rest of us do it for a plethora of other reasons. But often, I see something and I just….well….need to write about it.

It’s hard, I know. Life delights in knocking us down in all manner of different ways. Sometimes there feels as if there’s no respite, no break from the various missiles thrown at us from all directions. We dive for cover and pray for a ceasefire, an opportunity to draw breath and regroup. I often feel I should commute to and from Belfast in a suit of armour as opposed to a work suit. It’s a battlefield out there.

You can’t write a book though, hiding beneath the bed covers. Well I can’t anyway. I need to pluck up the courage to get out there. I’ve had my fingers burnt so many times and resolved to never trust again. Yet how can I earn the trust of those I’ve hurt in the past if I don’t learn to trust again. To trust others and trust my own judgement which has let me down and left me so battered and bruised. To trust myself, the one I distrust more than anyone.

There Is Always Hope

Being a total dork, I was studying our WordPress stats the other day and discovered the blog recently passed 200,000 views since its creation just over two years ago. Wow! And I’ll say that again. Wow! I still remember nervously tapping out my first post, ‘The Bag Lady,’ before hitting the publish button and sending it out into the great unknown. Back then, double figure views were a major cause for celebration.

I know figures aren’t everything but they reflect the impact and scope of the blog which means more to me than all the tea in China. I don’t make a penny from it and it’s an advertisement free zone. All I want to do is entertain and help people. My only message is that there is always HOPE. Even at your lowest ebb when there seems to be no conceivable comeback. Thank you each and every one of you.

For believing in me, because I believe in you.

More Thoughts On My Writing

I’m sitting here on the sofa in my….ahem…loungewear surrounded by copious amounts of crisps and Diet Coke. The house is quiet as Fionnuala and the hatchlings are visiting my beloved mother-in-law. It’s a tight agenda today as the big Ireland v England match kicks off at 3 p.m. That’s less than five hours away and I’ve so much to squeeze into that ever decreasing window of time.

I’ve e-mails to send to reviewers and columnists, pitching the book in the hope one of them will pick up on it. I was hoping to get out for a run as for once it’s not raining cats and dogs. There are a few household chores to attend to and, last and probably least, the daily blog has to be posted. Which is all the better for, in recent days, the creative juices have started to flow again.

For several months now I’ve been finding excuses not to grab the thistle and start work on Book 2. I was mentally drained as it’s been such hard work pushing the first book through the promoting and publishing phases. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again; writing the book is the easy part, getting it to the final printed, polished article is where the hard work really starts.

There have been numerous other distractions as well. Some think us authors spend our days reclining on chaise longues sipping camomile tea while languidly dictating to our rather brilliant personal assistants. I do have a rather brilliant personal assistant. She’s called my wife, Fionnuala. But if I dared to lounge languidly in her presence I’d get quite rightly told to grow up and stop acting the clown.

There are bills to pay, hatchlings to raise and a day job to hold down. I squeeze writing in where and when I can. On the train as I commute to and from work, in bed if I wake up in the dead of night. I get ideas for characters and scenes when I’m out running and have to hope my less than perfect memory retains the necessary details until I get home and scribble them down somewhere.

Yet somehow, amidst the chaos, I’ve started to write Book 2. Or rather, Book 2 has started to write itself. I often feel as if I’m just the conduit transcribing the words of another. Almost 3000 words in two days, no less. It’s a tough target but I’d like to have the first draft completed by the end of the year with the intention of publishing in 2020. I’ve set aside all my other projects for now and am placing all my literary eggs in the Kirkwood Scott basket.

‘Bomb Girl’ is therefore being shelved for now. But worry not as the adventures of Ariana Hennessy will be back. Who knows, she may even crop up in a Kirkwood Scott story as I’ve always envisioned both tales belonging to the same story arc. At the minute I want to focus on completing the Skelly trilogy and then seeing where the characters take me. Those that are still alive that is….he sniggered malevolently.

It’s good to get these thoughts down. In doing so I’m committing to deadlines and projects that otherwise I’d allow to meander and drift. By holding myself accountable to the WordPress community I know I’ll put the work in, plus it’s a diary of the process I can look back on in years to come when I’m too old and crumbly to remember any of this. As ever, thank you for putting up with my ramblings. Your support of my writing is always much appreciated.

Stained Glass Belfast

My running blogs are entirely unremarkable as, let’s face it, who wants to read about a middle aged man trudging around the byways and highways of Northern Ireland in gaudy fluorescent clothing? So I thought I’d spice up my lunchtime run today by capturing some of the spectacular Game of Thrones stained glass art which has cropped up in the Titanic Quarter. My favourite is Stansa Stark, obviously. Did I tell you about the time I met her? Oh alright then, enjoy the photos.

This Is Who I Am

A neighbour, who is currently reading the book, stopped to chat to me as I headed out to work this morning. I asked her how she was getting on with it, an entirely inappropriate question given she has a young daughter and another on the way. The poor woman has enough on her plate without wading through a 350 page tome about Napoleonic ghost soldiers with supernatural powers rampaging around modern day Belfast laying waste to anyone who happens to look at them the wrong way.

Thankfully rather than telling me where to go forth and multiply, she kindly responded that she was enjoying it, whenever she got a chance to sit down and pick it up. What pleased me most, though, was when she said it was educating her about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), the mental illness which has plagued Kirkwood Scott, the hero of our tale, since his childhood. Educating people about OCD was one of the reasons I started to write.

Despite being recognised by the World Health Organisation as one of the most common and debilitating mental illnesses, OCD is still viewed by many as a bit of a joke. I involuntarily grind my teeth any time I hear someone come out with the classic ‘I’m a little bit OCD’ phrase whenever describing they’re a bit of a ‘clean freak’ or washed their hands twice, as opposed to once after weeding the garden over the weekend.

You can’t be a ‘little bit OCD.’ It’s like saying ‘I’ve got a bit of cancer’. In the cheese laden words of Samuel L. Jackson, or was it Colin Farrell, you’re either SWAT or you’re not. OCD is the same. It’s not a weekend sniffle that you shrug off with a hot drink and a couple of paracetamol. OCD is a horrific, relentless, debilitating disorder. OCD kills. People take their own lives rather than endure another second of the endless intrusive thoughts and tortuous compulsions which accompany them.

It’s not ‘did I forget to turn the oven off’ or ‘that towel is the wrong colour, it doesn’t match the bath mat.’ It’s waking up thinking you’re a paedophile and you’re going to harm your own kids unless you perform mental gymnastics for the remainder of the day which preoccupy your every waking thought. Even though OCD sufferers are the least likely people to harm anyone because we care that much about our loved ones.

It’s straight people waking up convinced they’re gay and being bombarded with unwanted, extreme sexual images about their family, friends and that stranger they pass in the street on the way to work. Oh, and don’t worry gay people, you’re as likely to wake up feeling just the same about straight people. OCD doesn’t discriminate, I’ll give it that. Nobody is safe from it, yet we still know so little about its origins and how to treat it.

Some say it’s a chemical imbalance in our brains. Cognitive Behavioural Theraphy (CBT) and certain forms of medication can alleviate its symptoms. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you. It can lie dormant for months, years and then flare up announced as a result of the most inconspicuous comment or event. It’s always there, lurking, watching for its opportunity to bounce back into your life and turn all your best laid plans upside down.

My neighbour hasn’t been the first person to thank me for raising their awareness of the disorder. I’ve had similar comments from many quarters, from fellow sufferers and from those with zero knowledge of the illness. The message is getting through. Slowly, but surely. And if I never sell another copy of the book I can rest assured that I’m doing my bit to promote awareness and educate others about this most misunderstood mental health issue.

It’s not the best book ever penned about OCD. I could name half a dozen off the top of my head which are infinitely better researched and written. But this is my effort, my very best effort, and this is why I will keep writing and blogging about this difficult and emotive topic. I’m no longer embarrassed by it or willing to hide in the shadows. It’s time to shout it from the rooftops. This is me, this is who I am.

Congratulations Adam

Congratulations to this young man. Our eldest hatchling, Adam, received his GCSE results today, passing all 10 subjects he sat. This means he will be returning to Lurgan College to begin his ‘A’ level studies in September. We are all very proud of his achievement which exceeded all expectations. He studied hard, though, and deserved every single one of them. Seems he’s not just a star on the rugby pitch, he’s also got brains to burn.

Now I Know How George R.R. Martin Feels

Yesterday I sat staring at an empty notebook and began to jot down ideas for Book 2. I then tentatively started to write, three paragraphs no less. Now that might not sound a lot but it was a massive mental step for me. A dam had been opened and the floodwaters of creativity began to gush across the barren plains of my mind. I was writing again, not much, but it was a start. And at at last I could answer the question that had been repeatedly popping up in day to day conversations with folk.

‘Have you started the next book yet?’

No longer do I have to prevaricate over my answer, feeling weirdly annoyed and guilty in equal measure. I don’t owe people anything, least of all another novel. Some of those asking the question expectantly haven’t even bothered to read the first one. Yet, still the question is asked. And still I shuffle awkwardly from one foot to the other like a nervous schoolboy who has forgotten his homework, desperately scrabbling for an excuse. No more.

‘Why yes, I have actually.’

I’m not going to tell them I’ve written roughly half a page, but I have started. And, what’s more, I needed a break. Book 1, from cradle to grave, was a two year process. It was draining, a slog which I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Yet at the end of it I held a book in my hands with my name on it. I was proud of my achievement but tired and in need of a rest. I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again. Writing is hard work. Give me a marathon any day of the week.

‘Actually, Kirkwood Scott is part of a trilogy. Possibly more.’

Oh shut up, Stephen. Stop telling them that. Now they expect three books, possibly more. Can’t you quit while you’re ahead? Well, no, I can’t actually. This crazy story in my head needs to be told, I need to get it down on paper or I fear I’ll go quite mad. It’s a literary exorcism and, lacking a creepy priest, it’s up to me to drag it kicking and screaming from my imagination. I’m afraid there is no other option.

I now know how George R.R. Martin feels. I’m in no way comparing myself to the great man, in terms of ability or success. I’m many light years from either of those, but if he had a dollar for every time he’d been asked when the next ‘Game of Thrones’ book was coming he’d be a very wealthy man. Or an even wealthier man than he already is. I used to be the same. Just write the flipping book, man. Stop being so lazy and give the people what they want.

I now understand that it doesn’t work that way. In my day job I turn up at my desk at 9am and leave at 5pm. In between, there are eight (mostly) productive hours. There is progress, achievement, activity; a tangible product to show my boss should they suspect I’ve been skiving all day. I don’t even have to think very hard about it. I go to work and I work. Writing doesn’t quite work like that. There are days you turn up and nothing happens.

Literally….nothing.

Make that weeks, months. While writing Book 1, I had a two month period where I didn’t go near it. I had nothing until, one day, I had something. Writing is not a regulated, uniform flow. It can be a rushing torrent, a steady trickle or a rusty faucet offering not a drop. Which is why so many of us are plagued with doubt. We can be J.R.R. Tolkien one day and utterly unable to string two sentences together the next. There are no constants, no norms when it comes to the telling of stories.

I’m writing again. I was bursting with excitement yesterday as I checked over my latest brainstorming session. But for now, I’ll keep my powder dry and my head down. There will be no ‘spoiler alerts’ on this blog, I can assure you. But it is happening and it will happen. Possibly even before the next Game of Thrones tome. I’ve no idea when that is either. I’ve stopped asking.

Are You A Bookworm?

Fionnuala had enough the other week and bought a new bookcase to house my ever increasing book collection. This now sits proudly at the top of our stairs and means I no longer have an excuse for secreting books around the home to be tripped over and stood upon. Yes, I’m going to have to admit it – my name is Stephen and I’m a book addict. There are too many of them, tempting and enticing me into impulse purchases.

The situation is no better on my Kindle Fire. I must have a dozen unread titles on it, yet I still found myself browsing through it last night, planning what additions I could procure this coming pay day. My TBR (to be read) list snakes endlessly over the horizon with no sign of decreasing any time soon. There just aren’t enough hours in the day unless I pack in the day job and lock myself away for the next 20 years or so.

The Kindle Unlimited feature does little to curb my habit. This allows me to ‘borrow’ up to 10 books at a time, free of charge, from over a million titles on offer. Every direction I turn I see books, books and more books. It doesn’t help that my daily commute to and from work involves walking past probably the best second hand bookshop in Belfast. It’s like giving our Rebecca a £10 note and telling her to stand outside a sweet shop.

I read a lot. On the train in the morning, whenever I’m waiting for an appointment, when I go to bed at night. It matters not a jot. I’m nowhere near scaling the Everest of words and pages staring down upon little old me. Then there’s the blog posts, websites and social media platforms which continually clog up my timelines. Then there’s the small matter of the day job where I spend much of my day digesting reports and e-mails.

I love reading. But sometimes I feel as if I need to sacrifice it in order to fit in the many other priorities in my life. My family, faith and fitness. Not to mention I’m supposed to be writing Book 2. It’s at times like that I remember the advice Stephen King gave when asked what his top tips were for fellow writers. ‘You have to read widely….If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools to write.’

So I’ll read, read and read some more. Stop grumbling Stephen. The glass is half full, in fact it’s brimming over. I’m grateful to live in a society where I was taught to read and write, where I have access to books and censors don’t dictate to me when, and what, I can read. I’m fortunate to have my eyesight and access to numerous bookstores and libraries. Then there’s unlimited access to the internet.

To be called a bookworm used to be a derogatory term when I was growing up. I was a bespectacled geek and used to hide my love of Tolkien, King and other literary greats. I’m still a bespectacled geek, the contact lenses didn’t work out I’m afraid, but I’m proud to be called a bookworm now. For we are many. Reading, learning, growing and sharing. There are a lot worse habits to have.

Are you a bookworm?

How long is your TBR list?

My Wee Book

Everything in Northern Ireland is ‘wee.’

Would you like a wee cup of tea?

Do you know the wee woman who lives down the street?

You know that wee ship, The Titanic? It was built in Belfast.

It’s one of our ‘thangs,’ it’s what we do, no doubt bewildering visitors to our fair land in the process. Well, I’ve written a wee book. And by wee, I mean it’s 350 pages long and part of a proposed trilogy. A wee trilogy. I’ve also started Book 2, but it might take me a while to write it. Etc, etc. It’s called ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ and is set in modern day Belfast. Apart from the bits at the Battle of Waterloo and in parallel universes.

I’ve been told it’s quite good. Don’t believe me? Then feel free to visit Amazon and read the reviews, where it’s available to buy in e book and paperback format. If you enjoy the blog then this might be the read for you, if you’re into supernatural beings battling for control of the cosmos on the back streets of my wee city. Can our rag tag heroes Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley stop them? Well, you’ll need to read the book to find that out.

Thank you. I appreciate all the support I’ve received so far.

Stephen

Keep Screaming

Thank you to those who responded to my post yesterday, calling for more interaction between bloggers. It seemed to resonate with a lot of you, judging by the number of comments I received. Your screams were most certainly heard and I’m still getting caught up on my replies so, please bear with me. You’re never alone on WordPress, no matter what you might think. So, keep writing, keep talking and most of all….

KEEP SCREAMING!!

Bilbo Had A Ring

Bilbo had a ring.

That’s how it starts. Arguably the greatest work of fiction ever written. A nondescript little hobbit in the back end of nowhere called The Shire had a ring. I’ve started re-reading ‘The Lord of the Rings’ again and, some time ago, promised to share my thoughts on it with you all. Those of you who ‘don’t do’ Tolkien may want to look away now, the rest of you welcome to my take on all things Middle Earth.

Addiction and jealousy. No, not the plot from some 21st century soap opera, but these are the themes that leapt from the pages of the first 50 pages of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring.’ Most of Hobbiton is jealous of the mysterious Mr. Baggins. His neighbours gossip over supposed treasures hidden away in his home at Bag End. The related Sackville-Baggins covet his hobbit hole and mutter darkly about it being left to his young nephew, Frodo.

They covet what does not belong to them. When Bilbo vanishes into thin air at his eleventy first birthday party there is a near riot the following day as half The Shire descends upon chez Baggins to plunder and pilfer what is not theirs. Young Frodo, a mere 33 years old, does his best to stem the tide of greedy hobbits flooding into the hobbit hole in search of family heirlooms and dragon’s gold. It’s an ugly scene, reminiscent of many post funereal disputes over a contested will.

Bilbo is long gone, off adventuring again with three dwarves on the road less traveled. He left without the ring, but not without a fight. Gandalf had to reveal a hint of his true self to ensure ‘my precious’ did not depart with him. The hobbit’s obsession with it showed a darker side to his nature, as its evil power warps and distorts even the purest of souls. It destroyed Sméagol and there, but for Gandalf, Bilbo was also headed until he reluctantly departed without the one true ring.

Is there a one true ring in your life? It could be alcohol, drugs or food? A person in your life who is sucking you dry? An addiction ruling your every waking thought and, try as you might, you cannot walk away. Compulsions which hang heavy round your neck as the ring later hung heavy round young Frodo’s neck on the tortuous trek through Mordor towards Mount Doom. But for his best friend it would have destroyed him. Gollum never had a Samwise.

Such addictions dazzle and enthral at first, they are magical, and lift you high above the drudgery of daily existence. They make you feel special, a cut above the rest, providing the buzz or kick you’ve been missing your entire life. How did you survive this long without it? You’re flying high, at 40,000 feet, and nothing or nobody can stop you. For you know best and those that intervene are nothing but jealous party poppers.

An intervention in the Shire. For that’s what it was. Tough love from the most powerful wizard in Middle Earth. Yet even he struggled to break the hold this piece of dwarfish forged metal had on Master Baggins. That is addiction. It brings all to their knees if allowed to infiltrate defences and boundaries. It becomes the blackest most malignant force at the swirling centre of your out of control existence. It destroys everything in its path.

Addiction and jealousy. Two themes that run throughout this epic tale. Two themes that my teenage self no doubt glossed over when I first read the trilogy many moons ago. Funny what a few decades difference can make. If only I had known then what I know now. On second thoughts, scratch that thought. Leave young Stephen alone to enjoy the magic of Tolkien. There will be plenty of time for the other stufff in the years to come.

My Current Read

Yes, shock, horror it’s a book about the Battle of Waterloo. I’m about 100 pages, the author focusing on the accounts of the men (and women) from both sides who were present just outside a little known Belgian village called Waterloo on 18 June 2015. The carnage which followed reshaped the map of Europe and the accounts of survivors are a harrowing and heart breaking read.

Kershaw manages to evoke the smoke, blood, mud and utter confusion at the heart of the battle. From the diaries of Wellington and Napoleon right down to recollections of the ordinary soldier in the front line this is a tale of gory gallantry. A must for any military historian it recounts the horror and futility of war which still exist today. I’ve this and another three books on Waterloo to read as research for my next novel.

Screaming Into The Abyss

Interaction is so important to me as a writer. Whenever I post a blog, it’s great to see multiple views and likes pop up on my notifications, but it’s the comments that really matter to me. To know that a person has taken the time to read a post, truly thought about it and then responded. Some of the replies can be a few words, others a blog post in themselves, but they are all equally valued and cherished.

There are bloggers I talk to every day, there are less regular visitors and then there are those who I hear from once, then never see again. Often a single line I’ve written has resonated enough to encourage them to respond. I value them all equally. Feedback and engagement is akin to oxygen for writers. Without it, our creative lights flicker, falter, then fade away to nothing. We are left screaming into the abyss.

So I encourage you today to participate, to engage, to become involved in the most supportive online community I’ve ever encountered. While I do dip my toe into other platforms as a necessity, WordPress is where I truly belong. This is my base, my HQ. You don’t have to respond to this post but make a point today of reaching out to a fellow blogger. For all you know, they may be on the verge of giving up, of deleting their accounts.

Don’t give up. We need your voice. We want to learn from your experiences, to grow together and take steps towards a better future. Take risks, write more, open up and expose yourself to new people and experiences. Writing leads to freedom and without the latter, are we truly even alive? So write, talk, be the you that rarely sees the light in the ‘real world.’ You need the light, it is everything. Without the light, there is nothing.

Why Did God Create Wasps?

All things bright and beautiful

All creatures great and small

All things bright and beautiful

The Lord God made them all.

So goes the traditional hymn I recall being belted out on the church organ so many times during my childhood. It was normally reserved for harvest time when each pew would be adorned with fresh farm produce; fruit, vegetables, all manner of breads. The aroma mingled with that of the various garlands of flowers so lovingly arranged by the ladies of the church.

God teaches us to love all of his creations.

Except wasps that is!

I hate wasps! The evil, nasty black and yellow beasties which are currently laying siege to our house. It’s the time of year where they seem to be everywhere. You open a window the tiniest crack and they are queuing up to enter, squadrons of them easterly awaiting to ruin your morning by buzzing around the kitchen looking for a fight. Their sole purpose in life appears to be to sting you. And that hurts.

A wasp stung me on the stomach a couple of years ago when I dared to disturb it when removing chairs from a storeroom in the village hall. And, flip me, but it hurt. The common remedy in these parts for a wasp sting is to rub vinegar on the afflicted area. This works to a degree but leaves you stinking like a fish supper for the remainder of the day, a social leper to be avoided at all costs. There is nothing good to say about a wasps.

Just look at bees. Yes, they sting as well, but they don’t have anywhere near the malicious intent of their vicious cousins. They also serve a useful purpose in the cycle of life, making honey and pollinating flowers. They work hard, have an incredibly ordered social structure and are ruled by a queen who effortlessly runs the whole show from her cosy hive. Yet, everyone talks about killer bees and wasps never get a mention. Why the bad press?

While conducting painstaking research for this post….er…Wikipedia….all my initial thoughts regarding bees were confirmed. I typed ‘wasp’ into the search engine with low expectations. The highlight of my relationship with the creature was when my sister sat on one as a child. Her screams could be heard several miles away. It is now the stuff of family legend and never fails to amuse me. I’m sure she won’t mind me sharing this with you all.

But, wait, what’s this? Wasps also cross pollinate plants and flowers? And without wasps predatory instincts, our planet would be awash with all kinds of creepy crawlies laying waste to our crops? Some countries even farm wasps to police this ravenous insect population. They are the state troopers of the microscopic world. Without wasps the earth could be wracked with pestilence, famine and war.

My gob was well and truly smacked at this news, my flabber more ghasted than ever before. Wasps are friends of mankind, a tiny but vital link in the ecological chain. We need them as much as we need cows and fish and every other creature that walks, swims or flies the earth. They say God works in mysterious ways and if that’s certainly the case when it comes to these stripey, flying psychopaths.

It’s hard, I know, but we need to see the good in everyone, even those who make us roll our eyes and mutter under our breaths. Who are we do judge? Who am I to? If I can get it so wrong about the humble wasp then what’s to say I’ve got it hopelessly awry about my annoying neighbour or crazy work colleague. We can still love one another even if we don’t particularly like one another.

Now let’s hope President Trump never gets stung by a wasp live on air. Although it would be funny….

A New Beginning

Today I start Book 2. It’s an exciting, but daunting, thought. The last few months have been such a flurry of activity focusing on the publication and promotion of the first book in the series that I’ve devoted very little time to creative writing. I know there have been a few dissenting voices online but how else am I going to pursue a career in writing if I don’t talk about it every now and then.

Those isolated voices aside, the blogging community have been largely supportive and encouraging. For that, I thank you all. I won’t bore you to death but I will provide occasional updates as to progress of Book 2. I have a working title and a loose plot worked out but as with Book 1, I’m largely relying on the book to write itself when I sit down in front of the blank screen.

I have a tonne of research to plough through as well. I finished the book I’ve been reading for pleasure last night so it’s now time to get into the heavy stuff. I’m hoping the research will also inspire me with ideas as to new character, locations and plotlines. That’s the exciting part of writing, well for me anyway. I never know what’s around the corner. When I started Book 1, the characters of Samuel, Gunther and Willian the Drummer Boy didn’t exist.

I’ve learnt so much during the writing and publication of Book 1 that I’m confident Book 2 will be a much slicker process. The plan is to publish next year and I’m giving myself roughly a year to churn it out. In the meantime, I’ll keep the blog ticking over, go to work every day, train for and run a marathon and be the best husband and father I can possibly be. Normal service, I suppose, so stay tuned.

Thank You Amy

My first book review

My first book review
— Read on amy-westphal.com/2019/08/14/my-first-book-review/

Thank you Amy for this wonderful review of the book. I’m honoured. Amy is a very talented writer and is currently querying her first novel, ‘Capture The Tide,’ a brilliant YA/NA tale of hope, faith and survival set in post apocalyptic America. I certainly recommend checking out her blog where you can follow her literary adventures.

Who Are You?

This was a question I was asked yesterday and it immediately popped into my head the moment I opened my eyes this morning. Hmmmm….now let me think. I’m a father, husband, son, brother, uncle and cousin. I’m a manager, employee, friend and acquaintance. I’m a runner, writer, blogger and lover of honeycomb ice cream and German biscuits. But does that answer the question? Does that capture the essence of who….I….am?

When I was born, forty something years ago, I was none of these things. I have accumulated them as I’ve moved through life, becoming more and more laden down as I’ve struggled towards the summit of wherever I’m meant to be going. Other guises I’ve discarded along the wayside. I’m no longer a student, a drinker, an incredibly average rugby player, and so on. We acquire and shed these skins as we traverse life’s ever meandering paths.

We are chameleons, ever shifting creations, forever morphing into different versions of ourselves. We are moulded by external and internal factors, by circumstance and environment. I’m happy one minute, sad the next. I can be calm, courteous, controlled or cheeky, cutting and caustic. It all depends. On a billion factors, determining how we respond to any given situation. Who am I? I haven’t a clue.

We are layer upon layer of contradiction and juxtaposition. We chop and change at will. The Stephen of ten, five, two years ago bears absolutely no resemblance to the one writing this post today. I’d like to think I’m evolving into a better version of myself but who’s to say what the future holds. In five years time I might not like what I find, if I’m even here at all. And if I’m not ‘here’ then what’s left? Memories of what?

One person will say ‘what a great guy that Stephen was,’ while another might reflect ‘Well, I was never that keen on him and his stupid blog.’ I am a collection of anecdotes and experiences which have left mental imprints on those I’ve encountered on my journey to wherever I ended up. Here lies Stephen Black. Who was he? Well, don’t ask us for he didn’t even know himself. He used to write about it. Something about German biscuits, whatever they are.

If I don’t know who I am, then this begs a further question or two. Why am I here? And seeing as I’m here for the foreseeable future, what do I want to achieve before I move on to….wherever it is I move on to? It’s frightening when you begin to peel away the layers as to who you are and come up with a big fat nothing. For the clock is ticking. Days, become weeks, before months, become years and we are none the wiser as to answering these BIG questions.

Where are the answers? In the Bible, the Quran, sitting cross legged atop a picturesque Himalayan peak chanting sweet nothings into the air? We are searching, scrabbling, forever seeking the truth. The truth of who we are, what we want and where we need to be. One thing I am sure of is I won’t find out by sitting in my house waiting for the front doorbell to ring and the solution to be sitting on the doorstep in a pretty box bedecked with ribbons.

We need to chase, pursue and wrestle with the truth. The truth of us, our very essence. Only then will we begin to scratch beneath the surface and secure a tantalising glimpse of the real us. Inertia and indifference will only lead to frustration and disappointment. We need to succeed, fail, and everything in between. The comfort zone is crammed with like minded souls staring in the mirror and scratching their heads. The answer is out there. Seek and ye shall find. I think.

Who am I?

Who are you?

Killing Villanelle

I’ve been binge watching, and raving over, the BBC series ‘Killing Eve,’ of late. So as I spill the rest of my life all over WordPress I thought I would share the love with my blogging friends. It stars Sandra Oh (from Grey’s Anatomy) as Eve Polastri, a MI6 operative tasked with tracking down a Russian female assassin known only by her codename, Villanelle. It’s a darkly comedic thriller, now into its second season.

Eve and Villanelle are both brilliant in their respective fields and embark on a cat and mouse chase which takes them across Europe. As Eve becomes increasingly obsessed with catching her prey, Villanelle, played by English actress Jodie Comer, wreaks havoc across the Continent, leaving a swathe of bodies in her wake. She manages to narrowly avoid her pursuers at every twist and turn.

The show is stylish, outrageous and bizarre in equal measures. But the real star is Comer who masters numerous languages and accents with consummate evil as the chameleon like assassin. On the surface, her character is utterly detestable. She is an total psychopath, a deeply damaged individuals with no qualms over killing. She is utterly ruthless, displaying no conscience whatsoever.

The genius of the writing and her performance, however, is that we end up loving her. Comer plays Villanelle with incredible grace and charm, one moment an ice cold killer, the next displaying a child like fascination with her surroundings. She is completely out of control and both her handlers and the Security Forces are repeatedly outwitted. The series is such fun that we don’t want her to be caught.

Oh is also brilliant as Eve, struggling to maintain a semblance of a private life while being drawn deeper and deeper into the murky world of spies and contract killers. A strong supporting cast and the backdrops of London, Paris, Amsterdam and Moscow round off a memorable show. I’m restricting myself to an episode a night at present as I don’t want it to end. Life post Eve is a depressing prospect.

I’m a terrible judge of character which, down the years, I have come to rue at my leisure. Fionnuala, on the other hand, is astute when it comes to weighing up new acquaintances. ‘I really like her/him,’ I’ll gush over an individual only to be met by her steely gaze. ‘No, I’m not so sure,’ she will reply. ‘There’s something about them I can’t warm to.’ Nine times out of ten, she’s spot on. Oh alright then, ten times.

So, if we were to meet Villanelle tomorrow I’d be declaring her my new best friend while the alarm bells would be sounding for my wise wife. Before you’d know it I’d be found floating in a suitcase on the River Lagan with my throat slit. Fionnuala would tut, shake her head and frown. ‘I told you to give her a wide berth but you never listen to me, do you? And look where it got you now.’

I’m getting better at this people judging lark, but it’s still one of the many chinks in my armour. The old me craves to be liked so threw caution to the wind when it came to new friendships. I always thought I knew best and stumbled from one catastrophe to the next. I’ve learnt the hard way, had my fingers burnt and my knuckles rapped so many times. I err on the side of caution now, the coin has flipped and I’m much more wary and suspicious.

I don’t have anywhere near as many friends. I’ve bolstered my naturally shy disposition with a distrust of new people. My defences are permanently raised and it takes a lot for me to lower them for anyone. It’s not an ideal life default setting but a necessary one in order to maintain the status quo of calm I’ve worked so hard for. So the Villanelle’s of this world can try their damnedest, I’m not falling for their charms.

Are You In A One Way Friendship?

We all lead busy lives and it’s increasingly difficult to find the time to forge and maintain the deep friendships which anchor our lives and provide safe refuge when the wheels come off. True, lasting friendships are precious and should be protected at all costs; our friends are our first line of defence when besieged with all that life can throw at us. We depend on them, they are our be all and end all.

Or are they? When does a friendship reach the point where it becomes toxic and damaging to us? When we are faced with the decision of cutting off all ties and moving on without someone who had previously been a mainstay in our day to day existence? It’s a tough, painful decision but sometimes it has to be made for the sake of our own sanity. Boils need lanced before they poison us from within.

Today, I’m writing about one way friendships, the type you give everything to, but are left feeling that the sentiment is not reciprocated on the other side of the fence. The friend who you only ever hear from when they need something, the friend who reads your messages but it’s beneath them to actually respond. The person who is oblivious to the serious damage they can cause via their apathy and indifference.

Friendship is not a one way street. It’s a living, dynamic relationship requiring commitment and interaction from both parties. Yet, for some that seems like way too much effort. They exist in a bubble of self, immune to the sad soul looking in, craving even a crumb of their attention. I see these people everywhere I go. They are vacuous, insipid and narcissistic beyond repair. They seek your adoration but don’t be bringing any problems to their door.

They won’t answer the door in the dead of night, when you come desperately in need of their aid. They will parade their perfect, airbrushed lives in front of you via the numerous social media platforms they inhabit. They will hug and air kiss, hearty handshakes and booming laughter aplenty. But step beyond the classroom, church or workplace and you are dead to them. Until next time, that is.

I’ve been on the receiving end of such faux friendships and, believe me, it hurts. You’ll hear from them the second you aren’t fulfilling your side of the arrangement but unwilling to lift a finger when the shoe is on the other foot. For that would be awfully tiresome and they’re far too wrapped up in their own soap opera existences to afford you the time of day. They are parasites, leeches, devouring your self worth and confidence.

Cauterise and cut them out. For otherwise they will bleed you dry, discarding the hollow husk that was your soul by the roadside. Unfollow. Unfriend. Do whatever it takes to squirm free from their incestuous influence on your life. Driving down a one way street can only end in calamity and chaos. You will be left trapped in the wreckage, battered and bruised, while they saunter off without a mark on their bodies. They will not look back, for they care not.

Some fires, no matter how much time we afford to them, will splutter and die. They flatter to deceive until you are left with nothing but a wisp of smoke when the heavens open. Some plants will wither away, no matter how much we water and tend to them. The clock is ticking. We are all running out of that most precious of commodities, time. Don’t waste yours on the one way friendship.

My First Ever WordPress Rant

An uncharacteristic day on WordPress where normally I encounter universal support and positivity from my fellow bloggers. I’ve had a handful of negative and, in my humble opinion, utterly unnecessary comments pop up on the feed. I’ve thought long and hard about responding to them but have finally decided to get it out of my system. So please bear with me while I have my little rant. It won’t be long, I promise.

Firstly I am totally open to constructive feedback and criticism. My skin isn’t that thin and I understand it’s the only way I will improve as a blogger and writer. I welcome these. What I don’t welcome are hurtful and hateful comments aimed at jibing me and provoking a reaction. These are all the more hurtful as the author appeared to have devoted considerable time and effort. There was also more than a hint of gleeful malice behind them.

Next up are criticisms of what I write. I wear my heart on my sleeve and pride myself on the honesty of my writing. If I’m having a bad day/week/month it will tend to come across in my content. I make no excuses for that, it’s who I am. You will get warts and all from me as opposed to a ‘happy clappy’ worldview where everything is wonderful and rainbow coloured unicorns frolic on marshmallow clouds.

If you don’t like this then feel free to unfollow the blog. Nobody is forcing you to read this if it doesn’t agree with your faith, ethics or morals. My faith is fractured, the clue is in the title, and at times on the verge of collapse. You need not fret as I’m sure God and I will work it out in the end. I’m a bit like Jacob in that respect, forever wrestling with the fallout from the toxic and distinctly un-Christian behaviour I regularly witnessed within the church environment.

Next up, I’m a writer, so I tend to blog about writing quite a bit. I’ve written a book and I’m about to start a second one. A follower today had an issue with the amount of time I spend blogging about said books. I’m apparently at fault for daring to promote my novel. Once again, I’m not asking anyone to buy the book, I’m sure you all have budgets and I never would dream of being at the top of them. But I do reserve the right to utilise this forum to talk about my passion for writing.

I also was at fault today for daring to post a quote from Sylvia Plath, the American poet and author who tragically committed suicide at a young age. My critic stated It was inappropriate to use a quote from someone who had ‘stuck their head in an oven.’ Shame on me, but thank you for bringing this failing to my attention via your staggeringly insensitive comments. I pray to God you and your family are never plagued by the mental illnesses that drove this brilliant, deeply troubled woman to her death.

Because people who commit suicide are weak and wrong and somehow bad, right? Mental illness, pah! These people need to ‘shake it off’ and ‘pull themselves together.’ I apologise on behalf of us all and bow to your superior wisdom and mental fortitude. In over two years of blogging I’ve never felt the need to respond in this manner. But today was the day that broke this grumpy camel’s back.

Don’t worry, normal service will be resumed tomorrow, or as normal as I’ll ever be. To continue the desert analogies, this will be my line in the sand. I won’t rise to the bait again, I’ll simply delete the offending comment and block the person who wrote it. Life’s too short. The other 99.99% of you are utterly wonderful and I apologise for sounding off in this manner. Enjoy the rest of your day.

Writing Doubts

I’m experiencing a mental block with regards my writing. Note, I’m not calling it writer’s block for it’s not as if my creative well has dried up. Rather, the opposite. The ideas in my head continue to pile up, so much so, that I’ve purchased a notebook to write them all down in. I amuse myself by thinking that one day it will auction for £1 million. There’s no harm in dreaming, I guess.

I’m also blogging regularly about a range of topics. The problem is breaking the ice on Book Two. I roughly know the plot which revolves around several key incidents which rise out of the murky waters of my mind like craggy rocks jutting above the surface at low tide. They are the foundations of the novel, the rest will form around them as I engage in the creative process.

I am a ‘seat of the pants’ writer or ‘pantser’ as the writing community refers to us. It’s not a case of making it up as I go along, but a lot of my ideas come to me as I engage in the physical act of writing. It’s as if the book is writing itself, some other being has taken control of my fingertips as I tap frantically at the keyboard. Sometimes I read back over what I’ve written in astonishment. Did I actually write that?

To date, sitting down and launching into Book 2 has evaded me. Even thinking about it causes me anxiety, just like I fret before a long run or business meeting. I know when I start I’ll be fine and the nerves will disappear. It’s just typing that first sentence, getting back into the groove of the Kirkwood Scott universe. It’s a big ask and people expect me to deliver the goods. As ever, I doubt my own ability.

I’ve been tinkering with another story, ‘Bomb Girl,’ in the meantime, posting it on the blog in a serialised format. It hasn’t been scoring a lot of views, which has impacted upon my always low confidence. Equally, sales of Kirkwood have been steady, but unspectacular. I still have a way to go before I’m packing in the day job. But I knew all that. I’m a fledgling author, I need to build a body of work.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, or Belfast for that matter, yet the doubts persist. People who say they were going to read the book haven’t, people who have read it haven’t posted reviews. Do they all hate it but are too nice to tell me so? Are people tiring of it all? I need to promote my work but am I starting to sound like a broken record. Am I turning folk off in my efforts to publicise my work?

It’s a double edged sword and I feel as if I’m walking a jagged tightrope along its gleaming edge. I’m returning to work this morning after almost two weeks off and the net sum of my writing has been one rather hurried chapter of ‘Bomb Girl.’ And only then because Fionnuala encouraged me to do so. Left to my own devices I would probably still be staring at a blank laptop screen. It just hasn’t been happening.

I need a collective kick up the backside to pull my finger out and get back in the saddle. Kirkwood was fresh in my mind and I now know I should have started Book 2 almost as soon as the ink was dry on its predecessor. You live and you learn. I need Kirkwood, Meredith, Harley and the others to take up residence once more. It’s time for Skelly to start plotting once more, time to return to the Square.

Woolly Hats In August

Big running day as Gearard, my brother in law, and I stepped it up to over 10.5 miles. Gearard is running his first half marathon next weekend while I stepped up the mileage again as part of my training for the Belfast Half Marathon on 22 September. That’s only six weeks away now! It was a typically unpleasant Northern Irish summer’ morning, hence the hat and long sleeves. Hope everyone is having a great weekend.

Girls Night Out….Boys Night In

Fionnuala, Hannah & Rebecca had a great time at the Boyzone concert in Belfast last night. 12,000 fans packed out Falls Park in Belfast to hear them perform their final ever Irish concert as part of the Feile an Phobail festival. The weather remained (mostly) dry and the girls sang their hearts out, returning home tired but happy. Hannah is now a concert veteran and placed this in her ‘Top 3.’

Meanwhile Adam and I retired to the home of Fionnuala’s brother, Gearard, to await the end of the show. Gearard was the perfect host and we spent the evening dining on pizza, chicken goujons and Pringles while watching rugby, football and GAA on his big screen television. I was fit to burst by the end of the night so it’s very timely that Gearard and I are going for a run on Sunday morning.

What the People Think

Hi everyone just sticking my head in to say hello as it’s been a while since I last posted anything. It’s been crazy busy here over the last month the kids have been on summer holidays so we’ve been going on various different day trips seeing what there is to do on our doorstep and it’s been brilliant everybody has got to see and do what they want so far.

Did you know that Stephen has published his first novel? The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles- Skelly’s Square will be one month old tomorrow!! I’m beginning to think that writing the book was the easy part and I’ve got the short straw of marketing it I hadn’t realised just how time consuming and hard work it actually is I’m fairly certain that I’ve gained quite a few more grey hairs in the last four weeks lol but it has to be done to get the book’s profile out there.

Stephen has had so much support from all of you throughout his writing process and we honestly cannot wait to hear of your thoughts of it when you get round to purchasing and reading your copy.

As I mentioned before the book will be one month old tomorrow and it has received fourteen FIVE STAR reviews!! We’ve had reviews from Ireland 🇮🇪 UK 🇬🇧 USA 🇺🇸 Canada 🇨🇦 and Australia 🇦🇺 – thank you 😊

Stephen and I can keep plugging and plugging the book telling you how amazing it is but I think the reviews say it all so below I have posted the reviews and a few of the #Skelfies we’ve received so far. If you haven’t purchased your copy yet it is available to buy as an ebook or paperback format worldwide from your country’s local Amazon Marketplace just do a search for The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles- Skelly’s Square.

Enjoy reading What the People Think of the book and seeing all the happy faces with their copy of the book.