Let’s Not Laugh At OCD

The selection of ‘humorous’ memes posted below are the tip of the comedic iceberg when it comes to trivialisation and misunderstanding of this horrific and debilitating mental illness. It ruins lives, it takes lives, it strips it’s victims of every last shred of pride and self-respect they ever possessed. It’s a constant, tormenting voice. The last thing sufferers need is others adding to their anguish and despair.

We have been talking a lot about self-education on social media of late. In today’s age, there is no real excuse for misunderstanding and lack of knowledge. So I would challenge you all, if you think you can be ‘a little bit OCD’ or think it only relates to ‘clean freaks,’ to discover the truth. There are plenty of resources out there that tell it how it really is. Warts and all. OCD can be a life sentence and it’s sufferers need empathy and support, not sniggering and ignorance.

Writing Matters – Fighting A War On Many Fronts

All the great generals frowned upon fighting a war on more than one front. Resources were stretched and supply lines made vulnerable to attack. Better to focus on a single goal and not bite off more than you could chew. Yet, as I’ve currently been submerged by a wave of writing creativity, I’ve found myself doing exactly that. In the literary sense of course. It’s a tiring yet exhilarating process and I’m loathe to let go of the inspirational thread.

I’m well into Book 3 of the ‘Kirkwood Scott Chronicles’ series now and have surprised myself at how easily I’ve slipped back into the stories and characters. I was anxious about starting again, and the voice of doubt I know so well had been niggling at my resolve. Thankfully I ignored it and plunged back into the fray. It was like donning an old winter coat that I hadn’t worn in months. Familiar, safe and comfortable. I was back where I belonged, where I needed to be.

Besides that, I’m also busy pushing promotion on Book 2 in the series, ‘A New Jerusalem,’ which is scheduled for release this October. This involves a lot of promotional work on social media, author interviews and the possibility of a blog tour next month. I’m juggling a lot of balls in the air at the moment, in addition to my commitment to blog on a regular basis. Plus there’s the small matter of being a decent husband and father as well as holding down the 9-5 job.

Im hoping my current workload doesn’t end in burnout and disaster. Making your way as an author is hard work. The actual writing of a book is often the easiest part. But I’m determined not to give up and celebrate the small victories and milestones every day. Each sale, review or encouraging word edges me a little closer to where I want to be. Thank you to all of you who continue to read the blog, buy the books and support my writing dream.

Writing Matters – People Need Words

After a lengthy hiatus, I started work on Book 3 of the ‘Kirkwood Scott Chronicles,’ last week, tentatively titled ‘No Longer Forsaken.’ It’s been some time since I delved back into this fantasy world I’ve created, so was anxious as to whether I had another instalment in me. This is a fear I face in all areas of my life. That next book, that next run, the next obstacle that life throws in my path. The voice in my head is always there, telling me I’m not good enough.

Thankfully I’ve learnt, through bitter experience, to ignore that voice and forge on with whatever project I’m pursuing. And I’m pleased to say I’ve now reached 5000 words in the new book. After a shaky start, I’ve begun to find my literary feet again and the words are starting to flow. 2000 alone yesterday and I woke up early this morning to crank out another 500 before work. I often write best in the morning, when my mind is clear and focused.

I’m determined to keep blogging, though, as it is my bread and butter, my lifeblood. Without the blog, there would be no ‘Kirkwood Scott Chronicles’ and some of my most loyal readers are people I’ve met on this wonderful platform called WordPress. They might be shorter and snappier for a few months as I pour my creative juices into the book but, fear not, there will be regular content. I owe it to you all and I owe it to myself.

Writing is an art, a craft and it takes practice and patience. You don’t become an expert overnight, no matter how much raw talent you possess. It requires large quantities of persistence and perseverance. It’s not for everyone and many fall by the wayside both in the blogging and writing communities. My advice for what it’s worth? Don’t give up. I’ve seen so many do so and it’s a sad sight. Keep writing, no matter how invisible you feel. The people who need your words will find you.

I

A New Jerusalem – It’s Here

Good Morning from sunny Northern Ireland and what an exciting day it is. You can now pre-order my second novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: A New Jerusalem,’ in e-book format from your local Amazon site. The book goes on general release on e-book and paperback format on 06 October. Thank you to my publishers, Potter’s Grove Press, for turning my writing dream into a reality.

If you like the blog and my writing then please pick up a copy and make my day. Or, if you haven’t already, purchase the first book in the series, ‘Skelly’s Square’ or the linked novella, ‘Bomb Girl.’ Both available on Amazon or free to read if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Thank you to everyone who has supported the books to date and been kind enough to post such encouraging, uplifting reviews. They all motivate me to keep writing.

http://mybook.to/anewjerusalem

Causeway Coast Road Trip

We took a drive along the Causeway Coastal route today all the way to Portrush. Fionnuala took around a zillion photographs and here are some of them. Special guest appearances from Hannah, Rebecca & Charlie the border terrier. I hope they capture the beauty of Northern Ireland, this wee country we call home. Hope you are all keeping safe and well. Enjoy your weekend and let me know what you think of the snaps.

Read Us & Weep

Writing is about emotion. It’s about creating something substantial from the whirling eddy of hopes, fears and dreams rattling about an author’s skull at any given time. We are creatures of extremes, all of us, and the writer’s role is to connect, to bridge the gap, to let others know that they are not alone on this experience we call life. To loose off a flare into the dark and light a path for the lost and desperate.

So we write. We dip the nib into the red raw hearts on our sleeves and we write. We write about joy and despair, agony and ecstasy, we write from the edge hoping to draw others into our ever-beating cores. We are not about filling blank pages with bland, nonsensical language. Our prose must have purpose for, otherwise, what’s the point. We might as well stagnate and wither on the literary vine.

Progress follows purpose. We heal old wounds, open new doors and break down once insurmountable barriers. We mend fences and build bridges. We look backwards and all around us for inspiration but always face forwards. For that is where the harvest is richest, that is where we find the trees bearing the sweetest fruit. New memories must be found and moulded. They are our essence, the fuel that drives us forward.

So read it and weep. Tears of sorrow or joy, both are manna from heaven to the writer. Our words are our weapons and we strike deep and true, aiming for the heart of our readers. Hate us, love us, but please don’t be ignore us. We do nothing by halves and ache for feedback and critique. The ink flows more freely down a two way street. Indifference and apathy are death to our twitching ears. Read us and weep, read us and reach out.

Two Days To Go!

The next instalment in the ‘Kirkwood Scott Chronicles’ series – ‘A New Jerusalem’ will be available for pre-order in two days time, prior to going on sale in October. I’m very excited and hope you are as well. If you haven’t read ‘Skelly’s Square,’ the first book in the series yet, it’s available to buy in paperback & e-book format from your local Amazon site. As is ‘Bomb Girl,’ the linked novella. Both are also currently FREE to read if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Thank you 😊

Are you looking forward toA New Jerusalem?’

Have you read ‘Skelly’s Square’ and ‘Bomb Girl’ yet?

Defining OCD

Lily Bailey is one of the leading advocates in the mental health community when it comes to promoting understanding and awareness of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is one of the best definitions of OCD I’ve seen and there’s nothing I can add to it. I’d highly recommend Lily’s memoir, ‘Because We Are Bad,’ if you want to learn more about the horrific, absurd reality of living with OCD. Thank you.

Thoughts From The Prancing Pony – Be A Hero Today

When I write, I write of heroes and villains. Creatures of extremes, in respect of both their abilities and personalities. J.R.R. Tolkien was no different, not that I would compare myself in any other way to such a literary giant. Yet, in my re-reading of ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy I’ve reached the stage where Frodo, Sam & Pippin have almost crossed The Shire, following a couple of uncomfortable near misses with the Wraith Kings, the Dark Riders.

‘Courage is found in the most unlikely of places.’

So Frodo informs Pippin, after their otherworldly encounter with Gildor Inglorion and his fellow elves, an ethereal band passing through the Shire on their way to distant shores. Gildor and his people provide the hobbits with protection, sustenance and wise counsel before they embark on their own journey towards the Bucklebury Ferry and strange new lands. They’re only tiny, inconsequential folk but the future of Middle Earth rests on their well-fed, hairy shoulders. The most unlikely of heroes.

We all need to step up to the plate and display courage at some point in our lives. Failure to do so will mean our hopes and dreams are repeatedly trampled upon, by others in this rat race called life. You may not feel particularly heroic, you might not look like Superman or strut about like Wonder Woman, but the ability to perform heroic acts, no matter how small, exists within us all. We just need to dig deep and draw upon it when the time is right.

The word ‘hero’ originates from the Greek ‘heros’ meaning defender or protector. It is therefore not an aggressive expression, rather one that denotes shielding others from harm. Others less fortunate than ourselves. Be a hero today. Protect or defend another human being; from hunger, bullying, poverty, abuse, the list is endless. You decide when and where within your sphere of influence. Nobody is too small to be a hero. Just ask the hobbits of Hobbiton.

Writing Matters – Six Days

Good Morning from Northern Ireland. It’s only SIX days until you can order this bad boy. I’m very excited as I feel this is the best book I’ve ever written and can’t wait for people to read it and share their thoughts with me. It’s released in October and the first book in the series, ‘Skelly’s Square,’ is currently available on your local Amazon page. Or FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Thank you.

Are you already a Kirkwood Scott fan?

Will you be reading ‘A New Jerusalem?’

Do We Ever Truly Recover?

We’ve all been through difficult times in our lives. It could be anything – sickness, injury, bereavement, financial or family turmoil, addiction or mental health issues. The list is as long as your arm and then some. Such struggles might be in your past, you may be battling them now, or they might be just around the corner, waiting to pounce. We don’t know when, but it’s a nailed on certainty we will all wander into the desert of despair at some point during our lives.

Tragically not all of us emerge from the other side but, for those of us who do, we are changed creatures. The journey takes its toll, we become new creations. Sometimes this means discarding habits and rituals that are detrimental to our well-being, sometimes we pick up new skills and talents. We break apart and grow anew, it is a process, a voyage, an experience unique to who we were and who we want to be. We walk alone.

We recover, but are we recovered? The dictionary definition of the word is ‘to return to a normal state of health, mind or strength.’ It originates from the Latin word ‘recupare’ meaning to ‘get again.’ To recover is to get back to where we once were, to find that moment, place or state of mind we once cherished. It is to return to the status quo, square one, the safe ground we strayed from in the first place. The circle is closed and all is well again.

But is it? When we travel through the trauma of treacle are we ever as we were before? I can only speak of my own story but I am not the person I was ten years ago and I am now in a very different place. I’ve battled demons and they now circle my castle walls, watching and waiting for me to lower my defences, to end my watch and turn my back on their cruel claws and vicious beaks. They want to torment, torture, tear me apart. They do not recognise any truce or treaty. Their war is without end.

I don’t recognise the person I was, so how can I say I’ve recovered? I’m no longer where I was, in fact I’m heading in a very different direction now. Yet, I cannot forget who I was nor my actions, as to do so would allow complacency to creep in. I cannot relax as I know what lies within me, dormant but intact. I unlock the door to that particular cell and the years of hard work are undone in the blink of an eye. I will fall at the feet of my enemy.

The stakes are too high, there is too much on the table for me to rest on laurels. I must be alert, attentive and aware of my flaws and weaknesses. One slip and I will tumble off the cliff, my screams unheard as I fall into the abyss, never to return. I’ll never fully recover as to do so is to relax and declare the war is won. It will never be won, so I write to warn others of the pitfalls and perils I fell foul of. My recovery is a flare, a bell, a klaxon of alarm.

Are you on the other side, or wading through the mire? Either way, do you feel fully recovered? Has every cut and bruise healed, your skin unblemished and rejuvenated? Or do you wear your scars with pride, a red badge of honour to remind yourself and others of the battle ahead and around us. It rages on. My OCD will never go away but I fight it every day, using coping mechanisms other than alcohol to overcome it.

Be confident in your recovery and reach for the stars, but never for one moment think you have recovered. For to do so, is a false flag mentality that could be your ultimate undoing. You are getting there, step by step, and you look forward to what lies ahead. Your new normal will be a better, stronger place than where you were before. You are recovering, you are in recovery, but you must never go back to the place where everything started, where it all began to unravel.

The Elephants In Our Rooms – OCD 101

Would you trivialise or joke about someone with cancer? About a friend or relative who had suffered a stroke or had a heart attack? Debilitating, life threatening physical illnesses? Well the same goes about mental health and, in particular, the horrors of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It destroys lives. Don’t belittle those afflicted by it. You can’t be a little bit OCD. It’s a recognised mental illness, not a quirky personality trait. Education is key. We must do better on this one.

Thoughts From The Prancing Pony – Life Begins At Fifty?

I turned fifty a couple of months ago. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, I don’t look a day over 40. At first, I was dreading the event, thinking I was effectively signing my own death warrant. It was all downhill from there and I’d nothing to look forward to bar my body gradually falling apart and becoming more forgetful. I was tempted to raise the white flag on my running, writing and everything else I aspired to be good at. I’d left it too late and run out of time.

Last night I coincidentally reached Page 50 in my re-read of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy. I’ve set myself the target of finishing it by the end of the year, at a projected pace of seven pages a day. I last read the books as a teenager many moons ago and am already amazed at how much I overlooked, or more likely, themes and messages that my younger brain was simply unwilling, or unable, to digest.

Bilbo Baggins is fifty years old when he first sets off on his adventures in ‘The Hobbit.’ Now, I know it’s difficult to compare hobbit and human ages as the former far outlive the likes of you and I. Bilbo is celebrating his 111th birthday at the beginning of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ and Frodo has come of age at a sprightly thirty-three. But it still struck a chord with me. Life really only began for Bilbo Baggins when he turned fifty.

What I had also forgotten was that following Bilbo’s mysterious disappearance at his 111th birthday party, it was another seventeen years before Gandalf returned to the Shire to explain to Frodo the significance of the ring he had inherited from his Uncle Bilbo. The one true ring, the ring to rule them all. So, aged fifty, Frodo set up with Sam, Merry and Pippin on his own incredible adventure.

I’m no hobbit and I’ve no immediate plans to down tools and set off on a quest to battle dragons and unearth treasure troves. But it did encourage me that there is still plenty of life left in this middle-aged dog yet. I have mountains to scale and paths to walk, we all do. When at your lowest ebb, we must all remember this. Age is no barrier and I’m determined to keep pressing on, to find out who and I am and where I’m meant to go.

Next time, I’ll continue to unravel fresh insight and meaning from this most wondrous of tales. It may not be everybody’s cup of tea but I encourage you to stick with me as I follow the journey beyond the Shire into the lands of dwarves, elves and men. There is much ground to cover and much more to learn. Thank you for reading and feel free to comment below with your thoughts and opinions.

Writing Matters – When You Phone It In

I have an admission to make. I have, on occasion, these past few months been going through the motions with my blog posts. In our office it’s known as ‘phoning it in.’ It’s a half hearted effort, I’ve done the minimum and little more. I’ve been posting because I felt I had to as opposed to that I wanted to; I thought nobody would notice but it appears I’ve been underestimating the eagle eyed blogging community. They’re not fools.

My numbers have been dropping. It’s vanity, I know, but it’s also reassuring to see that people are reading and commenting on posts. It offers encouragement and the support and feedback guide me as to what people want me to write about. Just like a plant needs water, a blogger needs interaction and sounding boards to kick back off. Otherwise, it becomes a frustrating and largely futile task. Communication is a two-way street.

My posts have been flat and mundane. They have largely been tick-box exercises, blogging by numbers and on auto-pilot. The fire and passion that I normally feel stirring in my belly when I write has been sadly lacking. I haven’t wanted to write about anything close to my heart so I’ve just filled posts with fluff and inconsequential matters. I’ve been present but not a presence. I’ve been an empty vessel, a clanging cymbal.

The message has been missing and my mission has been a mess. I’m not quite sure why this has been. On paper, three months off work should have afforded me oodles of space within which to flex my creatives muscles. But I haven’t, other than finishing off the edits for my second novel. The lockdown has shut down the part of my brain that sparks and fizzes with new ideas and stories. I’ve shut up shop and turned my back on the challenge that a new writing project brings.

Returning to the workplace and a semblance of normality has helped although it has taken me several weeks to get back into the saddle. My focus and concentration levels were next to nothing to begin with but have improved in recent days to the point where I’m beginning to resemble a manager. Rusty cogs are starting to loosen and grind into life. I’m rediscovering my mojo, finding my rhythm. There’s life in this middle-aged dog yet.

The first green shoots of life emerged last week in the form of a post announcing a number of blog series I would be focusing on for the remainder of the train wreck that is 2020. Recent posts about my writing and OCD have attracted positive feedback. The blog is responding to treatment, it is stretching its aching limbs and clambering off the sick bed. I look forward to blogging again, whereas before it was an inconvenience, a necessary chore.

I also have been revisiting the pages of my favourite bloggers as well as discovering new sites. I’m reading more, which I feel is an essential area if one wants to improve as a writer. WordPress is no longer an irregular stopping point and I’m committed to delivering a quality product on a daily basis. It’s time well spent as opposed to wasted. I’m excited about what others have to offer and equally excited about what I’m serving up to you all.

So, I’m back, and I apologise for the average fare of recent months. I can, and will, do better. It’s 4th and inches and I’m going for it, hold back the punting unit. Writing is about taking chances, about exposing your soul in the hope that it reveals fresh insight to inspire others and offer hope to the broken. I no longer want to phone it in, to play it safe. I’m here and I’m ready to row across the great unknown towards fresh shores.

OCD – The Silent Killer

I have OCD and I’m not in control. There, I’ve said it, that wasn’t so hard was it? Even a few years ago, I would have veered clear of ‘outing’ myself and identifying with the mental illness. It was embarrassing, shameful and humiliating. But the longer I’ve walked this path, I’ve realised I have a responsibility to talk about OCD and share my experiences of this horrific, yet so misunderstood, disorder. It’s a curse but one I can help battle through the gift of writing.

Many people still associate OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) with being a ‘clean freak,’ someone who is fixated with cleanliness and germs. Yes, this is an aspect of the illness which affects some but it’s like saying you can only get cancer in your lungs. It’s a shallow, lazy interpretation of a multi-headed beast which can be as easy to label as herding cats. How can you be expected to explain to others what you can barely explain yourself?

Take my OCD. It doesn’t involve washing hands or scrubbing floors. Fionnuala would probably be delighted if the latter was the case. There is no outward manifestation to it. Instead it lurks within, polluting my mind. Imagine dropping a thimble full of black ink into a swimming pool. Watching it spread throughout the water, colouring and distorting it. That’s an obsessive thought entering the mind. It spreads, occupies and contaminates until it possesses your every waking thought.

That thought can be anything. The more disgusting and outrageous the better. It’s entire purpose is to nibble and niggle at your conscience, tricking you into believing that you are a truly horrible human being. It will grow and breed until you can think about nothing else, you are sidetracked and derailed. On the surface all might appear calm, but beneath the waters you are kicking and screaming, drowning in the obsession. The only escape is to indulge the compulsive act.

With me this usually involved a complicated mental routine that I would perform in my head a pre-determined number of times. If I did not perform it perfectly then I would have to start all over again. I would have to drop everything else and focus all my attention on this draining and distressing act, often hiding from the outside world until I was satisfied I had perfected the routine and therefore rid my mind of the obsessive thought. Until it re-emerged again moments later, bigger and badder than ever.

Now, tell me, where is the control in that? Imagine having your day all planned out when such a thought enters your mind, convincing you that you’re a disgusting, disturbed deviant. The only way to alleviate the anguish is to shut yourself off from the outside world and wage an internal war against the slippiest of foes. A brutal, toe-to-toe conflict against an enemy with limitless time and resources. While your outside existence slips down the drain.

You don’t control the OCD, the OCD controls you. It has you in a chokehold from which there is no escape. The compulsive act offers only temporary release and in fact feeds and facilitates the next wave of obsessive thoughts. It is a false ally, a smiling assassin, promising relief while actually dragging you deeper into its pit of despair. You are tossed about like a paper boat on a storm lashed ocean. There is no control, the life of an OCD sufferer is at the whim and fancy of its demonic master.

So the next time you laugh at an ‘OCD meme’ or make that ‘Oh, I’m so OCD’ comment while playfully rolling your eyes, think on. It is a silent killer, the third most prevalent mental disorder in the world according to the World Health Organisation. It debilitates and destroys lives. Would you say ‘Oh I’ve a bit of cancer?’ No, I thought not. You’re either OCD or you’re not. For your sake, I pray it’s the latter.

Writing Matters – My Safe Haven

Have you ever been hurt by the words and actions of another and they’ve been completely oblivious to the damage caused? They are so wrapped up in their own affairs the offence they have caused fails to register? It happened me the other day and I must admit it stung. I can have a less than thick skin at times but, on this occasion, I believe my wounded reaction was justified. Some people don’t think before they speak. Others do, but simply don’t care enough about the consequences.

I’m no saint. I know that I have caused hurt in the past, we all have. But part of life is learning from our past failings and ensuring they are not repeated. It’s about progress and forward motion, as opposed to repetition and ruin. This requires a degree of self-awareness that is sorely lacking in some people. So, when it happened me recently, I was disappointed that the other person was so unaware of a character flaw which they have displayed on many previous occasions.

It’s at moments like this I tend to avoid looking in the mirror and reflecting on my own words and actions, or rather inaction. You see, I said nothing. Rather than risk a confrontation with the other person, I bit my lip and took it on the chin. A double whammy so to speak. I didn’t stand up for myself, I didn’t challenge the other person’s behaviour, I buckled and folded like a deck of cards. It’s an area of my personality I don’t particularly like, not fighting my own corner.

What would have happened had I spoken up? Well, I’ll never know now, but from past experience the other person would not have reacted well, no matter how I worded my objections. I’ve been down that road before and it didn’t end well. Whenever I become embroiled in an argument I tend to capitulate and apologise once the dust settles. I hate people thinking ill of me, even when I know in my heart I’m in the right.

This is another character flaw that I’m not proud of, my lack of a backbone in such situations. At times like this, I wish I was more stubborn, more obstinate, more downright surly. I know people who can go days, weeks, months without speaking to another person they have fallen out with. They don’t give the other party a second thought and get on with their lives. Their loss, I’ve got a life to lead, let them stew in their own juices for a while.

I’m no good at stewing, hopeless at raising the drawbridge and battening down the hatches. When it comes to siege situations I’m waving the white flag within hours and sheepishly emerging to lay down arms and petition for surrender. I’m a diplomat, not a warrior and strive to keep the peace at all costs, even if I inevitably walk away with little to show for my efforts. I wish I was stronger, tougher, less of a walkover. I’m not.

So, I write. This is how I express myself, how I work through the issues bouncing round my skull. I’ve been unable to express myself verbally at the time, so I limp away, lick my wounds and then hammer out my frustration on the keyboard. Writing is a release that I have been unable to avail of for most of my adult life. Before, I would have lashed out at loved ones or buried my woes at the bottom of a pint glass. I was hurting and hurt others in the way I processed the perceived umbrage.

I am grateful for this blog. These past three years I have retreated to it on numerous occasions to deal with the storms of life. It is my safe haven, a tranquil harbour where I can lay anchor and ponder on where I’ve went wrong and how I can steer clear of the rocks next time round. I am equally grateful of those who have taken the time to read and respond with the wisdom and experience of their own life lessons. I hope to sail these waters for many more years.

I’ve Lost My Wife To The Hallmark Channel

During the current pandemic there has been unprecedented boxset watching. Oh, to own shares in Netflix. Many of us have escaped the sad reality of the spiralling global death toll by seeking escapist refuge in our television sets, tablets or phones. We have dropped anchor on our sofas, disengaged our brains and floated off into make believe worlds where heroes prevail and everything is sorted out within a sixty minute episode, ad breaks included.

Here at chez Black, we have been no different. Ozark, Line of Duty and Warrior Nun to name but a few. Normally accompanied by lashings of Diet Coke and the occasional tub of honeycomb ice cream. Desperate times have called for desperate measures. Fionnuala and I have waded through enough explosions, fight sequences and terrifying car chases to last us a lifetime. We see more of Will Smith and the Rock than our own families. Not necessarily a bad thing.

Fionnuala has worked very hard to keep the house in order and her sanity intact, with an annoying husband and three messy teenagers permanently in lockdown residence. Adept at multi-tasking she has fitted in much of her viewing while ironing, cooking or attempting to prevent the house from resembling a bomb site. Is it little wonder, then, that she yearns for a quieter, simpler life? That’s when she discovered ‘When The Heart Calls.’

Now in its 7th season it tells the story of life in an early 20th Century Canadian frontier town where everyone has suspiciously good teeth. It’s centred around the perfect schoolteacher, Elizabeth Thatcher, played by that actress who has appeared in all those other Hallmark movies. Mountie Jack is the hero of the show, romancing Miss Elizabeth while keeping on top of the surprisingly high crime rate, given the idyllic setting and angelic population.

All the women in the show are incredibly slim and wear beautiful dresses. The men are rugged, yet dashing, and all have hearts of gold beneath their gruff features. Each episode involves a moral dilemma where the saintly status quo is threatened before good old honest moral values win the day and the natural order is restored. Bad eggs are thrown in jail, crooked businessmen exposed and everyone smiles and nods wisely as the end credits roll.

My wife is a hopeless, slavering addict. She’s devoured the first five seasons and almost lost her mind upon discovering that Netflix U.K. wasn’t currently streaming Seasons 6 and 7. She expressed her outrage in a tweet to Netflix even though I gently suggested they had probably all gone home for the weekend and their CEO most likely had bigger problems in their inbox. This observation was met with incredulity and a withering rebuke. I kept quiet after that.

Thankfully some slick research was able to locate the missing seasons. I’ve no idea how she accomplished it, as it was all very technical and far beyond my admittedly tiny circle of knowledge. But she was a happy woman last night as she settled down to the opening episode of Season 6. I returned to my book knowing all was well within the Black household again. All was equally well in Hope Valley, although a new character was rubbing the sheriff up the wrong way much to the chagrin of all concerned.

There are even numerous Christmas episodes which is timely as, seeing it is late July, the good folk at Hallmark will soon be polluting our screens 24/7 with the nine million Christmas movies they have in their archives. All involving the same three basic plot lines and dozen or so actors who make up the main cast of When The Heart Calls. All will be well again in a world where social distancing doesn’t exist and there isn’t a bottle of hand sanitiser to be seen. Happy Christmas everyone!

Me, My Mask & I

Yes, I know I need a haircut. My return to post lockdown society has not included a visit to the barbers yet. I hope to fit it in soon. Or allow Fionnuala and Adam to do it, seeing as they did such a good job last time. But today’s post is about my mask wearing adventures on public transport, which became mandatory in Northern Ireland last week. It’s also looking likely this will apply to shops in the near future.

Staff at Translink N.I. have been preparing commuters for several weeks now by handing out free masks at bus and rail stations. So, nobody has an excuse for not knowing the requirement or having access to a face covering. That aside, the buses and trains have been largely empty as many people are still working from home or avoiding this form of transport. I invariably have a carriage to myself, although that doesn’t negate the need for me to cover up.

I felt faintly ridiculous when I first donned my mask upon entering the station complex. I resembled a surgeon who had gotten somewhat lost. This soon disappeared, however, when I realised that everyone else was in the same boat. Some had their own coverings, of every shade and colour, while others opted for scarves or alternate coverings wrapped tightly round their mouth and nose. We were all in this together. Oh, except for under 13’s and those who were medically exempt.

Translink N.I. have been criticised, by myself included, for not sufficiently enforcing this public health requirement. The message seems to have got through for the media have been reporting of persons being refused travel for refusing to don one. And, as I entered the complex yesterday, everyone I saw was wearing one. Apart from one elderly lady on my platform who I can only assume was exempt. It was a sparsely populated platform, where normally it would be shoulder time shoulder.

My problem with masks is not the actual wearing of them, but rather the mechanics of the operation. The second I slip mine over my ears, my glasses start to steam up and I find myself stumbling about like a drunken zombie. There is an art to affixing said face covering to avoid fogging up but I’ve yet to quite master it. I staggered onto my carriage, grateful that the lack of fellow travellers meant there were no further mishaps.

Then there’s the small matter of breathing itself. I felt a little short of breath and claustrophobic, although much of that may have been in my head, due to the novelty of the scenario. Let’s just say, I’m glad I didn’t pursue a career as a submariner or miner. I don’t like having my face covered but for the sake of a 25 minute train journey, could just about manage. That said, I was relieved to arrive at my stop and remove the mask the second I stepped off the train.

While some seem to think the crisis is behind us, I’m not so sure, therefore have no problem with wearing a mask when required to do so. There were 19 new positive cases in Northern Ireland yesterday, largely due to a cluster resulting from a house party where revellers shared the same microphone during a karaoke session. Such irresponsibility and selfishness does not help us fight the common enemy of coronavirus. It was deeply disappointing news to read.

So I’ll blunder on with my steamed up spectacles. I might look slightly silly but sometimes you have to set your own vanity aside for the greater good. I look a tad foolish and I’m badly in need of a trim but it’s a small price to pay in the midst of a global pandemic. I’d be interested to hear your face covering stories so feel free to comment below and share your experiences with us all. Thank you for reading and please stay safe.

Will You Be My Coffee Buddy?

My love-hate relationship with coffee took another unexpected twist the other week when I discovered I quite like the espressos our new office coffee machine makes. I’ve even taught myself how to make one. Okay, this involves little more than pressing a few buttons and setting a cup under a nozzle but it’s an achievement for me nonetheless, and I feel like the most sophisticated Italian barista in the land. Anything beyond that though and I’m flummoxed.

I’m not as keen on big mugs of the stuff, that some of my work colleagues guzzle down by the gallon. I’ve tried that and it left me feeling a bit queasy. Nope, short, sharp caffeine infusions appear to suit me better. Anymore than that and I’m prone to moan about an upset stomach and revert sulkily back to my tin of Diet Coke. It’s taken many decades for me to learn what a boundary is and not to cross it. Long may that continue.

The espresso gadget at home is a different kettle of fish. Every time I step within six feet of it, let alone consider using it, something goes awry. Red lights appear and strange noises emanate from it. I’m an utter technophobe at the best of times but this does nothing for my confidence in such matters. The machine obviously despises me and I usually end up having to call Fionnuala to rescue me from its evil clutches. 21st century life is hard.

As for coffee shops, I’m equally hopeless. The immense range of choice and unpronounceable drinks make it a daunting experience that I fear I’m woefully unprepared for. I’m still gathering up the courage to speak to a barista for fear they will look down their noses at me, tut and shoo me from the shop, head hanging in shame. At times like this I yearn for a coffee buddy to show me the ropes and induct me into this strange new world I’ve uncovered.

Just like the beverage, I’m an acquired taste. I’ll dither over choice, ask innumerable stupid questions and pull various faces of disgust as I sample the various brands and blends. On the plus side, I’m reasonably good company, will adhere strictly to social distancing guidelines and pay my way. Interested? Then feel free to comment below and blow me away with your sparkling repartee and love of all things caffeinated

Thoughts From The Prancing Pony – I Don’t Like Hobbits

Hobbits annoy me. There, I’ve said it. Apologies to all you Elijah Woods fanatics out there but they do. Sir Ian Holm will no doubt be turning in his grave and Sean Astin will be…well, doing whatever Sean Astin does these days. Didn’t he pop up in the last season of ‘Stranger Things’ or something? Anyway, I digress. The big news of the day? I’ve finally started my re-read of the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy after a thirty years hiatus.

I’ve worked out if I read seven pages a day I will have it finished by the end of the year. Piece of cake, right? Except it’s now Day 4 and I’m already a reading behind. So, it’s now fourteen pages tonight. No pressure at all especially if there’s a bit of elvish poetry or Shire drinking song I can skip over. I love Tolkien but please don’t get me started on his poetry and drinking songs. That’s what a university education gets you I guess.

Which brings me back to all things hobbits. Setting aside their disgusting feet (pots and kettles Stephen?) they do not stand out as heroic creatures. They’re physically weak, small of stature and wide of girth. The latter is kind of unavoidable given that their entire culture appears to revolve around food and the consumption of large amounts of ale. Six meals a day, no less. You’re not going to catch a Took or a Baggins nipping out for a quick 10K before second breakfast.

They’re also a tad fond of the pipe. No, not crackheads, more tobacco. According to the early pages of LOTR, which contains a potted history of the hobbit species, they invented the nasty habit and even got the dwarves and wizards hooked on the stuff. Want to make a shilling or two in Third Age Middle Earth? I suggest opening an inn or a tobacconist in the Shire. They will have you run off your large, hairy, unseemly feet. You’ll be rolling in money.

Then there’s the inter-familial strife. It would appear that all hobbits are related to one another, a bit like certain parts of Northern Ireland, and are forever bickering about who said what to so and so’s great great grandfather, several centuries ago. Hobbits have long memories and sharp tongues, such is the level of rumour mongering and gossip they spread throughout their fair and tranquil land. Why they can’t get around a table and thrash out their differences I’ll never know.

Then there’s world affairs. They haven’t a clue, living ostrich like existences with their heads permanently stuck down hobbit holes. The universe could be falling apart and they would carry on obliviously. The height of their travel aspirations is a long weekend in Bree, never mind what’s kicking off in Rohan and Mordor, just down the well travelled road. Terrifying wraith like dark riders rampaging through your land might be a slight clue but it all washes over their annoyingly curly, wide-eyed heads.

So, yeah, hobbits are not my favourite Tolkien creations. Give me orcs any day of the week. Orcs are much maligned and misunderstood beasts. At least they’re consistent. You always know where you stand with an orc. If you bump into one, you’re fairly certain they are going to want to kill you. A bit like zombies. You don’t get that with lazy hobbits, grumpy dwarves or languid, day dreaming elves. I like orcs. They do exactly what it says on the tin.

As for humans, well that’s for another day. I still have a long way to go before I encounter Strider and his lot. I’ll be posting irregular updates as to my progress through this gargantuan tome and would love to hear your thoughts. Are you a LOTR fan, always meant to read it, or it simply isn’t your cup of tea? Feel free to comment and that way I won’t feel such an awkward geek boy. Wherever you are stay safe and enjoy your day.

Writing Matters – New Cover Art

Good Afternoon fellow bloggers from Northern Ireland. Here’s the cover art for my new book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: A New Jerusalem,’ which is being released this October by Potter’s Grove Press. It’s the sequel to ‘Skelly’s Square’ and I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Feel free to comment below and thank you to those of you who continue to support my writing dream.

Coming To Fractured Faith Soon

I’m always looking at ways to freshen up the blog and keep it relevant. There are times when the creative juices dry up and you feel you’ve taken one too many trips to the well. On other occasions, you pour your heart and soul into a post, only for it to sink without trace. Then there are the brainwaves that never see the light of day, but instead wither on the vine. So, I’m aiming today to commit to a number of writing projects which I’m seeking to progress throughout the remainder of this rollercoaster year.

These will give the blog a degree of structure and consistency which it lacks at times, and allow me to explore issues and pastimes close to my heart. That said, I don’t want to be so rigid as to not be able to write about anything that catches my eye on any given day. But the ideas listed below are the foundations of what I hope to blog about over the next few months. I’m hoping I can clamber back into a daily routine and approach the noble art of blogging as a passion as opposed to a chore.

1. Writing Matters – with a new novel out in October, I’m now looking towards my next writing challenge. I plan to start work soon on the latest instalment in the Kirkwood Scott Chronicles.’ With the working title of ‘No Longer Forsaken,’ it will be the third, and possibly final, book in the series. But fear not as I also have a couple of spin off projects in the pipeline, which all form part of the KSC series. You’ll be able to obtain regular updates on my writing via the blog.

2. The Elephants In Our Rooms – mental health is a topic very close to my heart and one of the reasons I started the blog was to talk about my OCD and educate people about this much misunderstood mental illness. I will continue to do so and hope to create a safe environment here where people can share their own mental health experiences and learn from others who have walked, or are walking, a similar path. We need to talk about the elephants in our rooms otherwise they will trample all over us.

3. Thoughts From The Prancing Pony – regular visitors to the blog will know what a massive Lord of the Rings nerd I am. I’ve been meaning to re-read the trilogy for ever and have now estimated that I can do so by the end of the year, at the sedate pace of seven pages a day. I’ll blog about my thoughts on the Tolkien classic and whether it still captures my attention and imagination like it did when I first read it over…cough…ahem…thirty years ago.

4. The Bible Is Hard – as I struggle with my forever fractured faith I document some passages of the Bible where I’ve hit the proverbial brick wall. In the hope that somebody out there will be able to throw some light on the proceedings. The conversation is open to all – Christians, agnostics, atheists and people of other faiths and beliefs. Is there an afterlife? Was Jesus the Son of God, a prophet or just an all round good bloke who wanted to make the world a better place? Let’s find out together.

5. The Family Von Black – ‘The Sound of Music’ was one of my late father’s favourite films. All it was missing was a cameo from John Wayne and he would have probably described it as perfect. I’ll continue to write about our day to day life in gloriously damp Northern Ireland as we emerge bleary eyed from lockdown to find out with some trepidation what the world has been up to. There’s never a dull moment with three teenagers and a crazy border terrier in the house.

So there you go. Plenty to mull over. As ever, blogging is a two way street so I’d love to hear your thoughts on my ideas. What do you think? Do any of them strike a particular chord with you or do they stink the house out? Is there anything else that you think I should be writing about? I’ll clear the stage and leave the floor open to you all. Thank you, as ever, for your continued support of my writing and the blog. It will always be appreciated.

How Is Your Mental Health Today?

Now and again I ask this question on the blog, and I thought now was as important a time as any, given the current world we live in. As we emerge from lockdown at various paces and with varied levels of success, many of us bear the mental as well as the physical scars. Some of us have coped better than others, some have thrived, others have struggled and barely made it through. It’s been a battle and none of us have been unaffected.

Let’s start with me, then, as I’m sure many of you are awkwardly twiddling your thumbs and staring at your feet, praying for someone to break the interminable silence. Well, thanks for asking. I’m back at work full time and slowly feeling my way back into the office environment. Initially I was anxious about returning to the daily grind. I quite enjoyed being at home with my family…although my family may beg to differ.

The thing I have struggled with most are my concentration levels. My job is quite intense where I’m required to analyse and assess large amounts of dense information, manage a team and make detailed decisions in respect of strategies and policies. I’m paid well for it and I’ve worked hard to reach the level I have within the organisation. But a lot is expected of me, I’m expected to deliver. It’s not life or death but my actions and decisions do impact lives.

I’m slowly finding my feet again and regaining my stride. My OCD is under control although I’m ever conscious the next flare up could be just around the corner. We can’t take our mental health for granted any more than we can take our physical health for granted. If we don’t exercise, eat badly and pollute our bodies with toxic substances then eventually stuff will start to go wrong. Our minds are no different.

So I still studiously avoid certain situations and people. I can’t be around them for to do so is exposing myself to emotions and experiences which aren’t healthy. Some might find my lifestyle a bit dull. I don’t party, I don’t go to the pub, I don’t really go out a lot besides going to work and with my family. My circle of friends is a fraction of what it was. I keep to myself and try to live as good a life as I can. I’m not perfect, but I try.

I’ve been off the rails and have no desire to return to the darker periods of my life. It’s a work in progress and I can never rest on my laurels, given my propensity to press the self destruct button. I run, I read and write, I watch Netflix and drive Fionnuala and the kids insane with my odd ways. I try to be the best husband and father I can. I know I can do a lot better, but I also know I’ve been a lot worse. I’m getting there.

But enough about me, what about you? How is your mental health? Are you 100% and loving life or is getting out of bed a bridge too far at present?How has the global pandemic impacted upon your life? Are you excited, joyous, anxious or frightened? What steps are you taking to look after your mental health? Counselling, medication, meditation or good old fashioned physical exercise?

Have you a faith? Does it help or hinder you? Does it offer you comfort and strength when you are at a low ebb or do you feel intimidated and overwhelmed by the high standards your faith community seeks to maintain. Does it make you feel inadequate and unworthy? A lot of questions there, and plenty to chew on. I’ll stop now and open the floor to you all. Wherever you are, stay safe, enjoy your day, and please don’t take your mental health for granted.

Happy/Unhappy 12th July

Good Morning from Northern Ireland. Happy 12th July. Or Unhappy 12th July. You see, it depends on what part of the community you originate from in this fair land that I call home. Anyway, it’s a big deal whatever way you look at it. For this day 330 years ago the Protestant army of King William III of Orange defeated the Catholic forces of King James II at a little river outside Drogheda in County Meath called the Boyne.

To commemorate the battle ever since, the Protestant unionist community hold parades where flute, pipe, accordion and brass bands march through the towns and cities of Northern Ireland followed by thousands of members of the Loyal Orange Order or ‘Orangemen.’ ‘LOL’ has a completely different context in Northern Ireland so tread carefully if you ever visit. One side call it celebratory, others inflammatory and triumphalist.

The Orangemen wear suits, bowler hats and carry umbrellas. Even when it’s not raining. They match under colourful banners depicting King William crossing the Boyne on a white charger. Even though he was more than likely on a brown horse but the painters of the time used a little artistic license to portray him in a more heroic light. The battle also took place on the 1st July as opposed to the 12th. Something to do with calendars I believe.

The parades are very loud and a kaleidoscope of history and culture. If you are ever in our country on the 12th I would encourage you to attend the event for the experience if nothing else. As a young boy I attended them as it was just what you did. It was a carnival atmosphere and many view the 12th as a bigger deal than Christmas or their birthday. Bands practice for months in advance of the big day. It’s a public holiday and the main parade is broadcast live and heavily covered by the media.

My memories are of warm lemonade and overpriced packets of crisps. Of sitting bored at the side of the road for several hours before the excitement of the bands passing. In twenty minutes it was over, akin to watching the Tour de France cycle through your village. The highlight was picking out my grandfather as he marched behind his village band. He would smile, wave and we could all go home happy then, safe in the knowledge that all was well in the world.

Except all wasn’t well. The country teetered on the brink of civil war as rival paramilitary groupings murdered mostly innocent members of the other community. Over 3600 dead in 30 years. Many more maimed or traumatised by the senseless sectarian strife. Families torn apart, never to recover. Deep wounds still remain to this day even through we now live in more peaceful times. It doesn’t take much for old grudges to bubble to the surface and the spark of hatred to ignite again.

Every year there is disorder around the 12th. Rival sides clash. Stones and bricks are thrown, petrol bombs and occasionally bullets and blast bombs fired at the police endeavouring to keep the factions apart. It paints the country in a most unflattering light at a time when the tourism industry is seeking to attract visitors to the many wonderful attractions the country has to offer. The huge majority abhor the tribal violence but still it happens.

Coronavirus means there are no big parades this year. Single bands are allowed to parade around their local area as long as no more than 30 people are involved and social distancing is maintained. It will be a quieter, less contentious affair, although the threat of violence is never far away. Some will be disappointed, others relieved. The 12th July will always continue to divide and alienate, and even a pandemic won’t change that. I’ll be staying at home and keeping my head down.

Bloggers Don’t Wear Masks

I wrote yesterday about compulsory mask wearing and how it was an issue for some people. I watched a video the other night of a mature American lady screaming like a chastised toddler because she was asked to wear a face covering in a store. I don’t know what was more shocking – the seismic scale of her tantrum or the sorry reality that she’s not a one off and many other people across the globe would probably react in exactly the same manner.

It would appear that their ‘right’ to do whatever they want, whenever they want, overrides the safety of those around them. They put their needs before those of their fellow human beings. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so worrying. Has society really reached the point where we cannot make small sacrifices for the greater good? I don’t particularly enjoy wearing a mask, they’re uncomfortable, but I’ll do it if it means contributing towards defeating a deadly virus.

The ironic thing is, we all walk around wearing masks anyway. They are called our faces. How many times have we produced a false smile when inside our hearts are breaking? The same goes for our mouths. How many times have you answered ‘I’m fine’ when, in reality, your world is falling apart? Turned up and went through the motions when all we really want to do is crawl under a rock and die. We act, we perform, we put on a show, rather than show the world how we are really feeling.

So, what’s another mask when our lives are dominated by them anyway? Masks are part of our daily walk, we don them all the time to protect our privacy from prying eyes, to keep up appearances. To show vulnerability and honestly expose our faults and weaknesses is just not the ‘done thing.’ It’s frowned upon, people don’t want to hear of our inner struggles, it’s all so sordid and unnecessary. Only shiny, happy stories will suffice.

I wore such a mask for many years. In work, at church, wherever I went. People didn’t see the real me, warts and all, they saw the version of me that I thought they wanted to see. I lived a chameleon like existence, changing my personal values and character traits at a whim in order to fit in and feel valued. I was a walking, talking charade. I played the part of the happy chappy when inside I was a seething ball of anger and despair.

One day I hit rock bottom. And from there I started to rebuild. At the heart of that was this blog, the place where I tentatively began to write three years ago and share my scars with the world. I was nervous at first, fearful as to how others would respond. I need not have worried. WordPress was, and still is, the most supportive, encouraging social media platform I’ve ever experienced. I’m so glad I stumbled onto it all those years ago.

I discovered like minded souls. People who were willing to open up and exorcise their darkest demons via the written word. Survivors who had battled the odds, faced their worst fears and emerged out the other side. Fellow travellers who wanted to share their experiences, good and bad. They wore no masks but bathed in the truth and made no apology about it. They wanted to write, needed to write, it was as natural and necessary as drawing air into their lungs.

Some have fallen by the wayside and left the blogging world, others dip their toe in the water only occasionally now. While others have remained, steadfast beacons offering daily encouragement and support. Others have emerged to fill the ranks, it is a vibrant, ever changing community of like minded souls. We need no masks here as we have nothing to fear from one another. Express yourself. Speak the truth. Throw away your mask.

A New Jerusalem – Coming Soon

Good Morning. It’s an exciting day for me as I reveal the cover art for my new book, ‘A New Jerusalem.’ It will be released in October 2020 by Potter’s Grove Press but is available for pre-order from 01 August in e-book and paperback format. Please feel free to comment below and let me know what you think. Book 1 in the series, ‘Skelly’s Square’ is currently out there so you’re not too late to pick up a copy in advance of October. Thank you.

Do As We Say, Not As We Do

Face coverings became mandatory on public transport in Northern Ireland today. It has been widely publicised and staff at bus and train stations have been handing out free masks to commuters throughout the week. So, model citizen that I am, I duly boarded the train this morning with my mask on. This is no easy task for a spectacle wearing gentleman who fogged up immediately and clambered into his seat, grasping for purchase like a drunken sailor.

The 08:28 express to Belfast would normally be standing room only and I’d be ‘enjoying’ the commuting experience with my nose wedged in some fellow traveler’s armpit. But, since returning to work, the trains have been near empty. I’m not sure if a lot of people are working from home or avoiding public transport at the minute. Either way I had the luxury of a double seat all to myself as I sat back and surveyed my surroundings.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, when I observed a fellow passenger, several seats in front of me, boarding the train without a mask. Bold as brass he summoned the conductor to buy a ticket. Here we go, I thought, he will be put in his place in no uncertain terms and told to affix said face covering immediately. But no, the ticket was purchased without any form of query or challenge by the powers of law and order. Hmmm, I thought, this can’t be right.

Thinking I had gotten my dates wrong I checked the Translink N.I. Twitter feed. Nope. FACE MASKS ARE MANDATORY ON ALL TRAINS AND BUSES FROM 10 JULY. It was everywhere. I googled the meaning of ‘mandatory.’ Something that is required, compulsory, obligatory. That’s fairly clear, I thought, wiping my condensed glasses as I squinted at the screen of my phone. I decided to query it via a tweet. How very daring, I know.

To be fair, the head tweeter at Translink N.I. responded within minutes to inform me that some passengers were exempt from wearing masks for medical reasons. Fair enough I replied, but the conductor I observed at no point asked the passenger if there was a reason as to why he had boarded the train without a face covering. Gotcha, I thought, wriggle out that one Head Tweeter Person. Game, set and match to moi.

Oh no. Quick as you like, my inbox chirped to reveal that I was most mistaken. Persons with medical exemptions are not required to provide evidence of said exemption. And, whilst the wearing of face coverings was mandatory, staff are much too busy to check up on people not wearing them. It is just assumed that they have a perfectly good reason for not doing so and are allowed to carry on regardless while the rest of us frown from behind said masks.

I bit my lip and was on the verge of replying but then concluded it was clearly a pointless exercise. Head Tweeter person was wasted in social media and should certainly pursue a career in politics such was their skill at avoiding simple questions and twisting and turning the truth to suit their needs at that particular moment. Do as we say, not as we do. They were clearly making up the policy as they went along in order to protect a colleague who couldn’t be bothered doing their job.

The gentleman in question could have had a perfectly plausible explanation for not wearing a face covering. A polite question would have gathered that reason and set my mind at ease as we hurtled through the Northern Irish countryside towards the city. But let’s not rock the boat and cause a scene. As long as we look good in the media who cares if the virus spikes again and me and my family are placed at unnecessary risk. Well played, Translink N.I.

Happy Birthday To My Book

Here are the latest reviews for my book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ which will be a year old tomorrow. Thank you to those who continue to take a chance on an unknown Northern Irish writer and the fantastic reviews you take the time to post. They keep me motivated through the good times and the bad. The book is available via your local Amazon site in e-book and paperback format. Or, FREE if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

Expose Your Scars

Good Morning from Northern Ireland. I saw this on Twitter last night and shamelessly pilfered it. Apologies to all concerned but this is OCD in a nutshell. OCD is voracious, forever hungry and on the prowl for its next meal. It will suck you dry, bleed you out. It is cruel, merciless and without pity. It revels in our misery, it’s ability to turn our days, worlds and lives upside down at the flick of a switch, the press of a button. It knows us inside out and back to front. It will rip you apart.

The compulsions are overwhelming and even now, writing about the topic, I can feel a ripple of unease stirring in my stomach. I’ve scratched the surface, poked the bear, dangled my leg in the lion’s cage. Remain too long and it will drag me in, maul and ravage my body and soul. So this will be fleeting visit, a mere toe dipped in the cesspit of the obsessive thought and corresponding compulsive act. Another paragraph, maybe two, but that is all.

Why do you do it then, some might ask? Why place yourself in the danger zone, pop your head above the parapet? You blog about OCD, tweet about OCD, you’ve even written a flipping book where the main character has OCD. Aren’t you tempting fate, heading for a fall? And sometimes I agree with those voices. But then I remember, when I was at my lowest I craved knowing I was not on my own. That there were others out there who shared my pain, who understood.

So I’ll shout it from the rooftops, even though the drop below is terrifying. I’ll keep coming back for more, no matter how battered and bloodied I am from the last encounter. I’m not a survivor but I’m surviving. I need to tell my story now just like I needed someone to tell me theirs all those years ago. It is a responsibility I will not shirk and I encourage you all to do the same. Expose your scars in order to exorcise the demons that still lurk in the shadows.

Happy 18th Birthday Adam

Fionnuala and I feel very old today as our eldest child, Adam, turns 18. He’s taller than me, stronger than me, he has facial hair! We are very proud of the witty, intelligent, kind young man he has turned into. Fionnuala takes 99% of the credit for that. I’m looking forward to what a big year brings for him both academically and on the rugby pitch. Wishing you all a very happy Independence Day. Stay safe.

Don’t Suffer In Silence

I fear I’m getting old. For everything hurts. A lot. Take last Saturday for example. I bent over in the kitchen to put some rubbish in the bin, only to discover I couldn’t stand up straight again. A sharp pain in the base of my back ensured that. Hobbling over to a nearby chair my watching wife and children reacted in the only way they knew how…they burst out laughing. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, so settled for somewhere in between.

Almost a week later, the situation has improved. I’m still subject to a dull ache but Ibuprofen is my best friend and I’m a brave little soldier at the end of the day. I haven’t been able to run but am trying to maintain a daily 10,000 step regime on my Garmin. It’s frustrating but what can I do? Maybe my body is telling me something I’ve suspected for some time. You need to slow down, Stephen. Pain is a warning sign and it’s time I started paying attention to it.

My right knee has been bothering me for some time now. It’s fine during the actual act of running but afterwards is always stiff and sore. There are times I struggle to straighten my leg. I really should be icing it but am hopeful the enforced rest might help it. My days of marathon running are behind me but I still want to keep running in moderation for both my physical and mental well-being. How else would I get ideas for my writing?

Which brings me to my feet. I returned to full time work this week and bought a new pair of shoes two days ago. Breaking them in has been a painful process and I removed them yesterday evening to reveal two badly skinned big toes. I awoke this morning and gingerly inspected them. Ouch. I may have to resort to new depths and become a trainer wearing commuter, people I used to sneer in derision at. It serves me right for my snobby ways.

The shoes look good but make me feel bad. On the surface I resemble a reasonably normal member of the human race but inside I’m gritting my teeth and hobbling through the pain. There is no release, no relief, no respite. I just have to suck it up and struggle through the pain. The only break I get is when I take them off and tentatively massage my tender tootsies. Regular readers of this blog know I’m not one to complain though…oh alright then, maybe a little bit from time to time.

There are many of us walking about looking good on the outside but struggling badly beneath the surface. We hide the pain and bear the invisible wounds in stoic silence. I know that pain for I carried it for many years myself. OCD and grief left me on my knees. I resorted to quick fixes to ease the torment and, in doing so, turned my back on those who mattered most. I nearly lost it all but somehow survived thanks to the love and support of my family.

You might be in a similar position as you read this. It could be bereavement, addiction, unemployment, divorce, there are any number of reasons you feel there is nothing left to fight for. You don’t want to take another step, you’re tired of the loneliness and unceasing monotony of life. You’re on the brink of stepping off the conveyor belt and calling it a day. You have nothing left to give and just want a little peace and quiet.

Know this. You’re not alone. I’ve been there as have many others. It’s why I blog, why I write, even if only one person reads my words and knows my story. Knows there is hope and a weak, faltering light at the end of the tunnel. Words are my salvation, they allow me to exorcise the past and unveil a better future. Don’t suffer in silence. Pride is a killer. Swallow it and reach out. There are those of us who know and care. We want to help…if you will let us.

Down The Rabbit Hole We Go

I’m easily distracted at the best of times but when the OCD hits it’s hard to maintain focus and concentration when it’s seductive, velvety, barbed wire tones insist you drop everything and succumb to the latest intrusive thought fluttering onto your mindscape. As innocent as an autumn leaf drifting in the breeze, as deadly as a hand grenade lobbed into a crowded room. It explodes and your world changes. Forever.

You don’t want to go there, yet you must. Like a persistent child tugging at their parent’s wrist you capitulate to the thought for, otherwise, it will occupy your every waking thought. It will niggle you at first, but then grow in stature and volume until it consumes you whole. You stand on the brink, staring into the darkness below. You know what lies ahead but you jump in, feet first anyway. Rational thought deserts you when you most need it.

The rabbit hole is deep and dark and deadly. It does not recognise human concepts such as time nor distance. There are no rules or boundaries, it does not pander to such petty restrictions. It is an unchained beast, rampaging unchallenged through the subconscious, feasting where it wishes. Many have tried to tame it and fallen, crushed beneath this behemoth of chaos. It does not care, you are it’s plaything, to toy with as it sees fit.

I’m a survivor. I’ve crawled from the rabbit hole many times now, battered and bruised, but somehow intact. I am an ageing Alice and I bear the scars to illustrate my tale. They map out what was and what is. I know it’s tortuous tunnels, full of dead ends and wrong turns. I’ve spent many years, lost within its slick black depths. I’ve bettered it, bartered with it, been battered by it. I stand alone, victorious. Until the next time that is…for there’s always a next time.

Maintain

More Kind Words

The positive reviews for ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square’ keep coming in. Hard to believe that it will be a year old later this month. But, worry not, for Book 2 in the series, ‘A New Jerusalem,’ is out in October 2020, published exclusively by the good people at Potters Grove Press. Thank you to those of you who have supported my writing. Both ‘Skelly’s Square’ and the linked novella, ‘Bomb Girl’ are available to read via your local Amazon site. Or FREE if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber.

What Is Wrong With America?

The Northern Ireland Executive announced on Thursday a raft of lockdown easing measures over the coming weeks. These include the opening of bars, restaurants and cafes; competitive sport to return; gyms, museums and galleries to reopen; and a halving of the two metre social distancing rule. Deaths and infection rates have fallen markedly. There is hope for guarded optimism, a chink of light at the end of the tunnel.

The vast majority of the Northern Irish public have stuck to the plan. We have kept to the rules and stayed at home. The death rate per 100,000 people for Northern Ireland is the lowest in the United Kingdom. Our politicians, normally a petty, dysfunctional bunch who can’t agree on anything, have pulled together and displayed real gravitas and leadership. I’ve been both impressed and surprised. It’s sad it has taken a global pandemic to garner consensus and common sense.

I return full time to work on Monday and the shops will be open as I stroll through Belfast city centre towards my office. Yes, I may have to wear a mask on the train and queue outside the local Tesco, but we are a quantum leap from the dark days of April where the city resembled an apocalyptic ghost town. There has been real progress. Whilst there is still much to be done and no room for complacency, there is hope for better days ahead. And soon.

Then I look elsewhere. Deaths in England are still near 200 as day, yet their beaches were packed two days ago when record temperatures hit. Despite being warned to stay away, the masses flocked to seaside resorts such as Bournemouth. Cars were abandoned, rubbish bins overflowed and fist fights broke out. It was the ideal breeding ground for a virus that needs no second invitation to wreak havoc. Did the beach goers give any consideration to this? It would appear not.

The death toll in Brazil has surged past 50,000 this week. And that’s a very conservative estimate. It is believed that many, many more may have lost their lives to coronavirus. The Brazilian President has headed an appalling government response to the crisis, describing it as nothing but a ‘little flu’ as he posed for selfies with supporters. The arrogance and callousness of the man has been staggering. The people he was elected to serve have been utterly betrayed and left horribly exposed to an invisible killer.

The same can be said about other nations. The virus seems to be ripping through countries such as Mexico, Chile and India. New infections are breaking out in Germany and New Zealand, nations who thought they had beaten the bug. Then there’s the USA. 49,000 new infections yesterday. Fresh outbreaks in Florida, Texas and Arizona. A nation led by a man who seems oblivious to the suffering of millions so long as his huge ego is massaged and nurtured.

If the rise in infections continue we could be looking at 10-15,000 deaths a week by mid summer in the States. These are heartbreaking figures for the supposed most advanced nation on earth. Trump supporters holler about the freedom to swagger through their towns and cities, toting automatic weapons. An assault rifle will be no use to anyone when they’re in an intensive care unit in a medically induced coma, their lungs turning to mush. Are they really that blind?

I’m not a politically minded person but I had to write these words. The land of the free and the home of the brave? Bravery is heeding the medical and scientific advice, taking the necessary precautions and keeping you and your loved ones safe. Freedom is staying healthy and living to see the other side of this crisis. You may not agree and I stand to be corrected, but how could such a global power have gotten it so wrong? And is there any way back?

More Praise For ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square’

Some recent reviews of my novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ which is fast approaching it’s first birthday next month. The sequel, ‘A New Jerusalem’ will be published this October by Potters Grove Press. ‘Skelly’s Square’ and the linked novella, ‘Bomb Girl,’ are both still available in paperback and e-book format via your local Amazon site; or free, if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber. Please check them out and let me know what you think. Thank you.

Enjoy The Good Times

Another cheesy shot of me, I’m afraid, but our Hannah worked so hard creating this unbelievable treat containing all my favourite chocolate and sweets. I will have to be winched off the sofa when I finish eating all my birthday gifts. Although I’m sure I will have plenty of help if required. I’ve had a great day so far and been spoiled rotten by Fionnuala and the kids. I’m banned from saying ‘I don’t deserve this’ but still…

I know this isn’t a fun day for everyone. Not everyone has a father to spoil, for a whole plethora of reasons. I lost my own father ten years ago to prostate cancer, aged a very young 64. So, while I’m enjoying the day, I recognise it has a sad side which hangs over many of us. I miss my father today, the kids miss their granda, Fionnuala misses her father-in-law. Life is the flip of a coin, a double edged sword. Enjoy the good days.

The Largest Sausage Roll In The Land

This bad boy arrived in the post for me yesterday afternoon. Imagine my delight as I unwrapped it, an early Fathers Day present from Fionnuala and the kids. For if there’s one thing I love more than honeycomb ice cream, it’s sausage rolls. Cold sausage rolls, none of that heating them up in an oven or microwave for me. Although I doubt if you could get this beast in a microwave, given it’s girth. It was akin to holding a bazooka!

I reckon it will take me some time to chow through the meaty behemoth, although I no doubt will have some others of help. Charlie the border terrier has already tasted it and approves. It’s the largest sausage roll in the British Isles apparently, weighing in at an impressive three pounds. Considerable running will be required to burn these calories off. I may need to be winched off the sofa when I finally polish it off.

Thank you to Fionnuala and the kids for this early gift. It certainly brought a smile to my face. I’ll post more photos as the weekend progresses if any other edible treats emerge. Happy Fathers Day to all the Dads out there and my thoughts are also with those of you who do not have a father to celebrate with. These days bring happiness for some abs sadness for others. I hope you are safe and well wherever you are today.

Fionnuala’s Photos – Part 2

Some more photos taken by Fionnuala on her phone the other evening. I was driving. This is the road that leads into our village. These are all natural shots with no filter or special effects added. Isn’t she a talented one? The sunsets are amazing in Ireland at present. I’m off to work later and hope you all have a great day wherever you are in these crazy times 😊

Fionnuala’s Photos – Part 1

Amongst her many other skills, my wife is also a talented photographer. These are some shots that she took as we drove through Belfast on Sunday night, on our way home from watching ‘Back To The Future’ at the drive-in cinema. Sometimes we take for granted how beautiful our immediate surroundings are. Amazingly, Fionnuala took all these on her phone with no filters or fancy effects. More to follow later today.

My Latest Author Interview

I was interviewed by GKJ Publishing yesterday about my writing past, present and future. The link is attached below. I hope it offers some insight into my work and the Northern Irish accent isn’t too difficult to decipher.

Stephen’s Interview with GKJ Publishing

Start The World, I Need To Get Back On Again

I’m back to work on Monday. Well, I’m dipping my toe in the water, anyway, returning to the office on a part time basis. Our workplace is not officially back to normal but I’m returning in order to break the ice and help prepare for when all the staff are back. It’s been 12 weeks since our office was closed as part of the overall lockdown measures which effectively closed down the country. I’m part relieved, part nervous about the return.

Relieved as this can’t go on forever. Fionnuala knows me inside out and back to front and wisely informed me that the longer I stay off work, then the harder it will be for me to return. She made a very valid point. It’s very easy to slip into the comfort zone, lounging on the sofa while collecting my full salary every month. I need to get up and about again, instead of slipping into a rut and hiding in the house for the rest of my life.

The thought of getting up again at 6 a.m. and going out into the cold, dark, wet mornings doesn’t exactly fill me with joy. Nor does the prospect of travelling on public transport again, especially in these times. Will I need to wear a mask? What social distancing measures will my employers have put in place? Are they adequate and what do I do if a colleague strays within two metres of me? There’s only one way to find out, I guess.

Then there’s the little voice chirping in my ear that I’ll switch on my computer, stare at the screen and promptly fall to pieces. Have I forgotten how to do my job? Will the backlog of tasks and demands simply overwhelm me to the extent where I run screaming from the office with my hands over my ears. Will I be found out as the fraud I’ve always suspected I am? Unable to put the mask back on and play the part of the calm, knowledgeable professional?

These are just some of the thoughts that swirl around my addled mind. I’m a worry wart and a bit of a drama queen, an expert at turning the tiniest molehill into the mightiest mountain. I need to ignore this voice and focus on knuckling down to the reality of the situation. I need to get back to normal for the sake of my mental and physical health. This doesn’t just apply to me but also my family, my friends, all of us. The world hasn’t stopped turning, we need to clamber back on board again.

We will never take normal for granted again. As the lockdown eases we are starting to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. We only became aware of what we had when it was, by necessity, taken away from us. We have all missed the mundane. It will be good to re-establish a routine and engage again with a society we have watched from afar for three months now. We have seen the best and worst of humanity, the best and worst of ourselves.

We will all have learnt during this crisis. It has been a time for introspection and reflection. We may have faced some difficult, uncomfortable truths. Lockdown had changed us all. Some have reopened old wounds, while others have allowed old scars to heal. When we emerge again, squinting into the sunlight, will we change for the better, or slip back into our old ways? The choice is ours, let’s hope me make the right decisions.

If you’re venturing out into the real world again, I wish you well. If you’re looking forward to it with relish, then I hope it is as you remembered it. If you’re uncertain and filled with trepidation, then I empathise and share your concerns. You can do it, though, and the reality is never as bad as the thoughts that precede it. 2020 may be a year to write off for many, but don’t give up on it quite yet. There is still life to be lived if you choose to do so.

Don’t Forget To Be Silly

I’m currently wading through the final edits for my second novel, ‘A New Jerusalem.’ It’s been a slog but I’m finally starting to see light at the end of the tunnel. My family have kept spirits high and yesterday’s work was broken up by several Tik Tok videos involving dance routines, silly voices and air guitar. Rumours that I may have been involved in all of these are utterly without foundation and will be challenged in a court of law if pursued.

Life is serious at the best of times but seems to be even more so at present. All you have to do is switch on the television news to realise that. As a wise man once said, we live in interesting (and depressing) times. We count our blessings. We are all safe and well. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table. I’m getting paid to sit at home and watch Netflix all day long. Life could be a whole lot worse.

Even so, these are days of worry and uncertainty. As we near a return to life outside we fret and frown over what we can expect. How will school and work look? Even the thought of the daily commute to and from the office now appears a minefield of unseen dangers and strange new protocols. Part of me doesn’t want to poke my head above the parapet. As many are straining at the leash to return to normality, whatever that is, others are more reticent.

So it’s important to find humour in the midst of all the doom and gloom. For without it what are we? I, for one, can’t function without it and my writing is laced with Northern Irish banter. We call it ‘the craic.’ Mine is dry, sarcastic and hopefully raises the odd smile. My family groan at my embarrassing ‘dad jokes’ but I get the occasional giggle and that’s what makes it all worthwhile.

Be serious. Become educated and aware of what is going on in the world around you. But please don’t take it to the level where you forget to smile and laugh with your loved ones. Don’t let our broken world drain you of the joie de vivre that needs to course through our veins. We need it to survive, to rebuild and to overcome. Without it we are monochrome. We cannot survive without colour and vibrancy.

Don’t forget to be silly.

Signs Of Life

I’m not saying life in lockdown is dull. For if I did then I’m sure Fionnuala could find plenty of household chores to occupy my time. But the days do tend to drag. I had to ask this morning what day of the week it was. By necessity, we find ourselves staring out of our front window a lot at the street outside. This means what was normally banal and routine takes on a whole new significance.

I wouldn’t go as far to say we have turned into creepy, curtain twitching neighbours. Well, not yet anyway. But the daily arrival of the postman or grocery delivery van whips chez Black into a frenzy of excitement. The window cleaner returned last week after several months AWOL. It was akin to the Second Coming. I fear I may internally combust when I next see the man who cuts the hedges across the road. Or the council workers who water the hanging baskets.

Online shopping deliveries take the hysteria to a whole new level. Who has ordered what and when? We clamber over each other to get to the front door first. While, of course, maintaining social distancing as the bewildered courier leaves the package at the door, before beating a hasty retreat from the wide eyed, slavering horde on the other side of the glass. We then descend on the item, jostling to see who it is addressed to. Never a dull moment in our house.

Imagine my ecstatic reaction this morning then when I looked outside to the see the sight above. The council were marking the road signs at the entrance to our street. Yes, I was that odd man of a certain age taking photographs while not so discretely hanging out the window. No, I don’t have any shame left and am quite willing to write a 500 word blog post on the subject. There are no depths, no rock bottom as far as I’m concerned.

The council workers were thankfully blissfully ignorant of all this as they went about their business. Otherwise, I fear the next vehicle to have entered the street would have been the local constabulary, enquiring as to my recent bizarre behaviour. They painted the road then moved on, utterly unaware of the impact their presence had induced in at least one of the residents. For all I know this could have sparked an avalanche of creative writing in the village.

Hmmm. Road markings. We need them, don’t we? The signs that warn us when to stop, slow, give way. Without them, there would be a lot more collisions and mishaps when we are out and about. They guide us, inform us, keep us safe and out of harms way. We take them for granted, never give them a second thought, yet they save lives. It’s a boring, repetitive job to mark the roads, yet a vitally important one as well.

We adhere to them, for failure to do so can lead to injury to ourselves and others. Plus there’s the small matter of vehicle repairs, fines or even visits to court. It’s the law so the large majority of us tow the line. If only we had such road markings as we journey through life. Telling us what to do and what to avoid. Wouldn’t it make things a whole lot easier? The truth is most of us do but we tend to ignore them much of the time. Because we know best.

Be it a family member, a friend or a faith system, we all have access to signs and signals to guide our moral compass and keep us off the rocks. The sirens may entice and seduce us but the markings on our personal paths are there. All we need do is be aware of them. It’s mundane, it’s unspectacular but what’s the alternative? Do the simple things and do them well. Follow the rules laid out before you. Be you and live your life. Stay on the road you were born to walk.

Don’t Give Up

My first novel, ‘Skelly’s Square,’ received its 60th five star review in the USA last night. When you add up the totals world wide it has around 150 such reviews. I’m very proud of this achievement as it encourages me that people like my writing and the stories and characters I’ve created. The point of this post, though, is not to brag and blow my own trumpet. Instead, this is a post about rejection as opposed to success.

I received 80 rejections from agents and publishers before I secured a deal for Skelly’s Square.’ These rejections varied in length and style. Some were encouraging, most were kind but, at the end of the day, they all boiled down to the one unpalatable message – thanks but no thanks. These were tough months as e mail after e mail landed in my inbox, all delivering the same bad news. Very tough months.

Then in the space of a week I received two offers. Not one, but two! All the prior rejections were forgotten. Somebody believed in my writing enough to take a chance on a first time fantasy writer from Northern Ireland. It was enough to fill me with the confidence to keep writing as did the subsequent positive reviews. It provided me with the focus and resolve to write the sequel in four frenetic months last year.

The sequel, ‘A New Jerusalem,’ will be published this autumn. This time round, I secured a deal with my first query. But I know what it’s like to fail, to fall short, to be told I’m not quite good enough. Everyone experiences that feeling at some point in their lives. Some regard it as soul destroying, others character building. It thickens the skin, hardens the resolve, gives you the conviction to keep plugging away in pursuit of your dreams.

If we all gave up at the first hurdle, or eightieth for that matter, no books would ever be written, no music recorded, no movies produced. It’s not always the most talented who make it, it’s the most determined and dedicated. Those who refuse to give in, who keep clinging on and battering at the door until it finally creaks open and a chink of light beckons the artist inside to the warmth of within.

I’m currently writing the back cover for ‘A New Jerusalem’ and growing increasingly excited about it seeing the light of day. I’m thinking ahead to the third book in the series and some possible spin offs. The possibilities are many and it’s all because I stuck at it when all seemed lost. I hope today, whatever challenges you are facing, you refuse to succumb to the odds and persevere. I believe in you. Start believing in yourself.

Why Did God Create Covidiots?

This pandemic has certainly brought out the best and worst in humanity. There have been incredible displays of bravery, kindness and selflessness. Communities have come together as never before, neighbours helping each other when previously they were barely on nodding terms. We have become more considerate and caring. Rifts have been sealed, feuds forgotten and broken bridges repaired. It has been a time of reconciliation and forgiveness for many.

The flip side of the coin has been less edifying. Incredible selfishness as some flaunt lockdowns, caring only for their own base needs as opposed to the greater good. Those who are more interested in getting a haircut or some other trivial desire when our intensive care units are overflowing. They cannot see beyond the end of their own narcissistic noses. I see these people for who they are and have little time for them anymore.

These people have hard hearts and soft minds. Why? I struggle to understand the rationale and logic of such individuals. Were they created this way or have a number of psychological and environmental factors contributed to such an arid mindset? In the Bible, God says he hardens the hearts of some people in order to fulfil his greater plan. Yet, that flies in the face of man being given freewill, the ability to choose between good and evil.

Don’t you just love Biblical contradictions. Would Pharoah have acceded to the demands of Moses and the Israelites been freed long before the culmination of the ten plagues, if he had been allowed a more malleable heart? Are the Co-vidiots as they are referred to, instruments of a God trying to teach the planet a lesson? Confused? I am. Am I bad? Or have I been made bad in order to better light up the good in the world?

So many questions…

Nothing Is Normal Anymore

What would we do without Netflix? That’s been the joyous cry from many households in recent months as millions have battled through the lockdown experience by binging on their favourite movies and TV shows. Old favourites, new gems and those series you’ve always meant to finish but never quite had the time. Time is all many of us have now. We reach for the remote control and immerse ourselves in the box in the corner of the room.

Fionnuala and I have been working our way through a few box sets during our enforced downtime. We are currently watching ‘Ozark’ and next up it’s ‘Orphan Black.’ Fionnuala has been getting caught up on the new ‘Dynasty’ as well, while I’m devouring the new ‘Killing Eve’ and have waded through five seasons of ‘Luther.’ These are a welcome reprieve from the never ending doom and gloom on the news channels where it’s one disaster after another.

Escaping from reality is a relief at times like these. Where we can forget about the horrors currently consuming our world. We can switch off our overwhelmed brains and disappear down a rabbit hole of romance and drama, action and adrenaline. Anything is better than what is going on in our hospitals and care homes. Anything is better than the protests and riots, the endless bad news flooding our living rooms on the hour, every hour.

Nothing is normal anymore. In fact, much of what is going on is more befitting of a Hollywood blockbuster. Contagion anyone? Conspiracy theories abound as the world implodes and we sit in our homes, watching helplessly. When will it end, will it ever end? And if it does, what can we expect when the dust has settled, when we venture out again? The great unknown, so many intangibles, nothing but questions and confusion. Who can we believe anymore? The media, our politicians and religious leaders?

We crave what was, what we took for granted. The banal, the ordinary, the run of the mill. We will never look at them like that again. We will never sigh or roll our eyes at the mundanity of routine. We desire nothing more than our boring, ordinary lives again. We are sick of spectacle and crisis, it’s too much for our battered senses. Oh to be back to the the 9-5, the daily grind. We want our lives back, our world back, but is it too late for all that? Have we lost everything we once held dear?

I hope not. I truly do. I watch the daily figures hoping that we’ve turned a corner, that there’s some light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, there is Netflix. The once fantastic is the new normal while the real world contains what once we only saw on the big screen. There may be no dinosaurs or space ships (well, not yet anyway) but this is where we are. Day after day, month after month. A pandemic and the remote control. A not so brave new world.

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

On my rural runs on the roads outside our village I pass a lot of cows and horses, grazing in fields. Ireland has an abundance of grass. We are on nodding terms and I like to think they look forward to seeing the funny looking man in brightly coloured running attire as much as I enjoy seeing them. Rebecca sometimes joins me on her bike and stops to talk to her farmyard friends. Charlie is less impressed when he joins us although the cows are fascinated by him.

Last week I became aware of a sign on one of the fences, asking people to refrain from dumping rubbish, or ‘fly tipping’, in a field. This was a problem for some time when the local recycling centres were closed due to the coronavirus. It’s a selfish and nasty act, polluting the countryside with household waste. What I didn’t realise though is that depositing fresh cut grass in fields was a hazard to the animals; poisonous, no less.

I googled this and discovered that fresh cut grass can lead to colic and stomach ruptures when eaten by animals. As the grass has already been mown the animal does not chew it and tends to gorge, meaning they consume large amounts which are already fermenting when they hit their stomachs. As they have not chewed the grass properly they have not produced sufficient saliva to dilute the fermentation process. This can prove fatal in some cases.

Horses and cows love grass, it is their primary food. Yet it can kill them. That got me thinking, I tend to think a lot when I’m out pounding the streets. We can have too much of a good thing and be seriously damaged by those activities and pastimes we initially enjoy. It can be alcohol, food, relationships, anything really. I know this first hand given my addictive, compulsive nature. It’s so easy to slide from moderation into excess. So very easy.

The modern word ‘gorge’ originates from the Latin ‘gurges’ meaning ‘whirlpool.’ Imagine the toxic sights, sounds, tastes and smells we consume when we are in the process of gorging. They create a maelstrom within us, an invisible storm which wreaks havoc with our minds and bodies. Our physical and mental well being can be irrevocably affected. We will the whirlpool to abate but sometimes it is too late. It is out of control.

We need to be wary and take steps to ensure we do not succumb to the temptation of gorging on the poisons of life. This may involve erecting warning signs and building higher walls and fences to deter the fly tippers we encounter throughout this journey we call life. In these unprecedented times it is so easy to lean on corrupt crutches when our natural checks and balances have been thrown so off kilter.

Such preventative measures can take many forms. It can be talking to loved ones or seeking professional help. It can be self education and learning what your limits are. You may need to cut down on, or stop, certain activities and cut off ties with individuals who are impacting detrimentally on your quality of life. It’s learning to say ‘no’, a word I know I have struggled with in the past. A small, yet monumental, step.

The more you say ‘no’, the easier it will be next time. Choking bonds are loosened and you will be more able to fill your lungs with clean air and expel the poison within. All that glitters is not gold. Beauty conceals the rot within. Don’t succumb to gorging. Be strong and believe in your ability to walk away from the edge of the abyss. I’m thankful today for my farmyard friends reinforcing this important message to me.

Social Media Blackout

See you all tomorrow.

Say Yes To The Voice That Says No

There’s always been a darkness within me for as long as I can remember to choose the wrong path, make the bad decision which will lead us down the rabbit hole into a world of pain. I’m not sure if we are born with it but the person who plumps for the morally correct alternative 100% of the time is more than likely telling pretty little lies. Why do we do this? The large majority of us know right from wrong, we understand the basic moral codes that society teaches us from an early age.

Today’s obsession with self was never more evident than this weekend when unseasonably high temperatures drew thousands to beaches and parks despite being warned of the ongoing risks to their health. Many people hate being told what to do, be it by their parents, peers or parliaments. The need to satisfy their own desires which overrides any default setting within that their actions are not for the greater good, they are not in the public interest.

I used to blame others for my own failings. I used to blame alcohol or grief or anything that seemed reasonable and apt at the time. Yet, at the end of the day, it was all of my own doing. I was not ‘out of my mind,’ it wasn’t a case of ‘he doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ I knew exactly what I was doing and my actions were those of a sane, rational man. Selfish actions originate within the self. It’s not a team game, just me, myself and I glibly ignoring the quiet, calm voice within. The voice saying ‘no.’

The voice that says ‘no’ is often drowned out, it’s washed away by shiny, pretty trinkets which entrance and enamour us. It could pout, it could sulk, it could pack its bags and hit the road. Yet it doesn’t. It hangs around and toughs it out, waiting for those quiet times, those moments of clarity when all is still and we are prepared to listen. Then it speaks with purpose and poise. It does not shout or apportion blame. It simply highlights what we already knew. Deep down within. It is our soul speaking to us.

It will always be there, no surgery or exorcism can fully root it from our bodies. It is a light, a beacon, an ever present second chance that will never turn its back on us. It is change, it is hope, it is revelation. It’s the escape hatch, the emergency chute which we can utilise at any time. When we hit that button the light will flood in, drowning out the other voices which constantly seek to preoccupy and disorient us. All we need do is say ‘yes’ to the voice that says ‘no.’

It costs nothing, yet is priceless. It is life, illuminating the wreckage of the world around us and our role in that destruction. Society is on its knees as disease and disorder threaten to subsume all that is good and right. Death walks amongst us, it prowls and purrs with pleasure as the flames burn bright against the night sky. It is all around us and reigns within, yet it fears the voice that says ‘no.’ It has met its match and it knows it.

I am currently rewiring, realigning, stepping back from the brink and attuning my senses for the voice that says ‘no.’ At first I hear nothing bar the screeching static of decay and excess, but persevere and there it is. Barely audible at first, yet gathering in pace and volume as I draw nearer to its soothing rhythm. No, No, NO. Be a better person, lead a better life, choose to breathe and believe there is another way. The way. That is how it all begins. We are shown the way and must choose our path.

I’m learning, back to basics but picking up the pieces as I feel my way again along the path. The babble of voices is no more, those who knew best, who sought to stymie and silence me. I walked away and there was nothing but a void of bitter debris left behind. Strip it down, tear it out, break and build again. The voice that says ‘no’ is the most precious gift you will ever hold in your hands. It is free and it is yours. You need only say yes.

I Picked Up A Bible The Other Day

I started reading the Bible again a few days ago. I’ve been thinking of doing so for quite some time, but always holding back. Yet, here I was, staring at Romans Chapter 1. That was then. I’ve reached Chapter 5 now. Hardly setting the world alight but I’ve read a little every day. About grace and faith and sin. Words I struggle with on many levels. I find it hard to express myself when it comes to such concepts, such ideals, such realities. Paul says it so much better than I ever could.

I’ve been angry with God for a while now. I even started to doubt if he existed but a small kernel within me insisted that he must. For otherwise, what is the point…of anything. There must be something, there has to be something. Plus, how can you be angry with a God that doesn’t exist? So I concluded there is a God and I am angry with Him. But the more I thought about it I realised it’s not Him I’m angry with. I’m angry with others.

During my church years, as I like to refer to them, I always wanted to fit in, to be the best possible ‘Christian’ I could be. I compared myself to others and always ended up coming off second best. This would annoy and frustrate me. I felt like an outsider, the odd one out, as if there was an invisible screen between myself and the rest of the church family. Hmmm…family. That’s how they described themselves but I felt an outcast, a fake, the black sheep of this whiter than whites family.

I fell away, lost interest, turned my back on it all. I didn’t experience their 24/7 optimism, their shiny happy mentality. I still got fed up, felt miserable and struggled. My mental health had improved inordinately and I enjoyed reading the Bible and other supporting texts. But I didn’t enjoy church, especially the social times before and after the service. I dreaded them, truth be told, and I smiled awkwardly amidst their hypocrisy and my own gaping inadequacies. So I stepped away from it all.

The hypocrisy of it all still annoys me. But the penny dropped. Was Jesus a hypocrite? No. So why am I tarring him with the same brush as some of his supposed followers? Why am I allowing a handful of people to stand between my relationship and understanding of Him? I enjoy reading about his life, I want to learn more of the history and context of the period. I still have issues with sections of the Bible but I’m prepared to wrestle with them.

So I’m starting again, stripping it all down to basics. I’ve selected a few key texts which started me on my spiritual journey and I’m reading them again. Authors such as C.S. Lewis, Nicky Gumbel and Lee Strobel. I’m going to listen to the songs of Lacey Sturm and Flyleaf again. I’m open to learning and debate. But I don’t want to go to church, I don’t want to hang out with other believers, I don’t particularly consider myself a ‘Christian,’ which, in itself, is a man made concept.

What am I then? A follower of Jesus? I’m not even sure about that as how can you follow someone you don’t 100% believe in? How can I obey the Word of God when some of it seems indecipherable and wrong? Other sections are tedious beyond belief, full of contradiction and confusion. Do I want to teach it, spread it, sow the seed? Not really as I need to practice what I preach first. I need to focus on me, learn to walk before I run. That’s where I went wrong the first time around.

So I’m reading, studying, taking it in. I might even blog about it on occasion. I’m not sure I want to talk about the contents of this post so please don’t be offended if I’m quiet in the comments section. It could all derail after a few weeks and normal service will be resumed. I have no targets, no lofty ambitions. I just want to see what happens. My faith is fractured, flawed and fragile. I will continue to slip and slide. But isn’t that what Paul forewarned all those years ago?

Social Distancing – Here To Stay? – Part One

I visited our local fish and chip shop yesterday, a pay day treat for the Black clan. And while you might think society is returning to normal, walk into any shop or business and you can see that this is clearly not the case. Social distancing is here and it’s here to stay. Be that shopping for groceries, filling the car with diesel or ordering two bags of chips, a cheeseburger and eight chicken goujouns. Oh, and not forgetting the carton of gravy sauce.

How is social distancing affecting your life?


OCD – Don’t Suffer In Silence

Thrilled to be sending a copy of ‘Skelly’s Square’ to Lily Bailey, author of ‘Because We Are Bad,’ the best memoir on OCD I have read. Lily is one of a number of talented mental health advocates who inspired me to write about my own experiences with this vicious, relentless, yet very misunderstood mental illness. If you struggling with your mental health during this ongoing pandemic then please do not suffer in silence. Seek help.

Happy Birthday Fractured Faith

Seems like no time but the blog is now three years old. That’s a lot of posts. Some of you have been there from the start, some have joined along the journey, others have disappeared into the ether. We are grateful for everyone who continues to read and comment. As long as that continues I will continue to write on this site. I hope you are all keeping safe and well. Here’s to the next three years. Enjoy your day wherever you are.

Too Tired To Care

Tiredness. It’s a by product of this pandemic. A lot of us are tired a lot of the time. Tired of the rising death toll, the deceitful, treacherous politicians. Tired of the relentless trickle of bad news. Really bad news you couldn’t make up in a million years if it wasn’t for the fact it was scrolling across your TV screen on Fox or Sky or whatever channel you were enduring at that very moment in time. I’m tired of all this. I’m tired of being tired.

Tiredness desensitises us. We become so tired we don’t care anymore, turning our backs on the horrors of the daily news. Tiredness erodes empathy and compassion. It dulls our ability to love those we do not know and reveals the jagged edges of our souls. We become irritable, our resolves of patience at an all time low. We cease to care as to care is to expose your mind to pain and heartbreak.

It’s a two way street. Why should I care about a government who twist the truth to suit their own needs? Why should I care about those who openly flout the guidelines and put their own base desires before the lives and welfare of their own citizens? Am I stooping to their level, am I better than that? Possibly but I don’t care enough to slam on the brakes and edge back from the edge of that particular abyss.

Tiredness permeates every cell of our bodies, it’s a creeping osmosis of apathy and indifference. We are riddled with it, yet we don’t care. Rather, we embrace it, wrapping ourselves deep within its numbing embrace. We crave the sense of nothingness, we seek out the dark. For it hurts less than the light of truth, a truth that reveals the world for the train wreck it has become. We near the end of the tracks, destined to teeter over the precipice.

Routine kills. It sucks the marrow from your bones, leaving you brittle, dry and devoid of emotion. You become too tired to be angry anymore and when that time comes, you are in deep, incomparable trouble. A trouble from which there is no gallows reprieve, no last throw of the dice. When you no longer care, you’re no longer there, not really. You become a ghost encased in a tomb of flesh and sinew.

The heart still pumps but what for, what need is there for it anymore? Better surely to lay down by the roadside, to step off the beaten track and no longer scan the horizon ahead for signs of hope? A fractured faith is better than no faith at all he once said but what did he know? Better to wallow in the prose and poetry of the dying than bask in texts of joy and love. The words of old prophets turned to ash and dust, lying unread in motel drawers.

The vultures are circling overhead, keen to descend and pick at the carcass of what might have been. Our world will never be the same again, yet many of us are too tired to care anymore. Numbers are meaningless, my moral compass spins out of control as the voice holds sway. For I must be a bad person to have such thoughts, to wish an end to the idiots in power and all those beneath them. We, the uncaring, are damned.

So I’ll get up and watch the news even though I’ve seen it all before. I’ll scroll down the social media feeds, an obsessive desire to slowly drive by the car crash one more time. I have to see it again, to take it in with my own eyes. One time, one hundred times, it matters not. My incredulity is as before, my battered emotions ready for another pummelling. Tiredness intervenes, throwing in the towel to prevent another beating. It is a blessing. Too tired to care.

OCD Tales – Repeat Ad Nauseum

I’ve been on my phone a lot during lockdown. I’m aware of this and it annoys me. I try to curtail my checks but the little voice in my head often wins out. Just one more scroll through my social media accounts, another glance at book sales, a quick nosey at the news headlines or coronavirus death toll. I often give in when I know there is other much more relevant stuff in the real world I could be doing. As I said, this annoys me.

It’s just another aspect of the many headed beast that is addictive, obsessive behaviour. I struggle with moderation, my brain cannot apply the brakes or flick the off switch as easily as others might. It’s a double edged sword. When I launch into a project I tend to dive in with both feet and give it everything I have. That’s probably why I’ve run ten marathons and am now starting work on my third book.

I often wish I was wired differently. It would make my life a whole lot easier. But I am who I am. I try to moderate my behaviour with medication and talking to Fionnuala when I’m faced with a niggling urge or unwanted thought. But sometimes I keep it bottled up and the pressure builds until I think my head is going to burst. The beast unfurls within my stomach and it’s icy tentacles grasp at my tightening chest.

This is OCD. Doing something you don’t want to do but feel compelled to in order to ease the building panic and anxiety within. If I don’t check my Twitter feed religiously, I could miss a potential sale. If I don’t get 100 likes a day on a blog post then I’m a writing failure. If I don’t…if I don’t…if I don’t. These words beat a relentless rhythm through my head as I struggle to juggle competing priorities and demands. It’s an endless war of attrition.

They say a watched kettle never boils. Well, I can’t afford to take my eyes off the stove for a second. For if I allow the contents of my mind to bubble over, who knows the damage that might be caused. Scalding, scarring, searing through flesh and destroying anything it touches. These are the thoughts that race through my mind like a runaway train, hurtling towards the end of the track, where devastation and destruction await.

Perversely all is calm and tranquil on the surface. I come across as day dreaming. You might ask me a question and I’ll not answer. I’m a million miles away, waging a brutal battle against an unseen enemy, going toe to toe in the trenches. There can only be one winner and no parley will be called for or given. OCD is a dirty fighter, it does not abide by the rules. It is seductive and vicious in equal measure. It knows no boundaries.

I must always be on my guard against its lies, for it argues that excess is the key to success. Excess can be good for you cannot give or love enough, right? But it wraps me up in a Gordian knot of selfish strands that envelop me within a web I cannot cut my way out of; even with the sharpest of blades. I writhe and wriggle in vain, awaiting the coup de grace, where the beast sinks into venom into my veins. Obsessive thought. Compulsive action. Repeat ad nauseum.

Researching Book Three

Another day in paradise. Or lockdown hell, whichever way you wish to look at it. I woke up to more five star reviews for ‘Skelly’s Square’ on Amazon. The USA and UK are now tied at 56 five star reviews each. These mean so much to me as they bolster my ever fragile confidence. They comfort me that I can write and encourage me to persevere with my dream of becoming a full time author. Every review is cherished and appreciated. None of them are taken for granted.

While ‘Skelly’s Square’ continues to be read, the sequel, ‘A New Jerusalem,’ is currently being edited by my publishers, Potters Grove Press, with a view to an autumn 2020 release. I’m very excited to be working with River Dixon and his team and can’t wait for the continuing adventures of Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley to be released onto an unsuspecting world. I believe it to be a better book and I’ve improved as a writer, but I’ll let the readers be the judge of that.

Which brings me to the as yet untitled Book 3. I’ve now started researching it, making the most of this enforced break from my 9-5 job. As you can see from the image accompanying this post, I’m knee deep in the Battle of Waterloo, which features across the ‘Kirkwood Scott’ series. I probably spend more time making the 1815 chapters as accurate as possible than I do on the rest of the story. It’s bloody, brutal and ultimately heart breaking; but it has to be right.

The lockdown is being gradually eased in Northern Ireland. We are now allowed to meet outdoors in groups of 4-6 people, as long as social distancing guidelines are maintained. Garden centres and recycling centres have reopened as have churches for the purpose of private prayer. Small steps in the right direction. I am hopeful we have turned a corner. Until then I will continue to read and write. Thank you to those of you who have read and reviewed the book.

The Day After…

So, after yesterday’s marathon ‘heroics’ I feel like I was my beaten up in my sleep last night. My thighs are like lead and I’m still dehydrated, despite drinking loads yesterday. The height of my exercise today will be a short walk to the park to watch Adam train. The lethargy after a marathon normally lasts several days so I’ll hopefully get back running later in the week. Thank goodness I don’t have to stagger into work today.

So, as today is a ‘rest day’, I thought I’d just pop up a picture of my first book, ‘Skelly’s Square.’ Have you read it yet? What did you think? Or would you be interested in it? To find out more, visit your local Amazon site and search under ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ Then let me know what you think. Book 2 in the series, ‘A New Jerusalem,’ is out this autumn/fall so what better time to check out its predecessor. Hoping you all have a great day wherever you are.

My 10th And Final Marathon

The Belfast Marathon, which I was training for, was unfortunately cancelled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But they offered a virtual alternative which you could run any time in May or June. I hadn’t really trained for it but went for it this morning with a target of anything under 4:30:00 in mind. I ran 10 loops of the village and, although I struggled near the end, finished in a time of 4:16:09.

My family provided great support throughout the run. Adam cycled three of the loops with me and Rebecca kept me fuelled with drinks and sweets. Fionnuala filmed the finish where they applauded me through the finish line, made out of toilet roll. Rebecca then presented me with a plastic trophy, medal and goodie bag. The organisers also provide a medal and t shirt when you e mail them evidence of your run.

This was my tenth and final marathon. I’m getting no younger and have been having a few problems with my right knee. I also can’t commit to the time required to seriously train for such events. It’s a massive undertaking and I have too much else going on to justify signing up for another event. I’m content with my last one which I got to finish in front of my loved ones. It was a fitting end to my marathon running career.

I’m hobbling about the house at present like the old man I am but inside I’m very pleased. These are tough times and it was nice today to forget for a morning what is going on in the outside world. The only news at the minute seems to be bad news. I hope you are safe wherever you are and my marathon running exploits have done a little to brighten up your day. When we have our family around us, we have much to be grateful for.

My 10th And Final Marathon

The Belfast Marathon, which I was training for, was unfortunately cancelled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. But they offered a virtual alternative which you could run any time in May or June. I hadn’t really trained for it but went for it this morning with a target of anything under 4:30:00 in mind. I ran 10 loops of the village and, although I struggled near the end, finished in a time of 4:16:09.

My family provided great support throughout the run. Adam cycled three of the loops with me and Rebecca kept me fuelled with drinks and sweets. Fionnuala filmed the finish where they applauded me through the finish line, made out of toilet roll. Rebecca then presented me with a plastic trophy, medal and goodie bag. The organisers also provide a medal and t shirt when you e mail them evidence of your run.

This was my tenth and final marathon. I’m getting no younger and have been having a few problems with my right knee. I also can’t commit to the time required to seriously train for such events. It’s a massive undertaking and I have too much else going on to justify signing up for another event. I’m content with my last one which I got to finish in front of my loved ones. It was a fitting end to my marathon running career.

I’m hobbling about the house at present like the old man I am but inside I’m very pleased. These are tough times and it was nice today to forget for a morning what is going on in the outside world. The only news at the minute seems to be bad news. I hope you are safe wherever you are and my marathon running exploits have done a little to brighten up your day. When we have our family around us, we have much to be grateful for.

Social Distancing – Northern Ireland Style

Rebecca, Charlie and I made some new friends on our walk this morning. Apparently the cows of Aghalee don’t believe in social distancing, preferring the…ahem…herd immunity approach to combating coronavirus. They were a friendly and curious bunch but a left a lot to be desired with regards their personal hygiene and toilet training. Rebecca loves her visits to see them as well as Mac the horse who lives in a neighbouring field on the same road.

Are You Proud Of Yourself?

For a long time I wasn’t proud of myself, how I looked, how I spoke. I wasn’t proud of my thoughts and actions. I became embarrassed and awkward when people complimented me, because I believed I didn’t deserve it. I was unworthy of their praise. And yet, I sought the limelight and attention, I pushed myself to the front of the throng. But when I got there, I wanted to turn around and run away. I was a walking contradiction.

I couldn’t understand myself and when you can’t do that, then what hope do you have of understanding others? And if you can’t understand yourself and others then what’s the point? If you can’t work out the needs of your nearest and dearest then you cease to function as an ordinary human being. You stop contributing towards your sphere of influence. Where there is no extraordinary in your ordinary you cancel yourself out. You become null and void.

Emotions can hinder and divert you from where you need to be, but they can also clear a path and accelerate you towards predestined individuals and locations. They are a fuel for life; explosive, deadly but necessary in order to function. Without them we lose our infuriating humanity, our ability to hate, to love, to remotely care about anything. Without them we wither inside and die, we turn our backs on the exceptional heights waiting to be scaled. We abdicate responsibility for our lives.

They are deceptive, as infuriating as herding cats. Many tether their lives on the cornerstone of logic and reason. We live in a world of structure and routine. Yet, nations are being brought to their knees by a microscopic virus nobody had heard of five months ago. The most painstakingly detailed risk assessments and contingency plans are being ripped up before our eyes and tossed into the fire. Our world is burning and nothing will ever be the same again.

We cling to the rock face, we clamber for the tiniest finger hold and refuse to look downwards into the yawning abyss. Our logical minds tell us not to let go, that we can only inch upwards along the chosen path. But what if we were to let go, to side with our emotions and do what our heart, as opposed to our head, told us to do? What if we were to fall away and start again, from the bottom? To rebuild and lay fresh roots, to strike out across virgin soil in a new direction?

That’s what I did. And you know what? Most days now I can look at myself in the mirror without flinching at the face staring back at me. I remain more flawed than formed but my heart beats in my chest as it never did before. In the meandering limbo of lockdown I awaken with purpose and direction. I know what I want to do, I’m proud of what I want to achieve. I’m no longer adrift, yet I had to fall away from the rock face in order to find myself. I am reborn.

Amidst the horrors of this pandemic, there are green shoots of opportunity for those who can discern them through the smoke and flames. There is a chance to reflect, refocus and reorientate. A flicker of hope exists, waiting to be fanned, fed and nurtured into a steady, solid flame. Pride dwells within it. Pride, not arrogance. For pride is earned, it is a hard won reward. Arrogance is as worthless as ashes in the scalding wind.

Today’s question…are you proud of yourself? Or are you too ashamed to even begin to think of such matters. Have you given up, are you hopelessly adrift of where you need to be? My message is that there is still time to grab the rudder and set sail towards a new horizon, to steer your vessel off the rocks and into fresh waters. When there is nothing else, when you have nothing else, there is still freewill. Be proud of who you are going to become. Starting today.

Should I Blog More?

Eight miles yesterday, out to the shores of Lough Neagh and back. The sun continues to shine in Northern Ireland although a cool breeze was most welcome on the return journey. The country roads were quiet apart from the occasional fellow runner, cyclist or dog walker. Dogs must be loving lockdown, they’ve never been walked so much. As ever, 99% of those I passed returned my greeting. Country folk are friendly.

The U.K. death total has now risen above 33,000, second only to the United States. Northern Ireland remains in lockdown. Our Executive released a five stage plan on Monday which will gradually return society to something nearing normality. It’s not time specific which I like. We are not yet ready to enter Stage One, it depends on when certain conditions are met. It could be next week or next month.

It’s unlikely the schools will return before September and I’ve no date for when my office will reopen. I’m using the time to work with my publisher on the edits for Book 2 and begin research on Book 3. I’m also busy promoting Book 1 on Twitter. I’m selling copies most days and posted a signed copy to Texas yesterday. I’ve also had another order for a signed copy from California. The ‘Kirkwood Scott Chronicles’ are going down a storm in the States.

I hope you are all keeping well as I write this. These are tough times and it’s important we stick together as a blogging community. I encourage you all to keep posting and interacting with each other. Even if it’s just to pop in and say hello. I’m contemplating blogging twice a day as a means to boosting connections with you all. My posts have been a little sporadic of late, I’m as guilty as anyone. What do you all think? Should I blog more?

Back To Work…For A While

I returned to Belfast this morning for the first time in almost two months. I had volunteered to work a four hour supervisory shift in the office where a skeleton staff are performing key duties. While my own team have been closed down for now, I offered to help another team who are still operating a customer service. It wasn’t the most taxing of days. All I had to do was field a few phone calls and clear some e-mails. Even I could manage that, I thought.

Normally the motorway into Belfast would be bumper to bumper at that time of morning but I was greeted by light traffic. It felt more like a Sunday afternoon as opposed to weekday morning. Upon hitting the city I pulled over to let a funeral cortege pass; the hearse followed by around fifty mourners on foot. I felt bad for the weeping relatives at the front as they shuffled disconsolately behind the coffin. A wreath marked ‘Dad’ caught my eye.

Had the deceased been a victim of coronavirus? And why were none of the mourners adhering to social distancing guidelines? My natural sympathy was tinged with annoyance. Couldn’t they pay their last respects in a more careful manner? Or how would I have reacted in their place? What would I have done? Grief erodes logical, rational thought. People crumble and succumb to the relentless pain. Did I have a point and, if so, why then did I feel such a pompous hypocrite?

Work itself was quiet. I did what I had to do and then made my way home again. My next shift isn’t for another two and a half weeks and there are no plans for the office to open on a more permanent basis. The Northern Ireland Executive, our devolved government, issued a five stage plan yesterday for returning to a semblance of normal society. Offices re-opening are at Stage 3, with no definitive date. I won’t hold my breath.

If nothing else, I felt like I was making a contribution. Sitting at home on full pay might sound great, and initially it was, but the novelty wears off after a while. I need to get back to work just as the kids need to get back to school. This can’t go on forever. But it must be done gradually and with great care. Relaxing the lockdown too soon could lead to the dreaded second wave that everyone is talking about. 627 people died in the U.K. yesterday. Have we even passed the first?

Tomorrow will be a return to the ‘new normal.’ I’ll get up, watch the morning headlines and then go for a run. There are chores to do around the house. The day will meander by as the previous fifty in lockdown have. We are at home and safe but for how much longer must we remain in limbo, uncertain as to what the future holds. There is light at the end of the tunnel but it is a very long tunnel. All we can do is wait. And hope.

Woke up…Ran A Half Marathon

Five loops of the village this morning in bright sunshine amounted to a half marathon. I haven’t run this far in some months now, so was quite anxious at the prospect. I actually tried to talk my way out of yesterday until Fionnuala gave me a pep talk, ‘encouraging’ me to lace my trainers up and hit the roads. Thankfully it was a warm, dry day with a slight breeze to cool me on certain sections of the route.

Some might think running the same route five times in a row would drive you insane, but I like the routine. It helps my pace and concentration levels, plus I’m never far from the house in case something goes awry. I see the same horse, the same cows, the same man out mowing his lawn and can drift along, eating up the miles with each passing lap. Lockdown can feel like Groundhog Day over and over again.

I go back to work tomorrow. It’s only a four hour shift but it’s a break from the routine. The lockdown has been extended until 28 May in Northern Ireland so it’s unlikely the office will open properly until early June at the earliest. There is talk of professional sport starting up then as well, albeit behind closed doors. It’s unlikely the schools will open again until September, so the kids remain at home learning online.

One of my dreams is to run ten loops of the village, a marathon distance. I ran half that today and felt I had a sixth lap in me, so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility. I dream of that day, just as we all dream of a return to some semblance of normality. Until then, we will continue to drift in ever decreasing circles, struggling to keep our head above water and spirits up. Wherever you are in the world reading this, I hope you are keeping safe and well.

They Sicken Me

The weekend has brought more sunshine to the United Kingdom. Yet, dark clouds are gathering. Thousands breached rules on social distancing to hold street parties to celebrate the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Some of these scenes were screened on television news outlets to almost universal dismay. Many others flocked to parks to picnic, party and essentially do whatever they wanted despite their actions risking their own lives and those of loved ones.

They talk of a lockdown but, in my mind, it is increasingly in name only. Adam, Rebecca and I visited our local park yesterday for our daily exercise. Adam and I ran some interval drills as part of his ongoing ACL rehabilitation programme while Rebecca cycled round the perimeter of the pitch. We were adhering to social distancing guidelines and the plan was to be back in the house within the hour.

When we arrived, four twenty something males were kicking a football around the pitch. Now I could be horribly wrong but they didn’t look as if they belonged to the one household. They weren’t following social distancing rules. And as for daily exercise? They seemed more interested in smoking and drinking beer than the football which they were half heartedly kicking back and forth. My two teenage children were appalled by the example being set to them by so called adults.

This is where we are at. The death toll in the U.K. stands at over 31,000 and rising, only second to the United States, where over 80,000 are now dead. But who cares in today’s vacuous, self obsessed, privileged ‘me me me’ society. Our society ‘celebrates’ the sacrifice and selflessness of fallen war heroes by getting drunk, dancing the conga up and down the street and doing their bit to raise infection rates within their community. They sicken me.

Seven Years Ago

Tomorrow will mark the seventh anniversary of when I decided to pack in alcohol. I thought I was Oscar Wilde when I was drinking, an irrepressible wit and the life and soul of the party. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I was, on the contrary, an idiot of epic proportions, putting my own selfish needs before others, most importantly my loved ones. They deserved better, they still deserve better, and I thank my lucky stars they’ve stuck with me through thick and thin.

I’ve achieved quite a lot in the intervening period. I’ve ran marathons, been promoted, become a published author. I like to think I’ve been a decent husband and father, although that is very much still a work in progress. I can, and must, do so much better. I thought I would miss alcohol but turning my back on it was surprisingly easy. I never feel the urge to return to it and the thought of its taste and the ensuing hangover make me shudder involuntarily.

I’ve lost touch with a lot of people as a result of my decision to stop drinking. Some of these have been conscious decisions on my part, necessary life surgery in order to live my life as I feel I should. Others have simply drifted away, alcohol seemingly having been the only interest we had in common. This saddens me but was the friendship that strong if we only ever came together in an intoxicated state? We’re they even friends, rather mere acquaintances?

Some undoubtedly think I went a ‘bit funny’ during this defining period of my life. The invitations to socialise started to dry up and I was no longer part of the work ‘drinking culture.’ There were mutterings that I’d ‘found God,’ or maybe he found me. I’ve never quite been sure how that one works but he has flitted in and out of my life during these seven years. I know he’s there but I’m not sure where I am with regards my relationship with him.

God and I are more on and off than Ross and Rachel. I get annoyed with him, I am annoyed with him, but there are moments I still miss reading the Bible and learning more about the times and teachings of Jesus. Sometimes I get a strong urge to pick up the Bible or the works of C.S. Lewis. Yet, I always stop short and find something else to do. I think of defining moments when God hasn’t been around, I think of the hypocrisy of many Christians I knew and know.

Jesus turned the other cheek but he never turned his back on those he loved. When we stopped going to church we were dropped like a hot potato by many Christian ‘friends.’ And where is God during the current coronavirus crisis? Questions like these niggle at me and make me hesitate. I stand on the fringe and I remember previous hurt and rejection. Once bitten, twice shy. I don’t want to be part of that scene, a scene where I never felt fully comfortable or accepted.

I don’t miss alcohol and I don’t miss church. I don’t miss certain people, just as I’m sure they don’t miss me. I don’t miss the falseness, the veneer of friendship which evaporated once the going got tough. Life is too short for such games, for that is all they were. All I need are my wife and kids even though I’m sure I’m driving them crazy with this enforced absence from work. I like visiting the cows with Rebecca, giving Fionnuala foot rubs and burning lasagne.

I’m better than I was, and alcohol is no longer part of my life. I still have recurring ‘drunk dreams’ and wake up feeling panicked. I have ‘phantom’ hangovers where I can taste the stale beer on my breath and sense the fear and shame. I don’t think I’ll ever drink again, I don’t know if I’ll ever pick up a Bible again. Maybe that part of me is gone as well, maybe it is merely hibernating. I don’t miss church, I don’t miss Christians but sometimes I miss Jesus.

Painting Away The Pain

I was on painting duties in the bedroom today, as our enforced home improvement programme continued. Fionnuala had chosen a lovely shade of dark blue and my job was to paint an awkward high section of the wall behind our wardrobes. My DIY skills are ‘limited’ to say the least so I approached the task with a degree of trepidation. My objective? To get more paint on the wall than on my face. The Papa Smurf look was not one I sought to emulate.

Balancing from a chair on one foot while brandishing a dripping paint brush in one hand, I took to the job with some relish. Before long I had established a steady rhythm and was slapping on the paint like there was no tomorrow. And, without blowing my own trumpet too loudly, I think I did a reasonably good job; even the awkward little bit connecting the wall and ceiling. Fionnuala, performing a supervisory role, concurred. Job done.

I had been anxious beforehand, worried about botching the job and undoing all the good work Fionnuala had carried out on the other walls over the weekend. Anxiety is a standing order, a staple dish in my mental diet. It’s the thought of doing something, the period immediately before I start. That’s when the voice starts whispering in my ear, telling me I’m no good, I’ll make a mess of it, why am I even bothering to try? The voice is used to getting its own way.

I’m going for a run later. The Belfast Marathon should have taken place two days ago. It would have been my tenth. In its place the organisers have announced a virtual version which you can run, at a time of your choosing, in May or June. One of my favourite local routes is a lap of the village which measures exactly 2.6 miles. I’ve always wanted to run it ten times, it’s a challenge that has been on my bucket list for several years now.

I’ve decided, therefore, to accept the challenge and plan to run ten laps of the village before the end of May. I know I can do it plus I get a medal and t-shirt for doing so. I pass the house at the end of each circuit so can stop for drinks and gels, even change my top if need be. I’ll take my time and the plan is to complete the challenge, rather than break any records. Everything will be stacked in my favour. Yet, still I can feel the anxiety unfurling within me.

Anxiety is a rich breeding ground for the voice. It sniffs out the thread of worry that I’m gnawing on and lunges for the jugular. It whips up a vague unease, pops it in the oven for an hour or so et voila…dishes up a horror show of wicked doubt and prevarication. The voice doesn’t want you to fail. No, it desires much, much more. Failure requires at least trying. It doesn’t even want you to cross the start line. Do not pass go, do not collect £200.

If you do manage to ignore it’s seductive tones and take the first step, then you have won. For one step leads to another and before you know it you’ve clocked up the first mile, the hardest mile. Mile 26 is a piece of cake compared to Mile 1. And as for the 24 in between, well they will take care of themselves. Just get that first mile under your belt and kick the voice to the kerbside. Watch it wither and die and you stride up the hill away from it.

I want to win. So I cross the starting line, I turn my back on the anxiety and strike out in the opposite direction from it. Be it painting walls or running the roads, it holds no sway over me, it is a toothless tiger, a powerless mogul. I choose to live my life how I want to, not weighed down by the twin terrors of anxiety and OCD. I will not yield, I cannot back down to this nemesis which haunts my world. I will prevail.

We Will Slay Them

Last night I got an e-mail from my publisher containing the latest edits for the new book. I had expected a literary bloodbath, as my inadequate grammar and punctuation were torn apart by expert eyes, attuned to high quality prose. I envisioned the red pen being wielded like a bloody blade, glistening in a murderous half light before being plunged again into its helpless victim. Death by semi colon.

Thankfully this wasn’t the case. The editing process was a light touch, tightening and improving the narrative where required. My publisher included constructive and encouraging notes which allayed any fears I might have had and reassured me that I was on the right track. He showed he believed in my work and his offer of a contract for ‘A New Jerusalem’ wasn’t a horrible April Fool’s Day prank delivered several weeks late.

I’m my own worst enemy I know. The reception for ‘Skelly’s Square’ should have put any concerns I retained about the quality of my prose to bed. People like, indeed love, it and I’ve over one hundred 5 star Amazon reviews to bolster that bold statement. Yet still the whispering doubts remain, the solitary voice that tells me I am a fraud, a fake, a fool whose latest mid life crisis is bound to end in abject failure and humiliation.

The same applies to my running and most other tasks I tackle in life. I’m convinced I’m going to mess up even before I’ve crossed the starting line. I’ve run nine marathons, in perfectly respectable times, yet every time I lace up my trainers I am wracked with worry that this will be the run that will expose me as the chubby teenager who was never good enough to make the school rugby team. Always one of the last to be picked for any sporting activity.

This fear factor can bring you to your knees. Yet, somehow I must learn to confront and overcome its seductive tones. Giving up would be so easy, especially in these strange times when staying in on the sofa and doing nothing is considered a heroic act. It would be so easy to let go of the rope and fall back into the pit, there to lie forever and never trouble another soul. I would be forgiven, accepted, exalted by the voice. It would soothe my wounds with junk food and vacuous online distractions.

I don’t want to be that person. I want to clamber, hand over fist, out of the pit into the dazzling light. I want God to look over and protect me as I push myself beyond the boundaries onto greener, lusher pastures. I want to succeed, to make my family proud; to look in the mirror and hold the stare of the man I see, to connect with him, engage with him, be at ease with who he was and who he is striving to become. I want to change, to heal, to improve.

These are hard days, challenging days, where everything we held fast to and believed in has been turned upside down and inside out. It’s a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions with no real sign of ending. It’s too easy to stick your head in the sand, to curl up into a foetal ball and turn your back on a new world full of dangerous unknowns and frightening permutations. Giving up would be the easiest of options, the percentage call. Nobody would blame us.

Yet I won’t. Today I will switch on my laptop and dive into the edits. I will open the front door and go out for a run. I will be a good father, husband and son. I will do it for others and I will do it for myself. I will do it for you, the person reading this post who thinks the same thoughts and fears the same demons. I want you to kill them, to stand atop the dragon of despair and thrust your broadsword into its toxic heart. We will slay them, til all are gone.

The Internet – A Double Edged Sword

Since we went into lockdown six months ago, grocery shopping has been quite a stressful business. Maintaining social distancing, one way systems around supermarkets, the handling of items that maybe a dozen people have already handled. Your mind is in overdrive and you’re on constant alert. Even Fionnuala, a veteran at this new way, admitted to me the other day that she dreads going shopping now. It’s akin to a military operation against an invisible enemy.

Thank goodness then for online shopping. Not so much food, as you can no longer expect your local Tesco van to pull up to the front door the day after you place an order. You have to wait weeks now, such is the demand for deliveries. You would probably have starved to death as online delivery slots are are rare as hen’s teeth. Then there’s the substitute items. Ask for Diet Coke and they turn up with Pepsi Max or, God forbid, own brand cola.

Online shopping does work though with regards other items and, without it, this enforced quarantine would be a whole lot harder. If I want a book, it’s on my Kindle within seconds. We’ve been gardening and decorating quite a bit these last few weeks and all manner of boxes have been arriving at the front door. Vans are forever turning up and their drivers dumping everything from wallpaper to potted plants on the doorstep.

If it hadn’t been for online shopping my birthday, earlier this week, would have been a non event. But in the weeks preceding it Fionnuala and the kids have been furtively secreting packages about the house, away from my curious eyes. This meant that come the big day I was able to unwrap a Garmin watch, Kindle Fire, clothes, books and even a personalised cheeseboard and knives. I do like cheese. Have I ever mentioned that before?

Perverse as this may read, I’m saving a fortune by staying at home. My fuel bill and train fares have disappeared. Going outdoors necessitates spending money. Sitting on the sofa reading and watching Netflix does not. This has allowed the extra pennies to go towards home improvement and other projects that have been on the back burner forever and a day. The planet shutting down has opened up a whole new world within our own four walls.

The online world is a murky one. It contains all kinds of traps and pitfalls. I’ve stumbled into such pits down the years. It can be darkly addictive and many of us wish we didn’t spend the amount of time we do on it. I know I’m online more than I want to be. It’s necessary in order to build and promote my writing career but, given my obsessive nature, I’m conscious of the dangers and risks. It can, and will, take over if we allow it to. I’m forever wary of it.

But, like most things, it has a positive side to it which has certainly come to the fore as the pandemic continues to sweep all in its path. Social media and apps like Zoom have allowed us to keep in touch with friends and family like never before. You don’t have to be a hermit and many people’s lives will never be the same again now they have had to adapt their social interactions. Online quizzing has exploded and many churches, businesses and clubs are reaching out to new audiences as a result.

The internet is a double edged sword. The flip of a coin can lead you down new roads which can enhance or destroy your life. I’ve wandered down both in my time. Enjoy and make the most of this valuable and innovative tool. But tread carefully and read the signposts carefully. One stray step off the well trod path and you could find yourself lost forever, a helpless Alice tumbling down a rabbit hole from which you will never emerge again.

Are You Wasting Away?

I’m in a queue. The council have arranged a rubbish collection in an adjoining village and we’ve seized the opportunity as our wheelie bin is full to the brim. Being in lockdown means more food consumption and general waste. The queue itself is very orderly. Us Northern Irish are good at waiting in line. Everybody observes social distancing and follows the instructions of the council workers to the letter.

The council worker supervising my line informs me that currently ‘every day is like Christmas’ due to the unprecedented demand for their services. More Groundhog Day, than Christmas, I think grimly. But before long I’m dumping my mandatory six black bags into the back of the bin lorry and driving off the site. In and out within five minutes. Not bad as I had been expecting half the county to descend en masse with a tonne of garbage.

Waste. The coronavirus is overflowing with it, and I’m not just referring to the smelly variety. Everywhere I see waste. Our time, the economy, and human life itself. The global death toll rises every day until the numbers threaten to lose all meaning and relevance. 250,000 dead, 260,000 dead. It’s just numbers and I struggle to digest the enormity of grief and trauma behind those bare statistics. My mind is boggled, blown, baffled by the casual senselessness of it.

The Americans blame the Chinese. The Chinese blame the Americans. The Russian government isn’t telling the truth. The British government is, and being slaughtered by its media for doing so. In a few days the U.K. death toll will have overtaken Italy as the highest in Europe. Many are terrified to step over the threshold of their front doors for fear of infecting a loved one, while others don’t care as long as they get their hair cut or a day at the beach.

Waste. But can we turn the tide and make something of this enforced hiatus in our lives? What can we do to fill the void as the hands of the clock drag interminably on another tedious circle? Well, there’s plenty to do around the house, all those tasks and chores we had been putting off forever. Rooms are being decorated, gardens tidied up and work surfaces gleaming. Boredom isn’t an option when you have a to do list as long as your arm.

We are exercising as never before. When I’m out on my daily run I see others walking, running and cycling along the country roads outside the village. Inside many are hitting treadmills and exercise mats, lifting weights and burning calories. When all this is over the streets will be flooded with a nation of fitness fanatics. Pilates and yoga YouTube sites are seeing unprecedented numbers of hits. We are stretching and sweating away the lockdown blues.

Then there are us bloggers and writers. Documenting our new way of living, sharing our experiences and reaching out to others through the online communities we have immersed ourselves within. I am reading, writing and researching; working on book cover designs with my publisher, reducing my TBR list and getting back into a daily routine while starting research on my third novel. This is time well spent, not wasted. My creative juices are flowing and filling the void of boredom and inactivity.

So, yes these are days of waste and despair, but they also offer opportunity and hope. We stand on a precipice and the choice is ours. Succumb to inertia and the voice telling you no more, or rise and seize the sliver of inspiration and innovation shining its light onto your upturned face. What do you choose? To curl into a foetal form and wait until it’s all over or stride towards the horizon, no longer a victim of circumstance? I know you will choose wisely.

Country Folk Are Friendly

I’ve been regularly running the country roads around our village since the lockdown of six weeks ago. Yes, it’s that long since I’ve been in Belfast as my office remains closed. Running during my lunch breaks is a dim, distant memory as I’ve embraced the rolling, rural terrain for my daily exercise. This has meant more hills to climb which I detest but know will benefit my overall fitness in the long term. I’m determined to still fit in my work trousers at the end of all this.

That’s not the only notable difference. My lunchtime work runs through the city took me past hundreds of fellow runners and office workers out for a stroll. As I navigated a route through them I was largely anonymous. The large majority of city dwellers studiously avoid eye contact with those they do not know. Encouraging nods or smiles are frowned upon and treated by most with grave suspicion. We stick to our own and never the twain shall meet.

This doesn’t happen in the country. 99% of people I pass acknowledge me with a greeting; it can be a few words, a wave or another form of greeting. Cars pass me and their drivers wave. I wave back even though I don’t know them and they probably don’t know me. It’s just politeness, common courtesy, but does wonders for fostering a sense of community in these troubled times. I don’t feel invisible, a potential threat to be avoided at all costs.

WordPress is a bit like that. When I hit the publish button and sit back I look forward to those who check in with greetings and comments. Some are regular passers by, others less so, but the huge majority are friendly, constructive and positive. In almost three years of blogging I could count on the figures of one hand how many people I’ve had issues with. It’s a friendly, supportive community, a safe place where you can express yourself in the written form.

These are lonely, confusing times. Many of us are struggling to adapt, we feel lost in the avalanche of depressing headlines. To some, the slightest interaction from a fellow human being could be all it takes to get them through another day. That human being could be you. So whether you’re walking down the street or scrolling through your timeline make time for others. We are all in this together, this pandemic has brought us all down to the same level.

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks

Never let it be said that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. For lockdown has provided me with an unexpected opportunity to expand my household repertoire under the careful, often bewildered, supervision of Fionnuala. She’s had me painting fences, assisting with wallpapering, baking flapjacks. But more than all that, she’s taught me the difference between tidying up and cleaning. This has been a quantum leap for yours truly. Mind well and truly blown.

I’ve always thought myself a tidy enough person. If a sweet wrapper is lying on the ground I’ll pick it up and put it in the bin; I’ll wipe a table if I see crumbs on it and shout at the kids for leaving their stuff lying around the house. I did my bit to keep the house in some semblance of order. Or so I thought. Since lockdown I’ve had to learn the difference between superficial tidying and proper cleaning. As in killing germs as opposed to just repositioning them around the kitchen.

Fionnuala has introduced me to the wonderful world of bleach and disinfectant. I’m lifting ornaments and cleaning under, as opposed to around, them. I’ve polished furniture, swept floors and even started making the bed. With all the pillows and cushions in exactly the position they’re meant to be in. You name it, I’ve attacked it with vigour and vim – wood, metal, glass, it’s all felt the wrath of my cleaning fury. I’m a man possessed.

My default setting is with my nose stuck in a book or dreaming up ideas for the next Kirkwood Scott adventure, but I’m keen to pull my weight around the place and not get under Fionnuala’s feet too much. I always recognised the amount of work she does, but the enforced time at home has taken this to a whole new level. It’s a full time job keeping on top of the endless chores with a husband and three teenagers under the same roof.

For years I treated my mental health in the same manner. I would pick at it, fuss around the edges and do the bare minimum, thinking this was enough to keep my head in order and prevent the messy monsters within from running rampant. It was only when the rubbish was piled waist high that I recognised skimming the surface and refusing to get my hands dirty was slowly but steadily dragging me under, never to return.

It was only when I started to methodically and regularly confront my issues that the mental makeover started to show progress; serious DIY work as opposed to papering over the cracks, removing the layers of dirt and grime in order to reveal the true person underneath. No more skirting around the elephant in the room, sticking my head in the sand like an obstinate ostrich. Grabbing the thistle and taking the pain, for after the pain comes healing and growth.

Therapy. Medication. Counselling. These are the cleaning products of the mind, they polish the process of recovery and rehabilitation. Don’t lie in the debris, pick yourself up, dust yourself down and climb from the pit. The abyss piled high on all sides with the detritus of wasted lives and shattered hopes. The rut can be all consuming, it dulls the senses and rusts our resolve to realise dreams and aspirations. Don’t let its noxious lies overwhelm you.

So as I scrub the toilet bowl or sweep the floor, I’m glad this silver lining has been revealed to me at a time when the planet seems to be falling apart. Mental order removes the dirt of despair and allows us to glue the pieces of self back together. We are whole once more, different but whole. Our cracks are scars and through them we rise from the ashes to face the world again. A new way of living, a fresh chance to live, laugh and love.

Reaching That Age

Thank you for all the birthday wishes yesterday. Despite dreading hitting ‘that age’, my wonderful family spoilt me with lots of wonderful gifts and food. Just check out that cake! We had a birthday treat from the chip shop, followed by a 70’s themed quiz. I awoke with a food hangover so this is a short post as I still have a mountain of cupcakes to devour. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Thank you again for all the birthday wishes and kind words about the new book.

Some Good News

Thank you for all the birthday wishes. I thought today would be a good day to announce I have signed an exclusive contract with Arizona based Potter’s Grove Press to publish my second novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: A New Jerusalem.’ This is the sequel to last year’s ‘Skelly’s Square.’ I’m delighted to be working with the Potter’s Grove team, whose love of the written word and dedication to their authors convinced me this would be my new writing home.

Thank you to everyone who supported ‘Skelly’s Square’ and posted such great reviews. I hope you enjoy the new book just as much. It will hopefully be released in Autumn 2020.

Guess who has a BIG birthday tomorrow??

So tomorrow we celebrate 50 yes I said 50 years of the one and only Stephen Black 🥳

The children and I have had great fun teasing him about it and constantly reminding him he will be half a century old!!

We won’t get to celebrate tomorrow how we had intended too but we are just happy we are well for a change and we intend to celebrate Stephen officially becoming middle aged the best way we can.

So send Stephen your best wishes for tomorrow on his Quarantine 50th Birthday

Happy Birthday Stephen lots of love Fionnuala, Adam, Hannah, Rebecca and Charlie xxxxx

I Want To Stay In

As the lockdown in the United Kingdom enters its sixth week there is evidence that the public resolve to adhere to government guidance to stay at home is wavering. Footfall and traffic figures are steadily creeping up again. At a time when the number of hospital deaths from COVID-19 passed 20,000 yesterday. That’s not including the number of deaths in care homes and the wider community which are estimated at adding up to 30% to that already depressing figure.

I watched news reports from London yesterday and was shocked by the number of people out and about. One reporter was filming from a street in East London which was packed with people queuing outside coffee shops and making their way to and from a local park. Other footage showed members of the public sun bathing and openly flaunting social distancing instructions. It’s baffling and frustrating in equal measure. What is so hard about staying at home?

I understand many are struggling financially and need the lockdown to ease so they can return to work. I am fortunate that both my job and salary are secured in the present situation, it’s not so easy for others. This was a weekend scene, however, and I’m pretty certain the large majority out and about were not doing so for employment reasons. Sitting sunning yourself in a park is not work.

I also understand that not everyone has a back garden or open area where they can relax. I feel particularly sorry for those living in confined urban environments such as tower blocks. The parks should be open for such people to exercise; to walk, run, cycle. Unfortunately, picnics and lounging around drinking alcohol are not permitted. It’s tough but it’s a sacrifice that must be made for the greater good. We all need to do this in order to stop the disease from running rampant through our society.

It’s been disheartening to see a growing movement for ending the lockdown on social media; those who are openly defying it because they regard the threat of infection to themselves as negligible. This is the height of selfishness as they appear oblivious to the threat they pose to more vulnerable members in their community who they might unwittingly infect. It goes beyond ignorance and misinformation, although some show a shocking lack of knowledge on this most critical of points.

This pandemic has brought out the best and the worst in people. This post is focusing on the latter but that should not detract from the many stories out there of selflessness as opposed to selfishness. There are those who are willing to, and have, given up their lives to stop the spread of the virus. Why, then, are others incapable of staying indoors and putting their need for a haircut above the greater need. It puzzles me, angers me, frustrates me. Why?

As for me, I’m an introvert and homebody at heart. It’s not a massive challenge for me to stay indoors, to read, watch television and potter about the house. I run or walk the dog as part of my daily exercise and I’m grateful to have a garden and live in a rural area. Hand on heart, though, I think I would behave in the same way wherever I lived and whatever my circumstances. It’s not difficult for me which is why I struggle to understand the actions of others.

I want to stay in. I’m no hero, I’m not writing this to gain followers, likes, or free pizzas. I’ve been asked to do something within my capability in order to save the lives of others and I’m doing it. I’m as flawed, weak and vulnerable as anyone else. Yet, I’m doing it. So, why can’t everyone else? It’s a question I might never know the answer to, maybe I don’t want to hear their responses. For I fear they will do nothing to ease my concerns, but instead further increase my disillusionment at the actions of these selfish sun worshipers.

Hannah’s Experience of a Lifetime

Our Hannah recently wrote an essay for her English homework. She worked very hard all week on it and Fionnuala and I were so impressed with the end product that we decided to post it on the blog. Well done Hannah, we are all very proud of you 😊😍

It was the day that Shawn Mendes was going to announce his tour dates for his 2019 world tour. I was super excited because I had been waiting for this day since I became a fan of his around a year ago. He announced it on his Instagram story. I remember sitting and waiting for him to post about my city. We were hoping he would go to Belfast but when he didn’t post about Belfast he did post to say that he would be going to Dublin on the 13th April 2019. My Mummy said she would take me to see him in Dublin.

It was 16th May 2018 when the tickets went on sale. I woke early because it was a school day. When I woke up and got ready for school, I went into the living room when I was ready and at 9 a.m. it was time to get the tickets. My mummy rang the place and she got two tickets to see Shawn Mendes in Dublin on the 13th of April. When she hung up the phone, I remember bursting into tears of happiness. I was finally going to see my idol in concert after being a fan of his for a year. I was finally going to hear all my favourite songs live, and I could not wait.

As soon as my Mummy got off the phone, I downloaded a countdown app on my phone. I had to wait 396 days before I could go. After I got the app set up my Mummy booked our hotel and train tickets. Then the waiting started, every day I got more and more excited. I was checking the app any chance I could. I got some new clothes for the concert and we made plans to meet up with my great aunt and uncle. I was following his tour updates on social media daily.

The day was finally here, it was the day we would leave to go to Dublin. I was so excited that I could not sleep the night before. I woke up early that morning and got dressed and finished getting all our stuff together and then my Daddy drove me and my Mummy to the train station. The journey was an hour and a half. I spent that time talking to my Mummy and listening to Shawn Mendes music; making sure I knew every single word to the songs on the setlist which I probably already did but just to make sure. It felt like the longest journey of my life because I was so excited.

When we arrived my Uncle Pat was waiting to help us with our things. When we got our stuff and found him, we all went to a restaurant called Supermacs and got some food. I got chicken and chips, it was amazing. After we ate, we made our way to our hotel. Uncle Pat came to help us with our bags. When we arrived at the hotel Uncle Pat left and we had to wait a bit for our room to be ready. Once we were called, we made our way to our room.

When we got to our room we unpacked and then we chilled for a while. Then we had to get ready because we were meeting up with my Aunt Sue and Uncle Pat for dinner. When we were ready, we walked to the Liffey Bridge and took some photos while we waited for them. When we found them, we made our way to the restaurant. When we got to the restaurant we sat down and ordered our food and drinks. While we were eating, we just talked about everything and I told Sue and Pat a little about who Shawn Mendes is and why I like him so much.

When we finished eating, we decided to go for a walk along Grafton Street and ended up outside Shawn’s hotel. When we turned the corner I just started crying because I was so close to him. There were a couple of other girls there too sitting on the ground waiting for something to happen but nothing did so we decided to leave. When we left, we took the Luas back to the hotel. I loved it, I didn’t want to get off as it was so easy to get on and off. When we got off the Luas we said goodnight to Sue and Pat and headed into our hotel. When we got into the room we got ready for bed and laid there and talked for a while because I could not sleep because I was too excited so we listened to some Shawn Mendes music and I finally fell asleep.

When I woke up the next morning, I was so excited because I would finally be seeing my idol for the very first time. I got out of bed and got dressed, then my Mummy and I headed out to get some breakfast. We went on the Luas again and went into the Jervis shopping centre and we found a nice restaurant and ordered our food. When we finished up our food we went for a walk and got on the Luas again and went up to Shawn’s hotel again.

Not long after we got there a car stopped outside. The doors opened and Shawn Mendes came running out of the car and into his hotel. I could not believe my eyes; I was star struck. I started crying again. I composed myself and got my breath back but I was still in shock. I couldn’t speak, I kept staring into space completely out of it. A little while later my Aunt and Uncle came again, and we went to go get a cup of tea because it was really cold. When we got to the place and got some tea I got a muffin and talked for a while. I was still in shock.

After we ate and drank our tea, we did a bit of shopping. I got a flower crown for the concert because the album he was touring with had a flower themed cover. After we finished shopping we went out for lunch at a nice restaurant with lovely food and sat and talked. When we finished talking, we got the Luas back to the hotel to get ready for the concert. When we got into our room, I got changed into my concert clothes. I was wearing a white t shirt with Shawn Mendes written across it in black writing, a pink and white jacket with his last name and his year of birth, 98, on the back, and a pair of leggings; not forgetting my flower crown. After I got dressed, I did my makeup. When me and my mummy both got ready, we went outside to get the Luas again to go to the arena.

When we got there, we had to wait for a while to be able to get in. When we got in everyone was given a bracelet that would change colour after every song. I then went to the merch stand and got a tour shirt, a rose that lights up when he would sing, and a wristband. We then got some drinks and headed into the arena. It looked absolutely amazing with the stage and in the middle of the arena hanging from the ceiling was a big LED light up rose and a second stage where he would be singing some songs later on.

We got settled in our seats and talked and waited for the opening act to come on. Once the lights went down, I screamed with excitement for the opening act. Her name was Alessia Cara, she was an amazing choice for an opening act. She really got the crowd excited for Shawn coming on. She sang for about 30 minutes and then went off. The lights went down again and I got goose bumps all over, then a beam of light hit the staircase and Shawn Mendes walked up the steps.

I screamed so loud that he could probably hear me from where he was standing. He started singing the first song and I danced and sang so much. When he was singing a more quiet song I screamed I love you to him, then a bunch of people screamed it and he said I love you too but I’m taking it as he was talking to me.

My favourite songs that he sang were called Mutual, Particular Taste, and Why. When he sang those songs I danced, sang and cried. At one point during the concert I saw his videographer behind me and my Mummy recording something and a couple of seats down from us was Shawn’s best friend controlling one of the cameras. When it got to the final song, In My Blood, I just cried because that song means a lot to me in so many ways and when the confetti came up over the crowd I just cried because I was sad it was over. But also happy because that was the best concert I have ever been to in my entire life.

Once I composed myself, we left the arena and we were both hungry so we went to Supermacs again. This time I had an amazing burger and the most amazing chips, we brought it back to our hotel and ate them in bed. We then talked about the concert for a while, then we went to sleep.

The next morning when I woke up, I was really sad because the concert was over and we had to go home later that day. I got up and dressed and then we went out to get some breakfast, we went to Starbucks. After we finished eating, we went to a couple of shops and bought some things and went for a walk around Dublin. We then headed back to the hotel.

When we got back to the hotel we finished packing our stuff and then headed down to check out of our room. We then met up with Sue and Pat and got on the Luas one last time. Pat joked with me that I should be a Luas driver when I leave school until the train came. We said goodbye to Sue and Pat and got on the train. I was listening to Shawn’s music on the way back and it sounded different from when I listened to it before the concert, a good different though.

When we got back my Daddy picked us up from the train station and I was super sad because I wanted to go back to Dublin. We got home and I showed my family all the stuff I got and gave them the stuff we got them. My Mummy made we a big video and put all the videos of the concert together. She uploaded it onto Youtube, it now has over 1,000 views and counting

My Shawn Mendes concert experience was the most amazing experience I have ever had in my life. The concert was the best day of my entire life I am so grateful that my Mummy made the video for me to look back on whenever I want. It really helps me feel better when I’m down and I will remember this experience for the rest of my life.

OCD In A Time Of Plague

Yesterday was a struggle. It dragged interminably and a restlessness descended upon the house; a sense of boredom and frustration. There was plenty to do, chore wise, but we lacked the motivation and desire to launch into any new tasks. Personally, I could sense obsessive thoughts circling my carefully constructed defences like vultures hovering over their next victim; watching and waiting for the inevitable final breath.

The thoughts are ridiculous but incessant and revolting. They peck at my consciousness, a nagging rhythm which taps out a steady beat, increasing in regularity and volume as the day progresses. They are a casual evil and have all the time in the world as I rush my meagre resources to the ramparts in an effort to repel them. I succeed, this time, but they will be back. They play the long game, a war of attrition par excellence.

I don’t want to think these thoughts but there they are, bold as brass on my front doorstep, all wrapped up in a shiny bow waiting to be unwrapped and unraveled. Unraveled. That’s how OCD works. It picks at a loose thread until it pulls away and soon the whole garment of your sanity is falling apart at the seams. All it needs is one gap, one opportunity, one second of weakness. It will take root and flourish. Watch as it’s thorny vines engulf your battered mind.

These are thoughts of death and misery, these are visions and images of unimaginable suffering. I succumb and check again, watching the tide of despair sweep all before it. The voice inside me, my personal Skelly, smirks and says they deserve it for their staggering ignorance and stupidity. But nobody deserves this, you wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy, on a dog in the street. Yet still I ruminate and succumb to the thoughts, kicking and screaming every inch of the way.

OCD plucks you from the straight and narrow, the well trodden path. It senses, it smells your vulnerability and drags you from the safety of the herd into the long grass. There it can paw at you, probe at leisure, until you split open like a pregnant peach, exposing your inner workings to its ravenous intentions. It will feast upon your essence, drain you dry until nothing remains but a desiccated husk. You will be tossed aside and left to rot, a putrid irrelevance.

We are fighting a war. The daily casualty list rises as our politicians, physicians and scientists fight to curb this killer virus. There are many heroes, genuine and worthy. There are others less so, clinging to the bandwagon and strutting about like pampered peacocks. We clap, we cheer, yet the voice is capable of drowning out every vacuous platitude and overused cliche. It grinds the soul, scatters the powdered remnants to the four winds. This is OCD in a time of plague.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #19

It’s our sixth week in isolation. In some ways it has flown by, in others an excruciating drag. The lockdown will continue for at least another two weeks, as the U.K. death toll now sits at over 16,000. There have been 207 confirmed deaths in Northern Ireland although current figures don’t include deaths within care homes and the wider community. The true figures are much higher and there is increasing pressure on our government to produce more accurate statistics.

On Sunday I participated in a Facebook Q&A session about my writing. I talked about how it all started, my future plans and read an extract from ‘Skelly’s Square.’ I think it went well and want to thank those of you who took part and submitted questions. I shaved and put on ‘proper’ clothes for the event which shows how seriously I was taking it. I’ll probably do more of these in the future so keep your eyes peeled for further announcements.

The kids resumed their home schooling yesterday after the Easter break. Hannah is writing an essay on going to Dublin to see her pop idol, Shawn Mendes, in concert last April. Rebecca is researching the history of Manchester United’s women’s team; and Adam is studying a topic in geography that is much too complicated for me to explain to you all here. It passes the day for them and keeps them on top of their studies for when school hopefully resumes.

Fionnuala ventured out shopping yesterday and returned with a Burger King meal for us all after some of the drive throughs reopened. The queue was ridiculously long and they had sold out of most things by the time she placed her order but we were all very grateful, nonetheless. As is Charlie the border terrier, who has never had as much attention and walks of late. If normality ever returns it will be real shock to the system. If…

Q&A Facebook With Me Today

https://facebook.com/events/s/live-qa/680406602758779/?ti=ia

I will be taking part in a live Q&A session over on my Facebook page (StephenBlackAuthor) today at 18:00 hours (GMT). As well as taking your questions I’ll also be reading a section from ‘Skelly’s Square’, in addition to talking about my writing process and future projects. So, feel free to pop along and watch a camera shy, socially awkward Northern Irish author squirm before your very eyes.

A Trip To The Supermarket

Today I ventured out to the supermarket for the first time since the lockdown and introduction of social distancing measures. Fionnuala suggested this would be ‘good experience’ and handed me a list of items to purchase. I’m anxious when tasked by my wife at the best of times so this was a particularly challenging event. Armed with said list and debit card I drove out of our village for the first time in over a month! How time flies.

Thankfully I could still drive a car and made it safely to the supermarket. Driving along the main street I observed how few shops were open. A greengrocers, a pet shop, hardware store, but the town was eerily quiet. I parked outside the supermarket and noticed a handful of fellow shoppers wearing masks and latex gloves. Nobody batted an eyelid at them. A month ago they would have been carted off to the nearest secure psychiatric facility.

I had to queue outside the store, two metres behind the lady in front of me, before a staff member indicated I could enter. Inside, gloves and hand sanitizers were available for customers and a one way system was in operation. Shoppers kept their distance and I complied as well, despite my dubious trolley steering skills. The shelves were well stocked and I was able to pick up everything on the list within ten minutes.

At the checkout the cashier sat behind a perspex screen and I paid by card, thus avoiding any physical contact or risk of cross contamination. I left the store and returned to the car park via a circuitous route which kept me away from people still queuing to enter. It was all very organised and calm; no scenes of feral women wrestling on the ground over the last roll of toilet roll. There is plenty for everyone; this weird new world has become our norm.

Thank You

Really pleased to announce the blog has passed 12,500 followers. If you add up the Twitter and Facebook accounts that means over 25,000 people now follow us online. Mind blown. Fionnuala, the kids and myself are forever grateful for your support and encouragement during these testing times. I’ll keep blogging as long as people keep reading and interacting. It is at times like these that we begin the realise and appreciate the power of the written word. Thank you.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #18

Yesterday we were told the lockdown was to be extended until 08 May, when it would be reviewed again. This didn’t come as a surprise to anyone as only the most foolhardy would want to revert to normal at this critical time. The experts say the U.K. is nearing its peak as deaths are expected to exceed 13,000 today; 140 of these have been in Northern Ireland. Horrific numbers but how accurately do they reflect the true extent of the pandemic?

The current debate within the British media are the number of elderly people dying in care homes who are not being included in the government figures. Some estimate this could add as much as 25% to the national total, which only registers deaths in hospitals. There has been an outcry that the figures are being manipulated and the elderly members of our society forgotten and left to die while the physicians focus on saving younger patients.

The government have of course refuted this allegation via a number of increasingly heated interviews with journalists. What we do know is the virus is now sweeping through care homes at a frightening rate, where many of our most vulnerable members of society reside. Some are calling it a national scandal and pressure grows on the government to include care home deaths in the daily totals.

The same applies to other nations. Many are cynical of figures being reported by China and Russia while the lack of testing in ‘third world’ nations means we have no idea as to the spread of the pandemic. The Brazilian president poses for selfies while his counterpart in Belarus states regular saunas and vodka consumption will keep the virus at bay. President Trump seeks a return to normality as the American death toll nears a staggering 30,000.

Then there are the rumours. The Americans are blaming the Chinese who are blaming the Americans. The virus is being spread by 5G phone masts leading to some being set on fire in the U.K. It’s a punishment from God, it’s a government laboratory leak, it’s little green men descending from Mars. All the while, the death toll rises. Over two million infections and 136,000 dead. They said it was nothing and we were all exaggerating. How wrong they were.

Toxic Positivity – What Is It?

I stumbled across this image earlier on Facebook and it got me thinking; or rather accelerated something I had already been mulling over in my head. It was a hammer that nailed a series of loose thoughts into a cogent steam. Toxic positivity. It exists, it’s a real thing, not just the product of my cynical, ‘glass half empty’ personality. Especially in these days of unremitting gloom when such personalities seem to gleam even brighter than ever.

It reinforced to me that it’s okay to feel sad during this unprecedented pandemic, plague, whatever you want to call it. It’s alright to be angry, to express the pain and frustration inside your heart. It’s not a sign of weakness or of not being a ‘team player.’ In fact, its healthy to honestly explore and express the negative emotions within as a means of purging and cleansing your soul. It is genuine, realistic and honest. It. Is. Allowed.

My social media feeds still contain the ‘happy crappy’ brigade who still appear to exist in delusional bubble where everything is ‘fine’ and we can smile our way through the coronavirus crisis. I still read unrepentant feeds where self appointed spiritual leaders declare this is all media exaggeration and things aren’t as bad as everyone is making out. Just send them some money and all will be well again.

120,000 worldwide deaths (and rising) would beg to differ. And don’t give me the whole ‘what about suicide, cancer, the common flu’ argument as that’s just downright insulting to the dead and their loved ones. What about when this hits Africa and truly explodes? When India and the Middle East succumb? For it is coming, make no mistake about that and no amount of prophetic words or Paypal donations are going to amount to a hill of beans when it does.

It’s good to retain faith, hope and love in these dark days. But they must be grounded in realism and sincerity. People sticking their heads in the sand and failing to grasp the disastrous scale of this need to wake up and smell the coffee. It’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s going to leave permanent scars on this already broken world. It’s random, horrific and indiscriminate. It’s here, staring us in the face. Time we opened our eyes to the truth.

Today I Want To Hear From You

Over the last few weeks I’ve been blogging about our experiences as a family during lockdown in Northern Ireland as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the world. I’ve been encouraged and heartened by the response these posts have received. I’ve felt a real sense of community on WordPress that has been lacking for some time. People have responded, engaged and reached out to one another. Which is what the written word is all about.

Today I’m handing the baton over to you. I want to hear about your experiences during this unprecedented crisis, be they good, bad or indifferent. It can be a couple of lines or a couple of paragraphs. Who knows, this seed may expand into a blog post or series of your own. The ball is in your court. Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing I hope you are keeping safe and well. Please adhere to your government’s guidelines and have a great day.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #17

Yesterday evening we sat outside in the back garden as a family. It’s rare to get the five of us in the one room at the same time but we listened to some music, played by DJ Fionnuala, before retiring inside when it started to get dark and chilly. Before that, it had been another beautiful, sunny day. I started the morning with a 6.4 mile run which blew away a few cobwebs. Apart from a couple of cyclists I was again alone on the country roads.

The United Kingdom death toll now nears 10,000, including 107 deaths in Northern Ireland. Prime Minister Johnston remains in hospital but is now thankfully out of intensive care and on a general ward. He has been playing sudoku and watching movies, including the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I never saw Boris as a Tolkien fan. The man has taste. Hopefully he will make a full recovery and return to lead the nation through these terrible times.

The lockdown is largely being adhered to, despite the occasional idiot flouting the regulations. The government is to make a further announcement after Easter but it’s almost certain the lockdown will be extended to at least the end of April. I personally have no problem with this if it halts the spread of the virus and saves lives. We are fortunate to have everything we need so it’s a small price to pay in the greater scheme of things.

I’ve finished my latest read, ‘The Secret Place,’ by Tana French so am going to treat myself to some new books today as an early birthday present. Fionnuala and I have now moved on to the second seasons of ‘How To Get Away With Murder’ and ‘Luther.’ Thank goodness for Amazon and Netflix, where would we be without them. Although I do miss watching my favourite teams playing, especially Ulster and Ireland Rugby.

I hope you are all keeping safe, wherever in the world you are. Keep blogging and sharing your experiences as it could be just what someone needs to get through another monotonous day. I’ll be spending the day eating too much chocolate which I’ll attempt to run off tomorrow morning. Try and enjoy your Easter although it will be a very peculiar one. Feel free to comment and reach out to others reading these words.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #16

Good Morning to you all from a grey and damp Northern Ireland. The lockdown continues here as the U.K. death total neared 9,000 yesterday. The experts say the curve is starting to flatten but almost 1000 people died yesterday, which does little to raise hopes or offer light at the end of the tunnel. 10 people died in Northern Ireland yesterday, bringing the total number to 92. The dead include an elderly married couple from the tiny village where my mother was born.

Police will be out in force over this Easter weekend to ensure people only venture out for essential reasons. The fear is that some will flaunt the guidelines and contribute towards a further spread of the virus. Police now have the power to fine and, if necessary, arrest those who continue to do so. I would have little sympathy for annoying foolish and selfish enough to be arrested. Their arrogance and ignorance is baffling and cannot be excused.

All is well in the Black household. We have been amusing ourselves by making Tik Tok videos. Making a fool of myself in front of the kids comes as second nature to me so I have no problem clowning around in front of the cameras. One of Fionnuala’s videos has had over 13,000 views! Our Adam is Tik Tok famous apparently, whatever that means. I have no idea what it entails but am happy to go with the flow if it raises spirits.

Adam and I walked Charlie yesterday before I joined him for a gym session in the garage. By the end of it my arms felt like jelly and I was faintly nauseous. Give me marathon running any time but his body strength continues to soar as he steps up his rehabilitation from knee surgery. Rebecca practiced her football skills in the back garden while Hannah read a Twilight novel and worked on topping up her tan. Fionnuala is our glue, keeping us all in order.

I received some wonderful feedback yesterday from a fellow author regarding the latest draft of my new book. I’m awaiting a little more feedback and then I’ll be in a position to start submitting. I’m already starting to think about Book 3. It will probably require more historical research than the first two, but I’m a history nerd so that shouldn’t be a problem. I hope you are all keeping safe. Thank you for your comments. Remember. We are a community and will get through this together.

Something To Do During Lockdown

Haven’t done this in a while, as not sure if it was appropriate, but here’s a little plug for my debut novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ It was released last summer and has done rather well with over 150 five star reviews to date on Amazon and Goodreads. More people are apparently reading now during the pandemic so if you like the look of this, then it might help you pass the time for a day or two.

What’s it about? Well the link below answers that question. Let’s just say it’s a darkly humorous fantasy set in Belfast which explores themes such as mental illness, addiction and disability across a supernatural background. The link below is the U.K. link. North American folk can find it at amazon.com or your local Amazon site wherever in the world you reside. It’s available in e book and paperback format. https://www.amazon.co.uk/KIRKWOOD-SCOTT-CHRONICLES-Skellys-Square-ebook/dp/B07V6HVLQV

Plus, if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can pick up a copy for absolutely free. I’ve just completed its sequel, ‘A New Jerusalem’ and will be starting the third book in the series in the near future. I’ll be posting my normal ‘Coronavirus – Northern Ireland’ update later today as usual but, in the meantime, you can escape from the horrible reality of what we are all going through into the crazy, upside down world of Kirkwood Scott and his friends.

Comment below if you are interested in the book. Thank you.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #15

We woke up to another bright, sunny day. The best weather of the year and the whole nation is on lockdown. Typical. Even better weather is predicted for the Easter weekend and the government are warning people of the need to stay at home in order to save lives. Over 900 people died in the U.K. yesterday, bringing the total to over 7000. It was the highest daily total yet, more than Italy or Spain at their worst.

Our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, remains in intensive care in a London hospital but is stable and sitting up in bed. A big relief and, bar a handful of online trolls, the majority of the nation are willing him to pull through. I now know every senior member of the Cabinet, something I had no idea about before all this started. I find British politics much more interesting than their Northern Irish counterparts, who are continually arguing and achieving very little.

I started the day with a seven mile run, wearing my new running shoes which were an early birthday present from Fionnuala and the kids. They certainly put a spring in my step as I was 30 seconds a mile quicker than my last effort two days ago. Or perhaps it was all in my head. Either way, I was very pleased with the time, much more like my old self. I’ll keep plugging away and hopefully my fitness will continue to improve.

Fionnuala and Rebecca have jigsaws being delivered to the house later. Adam held an online quiz with his friends last night and Hannah has been reading in our back garden which we tidied up over the last few days. We are all finding ways to pass the time while trying to keep the place clean and tidy. It’s a good thing as well as it’s likely the lockdown will be extended next week. I hope this finds you all well. Stay safe.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #14

The U.K. death total passed 6000 yesterday, an increase of over 800, which showed how premature the calls of some had been for a relaxation of the lockdown rules. There is a light at the end of the tunnel but this is a very long tunnel. There were three deaths in Northern Ireland, bringing our own death toll to 73. Northern Ireland has a population of approximately 1.8 million people.

Fionnuala taught me how to bake flapjacks yesterday. These are oatmeal bars, sweetened with syrup and packed with raisins, nuts and chocolate chips. I was surprised at how easy they were to make, so as even an idiot like me can prepare them without setting the house on fire. Fionnuala and Hannah also baked a carrot cake. The Black family are not going to starve to death on lockdown, that much is sure.

We got caught up on Season 8 of ‘Homeland’ last night while the girls read for a while in the garden. There is even talk of them reading their Daddy’s book. They must be bored! I’ve promised to help Rebecca with any ‘big words’. I’m just awaiting beta feedback for Book 2 and then it is complete. Then I can start on Book 3. Fionnuala has already told me to hurry up as she is eager to find out what happens next. Although even I don’t know that at the minute.

Our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, remains in intensive care in a London hospital. He is very ill but, at present, not on a ventilator. I’m not a very political person but am willing him to pull him through. His fiancee, Carrie Symonds, is pregnant and their child is due in the summer. It would be a personal and national tragedy were he not to survive. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, is effectively running the country in the absence of Boris.

The Queen and Prince Philip are in isolation at Windsor Castle. They are aged 93 and 98 respectively so it’s paramount they are shielded from the virus. The Queen issued a televised address to the nation on Sunday evening, which was watched by over 23 million people. She only does this at times of crisis, such as during the first Gulf War and when Princess Diana died. Her son, Prince Charles, has now fully recovered from the virus and is out of isolation.

I’ll keep these updates coming so long as the lockdown continues. Thank you for everyone who is engaging with them. It’s interesting to hear all of your own experiences from around the world. I read a very inspiring post from a New York blogger this morning so it’s important we keep writing and supporting each other. I speak to many of you more than I speak to my neighbours. We are a community. Let’s keep that going. Stay safe everybody.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #13

People. Sheesh. We are in our third week of lockdown in Northern Ireland, yet some are already asking when the restrictions will be relaxed. Three weeks! Look around, there are still thousands of people dying across the globe every day from this relentless pandemic. Yet, you’re playing the martyr because you’re being asked to stay in the house and watch television. The selfishness of some knows no bounds.

There is a lack of patience, understanding and community within such folk. They don’t get the bigger picture because they are part of the ‘me me me’ generation. Beyond numero one they have no comprehension as to what the concept of citizenship is, they are morally and ethically bereft. Such people demand so much, yet give so little in return. This crisis has brought out the best in people, but also unfortunately the worst.

Deaths dropped in the United Kingdom yesterday and many jumped on this as an indicator that the situation was improving. Such people choose to ignore the scientific advice that we are yet to see the peak and the surge has not hit us yet. The likely reason for the dip is an administrative one, as weekend deaths have not yet been fully calculated. I hope I am wrong but fear the situation will worsen before it improves.

As for me. I painted a fence yesterday and Fionnuala taught me how to bake flapjacks today. I’m learning new skills. I ran 10K this morning under blue skies along beautiful country lanes. My wife and children are happy and healthy. I have a lot to be grateful for, the lockdown is there for a reason and it will work. Normal times will return if we only give it a chance to work. Let’s not mess it up. Stay safe, everybody.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #12

My 12th lockdown blog. In a way the time has flown by, in other ways it drags interminably. Today is grey and chilly. The weather forecasters predicted a warm weekend and there were fears people would leave their homes and flaunt government instructions to stay at home. Hopefully the cooler conditions will dissuade anyone from being so selfish and irresponsible. It’s sad people still put their own needs first at a time of national emergency.

There are now 56 dead in Northern Ireland and over 4300 across the United Kingdom as a whole. Over 700 people lost their lives yesterday and the experts say the peak is still 7-10 days away. Some predict it will be Easter Sunday which would be a very symbolic date for many. Before all that, though, there will be many more deaths, many more grieving families. I am hopeful but there is still a very long way to go.

Some are already looking forward to lockdown conditions being relaxed. I personally believe it is much too early to think of that. We are in this for the long haul and cannot underestimate this virus. Give it an inch and it will take a mile. It shows no mercy, offers no parley. It is a relentless, indiscriminate killer and nobody is safe from it. Black, white, old, young, gay, straight, whatever your political or religious beliefs. It cares not.

I’m going for a run with Adam later, if he ever surfaces from his bed. Fionnuala is rearranging the kitchen with the radio blaring. Rebecca has been taking Charlie for his daily walk while Hannah occupies herself online and pottering about her room. We have a routine in the most extraordinary of situations. We are a family and the five of us will come through this together, stronger than before. Stay safe everyone.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #11

The forecast for the weekend remains good but the furthest we are going is our back garden. We are digging in for the long haul. Adam and I are power hosing the yard today, Rebecca is on weeding duties and tomorrow we are fence and furniture painting. The pandemic does give you the time to tackle all the odd jobs around the house that have been neglected by the busy hustle of normal life.

I ran five miles yesterday but think I will take today off, before tackling a 10K tomorrow morning. I’m sticking to country roads so there are few folk about. Unfortunately the hills remain but I found yesterday slightly easier than my last effort. I’m looking forward to progressing my fitness during this protracted period of leave. Adam is continuing to lift big weights in our garage gym. I can only look on in awe.

There were 12 deaths in Northern Ireland yesterday bringing the total to 48, with over 900 people testing positive for coronavirus. The figures are misleading though, as currently only those admitted to hospital are being tested for the virus. There are probably many thousands more within the community with milder symptoms. Our government are currently under a lot of pressure to increase daily testing from its current level of 10,000 to 100,000 by the end of the month.

Fionnuala has been putting her crafting talents to great use and I’ve included some photos of the Easter baskets and displays she created yesterday. They have really brightened up the house and I’m fortunate to have such a talented and resourceful wife. She loves the outdoors so this is a particularly tough time for her. Please spare a thought for her as she struggles to survive with three crazy kids and a highly annoying husband at home 24/7.

I hope you are all keeping safe and adhering to your government guidelines on social distancing so we can beat this virus. It’s a global effort and we must all remain strong as a blogging community and do our bit for wider society. Keep writing and sharing your own experiences. They could be a lifeline to someone out there. Never underestimate the power of the written word, especially kind words. They cost nothing but are priceless at the same time. Enjoy your Saturday wherever you are.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #10

Another sunny day in Northern Ireland, but another 12 deaths bringing our country’s total to 48. Over 3600 dead in the United Kingdom as a whole. It’s getting to the point where the numbers are almost irrelevant, they lose their meaning and impact the more they rise. Every day is worse than the one before, they say it will peak at Easter. But, what then? And for many, it will already be too late then.

The girls have been busy with their crafts. Fionnuala is making Easter decorations as I type this and the girls spent the other day making a beautiful heart display for our front window as a tribute to our National Health Service who are fighting the virus on the front line. Every Thursday evening at 8pm the nation is being asked to stand at their front doors and applaud such key workers. It has become a national middle finger to coronavirus.

Adam’s school held its Spring Concert this morning online and Adam was awarded rugby colours for the 2019-2020 season. This was kind of his teachers as he spent most of that time injured but turned up every Saturday to support the team in any way he could. Hopefully when all this is over he will have a full year fit and healthy to play rugby in his final year at Lurgan College. It’s the least he deserves for the way he is tackling his rehabilitation.

I ran just over five miles this afternoon. It’s been three weeks since I last ran but, at times today, felt like three years. But I did it and my time was a slight improvement on yesterday. It was good to get out in the fresh air and run along the country roads outside our village. My plan is to run or walk every day I’m off work. Keeping my mind and body healthy for when reality returns to this crazy world we live in. Stay safe everyone.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #9

Fionnuala was out early this morning to the supermarket where she picked up our pre ordered shop at the ‘click & collect’ point outside the store. Lots of treats including pizza for lunch. The kids have been crying out for a ‘games day’ so the Monopoly board will be coming out afterwards. Hopefully, the five of us can complete the game without coming to blows or anyone going into a massive sulk.

I’m heading out for a four mile run before that, my daily exercise. I’ve lost a tonne of fitness over the last month so am determined to use the enforced break from work to build it up again and lose some of the weight which has crept back on. It has been frustrating not being able to run and I’m slightly anxious about hitting the roads again, but I’ve plenty of time now to gradually claw back my fitness and rack up the miles.

I’m currently reading ‘Sharp Objects’ by Gillian Flynn. I struggle to sleep unless I read at bedtime and this has been a brilliant book so far. I’m nearly 3/4 through it and will probably go straight into ‘Gone Girl’ after that. I’m also looking forward to starting the third book in the ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ series by Tana French. The first two books in the six book series were excellent. More reading time is another silver lining to the pandemic.

As for my own writing? Well, I should be finished the third edit of ‘A New Jerusalem’ by the weekend, averaging eight chapters a day. I’m very pleased with how it has turned out and excited with where it might lead. ‘Skelly’s Square’ continues to be bought on Amazon and downloaded on Kindle Unlimited. Looks like I’m not the only one picking up a book at the minute. Keep safe everyone and stay at home if you can.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #8

Today marked the end of our 14 day self isolation. Adam and I ‘celebrated’ by going for a 5K run along the towpath out of the village towards the Broadwater reservoir and back. We met about a dozen people but made sure to adhere to social distancing guidelines. It was great to get out into the fresh air again and feel part of the human race. I’ll go for a solo run tomorrow and hopefully increase my distance to 10K.

Fionnuala and Rebecca are going to go for a short walk after dinner. Hannah is refusing to leave the house until all this is over. I woke this morning, not knowing the date. I’m struggling to tell what day it as well, every day feels like Sunday, like at Christmas time. In fact, the pandemic is a bizarre, surreal extended holiday where all that’s missing is the tree in the corner of the room. I have threatened to get the decorations down again out of the attic.

Oblivious to the fact it was April Fools Day, Hannah pranked me this morning. I went into her bedroom to be greeted by my daughter promptly bursting into tears. It took me several minutes to calm her down and establish they were tears of joy as her idol, Shawn Mendes, had liked one of her tweets. She said she would send me a screenshot of the tweet but when I looked at my phone all I could see was an April Fools message. Doh! I thought it was still March.

She’s quite the actress, our Hannah, and can turn on the waterworks like twisting a tap. I think this is the third year running she has caught me out, although I am incredibly gullible. That said, it was welcome laughter on a day when the death figures continued to rise within Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom as a whole. Thank you for sharing your own experiences on the blog. Keep them coming please. Stay safe and stay at home unless it’s absolutely necessary to go out.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #7

Today is our last day in self isolation. Hurrah! We are all well, it’s a lovely spring morning and I can hear a wood pigeon cooing outside as I write this. Tomorrow Adam and I are going to celebrate our newfound freedom with a run along the towpath which stretches from our village to the nearby town of Moira. It will be my first run for almost three weeks so I’m not sure how much I’ll enjoy it. But the joy of getting outside should outweigh any aching limbs.

The girls have adjusted well to home schooling at the kitchen table. Fionnuala and I have helped out with their various questions the best we can. I’m still rubbish at maths but I did have some fun learning the various instruments that can be found in an orchestra. Yesterday I discovered what an erhu was. Every day is a learning day even at my age. Rebecca is baking today for Home Economics while Hannah was focusing on Religious Education yesterday.

Fionnuala joked yesterday I was so bored I had started cleaning. I’m doing my bit to keep on top of the household chores and whoever thought dusting could be so therapeutic. The penny has finally dropped as to the difference between cleaning and tidying up, a point Fionnuala has been trying to hammer into my head for many years now. It’s important though we keep on top of this important aspect of home life more so now than ever.

We ordered some hair clippers which arrived yesterday so Adam cut my hair. I must say he did a good job although I had my doubts at the halfway point when I resembled Friar Tuck. Fionnuala did an equally good job on his, before taking several inches off Rebecca’s purple locks. Even Charlie got a good brushing and will be bathed later today. A task he hates and normally ends up with Rebecca and myself more wet than he is. That dog sure hates water.

I’m working hard on the latest edit of my new novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: A New Jerusalem.’ Presently, I’m averaging 8-10 chapters a day which I normally focus on in the afternoons. I’m pleased with how it’s progressing and also delighted that my first book, ‘Skelly’s Square,’ continues to sell on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited. I’m nearing 50 five star reviews in both North America and Europe, which I’m told is pretty good for a previously unknown Irish writer.

As you can see we are doing our best to avoid the news but it’s hard not to; we tune in every afternoon to hear the latest government briefing. Our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, and Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, have both tested positive for coronavirus and are currently in self isolation with mild symptoms. There have been 22 deaths now in Northern Ireland and over 1,400 across the United Kingdom as a whole. We are still nowhere near our peak.

Thank goodness for box sets. Last night Fionnuala and I started on ‘How To Get Away With Murder.’ There are 84 episodes in total and we are planning to watch two an evening, which should take us well into May. I’m also currently watching Season 8 of ‘Homeland’ and Season 2 of a British thriller called ‘Liar.’ I really miss live sports though so have been watching old clips being posted by Ulster Rugby, Manchester United and the Washington Redskins. Back in the days when the ‘Skins had winning seasons!

I hope you are all keeping safe and staying at home unless you absolutely have to go out. Remember that WordPress is a community so if you are feeling lonely or fed up, then please feel free to drop a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can. The pandemic is bringing out the best and the worst in people. Let’s ensure our blogging community represents the former, as opposed to the latter. Talk to you all tomorrow.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #6

It’s Day 13/14 in self isolation here. I should be giddy with excitement at the thought of getting out of the house again and breaking free of the shackles of house arrest. But I don’t. For, where is there to go, what is there to do? I thought I would treat the family yesterday to some Chinese food but when I phoned our local takeaway the phone rang unanswered. I phoned two more…nothing. Society has ground to a halt.

The figures continue to escalate, to the point where they become surreal, almost meaningless. Over 1200 deaths in the United Kingdom now, another six in Northern Ireland. It’s scary, do I even want to step outside on Wednesday when I get the all clear? Any excursions will be for basic purposes; to buy food, collect prescriptions and brief exercise. I’m looking forward to running again, but other than that…I’m worried.

I worry about bringing the virus back into our home. As many of you know our eldest daughter Hannah has spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She also has asthma. She is vulnerable as is Fionnuala, her primary carer, who has Type 2 diabetes. Adam and Rebecca, our other two children, are fit and healthy but the slightest cough rings alarm bells. It’s hard not to be paranoid and obsessive when it’s your own kids. Ah…obsession, my old friend.

It’s so easy to be negative when all you see and hear is death and misery. It’s my default setting and I fight the urge of it snowballing and consuming me. I want this blog to be a beacon of hope and light. I have neglected it, too wrapped up in myself and my own selfish needs. We all have gifts and mine is writing. It’s my tool, my weapon. So I intend to wield it, via this medium, to help others and do what I can. That starts now, today.

Keep safe. Stay at home. Don’t give up hope.

Coronavirus – Northern Ireland #5

I will never take anything for granted again. During this lockdown I have become increasingly fixated on sales of my first book and finishing the edits on my second. This is what I do. When stuff gets real and scary I tend to hide in fantasy land. I struggle to cope with the situation so disappear down the rabbit hole, where I’m of little use to anyone. I panic when I should be calm; I become selfish, fixated on tiny little specks of my life which don’t particularly matter when you look at the bigger picture.

There are now people getting seriously ill who I know. Only through work but, still, it has brought it home to me like a hammer over the head. This isn’t Sky News, this is real and it’s happening now. The death toll is now 21 in Northern Ireland and over 1,200 across the United Kingdom as a whole. The figures coming out of New York, Spain and Italy are even more terrifying. I need to wise up, we all need to wise up. COVID-19 is on our doorstep. Thinking of all my fellow bloggers at this awful time. Stay safe wherever in the world you are.

Coronavirus Northern Ireland #4

Day 11/14 in self isolation begins. I miss running. Before the craziness of this kicked in, I was struggling with my running, half heartedly training for a marathon that has now been cancelled. I chose not to run more often than not when I had a choice. Now when I don’t have a choice, all I want to do is run. Run slowly, but run. You only appreciate what you take for granted when it is snatched away from you.

Our family is strong. We have rallied round and stuck together. Routines have been established and memories created. Memories which we can take with us into an uncertain future. I spot Adam in our garage gym and Fionnuala and I watch a movie every night; Rebecca decides to dye her hair purple with hilarious consequences; Hannah meditates with her musical heroes on Instagram. Little things but precious all the same. We are together and safe.

The news is cloyingly addictive, car crash television from which we cannot look away. The figures rise as we powerlessly watch. 13 dead now in Northern Ireland and over 750 in the United Kingdom as a whole. Nothing compared to the likes of Italy and Spain yet massive and monumental all the same. They say the surge is coming and we are not prepared. There seems no light at the end of this toxic tunnel. All we can do is look on helplessly.

It is unstoppable. Man can’t stop it, God can’t stop it or doesn’t care to. Our Prime Minister is sick, our Health Secretary is sick, the heir to the throne is sick. Nobody is safe. And all we can do is watch, car crash television that slowly sucks the last dregs of hope from your marrow. I’m reading a lot, working on the book, diving into fantasy in order to escape the horrific, bizarre, reality of today, tomorrow, of now. This is 2020 and this is all we know now.