How to speak Belfast #1

Belfast folk speak English but it’s a particular form of English, full of slang and sayings which I struggled to get to grips with when I first moved to the city. As much of my novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ is set on its streets, it’s only right that the story is liberally peppered with such colloquial gems. So, for those intending to read my little story, I thought it only fair I get you up to speed.

Over the next few days, therefore, we will be posting lines from the book to assist you in this process. Today’s offering comes from ‘Big Mark,’ the gentle giant of a doorman who oversees Kirkwood and his raucous friends, Gerry & Grogan, when they visit their favourite watering hole, ‘The Montreal.’ The book is available to buy now on Amazon in e book and paperback format. Just click the link below.

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

Translation – These are not the most intelligent young men I’ve ever met.

What’s Your Favourite Sandwich?

Fionnuala made lasagne for dinner last night. She is an excellent cook so we were all looking forward to it; and rightly so, for it was delicious. What I was not prepared for were the outrageous scenes which followed later that evening. Scenes which scarred my soul and I’ll take to the grave. Scenes which no man should ever have to witness. The sight of his wife eating a lasagne sandwich.

I think it’s a Belfast thing. The ability to place any foodstuff between two slices of bread and eat them. As a country boy, I was oblivious to this post meal ritual where, whatever remained on an individual’s plate was carefully scooped between two slices of bread and devoured. Everything was fair game. Meat, potatoes, vegetables, even Irish stew! For the love of God. It was a horror show.

The contrast between the look of pleasure on the diner’s face and the look of utter disgust on mine, cannot be exaggerated. Don’t, get me wrong, I am a fan of the humble sandwich. I eat them most days for my lunch. Give me a BLT or chicken salad and I’m as happy as Larry, whoever Larry is. It’s when the contents of a Sunday dinner are presented to me that I struggle. As in struggle to retain the contents of my stomach.

We held a straw poll at chez Black last night as to everyone’s favourite and least favourite sandwich. Hannah’s preferences were sweet chilli chicken or turkey, ham, stuffing and cranberry sauce; the classic ‘Christmas’ sandwich. Her least favourite was the crisp sandwich which was odd, as Northern Irish people are big fans of such monstrous concoctions. By crisp I mean potato chip, my North American friends.

Adam’s favourite took me a while to write down – chicken, bacon, cheese, lettuce, sweetcorn and bbq sauce. What a mouthful, in more ways than one. The only item he could not tolerate in his ‘piece’ were gherkins. Rebecca had plainer tastes. A simple ham or cheese sandwich, but not ham and cheese, which turned her stomach. I’m still trying to figure that one out, but she likes what she likes.

Which left Fionnuala. Lasagne or cottage pie she plumped for, closely followed by Tayto cheese & onion crisps. Ye gods, were there no depths this woman would stoop to in her quest for the most disgusting snack of all time. Even the thought of them are making me queasy. Perversely she hates cheese & tomato, a particular favourite of mine. Truly, my wife and I have very diverse tastes. But, opposites attract, and somehow we work.

All this made me think of my late father, who delighted in the ultimate sandwich sacrilege. Raw onion and HP ‘brown’ sauce. Even now, I cringe in fear at the thought of him creating this culinary monstrosity. We are all different and, no more so, than when it comes to what we shovel into our mouths at meal times. A mouth watering feast for one, has another reaching for the vomit bags. Each to their own and viva la difference, isn’t that what they say?

What’s your favourite sandwich?

What horrors have you seen consumed by family, friends and work colleagues?

Memories Of Portrush

Northern Ireland has gone golf crazy as the Royal Portrush course is currently hosting the 148th British Open. The world’s top golfers have descended upon the seaside resort to do battle for the famous Claret Jug. Tiger Woods, Phil Michelson and our very own Rory McIlroy are vying for sporting glory and the opportunity to stroll down the final fairway on Sunday evening, to be crowned champion.

Portrush has also been inundated with celebrities. George Clooney is reportedly in town, David Beckham has been spotted and our very own Jimmy Nesbitt is everywhere you look. For those that don’t know, he’s one of our leading actors and played Bofur the Dwarf in ‘The Hobbit’ movies. He’s also the star of the hit TV series, ‘Cold Feet.’ Fionnuala and I sat beside him in a pub once, but were too starstuck to talk to him.

Tickets to the event were sold out months ago and are now changing hands at extortionate rates. Every hotel, bed & breakfast and hole in the hedge is booked up. There are rumours circulating that wealthy Americans are paying the outstanding mortgages of local homeowners in order to rent their properties for the week. The local airport has seen the number of private jets landing, rise by 1000%.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to visit Portrush this weekend. Local retailers are rubbing their hands in glee at the welcome windfall. Portrush is at the centre of a global media circus and deservedly basking in its 15 minutes of fame. But that’s not the Portrush I know and, besides, I’ve never swung a golf club in anger in my life. I’m a sports obsessive, but I never quite worked out the allure of golf.

This is all the more peculiar as I was raised beside a golf course in my home town of Omagh. I remember hunting for lost balls in the rough as a young boy and then selling them to passing golfers for 10p apiece. A small fortune back in the day. But that’s as far as my relationship with the game went. I’ll keep half an eye on who wins, but I’ll not be glued to my television screen to watch gaudily attired men hitting a little white ball into a little white hole.

As a young boy, a week in Portrush was the highlight of my summer, if not year. Although less than a two hour drive from home it seemed light years away from the mundanity of life. I may as well have been in Vegas, such was the excitement of visiting Barry’s, the town’s famous amusement park. I can still conjure up the smell of smoking rubber from the dodgem cars. Portrush was heaven on earth.

Ice cream cones with a chocolate flake in the top, sickly sweet candy floss and fish & chips every night for tea. It simply couldn’t get much better. My sister and I gorged ourselves on everything edible in sight, between bickering over whose turn it was to sit at the front of the ghost train or any other number of sibling squabbles. The return journey to Omagh was always akin to a funeral cortège, as a depressive pall settled over the back seat of our car.

So, good luck Portrush. I’m sure once the dust settles and life returns to normal next Monday, many golfing freaks will share the same melancholic comedown that my sister and I experienced. Hopefully, however, they will also have fantastic memories which will stay with them for the rest of their lives; just like a shy, tubby, country boy when he visited the resort over 30 years ago. Viva Portrush, the Vegas of Northern Ireland.

Are a golf nut or do you despise the sort?

What’s your favourite childhood holiday memory?

I Stand By the Tracks

I write this from my train stop as it’s back to work with a resounding bump this morning. The stop is empty, I’m either incredibly early for the next train or incredibly late for the last one. Either way, I’m sitting here on my own, enjoying the weak morning sun and the cheerful chatter of the birds in nearby trees. It’s a good time to reflect, and prepare for the hustle and bustle of office life again.

I’ve been recently promoted which means I can now have more responsibility and expectation resting on my shoulders. I worked hard for the promotion and know, deep down, I’m capable but sometimes the enormity of the role overwhelms me, especially when I’ve been out of the loop for a few days. I know the second I sit down at my desk I will be expected to perform.

The stop is beginning to fill now with fellow commuters. None of them look particularly enamoured at the thought of another working day. We sit in silence, there is no laughter or excited talk. This is the reality of the grind, the working week. It’s the meat and potatoes, the bringing the bacon home, and other meat related analogies I can’t recall this early in the morning.

The man to my right appears to have a head cold, going by the amount of sniffing. I eye him warily, edging further away from him at every available opportunity. The last thing I need is to get sick and bring it home to Fionnuala and the kids. The lady to my left is skilfully applying make up, with a brush and hand mirror. She looks at her reflected image, seems satisfied, and snaps the mirror shut.

The train pulls in, it’s half empty, which means I get a seat and, even better, a window seat at that. It’s the school holidays which means I don’t have to do battle every morning with thousands of blazer wearing hatchlings for a pew. The men in front of me are talking of an earlier ‘security incident’ on the line. In the bad old days this would have been an incendiary device. We called them ‘bomb scares.’ People were much less politically correct back then.

When I hear of such ‘incidents’ now, though, I immediately think suicide. Some poor soul who has chosen to end their life, alone on a track as a train thunders towards them. The driver sees them and slams on the brakes but it’s too late, it’s always too late. Too late for him to stop, too late for them to step aside, to breathe anew and start afresh. A few paragraphs in the evening papers, a few disgruntled passengers tutting about delays on the line.

I have tasted their fear and imbibed their loneliness. It has never brought me to their final resting place but I walk through the city knowing I am surrounded by others who stand at the edge of the abyss, staring blankly into the void. How many more will make that choice before the day is done. It’s a virus, an epidemic raging through our communities. Life is a killer, it sucks the reason to be, to continue, from our very souls.

I stood by the tracks alone this morning. I chose life. I chose irritating phone calls and unnecessarily long e-mails. I chose interminably dull meetings about nothing in particular where little is agreed. I chose my loved ones, I chose hope and faith.

They chose an end to their pain and suffering, an end to indifference and the apathy of a cruel, relentless world. Who am I to judge as there, but for the grace of God, go I and you. Pray for the lost

and broken.

Skelfies from the U.S. of A

Have you ordered your copy yet of my first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square?’ Ruth from Texas and Amy from California have. I was thrilled to wake up this morning to find they had both e-mailed me #Skelfies of themselves with the book. I made that hashtag up myself. Not bad, eh? If you’d like to join this ‘phenomenon’ then feel free to send your pics through.

Alternatively just buy the book and er…..read it. It’s available now via Amazon in e book & paperback format. Just click on the link below to discover what all the fuss is about. And if you like it, then please consider posting a review on Amazon. It really helps promote the visibility of the book and would make a middle aged Northern Irishman very happy. Thank you kindly.

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

I Stand By The Tracks

Thank I write this from my train stop as it’s back to work with a resounding bump this morning. The stop is empty, I’m either incredibly early for the next train or incredibly late for the last one. Either way, I’m sitting here on my own, enjoying the weak morning sun and the cheerful chatter of the birds in nearby trees. It’s a good time to reflect, and prepare for the hustle and bustle of office life again.

I’ve been recently promoted which means I can now have more responsibility and expectation resting on my shoulders. I worked hard for the promotion and know, deep down, I’m capable but sometimes the enormity of the role overwhelms me, especially when I’ve been out of the loop for a few days. I know the second I sit down at my desk I will be expected to perform.

The stop is beginning to fill now with fellow commuters. None of them look particularly enamoured at the thought of another working day. We sit in silence, there is no laughter or excited talk. This is the reality of the grind, the working week. It’s the meat and potatoes, the bringing the bacon home, and other meat related analogies I can’t recall this early in the morning.

The man to my right appears to have a head cold, going by the amount of sniffing. I eye him warily, edging further away from him at every available opportunity. The last thing I need is to get sick and bring it home to Fionnuala and the kids. The lady to my left is skilfully applying make up, with a brush and hand mirror. She looks at her reflected image, seems satisfied, and snaps the mirror shut.

The train pulls in, it’s half empty, which means I get a seat and, even better, a window seat at that. It’s the school holidays which means I don’t have to do battle every morning with thousands of blazer wearing hatchlings for a pew. The men in front of me are talking of an earlier ‘security incident’ on the line. In the bad old days this would have been an incendiary device. We called them ‘bomb scares.’ People were much less politically correct back then.

When I hear of such ‘incidents’ now, though, I immediately think suicide. Some poor soul who has chosen to end their life, alone on a track as a train thunders towards them. The driver sees them and slams on the brakes but it’s too late, it’s always too late. Too late for him to stop, too late for them to step aside, to breathe anew and start afresh. A few paragraphs in the evening papers, a few disgruntled passengers tutting about delays on the line.

I have tasted their fear and imbibed their loneliness. It has never brought me to their final resting place but I walk through the city knowing I am surrounded by others who stand at the edge of the abyss, staring blankly into the void. How many more will make that choice before the day is done. It’s a virus, an epidemic raging through our communities. Life is a killer, it sucks the reason to be, to continue, from our very souls.

I stood by the tracks alone this morning. I chose life. I chose irritating phone calls and unnecessarily long e-mails. I chose interminably dull meetings about nothing in particular where little is agreed. I chose my loved ones, I chose hope and faith. They chose an end to their pain and suffering, an end to indifference and the apathy of a cruel, relentless world. Who am I to judge as there, but for the grace of God, go I and you. Pray for the lost and broken.

Rebecca’s New Book

I’m going to be posting twice a day for a while, in order to promote the book. I know some of you will be sick of the sight of it, but it’s my one chance to get it out into the big, bad world. Feel free to ignore, if you are, and my apologies. My other daily post, I assure you all, will be a Kirkwood Scott free zone. In the meantime, here’s a picture of our Rebecca enjoying her Daddy’s book.

‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ Available NOW to buy on Amazon in e book & paperback format.

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

Where Are Your Words?

Don’t be sad, or tired, or lonely.

Be you.

For that is enough.

I awoke this morning and the above words dropped into my head. Dropped with such a resounding clunk, that I had go write them down immediately. These words were not of me, I’m convinced of that. I don’t know where they emanated from, but this happens me from time to time. Words arrive, from a great height, like a stork delivering a new born child to an expectant home. I’ll never turn such words away from my door.

These words might mean something to you, or they might not. You may cling to them, like a shipwrecked sailor clings to a piece of his former vessel. Or they might pass you by, as you yawn and scroll lazily through your timeline, your fickle attention drawn elsewhere by other seductive words and messages. I am but one of many, I understand that, yet still these words come. And when they come, I must write them down.

Words lead me, they form me, they fill me, an empty, dusty, cracked vessel of little consequence. I am a sponge soaking them up, a crazed arcade character gobbling them down as life happens and I struggle to stay upright amidst the never ending change, challenge and consequence. Without words I am bereft, I need them like an addict needs that next drink, that next fix, that next reason to exist, to persist.

Where are your words? Are they out there, flowing freely across the crisp, white, virginal expanse of paper or computer screen. Are they breaking barriers and leaping continents with the squeeze of a nib or tap of a keyboard? Or are they rotting in the recesses of your dormant soul, never to see the light of day, never to be the light of someone’s day? To have such a talent is to be blessed, to ignore it a grievous error. The choice is yours, freewill such a double edged sword.

Words are my anchor. They found me, ground me, astound me when they drift across my mental landscape, dandelion seeds caught in a light, summer breeze. To let them pass by is unthinkable; so I cast my net and commit them to record. I bare them, share them, before they disappear into the ether from whence they came. They are precious, special, diamonds forged from deep, dark, unimaginable places, squirming to the surface.

These words are not mine. I am merely a curator, caretaker, shepherding them towards those who need them more than I do. These words may change minds, break hearts or build dreams, they are free to roam and flourish now, I have released them into this wonderful wilderness we call life. I turn away, for I know my work is done. Until the next time I am required to answer the calling.

I’ve been lonely, I’ve felt sadness, I am tired. These emotions have scarred and singed, the cruellest of caresses, the most unwelcome of bedfellows. I see them, sense them all around me as I write. They were written for you, yes you, for I know we have walked the same road. My best friend, or the stranger I pass on a busy city street without a second glance. These words are for you.

Do you accept them? Do you gratefully cup your hands and gulp them down, this oratory oasis of mine? Or do you stagger by, too proud to accept what stares you in the face? These words are yours to do with as you wish. My offering to you, this day. I move on now, to the next wisp of an idea, the next flutter of creativity. I leave this ground behind, my mark made. Do you see them? Where are your words?

A Record Breaking Day

Exciting times at FracturedFaithBlog. Sunday was our biggest and er…. bestest in over two years blogging. We set new highs in both daily views and likes. And, to top it all off, Fionnuala’s post on being the wife of a published author (moi) was the highest rating blog we’ve ever had. Huzzah. I found that very apt given the enormous, and largely unseen, work she does behind the scenes for the hatchlings and myself.

We know better than anyone that you never can tell what’s around the next corner, so we are taking this win and running with it. Thank you all again for your support and encouragement which we truly value. 99.9% of the comments we receive are positive and constructive. We appreciate them all. I’ll post again later but, for now, we hope you all have a great day wherever in the world you are.

Bomb Girl – Chapter 2

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

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

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

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

Ariana Hennessy.

Bomb Girl….

Thanks Mum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe then, this could work out after all.

Maybe….

Bomb Girl – Chapter 1

As a thank to everyone who has supported the launch of my first book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ I’m going to serialise another story I’ve been working on. I hope you enjoy it.

Meet Ariana Hennessy, the ‘Bomb Girl.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

But everything wasn’t fine.

Nothing would ever be fine again.

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

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

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

Tramp.

Slut.

Whore.

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

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

Yeah right….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What they needed was an angel.

What they needed was an Ariana Hennessy.

So they created Bomb Girl.

‘Bomb Girl’ continues next week. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it. Just comment below.

Proud Wife of A Published Author

You are probably all fed up looking at our smiling happy faces the last few days I promise you this will be short and sweet and straight to the point two points actually so here goes.

Adam, Hannah, Rebecca and myself are all extremely proud of Stephen. He put his heart and soul into creating our fourth child Kirkwood Scott and to see it come to life now it’s truly amazing. It has even given Rebecca ideas of how to coin in on The Kirkwood Scott wave she thinks she can make her fortune by selling her daddy’s autograph 😂 I do believe that girl will go far she never misses an opportunity to try and make some money.

You all know that I love making things so I’ve had an idea that I need your help with if you’ve bought a copy of the book be it an Ebook or paperback could you please email me a selfie or photo of you holding it in front of you. I want to make a collage of all the images for some artwork that will be hung up in our house.

We know of a book club in London that are going to make The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles their next read thanks to my lovely cousin Bronagh who is in the photo with her neighbour Mike. If you are in a book club and decide to use The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles we would love to see a photo of you all together and hear your thoughts.

Lastly if you’ve got your copy of the book would you please write a review on Amazon for us this will help make the book more visible and build up the it’s profile online.

If you are sending me a photo please send it to this address – fracturedfaithblog@gmail.com

Thank you for all your encouraging messages they mean so much to us all.

Fionnuala xx

Holding A Copy Of My Own Book

Exciting times at chez Black today as my author copy of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ arrived. Cue lots of photographic opportunities with the hatchlings and Charlie the border terrier. To say I was a tad excited about holding a copy of my own book is probably the understatement of this, or any other, century. Have you ordered your copy yet? If not, then just hit the link below.

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

Reasons To Stay Alive #3 – It Will Get Better

It’s the weekend, and a long one at that, as it’s a public holiday in Northern Ireland on Monday. I finally have an opportunity to draw breath and look back on the events of the last few days. I’ve been employed by my organisation for 19 years and was promoted on Tuesday to a senior position I’ve been working towards for a long time. The interview process was one of the most stressful experiences of my working life.

On the back of that, my first novel was published on Amazon on Thursday. It’s been almost two years since I started writing it and the biggest project I’ve ever undertaken. To see it up on Amazon was one of the proudest moments of my life. What’s more, people are buying it, and early reviews have been positive. I sure hope all you North American buyers get the dark Irish humour I peddle.

Later today I’m off on a 8 mile training run as I continue to work towards my 10th marathon. I haven’t selected the race yet, as I gradually up my distance. So far, that’s went well and I’ve been pleased with my pace. My diet could be better and I’m hoping to drop a few pounds but Marathon 10 is looking more likely again after a year of illness and annoying injuries. The third leg of my Mission Improbable.

All this would have been HIGHLY improbable, less than a decade ago when I was unfit and unhappy. This unhappiness radiated outwards and affected my loved ones, like a pebble launched into a placid lake. The ripples had repercussions, they reverberated negatively around my little world. I was taking more out of life, than I was contributing, treading water and going nowhere fast.

The moral of this story, if there has to be one, is that your life and circumstances can change. You can turn your life around, you can start again, but it requires both desire and action on your part. It requires a decision, a choice, to turn your back on what was and embrace what lies ahead. It’s not easy, it’s not instantaneous, but it is most definitely attainable. Faith, Hope and Love conquer all. Even the smallest of steps forward is still a step forward.

I still have rough days, I still struggle, but the good massively outnumber the not so good. It’s a war of attrition, but a war I’m winning. It’s the biggest cliche in the world and before all this happened I would have scoffed at its mere mention but hard experience has taught me its truth – THINGS CAN AND WILL GET BETTER. Every pit has a rock bottom, every car crash of a life a defining moment.

Rock bottom is a blessing, the ultimate gift. It’s not the end, but an opportunity to start afresh. If you can’t go any lower, then there’s only one direction – UPWARDS. Grab the rope dangling before you and pull hard, haul your sorry self towards the light above. If I can do it, then so can you, and I’m with you, every torturous step of the way, via this blog. It might take months, years, the rest of your life, but it is possible.

I’ve said all I can say. I’ve walked the long road, practised what I’ve preached, and washed up on your blogging beach. I’m the message in the bottle, the message you might not want to hear, at this moment in your life but I’m telling you anyway. The message for your mess, I’m not the antidote or cure. Only you can instigate that, but I might be the spark that alights the flames of change within you.

I’m Shameless, I Know, But….

Call it shameless attention seeking, but it’s not every day you get to say you’ve written a book and it’s been published. My debut novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ went live on Amazon yesterday, and is now available to buy worldwide on Amazon in e-book and paperback format.

I hope you all enjoy the book. All reviews, reblogs, shares and recommendations would be much appreciated. Tell your friends and family, tell the stranger on the bus for that matter. Here’s the link to Amazon:

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

Also, if you haven’t done so already, please like my Facebook author page at:

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

Thank you again for the incredible support and encouragement I’ve received this week. I’ve relied so much on my WordPress family during this journey and I’m relying on you all again. Let’s keep the ‘Kirkwood Ball’ rolling.

Stephen

Shards #1 – What Do You See When You Look In The Mirror?

When you look in a mirror what do you see? Is it a functional task, performing a visual checklist, before you step out to face what the day ahead brings. Hair, check. Clothes, check. Overall appearance? Meh, acceptable, you’ll do, I’m late for the train, no time to think too hard about this. Then it’s off without another thought until you partake of the same perfunctory ritual again, 24 hours later.

Or is it a more drawn out process? You preen and pout, basking in what faces you. A selfie perhaps, for you like what you see. And why not for you’ve worked hard to cultivate this image of perfection. You smile as you know you’ll turn heads wherever you go today. Image is everything and you are enraptured by yours. You stare at the centre of your universe and it smirks back at you.

Or do you cringe and shy away from the face and body looking back at you? You don’t like what you see, it’s a visage which fills you with guilt, shame and despair. Oh, to be anywhere else, to be anyone else. You hate what you have become, what you are. The mind plays tricks but the mirror never lies. You are an embarrassment, a joke, and the whole world knows it. They only have to look.

Self can be an idol or an enemy. It flatters, it taunts, it throws you this way then that on a whim. We fixate, we obsess, shackled to the altar of me, me, me. It is a prison of the soul, the darkest, deepest of dungeons from which there is little hope of escape. It’s a life sentence with no chance of parole. You are stuck with one another. We are what we eat, drink, intake or inject into our bodies. We are consumed by what we consume.

Yet what’s that lying at your feet? So small and seemingly insignificant. You stoop down to pick it up. A sharp edged stone which nestles neatly in the palm of your hand. A stone is a stone. It holds no secrets or hidden depths. You watch as you form a fist around it. An idea takes root in your mind. You blush at even daring to think such a radical thought. Seven years bad luck, isn’t that what they say?

Before you realise what you’re doing, you throw your arm back and hurl it at the mirror, the stone striking its surface and sending a thousand shards shattering in all directions. You stand at the centre of the carnage, unscathed, without a scratch or cut. You look beyond the damaged mirror and the scales finally fall away to reveal the truth which was there all belong. The truth behind the mirror.

Shards. They cut the self away without mercy or regrets. Multiple edges carving out a new message, one of hope and love. The self is dead, long live the self. Selflessness, that is. For you look into the eyes of the family and friends behind the facade. You look into their eyes and see your true self, the person you were created to be before the world perverted and distorted you beyond recognition. You see the original prototype, box fresh and flawless.

It is then you can breathe out, exhale and experience freedom in its purest form. You are free at last from the yoke which has hung around your neck for so long. Free to live a life uninhibited by the face in the mirror. All you have to do is pick up that stone at your feet and start living the rest of your life. Death can be a beginning, a purification, a cleansing ritual like no other. Kill the self.

How do you see when you look in the mirror?

Can I Ask You A Question?

Whenever people ask me what my book is about, I hmmmm and haaaaah without really giving them an adequate answer. I used to describe it as ‘Harry Potter meets Trainspotting,’ until Fionnuala told me it’s nothing like Harry Potter….or Trainspotting for that matter. Sorry to disappoint all you Daniel Radcliffe and Ewan McGregor fans out there but I don’t want to be accused of product representation.

I’m much better with the written, as opposed to spoken, word so here’s the back cover blurb as it will appear on the book. I wrote it on Monday and it’s the final piece of the Kirkwood Scott jigsaw. I received an e-mail from my publisher late last night that the book will be available to buy on Amazon as an e-book or paperback from next week. I’ll post when I have a definitive publishing date.

In the meantime I’d be grateful if you could help us out by taking part in a little survey to assist us with orders and the like. Just answer the following questions in the comments below.

1. Will you be purchasing a copy of the book?

2. If so, will you be purchasing the e-book or paperback version?

3. Would you be interested in a signed copy, with personalised message from yours truly?

4. What are you expecting from ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’

Leave your comments below. Thank you 😊

Lockdown

Big 48 hours coming up for me so I’m going to be on lockdown for a few days.

Thank you all for your continued support and see you on the other side.

Stephen

Hear Ye Hear Ye

Hear Ye Hear Ye

I’ve (or rather Fionnuala has) recently set up an author’s page on Facebook. You know, that archaic social media site that kids don’t use. It would be great if you could drop by and give it a like. It means you get twice the ‘Stephen experience’ and see what I get up to in the ‘real world.’ If you do, I also promise to cut down on the use of inverted commas as a substitute for ‘finger waggling.’ Oh….anyway here’s the link. Hit me up!

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

The Last Lap

I’m proofing the final edit of the book today. I really should be doing other ‘stuff’ but I’ve foolishly informed my publisher I’ll have the final, final, final version with her by close of play tomorrow. So when I should be running, or studying or watching ‘Killing Eve’ boxsets I’m poring over a manuscript I’ve pored over on countless occasions before. Familiarity breeds content? Not quite, but I’m starting to tire of my own words.

The good news is that it reads well. The publisher has done a fantastic job with the layout and format and an even better job at ironing out my ever so dodgy grasp of punctuation and grammar. I have learnt so much about apostrophes and semi colons these last two years. And as for the mighty comma, don’t even get me started. I’m sure the grammar freaks will find something to moan about but, hey, we’ve done our best.

The cover is stupendous, beyond anything I hoped for. Although it’s the ‘Kirkwood Scott Chronicles,’ I really wanted Meredith to be on the cover so I’m glad the publisher went with my thoughts. It really helped being able to visualise my concept in a photo shoot and send the images to the ‘arty’ people who designed it. Thanks again to my talented photographer, Peter Johnston, and ‘Meredith model’, Rebecca Monaghan.

I’ve had several bizarre out of body experiences while reading this edit. It’s been some months since I visited the story. Despite being almost two years of my life when I finally closed the lid of my laptop I never wanted to set eyes on it again. I had overdosed on Kirkwood, Meredith and Skelly. Stuffed to the gills, I was. I never wanted to read another word of it again. Yet, here I am.

It’s bizarre in that, while I remember writing it, the words feel as if they belong to someone else. Did I really dream up this story? It’s like it’s someone else’s work and they dumped it in my head whereupon I regurgitated it word for word, the clumsiest of conduits. It’s daunting. Could I ever repeat the feat or was this a one off? Am I a shrivelled husk now, drained of creative juices and anything remotely resembling a sequel?

There’s also the mistakes. How can you read a page 22,578 times and still overlook a glaring typo or get a date wrong. Repeat after me 100 times. The Battle of Waterloo was in 1815, not 1814, 1816 or 3589 for that matter. Consistency is key. There’s nothing worse than a glaring error to distract the reader from the story and make them doubt the already dubious talents of the author. The least I can do is get my dates correct.

Yet here I still find myself, trudging through the final chapters. It’s the last lap of the track, the home straight, the final furlong. All I have to do is keep my legs pumping for a few more seconds and I’ll clatter over the finishing line, exhausted but fulfilled. While my lungs scream for oxygen and my legs cramp up, I’ll fall to the ground safe in the knowledge I’ve run my race and earned the plaudits of the crowd. The pain is temporary, the achievement permanent.

The finished product is never perfect. No matter how many times I will read over it, I will always find some blemish or imperfection. It can always be better, improved upon. But there comes a time when you have to step back and let it go, out into the great unknown. I’ve done all I can and it’s time to let my literary first born step out into the big, bad world. Kirkwood Scott will have to fight his own battles from now on.

It’s Competition Time!

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

To celebrate the launch of my first novel, we are holding a competition on my Author Facebook page. Click the link above to find out more and while you’re at it like the page. The prize is a signed copy of the book. Yes, signed. By me! Hurry Hurry. In the meantime I’ll be sitting awkwardly in the corner, practicing my autograph. Thank you 😊

Happy Birthday Adam

A belated Happy Birthday the big lad himself, our son Adam, who turned 17 yesterday. We celebrated with a family BBQ which he oversaw himself. On Saturday he has invited some friends over for more of the same. It’s a well deserved break given he has studied so hard these last few months for his GCSE exams. He can now enjoy his summer break in style.

Happy Birthday Adam

Book Cover Reveal

Well here it is….

A sneak preview of the book’s cover which my publisher e-mailed me last night. I just have to proof the formatted manuscript one more time and you can all then buy it as an e-book or paperback via Amazon. I’m really excited at how it has all turned out but would love to hear your thoughts. Leave your comments below. Not long now people!

Happy 4th July America

Happy 4th July to all our American followers! A long time ago there was a war after some tea got poured into a harbour. The redcoats got a bit of a pasting. Some men in wigs signed a bit of parchment. I wrote a dissertation about Earl Cornwallis and his dodgy military tactics in the Carolinas. I got a 2:1. Before all that the Chinese invented fireworks. I think. The end.

Anyway….enjoy the holiday!!

Hungry For Life….And Toast

Now that the hatchlings are on their summer holidays, our house is a little less frenetic in the mornings. I’m the only ‘child’ Fionnuala has to usher out of the nest, so there is (slightly) less screaming, shouting and general pandemonium. It’s chaos but organised chaos for Mrs Black runs a finely oiled domestic machine, despite my frequent best efforts to throw a spanner in the works.

We now don’t have to get up quite so early and there are less bodies jockeying for access to the bathroom. School uniforms don’t have to be ironed or lunches prepared. There are no school bags to be hurdled on the floor or notes to be written to Mr. Thingy or Mrs What’s Her Face. One thing hasn’t changed though. I still wake up hungry. Useless to all and sundry until I visit the toaster.

They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day and who am I to argue. Like most people, I’m a bit grouchy when my stomach is empty. Normally I consume a cheeky banana while waiting for the bread to pop up, a golden brown vision, all ready for buttering and consumption. After that all is well with the world, until mid morning anyway when the next refuelling is required.

Hobbits had the right idea. No self respecting Baggins or Took would set a large, hairy foot out of their hobbit holes until they had partaken of several breakfasts. It does exactly what it says on the tin, breaking your fast from the day before. Without it, the tank is empty and seizing days is frankly out of the question. These ‘I don’t do breakfast’ types leave me baffled. I simply couldn’t function without food first thing.

I appreciate we are all different but if I were a visitor at your house and you offered me a solitary cup of coffee the following morning, I’m afraid you would get a strange look or seven. At weekends Fionnuala has accused me of refusing to surface until I hear the sound of sausages sizzling and their aroma wafting up the stairs. This, of course, is an outrageous allegation which I vehemently deny. Ahem….

We all need something to get out of bed for in the morning. It can be sizzling sausages or a variety of more serious motivating factors. It can be family, friends, work or all three rolled into one big satisfying ball. But there needs to be an accelerant to fire our engines and coerce us into throwing back the bedcovers no matter how daunting a proposition that might seem. We only have so many revolutions on this earth.

We must use them wisely, squeezing every last drop of value from each one. Depression and anxiety often materialise as a lethargy to face life and the myriad of challenges it presents. Their victims choose to opt out, to stay in bed and hide away from the big, bad world. The hunger is gone, the inner spark which propels us up and out the door every morning. Hunger has many negative connotations but when it comes to living, we all need to hear our bellies growl now and again.

I’m writing this from bed. All is quiet, the alarm clock is yet to sound and herald another day of ‘adulting.’ Well, I say quiet, but Woody Woodpecker is already gently tapping at my stomach, suggesting I get up and raid the kitchen cupboards. His incessant nudges will only increase in frequency and force unless I slither from under the sheets soon. I’m hungry for another crack at life. Are you?

What’s your favourite breakfast?

What makes you get out of bed in the morning?

I’m Not One To Tempt Fate But…

Today I ran my best time in months upon months. Here’s hoping I’m finally over the injuries and illness which has plagued me so far this year. Hoping to keep it going through the summer in anticipation of a half marathon in September. Here’s a screenshot of today’s effort. I’m no world beater but it’s good to be getting back to a semblance of my former self.

Blinded By Your Grace

I believe in God but haven’t been to church in a number of years. That’s a story in itself. Suffice to say, I’ve never quite fit into the traditional church environment. Maybe it’s the inner cynic inside of me, forever questioning the motives of these ‘too good to be true’ people I found myself hanging out with every Sunday. People who then often disappeared off the face of the planet for the remaining six days of the week, when I really needed them.

I’ve always felt an outsider when it comes to organised religion. It’s not that I’m out of my depth, more in the wrong swimming pool altogether. I’ve never truly fit in, despite the welcoming veneer and painted on smiles which greeted me every Sunday morning. It was all too cosy, too comfortable, which is strange as I never recall Jesus living that kind of life whenever I used to pick up my Bible.

On Friday night, the U.K. grime artist Stormzy headlined the Glastonbury music festival to an estimated 200,000 people. Millions more watched on television. Grime is a form of urban hip hop/rap which has swept the charts by storm this year. Stormzy’s recent single ‘Vossi Bop’ hit Number 1 and his second studio album is eagerly awaited by his army of fans. The artist and his musical genre are a phenomenon.

Stormzy has a social conscience. He raps about life on the streets, about major social-economic issues. His lyrics are intelligent and insightful, fuelled by a desire to expose the injustice he sees all around him. Topics include the epidemic that is knife crime, gang culture and racism. This is no brainless wannabe gangster. He writes with passion and purpose, spitting out his rhymes to promote important topics we so often turn our backs on.

The highlight of the show though, for me anyway, was when he slowed it down to perform his massive hit ‘Blinded By Your Grace.’ Backed by a soulful choir he revealed a deep faith which bolsters his career. Despite his tough guy image and, at times, expletive ridden lyrics, he laid himself bare as he sang a song of thanks to his God. And, cynical old me believed him. 200,000 voices sang along, mobile phones in the air. I remember when we used lighters but hey ho.

Many of the huge crowd and watching TV audience may have had no idea what the song was about. Maybe others did, but weren’t going to let a bit of ‘God talk’ get in the way of a good tune. And maybe, just maybe, for a few the penny dropped. They stopped and thanked God for everything He was doing in their lives. People who had never stepped foot in a church building before, suddenly found themselves surrounded by it. Proper church.

Death Of A Jane Doe

Belfast. A Friday afternoon in sunny June. Afternoon revellers gather at the end of a busy day to unwind and start the weekend in style. A blues band play in the packed beer garden, the singer’s gravelly tones drifting across the square, backed by a guitar which reverberates through your very marrow. The Guinness is flowing and the craic is mighty. Tourists mix with locals and all is well with the world. Or is it?

Alleys run off the main square in all directions. One leads to the main shopping thorough, another to a nearby church. Arterial routes where curious eyes and ears are drawn to the throng, swaying as one to the intoxicating music. They scurry from their offices and shops, eager to join the mellow mass, savouring that first mouthful of ice cold cider, that first peal of laughter which quickens the heart and lightens the soul. Friday and sunshine. A potent combination.

A picture speaks a thousand words. If only they knew what lurks just beyond the lens, along the urine stained alleys just out of sight. Broken bottles and broken dreams, the living dead lie huddled desperate for that next fix, that next drink. Ignored by the revellers they shiver in their rancid sleeping bags, despite the sun’s warming rays. They know no weekends for every day is the same monotonous routine, a battle to stay alive.

Until the day comes when they no longer do. When something snaps, imperceptible to all but their inner ear. Be it rope, needle or pill, the decision is the same. The ends justify the means. They lie, waiting to be discovered, for their 15 minutes of fame within the crime scene cordon. At the end, they received the attention they had craved all their lives. Nobody walks past them now, for they are the entertainment on the square for all to see.

A crowd gathers, but their is no applause or laughter. A few stern faces, a muttered prayer or two, as they are zipped up and carefully placed in the private ambulance. The photographer packs up his gear and moves on to the next call. For there is always a next call. The cordon tape is torn down and the alley re-opened. Nothing to see here, everyone move on now. And perfect timing for the landlord is eager to open up.

Within hours, the square is heaving again and they are all but forgotten. A few throwaway remarks. ‘Was there a body found last night?’ ‘Yeah some homeless person. Overdose I think so sad.’ ‘Yeah, terrible. Anyway, what are you drinking? Same again.’ Meanwhile on a metal slab on the other side of town, the first incision is made. Jane Doe lies impassively, waiting to reveal her secrets to the pathologist’s scalpel. Such a pretty girl, such a terrible waste.

This is how it is, day after day after dreadful day. It is a creeping epidemic and we are indifferent as it caresses the fringes of our consciousness, a gentle tide lapping against a deserted, moonlit beach. Two paragraphs in the morning edition, 30 seconds on the lunchtime bulletin. She was nothing, but to someone once she was everything. It might be days, or weeks or months but that knock on the door is coming. Jane is finally coming home.

What could have been? What should have been? Before whatever happened and she fled the nest, destined for the bright lights of a city which consumed her whole. Glasses click and songs are sung in the square. Off to the side, a solitary bunch of flowers mark where she left us. She had sat there for months watching them pass. None of them saw her, nobody cared. Just another day, just another statistic. Until the next one.

This Is Me

I received an e-mail from my publisher yesterday to say they had completed the final edit of the book and are now finishing off the formatting and cover design. I’m hopeful the proofs will be forwarded to me next week for final checks. I’m particularly excited to see what the artists come up with for the cover based on the suggestions I sent them. It feels like Christmas Eve and I’m seven years old all over again.

Although the book is called ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ I’m rooting for Meredith Starc to be the cover star. I’m starting to seriously think about Book 2 but can’t commit to it until ‘Skelly’s Square’ is birthed. Being a typical man, I can’t multi task. The launch excites and terrifies me in equal measure. It’s all bubbling to the surface, about to burst through and become as real as real can be.

Believe it or not I’m painfully shy and take social awkwardness to a whole new level. WordPress is one of the safe places where I can expose myself through my writing. ‘Skelly’s Square’ is the pinnacle of that dream, where I’ve poured my heart and soul into a story which I hope many of you will read and enjoy. The support I receive on this blog never ceases to amaze me. If it weren’t for my fellow bloggers there would be no book.

Exposure is scary, isn’t it? Right now I’m starting to tell ‘real’ people I’ve written a book. Friends, work colleagues, the community I immerse myself in every time I step out the front door. The response has been er…..interesting. While many have been genuinely delighted, others have viewed me as if I had two heads. A few responses have been largely indifferent which I’ve found hurtful.

It’s at times like that I’ve understood how some writers prefer to maintain their anonymity under a pseudonym. Why reveal yourself and your art to the world to be greeted by a blanket of apathy and ridicule? Maybe I’m being a tad paranoid and overtly sensitive but I dread the thought of being mocked. Authors take the bravest of steps when they face the world head on and announce, ‘I’ve written a book.’

Take my author photo. I was deeply embarrassed having it taken in a public place, the Belfast backstreet I was walking through where I first had the idea for ‘Skelly’s Square.’ Passers by eyed me curiously as I tried to follow the instructions of my photographer, Peter, and look natural. Easier said than done, let me tell you. I hate getting my photograph taken at the best of times.

You need to be brave to write, to bare all, to reveal the real you to the judging eyes of others. The book is two years of my life. I want you all to love it, but what if you don’t? You need to be braver to write and publish. The process is daunting and discouragement lurks around every corner. Author photos, interviews and reviews are just parts of that process. So….deep breath:…here goes nothing.

Here’s my official author photo. This is me. Warts and all. Looking awkward in a Belfast alley. Although, just to clarify, I don’t actually have any warts. Kirkwood would be so proud of me. The book is imminent, a whole new chapter in my life. Watch this space for more details next week. Hopefully the long wait will be over soon. Thank you all again for your unceasing support. I will always be grateful.

Reasons To Stay Alive – The Now

I wish it was this time next month. I would be on my summer leave. I’d have another stressful job interview behind me. My book would be published. I’m anxious about the latter two. Very anxious. The next month could be one of the most important of my life. In so many ways. It’s a big deal, the biggest of deals. Well, to me anyway. I’m wishing my life away, I know. Yet, still this is my wish.

Anxiety is the fiend of the future. It’s worrying about what lies ahead, what’s around the corner, over the next hill. It’s a fear of the unknown, the uncontrollable. Depression, however, is a vitriolic demon from our past. Regret, guilt, dismay at past actions and decisions which hang over us like the darkest of clouds. Depression is a backpack of boulders which you lug around after you, years after the event.

These toxic twins converge in the present. The now. They are two tiny drops of ink released into a glass of cool, clear water. There, they wreak havoc, clouding and contaminating everything we think, say and do. They perch on a shoulder apiece, poking and prodding, whispering acidic asides, draining us of our confidence and calm. They strangle hope and aspirations. They are the destroyers of worlds. Your world and mine.

This battle rages in the now. An invisible struggle which many around us know nothing about. We keep it locked inside us, too ashamed and fearful to open our hearts and expose them for what they truly are. A Pandora’s Box of despair and dismay. We soldier on in silence, refusing to reach out for the help we so desperately need. We drown in the abyss, the quietest of deaths. Nobody needs to know.

The now is our prison. It’s bars are thick and strong. Our cells are bleak and bare, and we have few visitors. Here we wither away, starved of nourishment. Our souls wither on the vine, our hearts shatter into a million shards. There are no witnesses to this disintegration. For on the surface everything is great, wonderful, fine. Meet pride. Another enemy of the mind.

Want to know a secret? The now is freedom. We must embrace it, open our eyes and look around. The now is virgin ground, a sanctuary from poisonous pasts and fetid futures. A summers walk, a child’s laughter, a meal with loved ones. These are the now, our escape tunnel from what was, and what is yet to come. Each hour, minute, second is the now. There is nothing but the now. Fresh hope, another chance.

I must recalibrate and focus. Stop looking over my shoulder, or straining to see what is ahead. Remove the scales from my eyes and look around. Appreciate life for the miracle it is. It’s a mindset, a philosophy I strive and strain for every day. So tantalisingly close, all I have to do is stretch and grasp it. Carpe diem. Seize the day. For within it, lies the glittering jewel we call our lives. Seize the day. Seize it now.

Give Me Your 10 Best Words

I realise I don’t post a lot, if any, of my fiction writing on this blog so thought I would give you all the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about. Is he actually any good? Or is he just full of it, whatever it is. I’m, therefore, seeking your co-operation. I need your ideas, thoughts, suggestions for some short stories I will post on the blog over the summer. So….ahem….cue drum roll…. give me 10 of your best words.

Comment below with a 10 word (or less) premise for a short story. I’ll select those I like the most and will write a short story based upon it. Seeing as I have so much spare time on my hands and don’t have a whole lot to do. I’ll keep them short, which I guess is the whole point of a short story. But, who knows, you might have given me the germ of an idea for a full blown novel. We shall see, won’t we?

Give me your 10 best words….

Reasons to Stay Alive #1

I’ve just finished reading ‘Reasons To Stay Alive,’ by Matt Haig . It is a shocking, raw, yet ultimately uplifting account of his lifelong battle with depression and anxiety. I devoured it in two days and took a lot of learning away from it. I would encourage anyone with mental health issues to pick up a copy of it, as it’s well worth a read. Here’s what I took away from it. Feel free to agree, disagree or comment below.

Depression, anxiety, OCD, BPD etc are all recognised illnesses. Mental illnesses, yes, but illnesses. They are nothing to be ashamed of, yet so many people hide them away like a guilty secret. If you sprain an ankle, do you avoid talking about it? We talk about our coughs and colds, aches and pains endlessly. Yet, so many still treat mental health as a taboo subject?

Why? I think a lot of it is down to lack of knowledge. It’s that awkward subject, the elephant in the room, the issue we’ve heard of but it only happens to other people and not us. How do you describe OCD to your friends and family without sounding like a raving lunatic.? Explain it to people who have little or know understanding of the illness? Aren’t we all a little bit OCD? Is it something to do with being a clean freak? Er….no.

Education is key but education cannot happen without communication. Two way communication, yes, but we as a society need to become more open and accepting to discussing such matters. Burying our heads in the sand won’t make them go away. The problem will remain, growing and festering until it becomes too late to do anything about it. We need to grab the thistle and stare these demons squarely in the eye.

We need to create an empathetic environment where individuals can feel comfortable and confident enough to speak up about their illness. Without fear of judgement, ridicule or patronising comments. Telling them to ‘snap out of it’ is not an acceptable response. Do you snap out of a broken leg? No. We need to be prepared to listen to those around us who so desperately need to talk. Actively listen.

Yes, it’s an awkward subject matter. Big, scary topics. But they won’t go away and we need to start somewhere. We need to let people know that we’re there and we care. It can be in the house, the workplace or even in this wonderful online community we call WordPress. If you see someone who you think is struggling reach out to them. Be that beacon of hope, that light in the darkness. You might just save a life.

I need to practice what I preach. I personally need to do more. It’s one of the reasons I started writing, to share my own experiences in the hope it resonated with someone and helped them with their own struggles. I remain visible and available. I’m here. Every day. I’m no expert or counsellor but I have two open ears and a willing heart. I want to help. All you have to do is ask.

I could write so much more, this is only the tip of the iceberg. And I will in the days to come. But for today I’ll leave you with some food for thought? Are you doing enough for the mental health of your loved ones? What else could, and should, you be doing? Or are you suffering in silence, an anguished prisoner in the grip of mental torment. Be brave. Speak up. Talk. Listen. Today. Please.

Everywhere You Go….

I don’t know what it’s like in your little corner of the world but, when all else fails in Northern Ireland, we talk about the weather. We talk about the weather A LOT. I say talk but it’s more complain. It’s either (mostly) too wet but then we moan when it’s too dry as it’s not good for the garden. It’s too hot or too cold, we are a nation of whingers obsessed over a phenomenon we have no control over and which, invariably, disappoints us.

If it wasn’t for the weather a lot of folk on this fair aisle would barely open their mouths. When I make my nightly phone call to my mother, it takes up a good third of the conversation. It is our go to play when all other avenues and topics have dried up. It can fill the most awkward of silences and rises like a verdant oasis in a desert of silence. ‘So….terrible weather these days, isn’t it?’

It’s the base level, the common denominator, the gungy goo at the bottom of the chat barrel which we scrape at so gratefully when all else fails. The media are just as obsessed, as we are bombarded with updates and predictions. There are weather shows, weather channels, dancing weather men, singing weather woman. The weather is often the only reason we watch the news. Never mind Brexit or war with Iran. Is it going to rain tomorrow?

As a runner, I have an acute interest in the weather. It determines what I wear, my route and all sorts of other variants. Take yesterday for example. The ever so smug forecasters predicted thunder, lightning and heavy rain from lunchtime onwards. I had a meeting at noon and then planned a 5K. It was a race against time (literally) to fit it all in before the heavens opened.

I set out, with one eye nervously scanning the skies for ominous clouds. 27 minutes and 41 seconds later I was home and hosed. Well, not hosed, as I was dry as a bone. We waited and waited throughout the afternoon but the anticipated deluge never turned up. Surprise. The meteorologists had got it wrong. Again. We were treated to that rarest of sights. Blue skies over Belfast.

Want to know what the weather is doing? I suggest you just look out of the window. For we have no control over the heavens above, despite all the fancy gadgets and ever so expensive computer programs. We can never tell what’s around the corner so best be prepared for all eventualities. Umbrella, sun tan lotion, scarf & gloves. Best bring it all. This is Northern Ireland after all.

A bit like life. We can be sauntering along without a care in the world when, out of nowhere…..BANG….the storm strikes. We are left battered and bruised, having been completely unprepared and left utterly exposed to the earthly elements. Try as we might, we cannot predict what lies around the corner. That’s just the way it is. Suck it up, move on, get over yourself. Etc. Etc. Etc. Ad nauseum.

Like the weather, we have no control over what we seek to control most. We are leaves in the wind, to be lifted and thrown about like….well….leaves in the wind. I don’t know what lies ahead in the coming weeks. Anxiety and worry reign supreme. All I can do is my best and hope everything falls into place. Look out of the window and survey my mental landscape. Can I chance it? Will it rain on my parade today?

Running In Circles

Back running today after my latest injury setback. I originally thought it was worse but, thankfully, it seems to have settled down after a week of rest. Well, I say rest, but what I actually mean is a week of not running. You never really get to rest at chez Black as we lurch from one drama to the next. That’s all part of the fun, I guess, but Monday morning seems to come round earlier and earlier every week. Oh well.

I’ll be effectively starting from scratch again today but, all being well, I’ll build up in distance as the week progresses. Weather permitting, as there is thunder, lightning and heavy rain forecast for later today. I can’t remember a wetter June and I’m certainly getting plenty of use out of the Ulster Rugby anorak I recently purchased with some of my birthday money. Us Irish have webbed feet.

I like to have a running target and had previously agreed to run a half marathon for our Office charity for 2019, the Northern Ireland Hospice who provide palliative care for terminally ill people. It’s looking like it will be the Belfast Half Marathon in September which leaves me the whole summer to prepare. I’m not setting myself a time target, I’ll be happy to get round in one piece and raise a few pounds for the cause.

After that, it will be my tenth marathon. I’ve decided I want to run it for the Mae Murray Foundation, a charity which allows disabled young people to access activities they would otherwise never get a chance to enjoy. Thanks to them our daredevil daughter, Hannah, has been cycling, snow tubing, surfing and skiiing with them in the last year alone. They had a disco last Friday night and she was the last person off the dance floor.

I’m not sure when I’ll run it. It will most likely be Belfast 2020 which seems an awfully long way off, especially given the injuries and illness I’ve had, to date, in 2019. I worry so much could go wrong between now and then. Part of me is tempted to commit to something earlier but this clashes with Adam’s rugby schedule and I’m loathe to miss any of his matches when he has such a big season ahead.

I need to learn to walk before I run. Any distance. Small steps, build it up gradually. Learn to enjoy running again instead of waking up enveloped in a blanket of gloom at the thought of having to run. I don’t have to run, the world will keep turning if i don’t. But I want to and probably need to, more so for my mental than physical health. The thought of running causes me anxiety but the actual act itself is a complete stress buster. Figure that one out.

Today I run.

Fear The Niggle

Niggle. Such an innocent little word. Quaint. Cute. Inoffensive. It’s been in my head of late as I’ve had a few injuries this week which have curtailed my running. A twinge here, a strain there. Nothing in themselves but just enough to keep me off the roads. Niggly injuries. They’re not causing me any great pain, I don’t need to be rushed to A&E. They’re just there. Doing enough to be noticed, and little else. Niggling me.

Niggles are a blessing and a curse to runners. Don’t worry, this post isn’t all about running. Bear with me, I’ll be finished in a paragraph. Two at the most. They frustrate and hinder you, but they also act as red flags, a warning sign to slow down and take some time off. For if you ignore a niggle and keep running then snap….scrunch….squeal. The situation becomes a whole lot messier and you do find yourself in the back of a speeding ambulance.

I embrace my niggles then. The physical ones at least. But what about the niggles of the mind. Those unwanted, obtrusive thoughts that pick and poke at you, demanding your undivided attention. They start as the tiniest seed, lodged in the corner of your psyche. They are minimal, minuscule, much a do about nothing. You ignore them for so long, they have no hold over you. The battle has been won and they are the vanquished. Right?

Niggles love playing the underdog. They thrive on licking their wounds in the corner. Their days of lauding over your every waking moment are a distant memory. They cannot harm you. But try as you might you can’t completely dislodge them. That’s the strength of the niggle. It’s perseverance, stayability, I’m not going away and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m dead, I’m buried, I’m sprawling on the canvas. But I’m still there.

They love complacency and they never rest, forever probing, testing, seeking out that one chink in your otherwise impenetrable armour. When they find it, they slither inside like a venomous viper, before sinking dripping fangs into exposed flesh. Then slither off again as the poison surges through your system, spreading it’s toxins at a rate you cannot repel. Niggles are nasty. Once they are within, they will not relent until you bend the knee to them.

Niggles are for life. Imagine a radio turned up full blast. It’s at 10. You take the pills, read the literature, talk to the right people and, in time, it’s a 7, a 4, a 1. You can think again, live again without the deafening, all consuming background noise of the obtrusive thought and it’s accompanying compulsions. OCD is the Crown Prince and it’s army of niggles assail your defences tirelessly. They do not sleep.

I wrestle these niggles every day. Most times, I have the upper hand, but now and again they threaten to overwhelm me. I educate, medicate and mediate. I flirt with the OCD community, like a child holding its hand over an open flame. Afraid to spend too much time there in case the heat becomes too much and my soul is singed. Fire purges, it cauterises, but it can also burn to the bone. It is a double edged sword.

I turn my back on the niggle. I look away, using the same coping mechanisms and strategies which have served me so well these last years. I walk the streets and wonder at the faces I see. Calm, composed, seemingly in control. But what lies behind the mask? Is all as tranquil as it seems? Or has the niggle taken hold, dragging them screaming in silence towards fresh, unvisited hells? I wonder as I walk. I fear these places.

Do you have unwanted, obtrusive thoughts?

Are you anxious, worried, depressed?

Do you fear the niggle?

Stephen v The Rock. You Decide?

I’ve just finished watching ‘San Andreas’ starring Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Fionnuala found it while flicking through the channels after a long day tidying gardens and cleaning up the back yard. We both love a good disaster movie, and this was one of the few we hadn’t watched. Basically ‘The Rock,’ in the space of 114 minutes saves his family and a bunch of other people, while San Francisco collapses all around him. All while bursting out of a ridiculously tight t-shirt.

I’ve had a soft spot for ‘The Rock’ since his WWE days. His movies never require much usage of the grey matter but are largely solid, watchable entertainment. Plus, he doesn’t seem to take life too seriously and isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. In ‘San Andreas’ he’s married to the very young looking Carla Gugino and they stretch my incredulity to the limit by being the parents of Alexandra Daddario. Gugino must have been a young mother. As in 12,13?

‘The Rock’ drives jeeps, flies planes and navigates motorboats in the search for Alexandra who seems more than capable of looking after herself, but who am I to argue. About a billion people die as earthquakes and tsunamis ravage the city, but we don’t see a body or drop of blood because it’s not that kind of movie. Carla glistens throughout while ‘The Rock’s’ teeth shine through the smoke and devastation like a beacon of hope.

By right, they should be killed about 368 times in the first hour but possess the outrageous luck that all self respecting action heroes have. Nothing can stop ‘The Rock’ when it comes to saving his family. He also locates his daughter amidst the carnage of a destroyed city in about three and a half minutes. Not bad, even by his standards. At the end, when asked what happens now, he stares stony faced at the ruined landscape and replies ‘Now we rebuild.’ It will probably take him a week or so.

I’ll never be ‘The Rock.’ Unless I win the lottery, hire a personal trainer and have some serious dental bleaching work. I’m no hero and reckon I would have lasted less than a minute, before falling down a hole or getting flattened by a lump of flying debris. I would have crashed the plane, run aground in the motor boat and totalled the jeep. I’m not great with pressure. And, when faced with the end of civilisation as we know it, fear I wouldn’t cope very well. Or, at all for that matter.

I also lack self-confidence, which the Big Man possesses in spadefuls. I worry about everything and tend to regard the bottle as half empty, whereas Mr. J is the eternal optimist. Well, you would be if your muscles had muscles and your bank balance had more digits than pi. But I do have one thing in common with El Rocko. We share the same dogged, never say die determination.

I don’t give up easy. I dig my heels in, chip away at challenges and persevere while others drop by the wayside. I’ll never win a marathon but I’ll always finish it. I’ll never win the Booker Prize, but I will see my dream of having a book published. I’ll never have a million followers on social media, but I’ll blog every day and not disappear off the face of the WordPress World, a flash in the pan, never to be seen again.

So while I’ll never prance around a wrestling ring in a tiny pair of spandex trunks, I’m maybe not that different from ‘The Rock,’ as I first imagined. I can smell what he’s cooking and I’m putting one foot ahead of the other, feeling my way towards the finishing line. He will probably fly over me hanging by a rope ladder from a helicopter, but we are headed in the right direction. Consistency & Coherence = Results.

Stephen v The Rock? You decide.

What’s your favourite disaster movie?

Whose your favourite action hero? Or heroine?

Need a little inspiration?

A few days ago I wrote a blog about being a mum and got talking with another mum Cathy http://cathy-cade.com about her daughter Jen who has faced many challenges from a baby and now as young woman she is battling cancer.

Jen has started writing a blog about her cancer journey, I have only read one post so far and this girl is full of so much positivity that I really did feel I had to share her blog with everyone here on WordPress.

www.mycancerand.me/hit-with-a-curve-ball/

Go and have a read and wish her all the best on her journey and it may even help put your own life in perspective.

Sending you big hugs and lots of love Cathy & Jen from Fractured Faith

Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter….Larne

This week has been incredibly stressful at work. I’ve had a niggly injury which means I haven’t been able to run at lunchtime, which usually acts as a sure fire anxiety buster. Instead I’ve been largely chained to my desk, desperately trying to avoid the quagmire of office politics and gossip which have threatened to subsume me. Friday couldn’t come quick enough.

Hannah is at a youth club tonight in Larne, leaving Fionnuala, Rebecca and I with a couple of hours until we pick her up again. It wasn’t worth our while driving back home so we retired to the nearest fast food joint, a largely deserted Kentucky Fried Chicken. I wouldn’t normally frequent such eateries, but some days joy can only be found at the bottom of a bucket of fried chicken.

I discovered what a spork was. Genius! It’s up there with the moon landings and the wheel as far as I’m concerned. I also discovered they don’t serve Diet Coke (BOOOOOO!), only Pepsi Max. Meh. I reluctantly poured myself a glass after briefly considering smuggling a tin of DC in from the car. Even I have standards. I then explained to Rebecca who Colonel Saunders was. Sheesh! The youth of today.

Before too long the bucket was empty. ‘Do they only serve chicken in here?’ enquired Rebecca. ‘Yes,’ I replied wearily. ‘What about burgers?’ she persisted. ‘Yes. They’re called chicken burgers,’ I shot back in her direction. That shut her up for a while. There isn’t a lot to do in Larne I rapidly discovered, bar eat fried chicken. It’s a soulless place, with no apparent centre. Just lots of roundabouts.

It’s a town I don’t know, nor do I particularly want to know. There’s a standing joke that the only good thing to come out of Larne is the ferry to Scotland. At one point I found myself going the wrong way down a one way street, before almost accidentally boarding the outgoing boat. I don’t think Hannah would have been particularly impressed if we had phoned her from the other side of the Irish Sea.

We now have only 25 minutes to while away before the youth club ends. Thank God for blogging. Towns like Larne and my brain dead adventures around it have proven a writing lifeline and spared me the ultimate humiliation. Returning to KFC for seconds. A burger, possibly. One of the chicken ones. That Colonel knew a thing or two about product placement. 23 minutes….

Welcome to Larne. Abandon hope all ye who enter.

Where is your ‘Larne’?

Life as an Additional Needs Mummy

I am a mummy to three amazing children one of which has additional needs and relays on me for her personal care. I love being a mum and I’m really enjoying watching my teenagers turn into young adults. I look at them with so much love and pride that sometimes I think I could cry. Don’t get me wrong there are times I look at them and I could cry because of the attitude they have but they are teenagers I was one too a long time ago and I am so thankful to God that none of them are as troublesome as I was to my parents, but that’s another story!

Our lives could be so much different today if Stephen and I had took the advice of doctors when we went for our 20 week scan with Hannah. We were told at our scan that she had spina bifida and hydrocephalus and that she would be severely disabled both physically and mentally. My heart sank, the room was spinning and Stephen almost passed out. Our image of our perfect world was crumbling to pieces and we couldn’t escape.

We were advised by doctors at that appointment to have our pregnancy terminated and because we were at 22 weeks gestation we were given 24 hours to think about it and get back to them with our decision. We both knew that that option was not on the cards for us we had been blessed with this pregnancy and we were continuing with it no matter what the outcome would be we were giving our baby the chance of life. From that day we gained the strength to fight for our baby and as I write this today almost 16 years later we still fight for her with her by our side.

My life changed forever that August morning at Hannah’s scan when we were given her diagnosis. At that time I had been working full time in a job that I loved but the people I worked with their attitude towards me changed they all felt sorry for me and I could see it in their eyes. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me or pity me I wanted to be treated just like any other pregnant woman. I ended up starting my maternity leave early and got myself mentally prepared for what lay ahead for me.

Being a mum to a child with additional needs, in my opinion, is a very scary experience but it is also a very rewarding experience. The night before Hannah was born I was terrified of her being delivered into the world. I had made it this far with her she was safe and loved and I felt I could protect her from anything. I didn’t know what was going to happen when she was delivered; would she be able to breathe on her own, would she know me and her daddy, would she be able to walk or talk or feed. These things were all unknown to me and if I thought the last 18 weeks had been a rollercoaster of emotions I was in for a huge shock.

As soon as Hannah was born she was taken to the Neonatal Unit I didn’t get to hold her she was brought up to me to look at it then immediately put in an incubator and whisked away for medical attention. At that time I was so relieved that she was here and she was breathing – that’s my girl keep fighting you’ve only just been born and that’s two things ticked off the list that the doctors told us you wouldn’t be able to do:

1. Survive the pregnancy and birth

2. Breath on her own

For what seemed like an eternity but only an hour or so I finally got to see my beautiful girl. The nurses wheeled me up to the neonatal unit from the recovery room and there she was the youngest baby in the unit and the biggest i thought my heart was going to explode I had so much love for this tiny human and I knew there and then she was a fighter.

Hannah’s first few months were very intense our time was shared equally between hospital and home. She had countless surgeries the first one when she was just a day old and our girl never let us down she kept fighting and proving the doctors wrong she was our miracle girl.

As a mummy to a child with additional needs I have found myself at different stages along our journey grieving for a life that I thought I would have but it wasn’t to be. Life was slowly becoming lonely for me Stephen was at work all day and I was at home with two young children who were only 17 months apart in age. Most weeks had hospital appointments, doctors visits or community nurse visits. Friends had stopped asking me out because every time I was invited I had an excuse not to go. Life was never going to be the same again or so I thought.

We have faced many obstacles with Hannah and each time it has been battle which we have got through and that’s thanks to our faith and our determination to make sure that Hannah gets the best care that she requires.

Sometimes when I’m feeling a bit low I think of all of the things that Hannah has been able to do and I feel so proud of her and the young lady that she is turning into. I still continue to tick off on my mental list all the things that Hannah continues to do which defies what the doctors initially said she wouldn’t do the most recent being skiing on the dry ski slopes. Just a few weeks ago she hugged me and thanked me for not listening to the doctors and for giving her a life – that girl can melt my heart like chocolate.

Without having Hannah in our life our life would be very dull. Hannah brings us so much joy and happiness and along with Adam and Rebecca a lot of grey hairs! We don’t have a big house, two holidays a year, cars and money but what we do have money couldn’t buy. We are a family that love each other unconditionally and we support each other in everything we do. We have been riding this rollercoaster for 16 years now and right now we are enjoying the ride.

I have no idea why I have wrote this today I sat down on the sofa a few hours ago with a cup of tea picked up my phone and started typing this out so I believe that this is a message for somebody.

If you are in a situation similar to us or are a parent of a child with additional needs and would just like to chat send me an email and we can get something arranged.

A diagnosis like this during pregnancy doesn’t mean it’s the end it can be the beginning of an amazing journey with many bumps along the way but the rewards are priceless and are something that money can’t buy.

Im Odd. I’m Awkward. I’m Me

As I’m a BIG BOSS now, I’ve moved up in the world and am now mixing in much higher social circles. Take today, for instance. I’ve been invited to a drinks reception at a fancy city centre location. It starts at such and such a time with complimentary wine, followed by speeches, but I’ve been told to arrive 20 minutes early in order to ‘mingle.’ I’m not quite sure what this means, but it I’m about to find out.

Mingling sounds ominously like having to socially interact with total strangers with whom I’ve nothing in common bar we’ve been thrown together at this event. Neither of us particularly want to be there but it goes with the job, so tough luck matey. I’d much rather be back at the coal face, getting on with the actual work. Which, sad man that I am, I find incredibly interesting.

But here I am, suspiciously eying up all around me, while nibbling on a lukewarm cocktail sausage. I’m socially awkward, a floundering fish out of water when it comes to small talk and networking events. Whereas others hold court and strut about like proud peacocks, I cringe and want to curl up in a ball until it’s all over. I nod and smile, but inwardly I’m dying the slowest of deaths.

So think of me, when you read this. Any survival tips would be much appreciated. Failing that, feel free to list any topics for inane conversation which might while away five minutes or so. If you’re looking for me, I’ll be the one hiding behind the potted plants in the corner, desperately trying to avoid eye contact with everyone. I’m odd, I’m awkward but I doubt I’ll change how. I’m me.

Today Is A New Day

When it wins, it wins big, so I must start again. It’s all or nothing where I’m concerned and this morning I find myself sick and tired, full of loathing and regret. OCD fights a guerrilla war now, striking hard and fast before skulking back into the shadows again to await its next contact. There are no unfurled banners and sparkling uniforms. This is the dirtiest of dirty wars. It takes no prisoners and seeks no parley.

I’ll pick up the pieces, batten down the hatches, bury my dead and face the day, afresh. This is a silent war, there are no booming cannons or clashing swords to herald the coming conflict. It’s an internal struggle, a ten steps forward, nine steps back war of attrition. I play the long game, ceaselessly patrolling the borders of my psyche, ever vigilant, my finger twitching on the trigger.

You will not see it coming. A blade in the back and a second of recognition before the darkness descends is the best you can hope for. Mental health is the most fragile and fickle of commodities. We preen and pose to attain physical perfection, while inside our neglected minds wither on the vine. It laughs as I lace up my running shoes and prepare to pound the pavements once more. For it knows. It knows.

I have my allies. Defences have been bolstered and ramparts manned. The long watch begins once more as I scan the horizon, watching the weakest of suns peek above the treeline in the distance. It’s out there, watching me watching it. We are in this for life, joined at the hip. It will not stop and I will not give in. A fight to the death. Every war has its casualties. Yet, today is a new day. Today I start again.

How is your mental health today?

Thoughts From A Crime Scene

The written word is a smoking gun. It leaves clues, drops of blood that we follow pitter, patter to the scene of the crime, the grisly truth. A crime scene is an oasis of silence, a deadly dearth, until life explodes upon it. Raised voices, orders tersely barked, the click, whirr, click of the photographers lens. It lies before us, to intrigue and disgust in equal measure. An opulent opportunity to discover what really happened.

DNA, fingerprints, a single strand of hair. A discarded apple core. Every inch of ground pored over in microscopic detail for the ethereal evidence we so desperately seek which is right there, staring us in the face. If only we can find the key to unlock it, to throw back the latch and reveal the light. To lead us to the killer, see justice prevail and restore calm and order, separate right from wrong.

Such it is with our words. What does he mean? Who is she talking about? We second guess and speculate. Is it me, is it him, so and so or what’s his face? The author beguiles and intrigues, smoke and mirrors, scents and shadows. My words mean everything, my words mean nothing, the fickle strokes of a pen on the page building worlds and destroying empires on a lazy whim.

The ideas, they keep coming. An endless procession of plots and characters, hurtling round my mind, begging to be released. They are my then, my now, my not so happily ever after. My past becomes the currency of my future, I’ll pay the toll and take my chances. So much to write, yet so little time. Shackled by the weight of the daily grind, the 9-5. Bills to pay, when all I want to do is tap, tap, tap these characters into being.

Soothing words, brutal words, words of hope and hopelessness. I am a prisoner to them, they will not release me, until I birth them, gagging and choking onto the harsh glare of the keyboard screen. They haunt the inner recesses, demons from the past gorging on the success of my present situation. Dare I let them out for where they dwell, chaos follows close behind. They destroy all they survey.

The written word is a smoking gun. Bag it, tag it, you’ll never get to the bottom of it. A conundrum of could be and what if? It drives me forward, day by day to where I do not know. Will you join me on this journey for I know not where it ends? Words kill like guns, another darling bleeds out from my fingertips. Every contact leaves a trace, a trace of what could have been.

Follow the clues, follow the words. Down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass, we know not where it ends. Life or death, the flick of a coin, I write on the edge, and none of them are safe. Nobody is safe when I’m in the zone, when I lift the yellow tape and take in what I have created. The bloody, magnificent madness of it all. I am what I am and what will be, will be. Que sera sera, tick tock, adieu.

My characters sleep with one eye open for I am coming for them, a literary assassin. My pen is a blade, the prose spattering the page like an arterial spurt dancing across the watching wall. Look close at those random patterns of life extinct, look closely, can you see yourself? Or is it merely a trick of the light, an illusion of your desire. Time will tell, the truth will out. Every crime scene leaves a story. This is mine.

Another Day….Another Mountain Of Food

I woke up to a bounty of Fathers Day presents this morning, many of which were edible. Hmmmmm….what are my family trying to tell me? Double Decker bars, German Biscuits, Coconut Mushrooms. Not to mention the huge tub of honeycomb ice cream already taking pride of place in the freezer. I sure have ‘a whole lot of eating’ ahead of me but I’m sure I’ll have several willing helpers, if required.

I was also super excited to get a writers mug, monogrammed pen and selection of sharpies. Apparently I have to practice my autograph for future book signings. We will see how that goes. For now, I’m just grateful for my family continuing to put up with me. I’ll blog again later but, for now, here’s some photos to keep you all occupied. Happy Fathers Day to all the fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers and godfathers out there.

A Father’s Day Poem

Dads oh Dads

We all love our Dads

Even when you are mad

You still are my number one lad

I am so glad that you are my Dad

You are so kind

That’s why you are always on my mind

I want a copy of your book signed

I love my Dad

by Rebecca Black

A Writing Update

I was asked the other day by a fellow blogger what had become of ‘Bomb Girl,’ the story I was releasing in a serialised form on Wattpad. Had I forgotten all about it? Well, I hadn’t but such has been the focus on getting the first Kirkwood Scott book out, the adventures of Ariana Hennessy have been unfortunately shelved. I will return to it and I’ve a loose plot in my head. But for now, I just want to get ‘Skelly’s Square’ out and see what happens.

In my mind, the ‘Kirkwood Scott Chronicles’ were always going to be a trilogy and I’ve already begun researching Book 2. I’ve several big set pieces plotted in my head which the book will be structured around. Belfast will feature obviously but be prepared for plenty of twists and turns. Nobody is safe and nothing is impossible as Book 1 proved. It will be published next month, and I hope you all enjoy it.

My imagination is constantly churning and I’ve a couple of other ideas bouncing around. ‘Surviving Custer’ is a standalone book based in the Kirkwood Scott universe but featuring entirely new characters. Then there’s ‘This Troubled Land Of Ours,’ my post apocalyptic saga set in a Northern Ireland where the 1969-1998 ‘Troubles’ never ended. I’m doing a lot of background reading at present for them all. So, watch this space.

In the meantime, ‘Skelly’s Square’ will be landing on Amazon some time next month. I’m still awaiting a firm date from the publisher but when I do you will be the first to know. I’m super excited about the cover art and what you all make of the adventures of Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley. It can be ordered in e-book and paperback format. We are also looking into am audiobook if it takes off.

Quite a few people have been asking about signed copies. We’ve mulled this over and think the best way is for those interested to order the paperback off Amazon, then post it to me along with a prepaid envelope. Then I’ll happily sign it and return to you in the mail. If anyone else has a better solution then I’m all ears. Until then, I’ll just keep counting down until launch day. Hopefully not much longer.

Honey Coma Ice Cream

After a long day at the office it was lovely to return home to an early Fathers Day present – a ‘small’ tub of my beloved honeycomb ice cream. I’ve been fretting all week about work, writing and everything in between. So I’m about to succumb to a food coma of epic proportions. Thank you to Fionnuala & the kids. I don’t deserve you lot but I’m grateful all the same.

Guest Blogger – Chelsea Owens

Chelsea, or Mrs O as I like to call her, hosts a wonderfully eclectic blog offering an intelligent, but equally witty, take on her world. Whether it’s serialised fiction, terrible poetry contests or the trials and tribulations of motherhood she covers it all. In the post below she considers a word we all dread perfection.http://chelseaannowens.com

Have you ever worried about being perfect?

I have. I am what is known as a perfectionist, often in the most crippling sense of the word. Out of terror of error I will not consider thinking about the possibility of forming a plan to begin the process of outlining a project.

Not only that, but I stalk myself with a measuring stick of self-worth. Was this action flawless enough? Did I talk with that person well? Do I know where all of the socks in the house have gone? No matter what, I am never good enough.

I suspect that way of thinking is damaging yet I also see its prevalence in other people’s thinking. A friend of mine told me that she could never get her house to look perfect. Another said the same of her children. A third used the term when describing the management of her time. My last friend lamented the imperfect state of her appearance.

In my experience, this imperfection complex is really what perfectionism is about. It leads to a constant gray cloud of self-disappointment and a mental barrage of negative observations. It also accounts for the majority of my chocolate consumption …which only leads to more mean thoughts regarding my weight and self-control.

We are in obvious need of a re-definition of the word perfect.

Where did that insidious word come from, anyway? Does it really mean that something is without any mistake at all? Hasty internet research answers, “Yes.” Definition after definition cite phrases like “being entirely without flaw or defect (Mirriam-Webster)” and “excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement (dictionary.com).”

Even a religious perspective seems to add more gloom with passages like, “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).” Knowing I need to try to be as good as God is very intimidating.

How do we re-define all that? Simple. Let’s start at the very beginning: its root.

Perfect began as a marriage of per, meaning thorough or completely and facere, which is do. It meant that one is in the act of complete. I want everyone to think about that, because it is where we are going to take our new meaning of the word. Perfect was not intended to mean something finished, but something finishing.

Perfection is an ongoing process. It has to be. As writers we experience this, for there is always a point at which the book or story or poem needs to be published. An artist needs to allow the paint to dry so he may list his masterpiece for sale. Parents need to kick their nestling out into the world.

And in religion? I grew up in a religion that teaches of eternal progression. Our heavenly Father wants us to learn, grow, improve, and eventually achieve a glorified seat in heaven. Without grace, we cannot even get close -but why is there grace? Why are there not more scripture references to being “flawless” or “without blemish?”

It. is. because. that. is. not. perfect.

The Oxford dictionary, bless them, listed a definition to support this idea: “as good as it is possible to be.” Perfect, therefore, is the act of trying for constant betterment. It is mistakes we learn from and skills we improve upon and knowledge we continually acquire. It is an act and not a final state we cannot ever achieve because we are human.

Heck; in French, the word for perfect is a tasty layered dessert. Which form of perfect would you rather have?

My Desert Of Doubt

Sometimes I don’t know what to write. The ideas well has run dry and my imagination stretches before me, an arid, endless desert of dearth. Those are the worst mornings. The mornings where I sit before my blank screen feeling I have nothing to offer. Nothing to offer myself, nothing to offer my family, nothing to offer the world. I am a husk, an empty, brittle husk, devoid of creative intent.

Doubt is the cactus of the mental landscape. It thrives, where other emotions flounder, it’s roots find purchase in the parched earth and suck what little sustenance there is out of the soil of my soul. Doubt is the demon that doesn’t want me to write, doesn’t want me to run, doesn’t want me to do anything for I’m a fool, a fake, a fraud. Trying to wrestle that cactus of doubt and you are left with bloody, tattered hands.

Doubt will always introduce you to it’s cousin, worry. It’s a weed, strangling any fresh shoots of hope, condemning you to hours of negative, introspective thinking. I’m not good enough, I’ll never be good enough, this is the end of the road. Fatigue plays its part but once doubt and worry get their claws into you, it’s painfully difficult to wrench free. Even when you do, they draw blood, they leave scars.

I am on the cusp of potentially great times, both in my working and personal life. I stand on the edge of achievement and recognition. That is when we are at our most vulnerable, when we relax for an instance and start to think we’ve made it. We are valued, loved, worthy. Then….BANG….we are lying on our backs, staring at the sky, dazed and confused. How on earth did that happen?

I am guarded when it comes to plaudits and praise. I am naturally shy and introspective, socially awkward at the best of times. I wear a mask, exuding confidence and calm, but beneath it I am brittle. The slightest setback and I can crumble, reduced to a pathetic pile of ash. Peeking from my shell is an arduous and nerve shredding matter. It’s not where I want to be, exposed and alone.

It’s when I am here, I rely on my loved ones to gather round, to form a phalanx of protection, shielding me from the barbs of enemy forces. It’s when I need them most, when I reach out and hope they will respond to my cry for help. Without them, I will be overrun, trampled underfoot before being dragged from the battlefield, a lifeless lump. History is written by the winners. The dead can’t talk.

So today, I am anxious, worried, afraid. I don’t know what lies ahead, the next month is make or break in so many ways. Part of me wants to turn around and run screaming for the hills. The way of the coward. But when I do, I see those who have remained loyal, barring my path. They encourage me, console me. Many have dropped away, so I am doubly grateful for those who remain.

I’ve written today’s blog….somehow. The words have trickled, then flowed, the screen is full as my finger hovers over the ‘publish’ button. I’ll go to work, play the game, hit the ball out of the park. It’s who I am, what I do. Always on the front foot, never looking back. You never look back, for that is where the past belongs. Behind you. It’s a long, hard trek across this desert. One step at a time. It’s all I know, all I need.

One Month To Go

‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ will be available on Amazon in e-book and paperback format next month. My first novel, it’s an urban fantasy set in modern day Belfast. Serial loser Kirkwood Scott discovers an ancient battle raging on the city’s back streets between supernatural forces of good and evil. The future of the planet is at stake and only he possesses the power to defeat his nemesis, Colonel Augustus Skelly, and his army of vicious ghost soldiers.

Will you be reading it?

Where Are You On The ‘Me Me Me’ Tree?

We are all a little self obsessed. It’s human nature, that we focus on our own interests. Animal instinct, if you like. The trick is to be aware of this character defect and work against the grain, to put the needs of others before our own. Love others. You get my drift. It’s not easy though and often the old habits slip back, leaving us trampling over all and sundry in our desire to clamber to the top of the tree. The ‘me me me’ tree.

Life seems grand at the top of the ‘me me me’ tree. We can scan the world around us, pat ourselves on the back and look down disdainfully at those beneath us, who are scrambling for purchase on the slippery trunk and branches beneath. They haven’t quite made it to the top, which makes the fact we have all the more satisfying. It’s easy to forget about these folk who, not so long ago, meant the world to us.

We become immune to their pain, we don blinkers and ear protectors to protect us from their suffering. It’s all so unnecessary and, well, frankly a tad desperate. You don’t need to be sullied with their grief and anguish. It takes the sheen off your own glorious rise to the top. You tend to forget that if it wasn’t for some of those far below, you wouldn’t be lording it up at the top of the pile. Memory can be so selective at times.

Having a conscience is a double edged sword. Wouldn’t it be great if we could plough ahead without that little voice in our head popping up and whispering in our ear; correcting us, chastising is, reminding us of the difference between right and wrong. It can be a real party pooper, a wet blanket of immense proportions. The adult in the room, tidying up behind us and suggesting we turn the music down a little.

Conscience acts as a radar as well. For at the fringes of our senses, we will detect the faintest beep. A voice, a cry of desperation. We look down and far, far below we see someone clinging to a lower branch. We recognise them immediately and our heart aches. For it is a loved one, a person dear to us and who, not so long ago, was an integral part of our life. They haven’t fared so well on the ‘me me me’ tree and have been left far behind in the climb to the top.

They catch our eye, they tug at our heartstrings and, suddenly, it’s too late. We acknowledge that they are part of the reason we are where we are. Have we trampled over them in our victorious ascent? It’s hard to remember, it was all so rushed and confusing. Did we? Possibly? But it’s too late now as the gap between us seems too far to be bridged. We are filled with guilt and regret.

The good news is that it’s not too late. You might be reading this, thinking it doesn’t apply to you. Life is going pretty well right now and you’ve nothing to feel bad about. But look around and think hard. Listen. Do you hear that faint, almost indiscernible beep in the far distance? Listen. There it is again. It’s that relative, friend or colleague who you haven’t heard from in a while.

They need you. Now. Today. Reach out. Make that call, send that message, ask how they are doing. Reach down from where you are perched and haul them up beside you. All they need is that one helping hand, to know they are still cherished and not forgotten about. To show them that you are still there for them, that you still care and will never leave their side again. The ‘me me me’ tree can never destroy that bond.

Where are you on the ‘me me me’ tree?

Going To Work In Sports Socks

I’m not saying I’m a needy dependent but my wife did make me change my socks this morning before allowing me to go to work. I thought I looked perfectly respectable. Dark grey suit, white shirt, black socks and shoes. Fionnuala took one look at my feet and shot me a horrified look – ‘You are NOT going to work in those socks,’ she proclaimed. ‘Why not?’ I replied. ‘Because they’re sports socks!’ she hollered back.

I was utterly oblivious I was heading into the office in running socks. My brain computes black socks as black socks. There is no further sub categorisation. My mind was blown. I’d been doing this for months. Had anyone at work noticed? Did my work colleagues gather by the photocopier to point and snigger as I walked by? Oh look, there goes Running Sock Guy,’ they would guffaw, just out of earshot.

What about running? Had I been hitting the roads in fluorescent tops, shorts and black business socks? I was probably the laughing stock of the local running community, a pariah to be mocked and shunned. Would I be forced to return my marathon medals for crimes against running fashion? I shook my head sadly, my dreams of a seven figure Nike sponsorship deal shot down in flames.

My father was the most resourceful and practical man I’ve ever known. He could turn his hand to anything. If you threw him an assembly manual and a spanner, he could assemble it. Garden shed, swing set, aircraft carrier, he would figure it out. The one thing he couldn’t master were matching clothes. Every morning he would walk into the kitchen and ask my mother if his outfit for the day met the required standard. Often, he was sent back to the bedroom to ‘try again.’

The other day Fionnuala caught Adam going to school in black shoes and ankle socks. It was up there with the cardinal sin – black shoes and white sports socks. Even I know that is a complete no no. Three generations of Black men, joined by the common strand of being utterly incapable of dressing themselves. Thank God for women, I say. The power behind the throne….and the wardrobe.

We fight all our lives to be independent, to break free of the apron strings of our parents and live our own lives. Yet, so often, we are lazy and allow ourselves to lapse back into old habits. We lean too heavily on others, and allow them to take responsibility for our decisions and actions. That way, it’s so much easier when the wheels come off. We can blame somebody else, as opposed to taking the hit.

Life is all about decisions. Will I take that job, will I marry this person, what socks will I wear to work today? They vary in levels of importance. Some we make without even thinking, others we deliberate over for weeks on end. In the end, we have to make a choice, choose a fork in the road and set off down it. Every action has a consequence. The only way to find out what that is, is to take a deep breath and go for it.

How independent are you?

Do you allow others to make decisions for you?

Why I Don’t Like Science Fiction

Have you ever noticed how the fantasy and science fiction genres are grouped together, like salt & pepper or bread & butter. Many see them as a seamless combo, and that fans of one genre will automatically be devotees of the other. I love fantasy. I was raised on Tolkien and his tales of hobbits, orcs and dragons. But here’s the deal, huddle round closer and don’t breathe of a word for this is strictly between you and I….

I don’t like science fiction….

Gasp! Shock! Horror! Before I’m hung, drawn and quartered I’ll try and explain myself. Or rather I won’t for, if asked, I’m unable to put my finger on the reason why. I love escapism and unreal, futuristic settings. Give me a post apocalyptic movie and I’m as happy as Larry….whoever Larry is. I say yes to the sinister, the supernatural and the paranormal.

Zombies are my favourite ever big screen invention. Until they are invented, that is. For they are coming. Oh yes. But as for Chewbacca and R2D2. I’m just left cold. I watched the ‘Star Wars’ movies when I was a kid. But I didn’t fall in love with Princess Leia, I didn’t much care for what happened Han Solo and as for C3PO? Well, I found him incredibly irritating. To the point where I was rooting for Darth Vader and his armies of stormtroopers.

Then there’s Star Trek. The following will probably have some viewing me as a heretic and furiously hitting the unfollow button. So be it. But I never much cared for the original TV series. William Shatner’s acting was beyond hammy and the naff sets and special effects haven’t aged well at all. Leonard Nimoy raises an eyebrow and everyone goes into convulsions of ecstasy. Sorry, not my cup of tea.

I haven’t watched any of the current strain of ‘Star Wars’ or ‘Star Trek’ movies. I watched ‘Men In Black’ but it left me cold. Battlestar Galactica? Nope. The only possible exception is ‘The X Files.’ I was obsessed with Mulder and Scully. Then they kissed and everything was ruined forever. Did I tell you about the time I saw Gillian Anderson in Belfast? Oh ok, I’ll save that story for another day.

So, I’m throwing it out there to you lot. Are you happy with the SF & F genres being lumped together? Have elves & vulcans got more in common than I first thought? Would you foam at the mouth with disgust or delight if Gandalf appeared on the bridge of the USS Enterprise in some bonkers Hollywood LOTR/Star Trek crossover. As ever, leave your comments below. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.

Follow Stephen on Instagram

Good morning everyone Hannah’s bus broke down so she got an unexpected day off school so we thought we would teach her some social media marketing skills seeing as she spends the majority of her time on her phone! !

She has set up an Instagram account for Stephen which she was going to manage on her own, until she got some very rude DMs, so now we are both going to run it.

If you are on Instagram please give it a follow https://instagram.com/stephenblackauthor?igshid=153c08n2d86f. This is a really exciting time for all of us in the Black house we are all so proud of Stephen and just want this to be a really good success for him.

Once again thank you all for your help none of this would be happening if it were not for your constant help and support for Stephen.

Have a great weekend

Fionnuala 😘

5 Weeks To Go

IT’S COMING!

‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ Only 5 weeks to publication. My first book will be available to buy via Amazon in e book and paperback format.

I’m excited. Are you?

Please feel free to reblog and spread the word. Thank you 😊

Well Done Hannah

Fractured Faith Blog is a team effort and always will be. It’s most definitely not just about me and I doubt it would even exist if it were not for the love and support of my family. I’m always keen to share the limelight with them. Today is no exception as we received a very pleasant surprise when Hannah arrived home from school yesterday afternoon, laden down with awards.

She was ill last week so missed her school’s prize giving ceremony. Little did we know but the little madam won a Science trophy, plaque and certificate for her work during the year. Well, I never saw that coming. Hannah is a very modest young lady so it was great to see her hard work and dedication throughout the year awarded. All we were missing was an open top bus parade around the village, although that was suggested.

The trophy has to be returned to the school next week for safe keeping, but we made the most of the photographic opportunities open to us. Adam and Rebecca finish their exams for the week today, so there will hopefully be an atmosphere of relief and celebration when I return home from work later. Here’s hoping there is more good academic news for Team Black just around the corner.

Well done Hannah. We are all very proud of you.

Where Is Your Quiet Place?

This is one of my favourite places in Belfast. A creaky, musty second hand bookshop just around the corner from my office, called Keats & Chapman. I visit it every couple of weeks and have whiled away many a lunch break wandering up and down its narrow corridors. Shelves of second hand books tower precariously above me on either side, holding hidden gems waiting to be discovered by the determined bookworm.

They have a huge fantasy section which I invariably gravitate towards but if you venture deeper into the bowels of the shop, you can find all manner of topics. The entire layout of the store appears shambolic at first glance but the more time you spend there, the more you realise there is a crazy logic to it all. Everything is just where it’s meant to be. I know it like the back of my hand.

I don’t think I’ve exchanged more than 10 words with the owner during my many visits. He sits hunched behind the counter, listening to an Irish language radio station. I don’t buy a book every time I call in, but when I do, money passes hands accompanied by a cursory grunt or nod. Some might view this as rude and, yes, his customer relation skills are a tad lacking but, to me, it adds even more to the charm of the place.

Whenever I cross the threshold of its door, I feel as if I’m entering a parallel universe, where I can leave behind the stresses and strains of the outside world. It’s a still sanctuary from the hustle and bustle of 21st Century life. I could spend hours, days, weeks in this murky domain, inhaling the musty aroma of battered first editions and crumbling paperbacks. Nothing costs more than £3.

Where is your quiet place, that sanctuary of calm you know you can retreat to when it all seems to be getting a bit too much? It could be a regular destination or somewhere you only visited once, but can conjure up in your minds eye in times of turmoil. How do you feel when you are there, or do you crave such a place, but have yet to find it? If the latter, then keep looking for it’s out there, waiting for you.

It’s Like Trying To Raise The Dead

Trying to get teenagers out of bed is a bit like trying to herd cats….a virtually impossible task. Take this morning. At the fourth unsuccessful attempt to rouse Adam from his lair I was greeted with a strangled groan more befitting a scene from a zombie movie. ‘It’s like trying to raise the dead,’ I muttered, musing that my parents never had such problems getting me out of my boy cave, back in the day.

Okay, maybe I am revisiting the past through rose tinted spectacles. But I’m fairly certain I wasn’t as bad as that. As I write this I’m still awaiting our 16 year old son to grace us with his sparkling presence. There will no doubt be rapier like exchanges of wit, which would have left Oscar Wilde chuckling with delight. Or, as is more likely, monosyllabic grunts and little else.

The weird thing is, by the time he staggers down the road to the school bus, he will once again be the class clown, the life and soul of the party. He can turn on the charm like a switch. When I was his age, I was the shyest, most awkward creature known to man. I have no idea where he gets his confidence, it’s certainly not from either of his parents. And for that, Fionnuala and I are grateful.

It’s like trying to raise the dead….

The second the words left my voice, they struck a chord with me. There are times in my life when I feel as if I’m banging my head off a brick wall. I’m trying to communicate with others, I feel as if I have an important message to share, but nobody on the receiving end wants to listen. It can be talking to one of the kids, a work colleague, or any other number of scenarios. I’m just not getting through.

With age and experience, comes wisdom. Some people do not want to know. They aren’t interested in your new idea, project or dream. They are too wrapped up in their own lives to pay any attention to what those around them are doing. The umbilical cord of the self is choking them, blinding them to the countless opportunities and boundless potential open to them, if they would only open their eyes and see.

Life is all about interaction and new experiences. Without that, we wither on the vine, shuffling along like an extra from ‘The Walking Dead.’ Risks are there to be taken, if we turn our backs on them we consign ourselves to decades of regret and bitterness. It is the slowest of deaths, a creeping catharsis which mummifies and sucks every last drop of life from our souls.

Cowards choose the status quo, they stagnate in mediocrity. They still draw breath, but they slowly rot away before our very eyes. We scream, we shout, we jump and down in front of them, but it matters not a jot. They have chosen their allotted path, and nothing we can do will change their minds. They don’t want us, preferring instead to wallow and feel sorry for themselves.

You may read this today and sense a twinge of recognition. It may resonate and speak to you, causing you to reflect on your life and the choices you are making. Or you may stare at it blankly and keep scrolling down your feed, just another meaningless post in your increasingly meaningless life. It’s up to you. But don’t say I didn’t warn you. The dead are among us. Please don’t become one of them.

Pink Fluffy Unicorns Dancing On Clouds – By Rebecca Black – Aged 12

Today’s blog post is written by Rebecca, who has her English Language exam tomorrow. She wrote this story while studying for it. We hope you enjoy it.

One day I was walking home from school when I saw a helicopter. It started to lower down and then stopped. A few moments later a ladder was thrown down and a voice said ‘Climb up.’

When I got inside the helicopter a boy told me to take a seat. I was scared in case he was going to kidnap me. Then he said he had a top secret mission for me. ‘What is it?’ I asked. ‘Well firstly my names Geoff, what’s yours?’ ‘My name is Rebecca, nice to meet you,’ I replied. ‘So the mission is could you help me go up into the clouds, there are tonnes of unicorns dancing about up there and I need to bring them down.’

‘Ok, yes of course I will. I love unicorns.’ ‘Great,’ he replied. So we went up and parked on one of the clouds. We then took them one by one into the helicopter and brought them down to earth to a field. After we got them all down we went to a shop called ‘Pets at Home’ and bought unicorn food so we could feed them.

After we fed the unicorns we played with them. We went all around the field and were flying up in the air. Geoff said ‘Call your friends, they can play as well.’ After calling my friends Katie and Sarah we went and played with the unicorns for hours.

There were eight unicorns so we allowed them to have one each but they all stayed in the field beside my house. Sadly we all had to go home so said bye to the unicorns.

The next day Geoff knocked at my door, worried ‘Two of the unicorns are missing,’ he said. I told him not to worry as me, Katie and Sarah had been playing with them that morning. ‘Did they bring them home to show their parents?’ asked Geoff. ‘Yes.’ I said, laughing. ‘Oh and we were going to go on a walk later up the towpath with them if you want to come.’ Geoff said ‘Yes, of course, what time?’ ‘1:30 pm,’ Sarah said. ‘See you later then girls,’ he said walking down the driveway. We all said ‘Bye Bye Geoff you’re the best.’

Rebecca would love to hear your thoughts on her story.

The Enemy Within

The Olympic Flame goes out more than Fionnuala and I. It’s the joy of having three hatchlings which are a constant strain on our time and finances. Even when we do have an opportunity we are normally incapable of doing much more than slumping on the sofa and getting caught up on our favourite TV shows. Of late, it’s been ‘The Enemy Within,’ which I keep referring to as ‘The Enemy At The Gates.’ Some days, I barely know my own name.

Jennifer Carpenter stars in it. She played Dexter’s sister in er…..Dexter. For those who haven’t watched it, she plays a disgraced CIA operative imprisoned for treason who a FBI team use to track down an international terrorist mastermind. You never quite know what side her character, Erica Shepard, is on. On the surface she appears to be one of the good guys, but there is a darkness lurking beneath which occasionally surfaces.

We all have that darkness lurking within us. The part that isn’t for public consumption, that we hide from prying eyes. None of us are perfect and those who protest they are, are deluded or liars. There is a grimy past, an unsavoury secret, something which we will do everything in our power to prevent from emerging into the light of day. It’s a battle which wages unseen from the watching world. The demons within, they claw and scream for release.

Erica Shepard uses her demons to get inside the heads of her enemies. She is a chameleon, manipulating friend and foe alike to achieve her ends. She can think like a terrorist, enabling her to remain one step ahead of all around her. Overcoming and taming your demons equips you to see the warning signs, when the next wave of attacks are launched. For life is all about being attacked. It’s how we handle these is how we dictate the quality of that life.

I’m looking forward to tonight. We are only going to a friends house for a takeaway. Fionnuala may even have a cheeky glass of wine or two, as I shall be driving. Not the most exciting of evenings you might think but it’s a big deal to sofa surfers like us. Our days of being party animals are long behind us. I imagine we will still be tucked up in bed, well before midnight. There was a time when we considered that unthinkable.

I know my enemy. He eyes me every day from the corner of his cage as I pass him by. He is patient, cunning and ruthless. Waiting for the slightest chink of weakness to break free of his chains and throw my life into disarray again. I must forever be on my guard, alert to his tricks and traps. I can never afford to rest on my laurels. He licks his wounds and I eye my scars. Reminders of what he is capable of.

He hates normality, the status quo drives him to distraction. My strategy is to bore him to death. Day after day, month after month, year after year. Like tonight. Chinese food, six pack of Diet Coke. Early to bed and a 10K run in the morning. Nothing to see here, folks. Keep right on moving along. This is how it is, these days. And, oh, how he hates it. The drama, the people, the lifeblood he feeds on, all no longer there.

I keep him under lock and key. I keep the key on a chain around my neck. He wants it more than anything, for it is his only means of escape. He cannot have it. For I possess the tactics and tools to keep him at arm’s length for as long as I desire. I’m no Erica Shepard. Glamorous and ruthless. But, like her, I know how to play the game. Play the game and win. Keeping the enemy at bay. Until the end of my days.

Some Questions For You All

I got an e-mail from my publisher yesterday to let me know the publication process had commenced. I’m hopeful, therefore, the book will be out at some point during the summer. Yes, it’s that close. Scary stuff. Various questions popped into my head so I thought I would share them with you all, rather than allow them to fester in the worry whirlpool known as my imagination.

1. If you were interested in buying the book, would you prefer it in hard copy or e-copy?

2. What are your thoughts on a launch party/event? Where would you hold such an event?

3. Is it pretentious to offer signed copies to potential buyers? Would you be interested in a signed copy?

4. I want the launch to coincide with a blog tour. Are you a book blogger, or do you know one, who would be interested in participating?

Answers on a postcard, please. Or, alternatively, comment below. Thank you.

Words Are Where It All Begins

Life is too short. We need to say what we mean. I’ve spent much of my life beating about the bush, avoiding the real issues and choosing to ignore the various white elephants trumpeting in the corner of the room. I often feel that I’ve wasted so much time and am now desperately facing a race against time to set matters straight. To put my affairs in order, to make things right. At times, it seems an impossible uphill battle.

The good news, for the less eloquent of us, is that you don’t need to be Henry V or Oscar Wilde. Impressive oratorical skills are not required. In fact, often the less words you use the better. Cut through the nonsense and get to the heart of the matter. Look that person in the eye, dial that number, compose that message, whatever it takes. Just start the ball rolling and reach out to them. It’s never too late.

It can be three little words – I love you. Or two – I’m sorry. Or even one – Yes. Those utterances can break the dams of hurt and regret, send the walls tumbling down and allow love and hope to grow and flourish. It might not happen in the blink of an eye, but it’s a start, a line in the sand that you’ve crossed. Tear down barriers, repair damaged bridges. The power to do so is within you. Words can heal like no medicine known to man. They sooth troubled souls.

Does this resonate within you? Is there someone out there you need to engage with, to reach out and try again. Well then, what are you waiting for? The time is now, and today is the day. Be brave, and take that step. Speak those words and pave the way for the subsequent actions on your part which will prove you meant exactly what you said. Actions speak louder than words, but words are where it all begins.

Do you need to speak to someone today?

Having Difficulties Getting To Sleep? Then Read This

The older I get, the weirder I seem to be getting. Hard to believe, I know, but true. Take my sleep patterns for example. I can’t remember the last time I experienced an uninterrupted night’s sleep. No matter how tired I am, at some point during the hours of darkness my mental alarm clock will go off, wakening me at some ungodly hour. I will then toss and turn before invariably slipping into a deep slumber, just before the real alarm clock brings me rudely back to the land of the living.

It’s not much better, either, at the other end, the going to sleep end. Used to be I could sit up all night, watching movies and the like. Nowadays, I’m lucky if I see beyond 10 pm. I spend roughly 67.478% of an average day in my pyjamas and from 9pm onwards feel my eyes getting heavy as the lure of sleep becomes too much and I succumb to it, stumbling up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.

Which brings me to the point of this post. My inability to read more than ten pages of a book at night time without nodding off. It’s the same sad ritual every night. Often, bedtime is the only time I get to indulge in my passion for the written word. It’s my downtime, where I get to temporarily escape the rigours of the real world into lands of dragons, magic and the occasional angry orc.

I’m currently reading ‘The Priory of the Orange Tree,’ by Samantha Shannon. It’s a sprawling, epic fantasy novel which has been receiving rave reviews. Right up my literary alley. All 800 plus pages of it. Every evening I look forward to disappearing into the story, and every evening I find myself dozing off within a few minutes of opening it. The book isn’t the problem. It’s brilliant. The problem is Sleepy Stephen. Not quite so brilliant.

At this rate, I will be drawing a pension by the time I finish. Ms. Shannon will have probably penned the sequel and I’ll be forced to leap straight into it, leaving the growing queue on ‘to be read’ novels on my Kindle accumulating dust….or whatever e-books do these days. This does not bode well for my bucket list target of reading ‘Lord of the Rings’ in a year. I’ll be lucky if I get out of the Shire by Christmas.

Last night, however, was a huge step in the right direction. Fionnuala was exhausted after a long day being Super Mummy so said she was going to bed early. I jumped at the opportunity. This was my chance to make serious inroads at the Orange Priory. Would Ead save Queen Sabran from the evil clutches of the Nameless One? There was only one way to find out. Quick, get reading you fool, before the Sleep Fairy arrives and sprinkles you with her pixie dust or whatever it is she does.

10, 20, 30 pages passed without a yawn, stifled or otherwise. The story ebbed and flowed, as I devoured the pages. By 40, I could sense my eyelids drooping but soldiered on, determined to reach my predetermined target of 50 pages. 40, 45, nearly there. Zzzzzzz…..wake up you idiot. Finally I reached the summit, barely able to set my Kindle on the bedside table before collapsing in an unconscious heap. I slept the sleep of the victorious. Until I woke up at 4:50 a.m. again. Some things never change.

It’s funny how the activities we love the most are often the hardest to squeeze into our increasingly packed schedules. But we must continue to strive for our downtime at regular intervals during this hectic rollercoaster ride we call life. I hope you enjoyed this post and managed to read it from start to finish without falling sleep. And if you did, don’t worry. I forgive you.

When do you read?

At what time do you feel your eyes getting heavy?

How many hours sleep do you need every night?

The Tweet That Would Not Die

I wrote last week about my love-hate (mostly hate) relationship with Twitter, and how I found WordPress a much more homely and comfortable environment. I rejoined Twitter a few months back, after many years absence, in order to promote my writing. Apparently it’s all about building a multi platform online presence. Or something fancy like that. Anyway, I once again found myself twittering to the little blue bird.

Truth be told, I was more or less twittering to myself. While I shared all my blog posts on the Twitter account, they averaged around two likes per post. Hello Fionnuala and Hannah! No, that’s not fair. A handful of the WordPress regulars who have accounts provided their usual much appreciated support. Yet, to the huge #writingcommunity, I was just another wannabe writer trying, and failing, to catch their attention.

I tried everything. Witty tweets, serious tweets, interactive tweets. Nada. Zilch. Not an iota of interest. Then a funny thing happened. I tweeted that I had just signed a publishing contract and…..WHAM! My notifications went into orbit. 10, 100, 200 and higher. Everybody wanted a piece of the action. I was inundated with well wishers and congratulatory messages. I was a Twitter celebrity!

I woke up yesterday morning to find I was past the 500 mark. Surely, they would die down soon. But, no, the tweeting tsunami continued. So much so that Fionnuala, who is an account administrator, turned off her notifications, having been driven to the brink by the constant flashing of her phone screen. After the 536th ‘thank you’ my fingers were going numb. And as for my brain, it was turning to mental mush.

With the likes and messages, came followers. Over 100 in one day. This is how Katy Perry or Shaun Mendes must feel, I mused, as the total neared the big 1K. 997, 998, 999, 1000. I was tempted to take a screen shot but, before I could, I was at 1001 and galloping off into the distance. This was nuts. Even on my most glorious WordPress days, I’d come nowhere near these kinds of stats. 1002, 1003….

The old Stephen wouldn’t have been able to leave the room at this point, such would have been the size of his head. My ego would have been running amok, day dreaming of fame and fortune in the not too distant future. I would have cracked open a beer and reflected on what a splendid human being I was, oblivious to the many flaws staring back at me in dazzling technicolour.

I’m still far from perfect. So as I sit here, nearing the 1500th like (yes they are still coming, although the raging torrent has now eased to a steady trickle) I see my 15 minutes of Twitter fame for what it really is….15 minutes of Twitter fame. My most recent tweet is sitting at a whopping seven likes. Back to terra firma with a resounding thump. WordPress is still my online home so worry not.

1500 likes means nothing. That’s not why I do this. They cannot be compared to that one heartfelt message or comment from someone who my words truly resonate with, who I have comforted or inspired. They are the people who make it worthwhile, it is they who drag me to my keyboard every morning. To reach out, to connect. The diamonds in the rough, the wheat amongst the chaff. They are why I am here, and why I will continue to remain here.

I’m Going Out….I May Be Some Time

So I’m sitting here in my running gear….on the sofa….blogging. As in, not running. Don’t worry, I won’t post a photo. Why aren’t you running, I hear you cry? Well, I fully intended to. In fact, I should be about two miles into a nine mile run as I write this. That was the plan. Then the heavens opened. As in, cats and dogs, torrential downpour opened. If I had set off five minutes earlier I would have been utterly drenched.

So here I am, looking forlornly out the window as the deluge shows no sign of abating. Maybe it’s on for the day or possibly it might ease off any minute. This is Northern Ireland, after all. We are the masters of four seasons in one day. It could be snowing by lunchtime, or I could be in my shorts, catching some rays. We are permanently confused when it comes to dressing for the weather.

I get very anxious before I run, much as I get very anxious before I do anything. Despite having done so thousands of times before. At present, the anxiety is cranking up to an unprecedented level. Part of me wants to call it a day and get back into my Daddy Pig pyjama bottoms and Nirvana ‘smiley face’ hoodie. Yes, I’ve just typed that. Not many middle aged men can carry off that look. I’m just a natural, I guess.

This also reminds me of childhood summer holidays when I scanned the horizon for the slightest chink of blue sky amidst the storm clouds. We would will the good weather to settle over our play park so we could grab a few precious hours playing football or cricket. Before the next rattle of thunder would send us scurrying for cover, laden down with stumps and impromptu goalposts.

I’ve been caught out in the rain many times, while running. Sometimes it is a welcome, refreshing drizzle, at other times you have to take cover under the nearest tree, such is the severity of the squall. On other occasions you just have to grit your teeth and trudge through the puddles, muttering and mumbling about how much you hate life. That evaporates, however, at the sense of achievement when you finish the ordeal.

The downpour is easing off slightly. I am dogged with indecision. Should I chance it, and hope I make it without getting soaked to the skin. Perhaps play it safe and opt for a shorter route. Or be ultra cautious and abandon my running plans for the day only to mope around the house worrying about weight gain for the remainder of the bank holiday. Oh, decisions, decisions. What a pickle.

Decisions are part of life. My employers pay me a not insignificant amount of money every month to do so. Yet, when it comes to extracurricular choices I’m nowhere near as clear and confident in my choices. Instead I’ll sit here and fret some more. Possibly write another paragraph. Then check my Twitter and Facebook accounts. I also have household chores to attend to. There aren’t enough hours in the day sometimes.

Okay, I’m doing it. The second the clouds clear. That could be in five minutes time. Or five hours. But either way, I’m not going to let Mother Nature get the better of me. I could return with sunstroke or pneumonia, that’s the way the cookie crumbles in this crazy part of the world. Wish me luck, WordPress. In the famous last words of Captain Oates….I’m going out, I may be some time.

Nothing Is Impossible….Just Ask Hannah

I didn’t feel much like running this morning but reluctantly dragged my body out for a seven mile plod along the country roads surrounding the village. I hate running first thing but, on this occasion, there was a method to my madness. For getting the run out of the way early meant I could accompany Fionnuala, Rebecca and Hannah to the local ski slopes where the latter was trying her hand out at snow tubing and skiing.

Despite her disability, Hannah has never allowed anyone or anything to get in her way or tell her she couldn’t do anything. She has been a fighter since birth, overcoming multiple surgeries in her early years to lead a fulfilling and productive life. A smile is never far from her face and she has proved so many people wrong by turning into the smart, sassy, beautiful young woman she is today.

Last year she went cycling and surfing with the Mae Murray Foundation, a fantastic local charity who allow young people with disabilities to access all kinds of sports and activities. Hannah was fearless today, hurling herself down the slope at a frightening speed. Thankfully her screams were of excitement and happiness, so Fionnuala and I could breathe a collective sigh of relief.

She even inspired Rebecca and I to have a go at snow tubing, although Fionnuala could not be tempted to join us. I will spare you the sight of a middle aged man wedged in a rubber tube with his legs in the air, hurtling down a ski slope. This is a family blog, after all. But I will share some photos of Hannah and her friends. They are living testimony to the edict that nothing is impossible. All you have to do is turn up and try.

How Is Your Garden?

I’ve been gardening this morning. It rained overnight and a faint drizzle still hung in the air as I pierced the soft, pliable soil and turned it over. The spade plunged deep and before long a reasonable sized hole was before me, in which I proceeded to bed a new addition to our array of plants. Digging is hard work and my fingers are far from green. But I was proud of what I had created over the last few weekends.

I was bringing order to the chaos that was our unkempt front garden. When I look at it now I feel calm, as opposed to anxious at the task which I’d been putting off all these months. But as well as order, the garden looked healthy and alive. It was balm to my soul as opposed to the eyesore I’d been consciously avoiding for so long. With very limited ability, and a healthy dose of hard work, this was my humble creation.

Then it hit me. This was my life, not so long ago. An overgrown mess. Thorns and weeds strangling any goodness which was struggling to reach the light. A barren wilderness of selfish need and negativity. My life was in free fall and I was tumbling helplessly into the void, oblivious to the collateral damage I was wreaking around me. I pushed away all offers of hope, for I knew best. I had all the answers.

I delighted in blaming anyone and everyone for my plight. Physically and mentally I was a wreck. I ate all the wrong foods and binge drinked at the weekend. I got out of breath climbing a flight of stairs and my waistline crept steadily upwards. The OCD I’d battled all my life ran amok through me. Inappropriate thoughts and unacceptable behaviour became the norm. My moral compass spun out of control.

That was then. Today, I tend my garden. I still have a sweet tooth but I try to watch what I eat. I run and sweat off the excess pounds when I feel them creeping back on. I don’t drink and don’t want to drink. I take my medication and talk to others when I feel the intrusive thoughts threatening to take hold again. The routines I adhere to now provide me with focus and clarity. I am in control. I am alive.

I take no personal credit for all of this. If I had my way, I’d probably still be languishing amongst the weeds. Others have dragged me kicking and screaming to where I am today, opened my eyes to the truth. My family, my friends, the list is too long to write down here for that would take a dozen blog posts. Yet I am grateful to each and every one of them and always will be. They saved me from myself.

How is your garden? Do you tend to it daily, pruning back the bushes and keeping the weeds at bay. Or has it been overrun, to the point where you are at a loss as to what needs done. Are you adrift and stranded? If so, reach out, swallow your pride and seek the help you need. And when you find it, cling on tight and milk every last drop of love from it. We need you to flourish, to live the life you were created to live.

It can be your family, your friends, a work colleague. It can be medication, counselling or therapy. It can be running, singing, dancing, whatever. It can be reading this blog every day. It doesn’t matter. Just find it and do it. Your garden is the most precious, beautiful thing you will ever have control over. If your garden is healthy, then it’s more likely so will be those of your loved ones. A community of vibrant, living hope. A community of us.

Kirkwood Scott Photo Shoot

Some snaps from today’s shoot for the book in Belfast City Centre. Thank you to my photographer, Peter. The shots he took are amazing. He even managed to make me look semi presentable and I’ll be forwarding them to the publisher over the weekend to help them visualise the book cover. Also thanks to our model, the lovely Rebecca, who brought Meredith Starc to life before my very eyes.

A Big Day Ahead

A big day ahead as we are invading Belfast city centre to take some publicity shots for the book which is being released later this summer. My book is being released! This summer!! I’m nervous and excited and everything in between. Our friends son, a talented photographer and film maker, is co-ordinating the shoot, while his girlfriend will be playing the role of Meredith. I’ll be loitering in the background, trying to look innocuous.

While the book is called ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ Meredith Starc is undoubtedly the beating heart of the book. I loved writing her. Her vulnerability is juxtaposed by an inner strength and loyalty for her friends that drives the story forward at key moments. Without her, the book wouldn’t be the same. I love Meredith and I hope you love her just as much when you read her story.

I’ll be posting some photos from the shoot later this evening so stay tuned for that. Rumour has it, there might also be some author shots of yours truly failing spectacularly at looking mean and moody in a Belfast alleyway. Promise you won’t laugh….too much. I hate getting my photo taken and will no doubt be horrified by the product. But, needs must, and all that. Such are the joys of being a fledgling author.

Are you looking forward to meeting Meredith Starc?

Will you promise not to laugh at the author shots?

Me And My Cave

I live in a cave. A social media cave. Called WordPress. You may have heard of it. It’s my safe place, my sanctuary, a refuge where I’ve been able to lick my wounds and heal. When my confidence was at an all time low two years ago I discovered it. It was a new beginning. A chance to start afresh and tentatively expose my writing to a new audience. An audience which I’ve watched grow beyond all expectation.

I would say my WordPress experience has been 99.9% positive. I’ve met some amazing people along the way. Oozing talent, telling their stories, bravely opening their souls to all and sundry. Bloggers encompass a kaleidoscope of genres, interests and values. A more eclectic bunch I’ve never seen. Yet at their core, runs a common thread of goodwill and kindness. Bloggers aren’t nasty. End of.

2019 has necessitated me stepping out of my comfortable, dank cave into the glare of other social media platforms. This has been a disorientating experience. I feel like it’s my first day at a new school and I’m standing in the middle of a packed playground, stark naked. The cool kids point and stare. I want to run away, back to where I belong. Back to WordPress and steady, stable ground.

Instead I find myself on Twitter, an old stamping ground I find baffling and infuriating in equal measure. Everything is a million miles an hour. My efforts at securing a toehold are largely ignored and I’m lost in a screaming melee of other wannabe authors, desperate to be seen and heard. Twitter is me, me, me, the land of the selfie. It’s also possibly the angriest place on earth.

There are a lot of very angry people on Twitter. They have an opinion and they want to share it with us all, and woe betide anyone who dares to think differently. Arguments erupt left, right and centre. A minefield of bitterness and bile. Politics, religion, sexuality, it’s all there. And it’s often the so called oppressed minority groups who reign supreme, bullying and baiting the rest of us into submission.

It’s not a place I want to frequent. The blog appears there and I skirt the edges of its writing community. But I’m wary of fully immersing myself. Before too long, I’m beating a hasty retreat back to my cave and my tribe. WordPress is my online home. It’s where I go at the end of a long, hard day. It’s where I feel appreciated, valued and wanted. It is the antithesis of Twitter. It’s where the good people are.

Then there’s Facebook. My authors page was launched there yesterday. ‘Real’ people now know about the book. People I see every day. I have no idea how they will react to this news. Will I become an object of scorn and ridicule? I hope not, but I worry some may see this as an opportunity to mock and belittle me. It makes me edgy, anxious and defensive. It makes me want the security of the cave.

It takes courage to step out of the cave. Courage I’m not sure I have. But here I am, nonetheless. At least I know, if it all comes tumbling down, I have somewhere I can retreat to, I have people who ‘get’ what I’m doing and will rally round when the wheels come off. I hope that time never comes. My period of hibernation is at an end. I stumble out of the darkness and into the light. It is time. My time.

Happy Birthday Fractured Faith

Fractured Faith Blog celebrates its second birthday today and we are launching my author website to coincide with the big day. Fionnuala has been slaving over a hot laptop creating it and I’m delighted with the outcome. It has links to the blog and my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Just click the links below and join the party. But don’t worry, the blog will still remain my bread & butter. You can’t get rid of me that easily.

My debut novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ will be available to buy, in e-book and paperback format, on Amazon later this summer. So start saving your pounds, dollars and euros now. I’ll also be launching a blog tour nearer the time so if you’re a book reviewer and would like to get involved in that, then drop me a line. I’d love for you to get involved. There may also be a few giveaways along the way.

Thank you again for the support and encouragement you have lavished on me these past two years. I am honoured to be part of our little online community. I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I did penning it. And, if you do, then Ilgood news. Book 2 will be coming your way in 2020. Join Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley as their battle against the evil Augustus Skelly continues.

Facebook Author Page – https://m.facebook.com/Stephen-Black-970402059972824/

Stephen Black Author Website – https://www.stephenblackauthor.com/

Waiting….

I am succeeding, things are happening, momentum is gathering. The rusty bolt in the gate has finally succumbed to my tugging and twisting. The huge boulder which has resisted me so long is finally starting to trundle down the hill, gathering pace as I run alongside it, breathless and giddy with excitement at what lies ahead. Everything is falling into place. I can see the finish line, hear the cheering crowds. I’m that close.

Which makes these final days all the more frustrating. Everything I’ve touched of late has turned to gold yet, here I am, another Monday morning about to crawl out of bed and head to the office. It comes around so fast. I’m swamped at work but such is the reward for becoming a Big Boss. There is nowhere to hide now, no slacking or skiving. Great things are expected of me, the Bigger Bosses have said as much. Yet, still I dream.

The book deal creeps ever nearer. I check my inbox 5857 times a day. They are busy people but my already frayed patience hangs by a thread. Hurry up, can’t you see I’m straining at the leash here. I regulate my breathing, pop another happy pill and try to focus on the here and now. But I’m a dreamer, always have been, always will. I want this to happen today, now. Waiting is for mugs and I’m tired of being one.

Is today the day, the day I sign the deal that changes my life, the life of my family? Or am I just another deluded, wannabe author, building their hopes up only for them to be dashed against the rocks of anonymity and failure. Were the doubters, the mockers right all along? Am I destined to fall short and prove them right? Only time will tell, I guess. Time. What a double edged sword it is.

I’ve been beaten up and beaten down these last nine years. Nine years. Since my father died. I have the dates tattooed on my arm but I still stare at the ink in disbelief. Would he be proud of me today? My mother told me recently he always wanted to write a book himself. There were so many things he could have done, should have done. Until you took him. God works in mysterious ways. I hate that saying. I’ve had my fill of mysteries.

I’m sure he’s looking down, telling me to calm down, to remain patient, to wait. Echoing the words of my wise wife. Don’t hit self destruct, Stephen. Play the long game, one more week, that’s all it will take. They’re right, I know, but that doesn’t make the pill any easier to swallow. But I’ll wait, I’ll wallow, I’ll pout but I’ll swallow. I’ll get up for work and play the game. What’s one more day between friends. Or enemies, for that matter.

Digging

I’ve been digging in our front garden this week and now understand the meaning of the phrase ‘farmer fit.’ It’s ridiculously hard work. By the time I finished my back ached, my hands were raw, and the sweat was dripping off my nose. I staggered back into the house, doubled over and struggling for breath. ‘You’re not used to real work,’ Fionnuala remarked drily. She had a point, though.

Hard physical labour and I are not on speaking terms. When I was digging, it triggered a memory of watching my grandfather and uncle digging potatoes when I was a young boy. They must have had backs of iron for they never faltered, never flinched from the rhythmic rise and fall as they methodically worked their way through the soil, rarely stopping for rest. These were real men, unafraid of proper graft.

My father was much the same. Broad shouldered and deceptively strong, he could toil in the garden all day, a workhorse who only downed tools when my mother called him in for lunch or dinner. These were tough, unassuming Northern Irish men. They didn’t have muscle vests or gym memberships, they didn’t need them. The land was their gym, the only workout they knew or needed.

All of this reminded me of the poem ‘Digging,’ by Seamus Heaney, which I studied at school. In it, he watches his father dig and compares it to his own art with the written word – ‘Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.’ One of the few lines of verse I remember from my school days, powerful and evocative in equal measure. Writers are diggers, and the pen is our spade.

What are we digging for? Well, I can only speak for myself. I dig to unravel the past, decipher the present and prepare for the future. It is my therapy, my release, a purging, cleansing, bleaching of the spirit. As I write, the toxicity ebbs from my body. I don’t expect fame or fortune. Writing is no means to an end. It is part of me, now. As natural as breathing. I am a writer. I write. That is is the stark, bare truth.

I feel utterly inadequate as I compare my own puny efforts with the spade to the men from my past. There is no comparison between us and, try as I might, I will never match them when it comes to working the land. All I can do is pick up a pen and pay tribute to them. I turn the top soil over and unearth hidden gems, buried deep in the recesses of my memory. Memories, both good and bad, which need to see the light of day once more.

They dug for potatoes, yet I dig more more. I dig to maintain the status quo, an equilibrium and balance so sorely lacking for most of my adult life. I dig to keep on track, eyes fixed ahead, afraid of losing my step and sliding helplessly back down into the miry murk of the past. Dig, dig, deeper and truer with each passing day. Closer, ever closer to the essence of who I am, as opposed to what I became.

‘Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.’

I Love My Husband….But He’s An Idiot

My super talented and slightly sarcastic wife jumped at the opportunity of participating in this week’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Warning – parts of this story may be true….

It was an usually cold May Saturday afternoon, exactly a week after Stephen’s birthday for which his wife Fionnuala surprised him with tickets for the last home game of the season of his favourite rugby team along with their daughters Hannah and Rebecca.

Stephen really would be lost without his amazing wife Fionnuala she has lost count of the amount of times he has “lost” his wallet or work pass only for them to turn up five minutes later in his pocket. Even driving Stephen to the train station for his daily commute to work had its challenges one time she had to do the journey twice because he left his phone on the sofa at home.

Today turned out to be no different than any other day. Stephen, Fionnuala, Hannah and Rebecca headed off to go to the big game the girls were very organised and had coats and scarfs with them and got wrapped up in the car before stepping out in the cold. Stephen began frantically searching the car for his coat but it couldn’t be found. Where had he left his coat? You guessed right he left it at home. Fionnuala and the girls just rolled their eyes at him he really never ceases to give them comedy gold moments.

They headed into the stadium and made their way round to the fan shop were Stephen made the choice of either buying a jacket to keep him warm during the game or a T-shirt it was a very tough decision for him to make and eventually he made the right call of purchasing the jacket. Fionnuala thanked God for giving him the wisdom to buy the jacket because the last thing she needed was Stephen getting sick and being at home again for a week with “manflu”.

Rebecca had a great idea in the shop she saw a huge foam hand that she thought would be great for every time her daddy did something silly she could hit him over the head with it.

The Black family had a great afternoon at the game and still reminisce about the day and look forward to the next comedy gold Stephen delivers.

How do you care for the idiots in your life?

Never Take Your True Friends For Granted

A big shout out to a friend of ours, Dawn, who has been poorly of late and in and out of hospital. This lady and her family entered our lives last year and have been a constant source of love and support ever since. Our families have merged and it feels as if we have all known each other for decades, as opposed to months. We were worried earlier in the week about her, but thankfully it’s nothing too serious and we hope to see her fighting fit again soon.

Dawn is an amazing baker, the cupcakes she made for my birthday still bring a smile to my face. She is an even more amazing mother to three super talented children who excel in film, theatre and art. Her eldest daughter is designing the cover for ‘Skelly’s Square’ once her exams are over and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with. I’m also hoping her son will take the promotional photos of yours truly looking mean and moody in murky Belfast back streets.

So, thank you Dawn. For your love, talents, humour and prayers. We love and miss you. Never take the friends in your life for granted. The true friends, the ones who show up when you most need them, who talk the talk and walk the walk. They are precious and the rarest of commodities. It’s like panning for gold but worth it in the end, as you sift through the grit and gravel for years on end, before finding that golden nugget.

What friends are you most grateful for?

The Hangover Dream

As recurring dreams go, the ‘hangover dream’ is top of the pile. I have had it on a semi regular basis since my decision to give up drinking alcohol six years ago. I would say I haven’t looked back since, except that’s not strictly accurate. The hangover dream is testimony. An unwelcome reminder of what once was but can never be again. And here I am, awake at 05:00 a.m, mulling over another night where it has got the better of me.

It’s always a variation of the same theme. I wake up, hungover, gripped by the physical symptoms and a mental unease as to what happened the night before. For I’ve blacked out at some point and can’t remember. I know I’ve messed up though. I always mess up when I’ve been drinking. It’s par for the course. Lily Allen wrote a song about it called ‘The Fear.’ Lily Allen was right.

In the dream I need to be somewhere and I’m late. I’m rushing about, trying to get back on track while battling the nausea and lethargy. I’m pretending that everything is ‘fine.’ Everything, however, is not fine, it’s far from fine. I’m teetering on the brink, wracked with guilt and regret. Never again, I think to myself. This sick cycle needs to stop. And so it does. Until the next time, that is.

When I wake up, I have the physical symptoms of a hangover. My stomach is queasy and I’m exhausted. ‘The Fear’ envelops me like a cloying blanket. The smell of cigarettes assails my nostrils and my flesh crawls with anxiety ants. I want to bury my head beneath the covers and not emerge until it’s all gone away. Yet, I must get up, dust myself down and face the waiting day. That’s what great pretenders do, right?

Six years. Why do I still dream this dream, unlocking a portal to a past life I want nothing to do with? I have no interest in alcohol now. I’m never tempted. Nowadays I run, I write, I live. These are the best days of my life and I truly believe there are even better ahead. Yet still I dream. The night before the biggest of meetings with the biggest of bosses. When I need to bounce into work fresh and raring to go. Why?

Never rest on your laurels. Complacency is a stealthy assassin, waiting to creep up behind and slit your throat from ear to ear. Just when you thought you could relax a little, lower those defences. Well, breaking news, you can’t. This is for life. One slip, one poor decision, and you end up slithering back down the slippery, steep slope into the murky mire of a past you so desperately want to leave behind.

It’s there, it always will be. A necessary evil, the umbilical cord between who you were and who you want to be. My advice for what it’s worth is to use it. That cord can be a noose or a lifeline. Use it to guide you, to remind you of the high stakes game you continue to play, must continue to play. Day in, day out for the rest of your life. When viewed within that context, the ‘hangover dream’ is a small price to pay.

I have a dream. A horrible, nightmarish dream but one I need to periodically experience so as I remain vigilant and alert to the warning signs. I must be prepared at all times to repel enemy attacks, to man the ramparts at a moments notice in order to face the coming storm. I feel rough, I feel rotten, but at least I feel something. Alive to the threats, the possibilities, the tripwires and hidden pits. Alive to life.

What Was Your Favourite Childhood Book?

Today sees the start of my ‘bucket list’ challenge to re-read my favourite childhood book, ‘The Lord of The Rings.’ I purchased it on my Kindle last year with this intention in mind, but have always found an excuse not to start. Well, no more. I’m holding myself accountable to the good people of WordPress to ensure I don’t renege on my word this time. I’m diving into Tolkien’s world of elves, hobbits and talking trees.

Every week I’ll post an update on my progress, giving my own unique slant on where I’m at and how it compares with when I read it as a wide eyed, naive teenager. For now I am a wide eyed, naive middle aged man. Will it be as magical and captivating as when I first picked it up all those years ago. Or are my memories of Gandalf & Co. viewed through rose tinted spectacles? Has Peter Jackson gone and ruined it all?

Feel free to join me on this epic journey from The Shire to Mount Doom. I’ll tell you all my guilty secrets. Like, how I find hobbits slightly annoying and my irrational love of all things orcish. How elves are a bit dull, despite the best efforts of Evangeline Lily and Cate Blanchett to convince me otherwise. And how Styder is waaaaay cooler than Aragorn despite them being the same person, a concept I never quite got my head around.

I’m off to face what the day has in store for me now. But please leave your comments and thoughts below and I’ll get back to them as soon as I can. Are you a Tolkien fan? Can the film adaptation ever be as good as the book, no matter how many squillions of dollars they throw at it? Why does Hollywood insist on straying from the original text because they know best? The mic is all yours. Enjoy.

Flash Fiction Challenge Is Back

After an extended hiatus, ‘Flash Fiction Challenge’ is back. Don’t all get too excited. The format remains as before. Below is a photograph of a receipt I have picked up during my travels. All you have to do is write a piece based around the receipt. It can be as long or short as you want and as far as choosing a genre, anything goes. Let your imagination run riot.

I’m most looking forward to what you come up with. The receipt was given to me upon purchase of a waterproof ‘Ulster Rugby’ raincoat I picked up in the club shop before their recent match with Connacht. And the giant hand, as modelled below by Rebecca? Well, I’ll leave that to your own devices. I’m particularly keen to see what our North American followers come up with.

To add a little spice, the winner will have their entry featured on Fractured Faith blog this coming weekend. So, the genius of your submission can be revealed to the masses. Remember, rugby players don’t wear shoulder pads or helmets like those namby pamby NFL chaps. This is real men we are talking about here. Enjoy the challenge and I look forward to reading your pieces.

Are you brave enough to enter the ‘Flash Fiction Challenge’?

I’m No Hugh Jackman, But….

I write from the heart, warts and all. You get exactly what it says on the tin. A lot of people seem to like this style, others less so. I cannot pretend to be happy when I am not. This is a modern day skill I have never quite been able to get my head around. I don’t say ‘I’m fine’ and ‘I’m loving life’ when I’m clearly not. I have my ups, my downs, my peaks and troughs. I can be happy Stephen, sad Stephen, somewhere in between Stephen.

I’ve written largely positive material these last two years on the blog. It’s been a slog at times, but I’ve largely posted on a daily basis, ably supported by Fionnuala when I have needed a break or been too busy to write. Rebecca has also popped up with the occasional special guest appearance. We have always viewed Fractured Faith Blog as a platform to show others there is hope, even when all seems hopeless.

In order to adequately explain this, however, I’ve had to, on occasion, revisit the darker times. I’ve had to dip my toe back into the murky waters of despair and dismay. This has been a necessary evil. In order to represent the impact and brightness of the light, you must also depict the soul wrenching darkness from which it emerged. It is the backdrop to who we were and helps educate the reader as to how far we have come.

I call it the Abyss. There are several chapters in the book, where Meredith Starc finds herself cocooned within it, utterly disoriented and devoid of hope. I have also written about it on the blog, the darkest of places, where I once dwelt. A modern day Gollum, scurrying around in the gloom, wallowing in self pity and regret. I hated that world, I hated that life, but most of all I hated myself. I so wanted to be Sméagol again.

Life is so much better now, which I hope is reflected in the content of this blog. The good days vastly outnumber the not so good ones. This allows me to write with a freedom I once knew nothing about. I no longer have to fake it, like so many do both online and in the real world. I am finally comfortable in my own skin, allowing me to discard the mask and throw it aside. I am me and, most days, I can look myself in the mirror and accept that.

This blogger ain’t for changin’. There will, no doubt, be gloomy times ahead, such is the nature of this unpredictable beast we call life. I will continue to mix it up on here, as required. I’m hoping it’s a mostly smooth ride for you lot, but I’m guaranteeing nothing. There will be rough, there will be smooth, there will be the long, largely boring bits in between where nothing much happens.

A consistent message on this blog is to be yourself. It’s okay to feel miserable and disconsolate at times, if that is what your external circumstances are dictating at that particular moment in your life. You don’t have to put on a performance. I know this better than anyone. I’m no showman, Hugh Jackman can rest easy on that front. I am who I am, and so should you. This is me.

What They Don’t See

What They Don’t See

https://everysmallvoice.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/what-they-dont-see/
— Read on everysmallvoice.wordpress.com/2019/03/22/what-they-dont-see/

This weeks guest blogger is Heather at http://everysmallvoice.wordpress.com A very underrated writer, her blog deals with a range of topics, many of which I can relate to. I was spoilt for choice when picking a post, but plumped for this poem, which I could have written myself. Please share the love and follow Heather’s blog. You won’t be disappointed.

Photographs From Today’s Run

Here are some photos from today’s run. My 12 miles ended up as 13.5 but hey ho. Hannah joined me for the first mile while Rebecca chilled out at a picnic before joining up with me near the finish. Fionnuala was there to capture all the best moments and keep us all under control. The weather stayed fine and my legs felt good. Now for a hot bath and a Chinese takeaway. Not at the same time, I might add. Enjoy your Saturday whatever you are up to.

Saturday With Team Black

Today promises to be exciting. I’ve been approached by a ministry team who are running marathon relays through each of Ireland’s 32 counties this year. This weekend is Week 15 and they arrive in County Armagh. It’s a massive undertaking but they are totally committed to completing the challenge, no matter what obstacles or adverse weather conditions they have to overcome.

The ministry leader, Katey, is an inspiring lady, committed to sharing her love of God and his Word with others. I was thrilled to be asked to participate but not quite so thrilled when told I was pencilled in to run the longest leg – 12 miles along the canal towpath from Scarva to Newry. On the plus side it’s a beautiful, and thankfully flat, route which I’ve never run before. And we have been promised dry weather.

My leg starts at 1:00 pm and I plan to be in Newry by 3:00. Hannah is starting the leg with me and I will meet up with Rebecca near the finish line, to pass on a scroll to her, which all the runners carry to represent the Word of God being carried around the island of Ireland. Each relay is started by a church leader and finished by a young person. Rebecca and Hannah are both super excited to be involved.

As ever, Fionnuala will be holding it all together by driving us to and from various locations and keeping us fed. At the finish line there will be a worship event awash with music and colour. I will be the sweaty mess in the corner, nursing sore feet and guzzling water. But it is a worthwhile event and we are honoured to be involved, representing the Father’s Love ministry, led by our dear friends, Graham and Anne McCartney.

It’s been an eventful week and, what better way to end it than this. I’ll post an update later today, hopefully with photographs of us all. In the meantime, any prayers and positive thoughts for Team Black would be much appreciated. I see honeycomb ice cream in my future later this evening. Lots and lots of honeycomb ice cream. What are you all up to this weekend?

Fractured Faith Hits 10,000 Followers

Hello from Northern Ireland. We woke up to more good news this morning. Fractured Faith Blog passed the 10,000 follower mark overnight. Almost two weeks ahead of schedule. Fionnuala and I would like to thank everyone who contributed towards the ‘final push.’ It’s been a tumultuous and topsy turvy week and I, for one, am excited for what the future weeks and months bring.

Thank you again.

My 30 Day Coffee Challenge: Failing Day 1

I read somewhere, or possibly just imagined it, that if you eat or drink a foodstuff you despise for 30 days straight, you will end up liking, or at least be able to tolerate, it. Well, you all know I love a challenge so this was one that had me straining at the leash to attempt. When faced with the food or drink in question, there was only ever going to be one candidate. My arch nemesis, the Moriarty to my Holmes – coffee.

I’ve written in the past about my rollercoaster relationship with coffee. I love the look of it, the smell of it, the whole concept of it. I dream of lounging all day in a cosy cafe, sipping a frappy-cappy espresso whatever, while pretentiously tapping away at a laptop, as I pen my latest bestseller. The one slight fly in the ointment? I hate the taste of the stuff. As in, physically retch the second it touches my taste buds.

Believe me, I’ve tried down the years. I so want to be in the cool coffee quaffing club, but remain the perennial bridesmaid, telling people I’m meeting a friend for a coffee then sadly sipping from my tea or Diet Coke as others load up on espresso shots or assault frothy concoctions piled high with whipped cream and marshmallows. Baristas smile politely and look mildly disappointed whenever I place my order.

Yesterday, I struck out again, more in hope than expectation, on my latest familiarisation programme. It was my first meeting with the other BIG BOSSES in a nearby city centre hotel. I sidled nervously into my seat around the impressive conference table, before the Chief Executive encouraged us to avail of complimentary coffee from a rather complicated looking contraption spouting steam in the corner of the room.

As I edged nearer the front of the queue, I eyed up the machine with some trepidation. It sported an impressive array of buttons. I intently observed those in front of me, determined not to screw up when my moment in the limelight came. There was a BIG BIG BOSS immediately behind me. The back of my neck broke out in a clammy sweat. This was more nerve wracking than the recent job interview itself.

I placed my cup under the ‘tap’, selected cappuccino, the only selection that looked vaguely familiar, and hoped for the best. A creamy looking substance began to fill the cup, before spluttering to a stop near the brim. Feeling rather pleased with myself, I picked up the cup and returned to the conference table. I was a proper adult now, punching my weight with the organisation’s high fliers and go getters. Stephen had finally arrived.

All that abruptly ended, the second I raised the cup to my lips and supped the foul liquid within. I grimaced, swallowed and forced myself to take a second mouthful. I now resembled a constipated water buffalo and was attracting concerned looks from the Head of Corporate Services. I smiled tepidly and pretended to look busy, organising my pens and picking at an imaginary fleck of fluff on my jacket lapel.

After the third torturous attempt I accepted defeat, set the cup aside and slyly opened a can of Diet Coke when nobody was looking. I had fallen at the first hurdle, a Frappuccino fraud of the highest order. Maybe I’ll try beetroot next time, or possibly brussel sprouts. Nothing could be worse than death by caffeine. Failing that, it’s back to the honeycomb ice cream and coconut mushrooms. Oh well….

Thank You Everyone

Just a quick note to thank everyone who has forwarded best wishes regarding Fionnuala’s post yesterday that the book has finally found a home and is going to be published later this year. After a few near misses with bigger US agents I finally settled for a smaller, UK based publisher. The clincher was a lengthy, detailed e-mail from the editor, who had clearly read the book from cover to cover and ‘got’ what ‘Skelly’s Square’ was all about.

I’m still processing the news but am, of course, excited and delighted. It’s hard to take in that a ‘mere’ 18 months ago I first had the idea of a troubled young man haunted by an imaginary voice in his head. Except the voice wasn’t imaginary. That I stumbled across a piece of graffiti in a Belfast back alley which was to become the gateway to countless parallel universes. That Kirkwood, Meredith, Harley, Emily, Skelly and Dobson would be born.

The outline for Book 2 in the series is simmering nicely in the background and I guess I should get cracking with putting pen to paper on that one. I’m also committed to my other project, ‘Bomb Girl,’ which is presently being serialised on my Wattpad account. I’ll post a link to that later today for those who would like to sample my fiction writing. There is a third project also – ‘This Troubled Land,’ but more about that another day.

I hope some of you will purchase ‘Skelly’s Square’ when it sees the light of day, probably later this summer. I have a lot of work to do with the publisher, but it will available to buy on Amazon in both e-book and hard copy form. Or you can order one from me directly. Until then, I want to thank you, my WordPress family, for your unwavering support of the blog and my ramblings. Only 30 off the big 10K now. Thank you.

HE HAS ONLY GONE AND DONE IT!!

Fionnuala here and I have some amazing news to share with you all. Stephen mentioned in his blog this morning how he felt this month was going to bring good news for him, well he didn’t have to wait too long, this afternoon he has been offered a publishing deal!!

Myself and the kids are so proud of Stephen it’s hard to put into words. Stephen for as long as Ive known him, which is 23 years, has put himself down and listened to others put him down and rubbish him so much so that he almost lost everything. Even in this mornings blog he wrote how he felt like a fraud in a suit well I can honestly say that my husband is anything but a fraud in the not too distant future my husband will be a published author.

When Stephen sets his mind to do something he does it, a few years ago he decided he wanted to run a marathon – he has now ran 9, just over a year ago he decided to write a book and now today he has been offered a publishing deal.

If you have a dream don’t give up on it no matter what the haters say even if that hater lives in your head if your dream is on your heart go for it. Don’t put off to tomorrow what can be done today.

Hard work pays off and it certainly has for Stephen and we are all immensely proud of him.

Mr. Razor Awaits

It’s back to work this morning. Which means I have to shave. My face, I might add. After a glorious bank holiday weekend in the realm of scruffy stubbledom, it’s back to reality with a resounding thump. Mr. Razor has an appointment with me in the bathroom, the second I stop writing this blog and shuffle off to meet him, like a condemned man making the long walk to the gallows.

Being a BIG BOSS now, I have to present at least a veneer of respectability to my adoring team as I go about my daily business. This entails wearing a business suit and tie, shiny shoes and shaving. It doesn’t impact upon my performance in the slightest but is expected of one who has risen to my lofty position within the organisation. Thankfully, no bowler hat or copy of the Financial Times. Yet.

Fionnuala is no fan of the stubble although she did allow me to go two weeks without shaving a few Christmases ago. I was quite impressed with the results, her less so. I do ‘good beard’ and am now of an age where my chin furniture is of a silvery glow. I like to think I resemble a young Clooney. George, not Rosemary, that is. In my minds eye I’m a silver fox, as opposed to a manky old tramp.

Our Adam is now of an age where he has challenged me to a beard growing contest in the summer. Although I suspect his would blow away in the face of a moderate breeze. In these parts, we call it ‘bum fluff.’ Those who are easily offended may wish to look away at this stage of the post. He talks now of shaving, tattoos and learning to drive. What happened to our baby boy?

El beard is, of course, poor laziness on my part. Shaving every day is such a chore. I know you woman have childbirth and everything but really? Shaving and man flu. It’s tough being a male of the species. Please read the previous sentences in a heavily sarcastic tone of voice. Although I have my lawyers on speed dial, just in case. Oh that’s right, I don’t have any lawyers. I don’t even have a lawyer.

It’s all just part of my ingrained desire to hide away, of course. When I’m unshaven and wearing my customary hat, I can glide anonymously through life, without acquiring a second glance. Clean shaven, suited and booted, I feel horribly exposed, just waiting for those around me to point and exclaim ‘Look at him. He’s nothing but a big, fat fraud.’ The voice in my head never fails to disappoint.

But, play the game I must. There are bills to pay and mouths to feed. My office awaits and, within it, a team requiring direction and leadership. So I’ll shave the stubble off, don my work suit and wait for the train along with all the other middle aged business types who share my daily commute to and from Belfast. I wonder if they all feel like I do. Maybe one day I’ll ask. Set up a support group, or something.

I’ve a feeling this could be a big month. A game changer in many ways. Don’t ask me why, I just do. But until that happens, Beardy McBeardFace will have to grin and bear it. Mr. Razor awaits. Is this how Marie Antoinette felt as she faced Monsieur Guillotine? Time will tell. But let’s hope there are better days just around the corner. The world needs more George Clooney lookalikes. I know I do.

Help Us Hit 10K

We are less than 70 followers now off the BIG 10K at Fractured Faith. It would be great if we could reach this milestone by 21 May which is the blog’s second birthday. So, while we normally seek to give as opposed to take, it would be much appreciated if as many of you as possible could hit us with a reblog in order to help us over the finishing line. We are always grateful for the love and support we receive from our WordPress tribe.

THANK YOU!

The Breaking Even Point

Being the most boring man alive, I’m reading a book about leadership at the minute called ‘The First 90 Days.’ It’s aimed at people who have moved into a new work role, normally as a result of a promotion, and who are expected to make an initial positive impact. It features lots of fancy leadership speak, talking about transitional acceleration and the like. I would much rather be reading ‘Lord of the Rings’ but needs must.

I’ve only read the first chapter, there being ten in total. Each chapter focuses on an area of your work life which you can improve upon. Chapter titles include Promoting Yourself, Securing Early Wins and Network Building. Worry not, this is not the beginning of a ten blog series on the topic. I’ve no desire in seeing my leadership plummet so will spare you all the misery of such a proposition.

The one point from the book which has struck a chord with me so far, however, is about reaching the ‘breaking even’ point. This is the stage in a new post where you behind to contribute more than you consume. The aim is to get there as efficiently and effectively as you can, so as you become an asset to the organisation as opposed to a burden. 90 days is the make or break period.

The book was recommended to me by a colleague as I’ve recently been promoted, but it got me thinking. For many years I wasted my life, meandering along with little focus or direction. I was a bit of a mess, if I’m honest, lacking in confidence and self belief. I convinced myself I was a failure with little, if anything, to offer the world. I wallowed in a sea of self pity and loathing.

When my father died, nine years ago now, the wheels came off completely and I spiralled into a destructive tailspin which I couldn’t pull myself out of. If it wasn’t for my family and true friends, I dread to think where I would have ended up. It was car crash television of the highest order and I was the star of the show. Yet, by hook or by crook, I survived it to tell the tale.

This blog is my testimony to that, my survival journal. It’s written as a signpost to others, showing that it is possible to step back from the abyss and make something of your life. It is possible to contribute more than you consume, to attain the ‘breaking even’ point in life, whereupon you feel worthy, valued and no longer a burden on loved ones. It’s the stage in life where you can look yourself in the mirror and not flinch away.

This blog is also a lifeline, a daily reminder I can never rest on my laurels for fear of sliding back into old habits. Complacency can creep up on you so easily, it’s a silent killer. Writing is one of the protective mechanisms I’ve surrounded myself with to ensure I don’t ever return to that cold, dark place. I’ve fought hard to get to my ‘breaking even’ point. It’s been a long and rocky road but I’m finally there. Are you?

Have you reached your ‘breaking even’ point in life?

Family Night Out

We had a great time at the rugby tonight. The girls got their photos taken with Ulster & Ireland star, Jacob Stockdale, as well as meeting the club mascot, Sparky the Bear. Ulster won 21-13 and the stadium was bouncing at the end when the final whistle blew. We got free burgers afterwards and the girls had their flags autographed by lots of the players. I think Hannah is a convert now so I have a rugby buddy for next season now that Adam works match days.

We’re Off To The Big Match

We are off to the rugby today to watch Ulster play Connacht in the Pro 14 Quarter Final at the Kingspan Stadium, Belfast. Adam is working in one of the hospitality lounges but Fionnuala and the girls surprised me last week with tickets to the biggest match of the season. It’s a sellout crowd and the place will be rocking. I’m super excited. It’s almost as if it’s a second birthday, one week after the actual event.

I will post an update later, including photos of our adventures at the match. Hopefully, the girls will get to meet some of the players after the match. That’s it for now as first we are off to a birthday party for Fionnuala’s little nephew, where I will no doubt eat my own body weight in cake and sausage rolls. Good job I went for a seven mile run earlier this morning.

Stay tuned!

What was the last sporting event you attended?

How much cake can you eat at one sitting?

I’m Sorry I Don’t Say Sorry Enough

I’ve been a little tardy in replying to comments posted on the blog of late and reading the posts of others. A new job has been steadily eating into my day, in addition to the million and one other pressing matters tugging at my time and attention. This is most unlike me as I quietly pride myself on interacting with others and building a sense of community on WordPress. I hope to be firing on all cylinders again, very soon.

So, sorry….

It’s a small word, but a powerful one. In Northern Ireland, it is bandied about with little sense of its impact. Everyone constantly apologises to everyone else about such inconsequential matters. You accidentally nudge a fellow commuter on a crowded train – sorry – you knock a pen off a colleagues desk – sorry – you neglect to blog in a few days – oh, I’m terribly sorry.

Some of us apologise without even thinking about what we are apologising for, but do we truly mean it. To say sorry is to accept a fault or failing on your part, which is extremely difficult for some. It’s accepting you have fallen short of the standards you have set yourself. For some, that is a bridge too far. It’s tough enough being judged by others, without having to reflect on your own conduct and realise it could have been better.

We need to say sorry, though. It opens the door to forgiveness. It’s whacking the tennis ball across the net and hoping the person on the other side returns your serve. You have to mean it, though. Really mean it. Recognise where you messed up and take positive steps to ensure it never happens again. Sorry is the flag in the ground, the line in the sand, the place of no return. It defines who we want to be.

I’ve said sorry a million times, but for many years I never really meant it. It was a selfish exercise in self preservation, trying to wriggle off the hook when I discovered I had nowhere else to run. It took me a long time to say sorry and actually take affirmative action to prove to others I meant it this time, and it wouldn’t happen again. Words are cheap, they need to be backed up. You need to convince the injured parties.

Saying sorry and meaning it requires guts. It’s not for everyone. But it is a step down the path towards freedom. Breaking free from the shackles of guilt, shame and self loathing. It’s the key to unlocking the cell door you have been languishing in for what seems an eternity. It’s a chance, an opportunity to haul yourself out of the pit and start over again. It’s a painful process, initiating forgiveness, but a necessary one for all concerned.

The etymology of the word can be traced to the Old English ‘sang,’ meaning ‘pained’ or ‘distressed.’ Forgiveness is a painful experience, it drags up past memories which we don’t want to address. But wounds need to be cauterised and sometimes there needs to be additional pain, before proper healing can begin. That’s why so many of us detest change, much preferring to wallow in the status quo.

Everybody needs to say sorry, now and again. It’s a lifeline, one I would encourage you to grab onto and tug for all it’s worth. If you are reading this today, and feel it applies to you, then what are you waiting for? Find the person and say it. Sorry seems to be the hardest word, somebody once sang. But, such a necessary one. Say sorry today. It might just change your life. Forever.

Are you good at saying sorry?

Who do you need to apologise to today?

Guest Bloggers – Meredith and Shae Jackson

Family Memories

https://theshaesdaysblog.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/family-memories/
— Read on theshaesdaysblog.wordpress.com/2019/04/28/family-memories/

The first blogger I’d like to feature in my series on WordPress people who inspire me, is in fact a family. The Jackson clan from the good old U, S of A. Mother and daughter team, Meredith and Shae Jackson, are two of the loveliest bloggers you could meet. They write regularly on a variety of topics; from faith to fitness, family life to food. They also were invaluable beta readers for my first book.

Shae is one of my youngest, but most loyal followers. Wise beyond her years, she is funny, smart and ridiculously talented. She also has a huge heart and writes accordingly, always putting others first. She dances, restores antique furniture and writes short stories which leave me scratching my head as to how one so young can be blessed with such a wide range of skills.

Meredith, aka ‘mom’, is a brilliant writer and teacher who has bolstered my own Fractured Faith since I first discovered her blog ‘My Way Home Life.’ I’m not quite sure how she crams so much every day into 24 hours a day. Her and Fionnuala share that particular gift. We talk most days and I always look forward to her comments and humour. Her love for God, her family and community is evident in everything she posts.

I’ll be featuring more of my my favourite bloggers in the weeks ahead. I’d encourage you, if you don’t already, to follow them all. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

More Bad News

It’s everywhere isn’t it. Switch on the television and the news channels are saturated, the online world is largely a quagmire of gloom and despondency. Don’t believe me? Spend an hour on Twitter and then let me know your thoughts. Bad news. Tragedies, natural and otherwise, threaten to overwhelm our senses. It’s car crash television and, yet, we find it so difficult to look away.

I’ve no idea why. I mean, it’s not as if our own lives are lacking toil and tribulation. We all have more than our fair share of worry to contend with, be it illness, bereavement or any one of a host of other crisis which can strike without warning. We have our fill of misfortune, yet for many it’s not enough. They crave another bad news story to feast upon. Our hunger is never sated.

I’m as guilty as the next person. I’ve gossiped and judged and felt smug and superior. If it’s happening to somebody else, then it’s not happening to me and my family. Isn’t that the way we operate? I’m not talking mass shootings or earthquakes. It’s more your colleague at work who you’re not that keen on slipping up. The nosey neighbour down the street getting their comeuppance.

Divine retribution. Karma. Call it what you want, we’ve all fallen prey to it’s seductive lure. Just keep it on the other side of the fence. We love to observe, to compare and contrast. The failings and inadequacies of others tend to make us feel a little better about our own lives. We bask in their misfortune, thrive on their ill fortune. That’s just the way the world turns and there’s nothing can be done.

And don’t fall for the ‘happy clappy’ brigade either. Those families with the fixed rictus grins who portray their lives as perfect and without blemish. Who are always fine, spouting about how good their lives are. Life guarantees despair and regret at some point. God may be good, but the world he created most certainly isn’t. It is soiled, broken, on its last legs. We, it’s supposed stewards, made certain of that.

What can be done? I’m not sure. It seems a gargantuan task to steer the planet back into calmer waters. Not in these shark infested seas. We can only do so much. A worldwide, collective effort is required. But how can that be achieved in a world where so many gorge on the grief of others. My most popular post to date this year was titled ‘Some Unfortunate News.’ The case for the prosecution rests.

Running Through My Thoughts

Yesterday was my first pre-work run, necessitated by a promotion which bid farewell to long lunches and leisurely runs through the city. Now let’s get one thing straight, I detest running first thing. It takes a few hours for my body to even consider physical exercise when it awakens. If I had a pound for every time I said I was going to jump out of bed and go running, I’d have at least £637. Possible £640.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself awake yesterday before the dreaded alarm klaxon summoned me to the land of the living. I briefly considered ignoring it before steeling my resolve and flinging back the covers. Today was not going to be that day. I was running a 10K if it killed me. Which, given my aversion to morning exercise, was a distinct possibility.

I peeked out the curtains, to be greeted by a damp, grey landscape. Wonderful. I slipped into my running gear which I had optimistically set out the night before. Opening the front door, I was greeted by a brisk breeze which left me in doubt that the next 6.2 miles of my life were not going to being the most joyful experience of my life. But, there was nothing else for it. I tapped my stopwatch and was off.

After the initial shock wore off, I settled into a steady rhythm. It started to rain and gusts of wind forced me to retreat into my thoughts rather than consider the long road ahead. All sorts of thoughts bombarded my mental floodgates. Good thoughts, bad thoughts, unwanted thoughts, thoughts I latched upon and never wanted to let go of, all of them battling for my attention.

Endless images flashed across the internal movie screen playing in my head. Some made me smile, others caused me to cringe and flinch away. Many were regular visitors, others less so; obtrusive and insisting I invite them in for a protracted stay. As I plodded up a hill outside of the village, I wrestled with the internal Pandora’s Box which intermittently seeks to disturb my settled existence.

One step forward, two steps back. Then four steps onwards again. This is OCD. Forever elusive and tantalisingly beyond one’s stretching fingertips. A seductive siren tempting you onto the rocks with its incessant song. A never ending drumbeat, a vice that refuses to lessen its grip on its victim. Pounding, pounding, pounding you into submission.

If you let it, that is. I take my daily medication. I talk to loved ones. I fill my day with productive, positive activities, not allowing it to lay down it’s toxic roots. And I run. I sweat the stinking thinking from my psyche. I purge myself of the poison that is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I embrace the temporary physical pain of distance running. I’m playing the long game. It is worth the suffering.

At the end of the run I felt cleansed and ready for the day ahead. I know the thoughts will return, they always do. But I will be ready for them, armed and waiting. For years I was it’s docile victim, but no more. It snaps, it snarls, it prowls at the edges of my sanity, waiting for the slightest chink, the most fleeting opportunity. I am ever vigilant, I cannot, will not let it prevail.

Bucket List – The Winner

Over the weekend I wrote about 9 ‘things’ I wanted to cross off my bucket list over the next 365 days. Oh hang on, make that 363 days now. Best get my skates on. Although, thankfully, skating wasn’t on the list. Neither the ice nor roller variety. I have all the coordination of a three legged elephant on a wonky skateboard. But, I digress. Let’s get back to the business at hand. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the bucket list.

A number of wicked female bloggers, whose identities I shall not disclose, suggested I cook a three course meal for my family. No problem, I thought. I can turn an oven or microwave on as well as the next man. The cruel caveat, however, was I had to do so from scratch. As in, raw ingredients, stuff like that. There’s stepping out of the boat and there’s being catapulted off the SS Titanic into the icy mid-Atlantic. This challenge is the latter.

Fionnuala was delighted when I broke the news to her. ‘I was going to suggest that myself, but thought you’d sulk’ she smirked. The Women’s Union had struck again and I was doomed. Despite being sorely tempted, I couldn’t find it in myself to delete the offending comments. Plus, I had given the word. I’m afraid I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. The hard place, being the largely alien environment of our kitchen.

It’s time for me to hit the books. The recipe books, that is. Starter, main meal and dessert. All from scratch. If anyone has any suggestions, then please feel free to comment below. Preferably with a recipe and easy to follow diagrams. Imagine you’ve been asked to show a caveman how to start a fire and you’re close. That’s the level we are pitching this at. In the meantime all prayers and/or positive thoughts are much appreciated.

What Fresh Hell Is This?

Fionnuala and the kids bought me some new work shirts as part of my birthday present yesterday. Designer shirts no less. I was delighted until I discovered they had no buttons at the wrists. These shirts were no ordinary shirts, no sirreeeee. Instead, they required cuff links, another utterly alien concept to me on my journey through the adult world. What fresh hell was this?

Thankfully they had also included a pair of ‘fancy dan’ cuff links along with the shirts. I awoke this morning, filled with trepidation. I shaved, washed and then started to dress. The shirt was fresh and ironed within an inch of its life. I marvelled at how good it felt on my skin, before glancing dubiously at the accompanying cuff links which sat smirking at me on the bedside table. Taunting, gloating.

The process involves aligning four holes on each shirt cuff before sliding the link through each one. They can then been straightened and the cuff link secured. I had previously thought only Victorian gentlemen wore such instruments of torture. But, no, they are apparently ‘all the rage’ and a ‘must have’ for the man about town these days. What next I wondered. Monocles? Pocket watches? Commuting to work on a penny farthing?

After several failed attempts, and much griping, I managed to secure one of them, without impaling it upon my wrist and hitting a major artery. I twisted and turned every which way, impressing myself with my flexibility at such an early hour. Who needs yoga I thought. Just try and put on a pair of cuff links every morning. Harry Houdini eat your heart out. He had nothing on me. Bring on the chains and water chamber.

I wasn’t allowed to rest on my laurels as number two provided an even more Herculean challenge. It knocked the Gordian knot into a cocked hat as I was now forced to lead with my weaker left hand. Prayers were uttered and curses muttered until I eventually emerged triumphant from the bedroom. If this was a test of my manhood, I was utterly vindicated. I felt like Pinocchio. I’m a real boy. Er….man.

I swaggered downstairs to proudly show off my new found talent to Fionnuala. ‘Not bad for a 49 year old man,’ I boasted until she gently informed me that one of the cuff links was fastened the wrong way round. My testosterone bubble was instantaneously burst, and I meekly allowed her to fix it in a fraction of the time it had taken me to do first place. I felt like a little boy being dressed for school by his mother.

Lunchtime now looms on the horizon, where I was planning a much needed run. I may have to allow myself an extra hour to wrestle with my wrists. Or, alternatively, just throw in the towel and book the rest of the day off. I fear phoning Fionnuala asking for assistance might be frowned upon. No, I’m on my own with this one. Although I might have the emergency services on speed dial, just in case.

I knew this promotion would mean stepping out of my comfort zone, it’s the nature of the beast. Tomorrow I’ll be taking another step into the unknown but, this time, it doesn’t relate to sartorial matters. No, my new job necessitates longer hours so less opportunities for lunchtime running. So, tomorrow I’ll be indulging in the dreaded dawn run. Tune in for more of the same nonsense.

Help Me With My Bucket List

I turned 49 today. I know, I know, I don’t look a day over 39 you silver tongued charmers. I’ve had a fantastic day with the family, received some lovely presents and eaten far too much. Back running again tomorrow in order to burn off the 49 million calories I consumed today. Thank you to those of you who sent birthday greetings and/or participated in my birthday related posts throughout the week.

Over pizza this afternoon, Fionnuala and the kids challenged me to compile a bucket list of ’10 things’ I want to do before I hit the dreaded big 50 in 365 days time. For, truth be told, I am dreading it a bit. I’ve achieved a lot but I still believe there is a lot more left in the tank. I’ve made progress but the road ahead stretches over the horizon and out of sight. I still feel like that awkward 15 year old.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Run my 10th marathon.

2. Succeed in my new job.

3. Publish my first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’

4. Write Book 2 in the KSC series.

5. Complete my Wattpad story, ‘Bomb Girl.’

6. Read The Bible and The Lord of the Rings from cover to cover.

7. Get A Fractured Faith to 20,000 followers.

8. Bench press a minimum of 60kg.

9. Create a new look front garden.

And yes, I realise that’s only nine goals. Which is where you lot come in. I’m inviting suggestions for a 10th and final suggestion for the bucket list. Just drop a comment below. I’ll let you know if it’s a possibility and announce the ‘winner’ next week. And sorry for over egging the birthday celebrations. It’s just WordPress has been desperately quiet of late and I’m trying to inject a smidgeon if interaction and community.

Thank you, as ever.

It’s the Big Man’s Birthday

For the last week Stephen has been banging on about his birthday and at long last the big day has finally arrived! I’ve no idea why he has been so excited about because he is entering into his last year of his 40s!!

The kids and I have lots of surprises for him today and they are so excited to give him his presents and make him his birthday breakfast and help him eat his gigantic tub of honeycomb ice cream Adam hid in the freezer on Friday.

Today we plan to have a very lazy family day before all the normal routines begin again tomorrow after the Easter holidays. So from Adam, Hannah, Rebecca and myself we want to wish Stephen a very happy 49th birthday we love you and are very very proud of everything you’ve achieved and everything you do for us!!

So who wants a bowl of honeycomb ice cream 🍦

It’s My Birthday….Well Almost #2

Tomorrow, if I’m honest. But I’m going to continue a series of blogs where I attempt to give back to the WordPress community. This isn’t about me, it’s about us. WordPress has played a big part in turning my life around, setting me back on track, and ensuring I stay on the straight and narrow. It is one of many anchors I’m grateful to have, which keep me steady when buffered by life’s many storms.

But enough of waxing lyrical. Onto the main business. I’m want to write YOUR story. Send me your ideas and I will turn it into a short story which I will then post exclusively on the blog. It can be any genre. Just forward me a brief pitch and, if it grabs me, I’ll work on it and develop it into a tall tale. I’m a fantasy writer but I’m willing to give other genres a go.

Send me your ideas!

It’s WordPress Draft Day. Who Are You Picking?

The NFL Draft commenced yesterday where teams select the best college prospects for their 2019 rosters. There is always an excited buzz surrounding the event as scouts compete for the services of some of the hottest talents on the planet. And believe me, as a long suffering Washington Redskins fan, we are sorely in need of some talent. Somebody who could throw or catch the ball would be a start.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the Premiership season is drawing to a close and soon the best teams will be entering a frenetic summer of transfer activity. My football team, Manchester United, have had a horrific season, and it is predicted they will spend hundreds of millions in order to rebuild the team. Again, defenders who can tackle and possess basic hand to eye coordination would be a bonus.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Imagine if there was a WordPress draft or transfer window where we could jump ship to another blog. Which bloggers do you admire the most, whose posts do you wish you penned? Even if it was only for a day or two? Post your comments below and let’s shine a spotlight on some of the talented bloggers who ply their trade in this little corner of the online world.

Which blog would you most like to be drafted to?

I’m Swamped….In A Good Way

I posted earlier in the week, asking fellow bloggers to send me their submissions and ideas for a guest post on Fractured Faith. I expected a few responses but was totally unprepared for the volume and quality of what I received. It will take me until my next birthday to read them all. I want to thank everyone who submitted for taking the time to do so. It speaks volumes of our online community.

So what I’ve decided to do is post a series of guest blogs in the coming weeks and months. There are simply too many to choose from and it would be unfair to limit my choices to this week. This blog is all about inclusion and connection. There are so many great writers out there who put my efforts to shame. I want you to be exposed to their talent and learn to love their work as much as I do.

The guest post slot will run on a weekly basis. I haven’t decided which day of the week yet. If you would still like to stick your head above the parapet and submit, then feel free to do so. I’ll be running another ‘birthday giveaway’ on WordPress and Twitter later today so stay tuned for that. I’ll also be dusting down a few blog ideas from the past which again encourage interaction and communication. It’s only three days now until the big event.

Don’t forget my work in progress, ‘Bomb Girl’ which you can all access on my Wattpad page. Just click the link on one of my related posts and it should take you to the story. Chapter 3 is brewing nicely in my noggin which I hope to share with you all in the not too distant future. I’m buzzing with ideas at the moment, so be prepared for lots more of my fiction in the months ahead. Talk to you all again soon.

Bury A Friend: My Experiences With The Unfriend Button

I haven’t been active on Facebook in many years, but have recently begun to dip my toe back into that social media swamp. I’m starting afresh so need to have a massive purge of my old account. This has necessitated me hitting the ‘unfriend’ button repeatedly as I clear my timeline of those who I never had any connection with in the first place. It’s a cull, a cleansing, an online reorganisation of my life. In a way cathartic, but also a tad guilt ridden.

I wonder what it would be like to be on the receiving end of this unfollow frenzy. Do those affected even notice, or somewhere have I hurt somebody, left them feeling unwanted and discarded? Due to the nature of my previous account, I have never spoken to nor met the vast majority of these people. Yet still, I feel a tiny prick of my conscience every time I hit that button. Am I really that thoughtless, that callous, that cold?

I’ve been on the receiving end of the unfriend button, both online and in real life. I believe the former is known as ‘ghosting,’ where a person makes the decision to cut you out of their life, without explanation. I’ve felt snubbed by those who have turned their backs on me, when I’ve been on my knees and in need of true friendship and support. People who I thought cared about me, wanted to be part of my world.

It’s not a nice feeling, and so easy to wallow in self pity, asking yourself why they are being like this and what have you done wrong. You pick at the scab, over and over again, until fresh blood is drawn. The obsessive personality refuses to let it heal if its own accord, you dissect and over analyse in forensic detail the reasons why you are no longer good enough to merit their attention or time.

It’s not a pleasant feeling and a guaranteed way to plummet down a rabbit hole into a Mad Hatters pity party of quite epic proportions. You become the failure they have painted you as, you look in their eyes and see their perception of you, the failure, the inadequacies, the weaknesses. You fail to see the truth, and swallow the bitter pill they have shoved down your throat. You consume the lie they force feed you with.

Look around and take in the truth. The truth is in the eyes of those who remain. The family and friends who have stuck by you, even at times when the wheels have threatened to come off and send us all screaming over the edge of the precipice. They are the truth, and they are all that matters. Not the flatterers, the fairweather friends, the false and the fake. Discard them like an old coat and keep walking forward.

This is an exciting time for me. A major promotion at work, on the verge of publishing my first book and running a blog which has succeeded my wildest dreams. A fantastic running opportunity has also landed in my lap this week and I am loved by people around me who are all I need. I am in a good place, light years from where I was previously. The negativity, the depression, the unhappiness are nowhere to be seen.

And I realise. I needed to be unfriended. It was a necessary evil, a cauterisation of a festering wound which was threatening to infect my entire being. I am free of that life now, free to rebuild and live the life I was born to live. I have what I need as I head towards my birthday on Sunday. So, hit that button all you want, batter it, but you will not batter me into submission. For I am starting again.

What have been your experiences of unfollowing, unfriending and ghosting?

Happy Birthday To Me….Well Almost

It’s my birthday in five days! Where has the last year gone? Search me. No need to guess my age or enquire as to my address for cards and gifts. Well, unless you insist. Rather, I want to spend the week returning the favour. I’m very blessed and grateful for the life I have. There but for the grace of God and all that. It could all have turned out very differently. Yet, here I am. A very fortunate man.

Every day this week I’ll be offering my fellow bloggers a free service from yours truly. Unfortunately it won’t be the contents of my bank account, not that that amounts to a hill of beans, as it’s also four days to my next pay day. Today it’s the opportunity to be a guest blogger on Fractured Faith Blog. We are now nearing 10K followers so it’s a great opportunity for a fellow writer to showcase their talent.

All you have to do is comment below if you are interested, with a brief pitch as to what you want to write about on the blog. I’m open to most subjects. Sell it to me and make me an offer I simply cannot refuse. I’ll post my favourites next week. Please don’t be offended if you’re not chosen. It can be an old post you’re particularly proud of or something brand spanking new. The choice is yours.

Tomorrow I will post another gift I’m offering you wonderful people. Keep tuned to see what that is. If you’re a little shy about sharing your guest blog idea in open forum for now, then drop me an e-mail and we can take it from there. There are so many talented writers on WordPress who deserve 10K followers much more than me. It’s only fair that I use this week to share the love a little.

Drop your guest blog ideas below or e-mail me.

I’ve Written A Story For You All

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I’ve been rabbiting on for some time now about the book I’ve written, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ which is currently going through the querying process with literary agents and publishers. Unfortunately, because of this, I haven’t been able to share any of it online with you. This has left me feeling a little guilty and a bit of a big, fat fraud.

To compensate, I’ve started a second project, ‘Bomb Girl,’ which I’m currently serialising on the Wattpad app. It tell the story of Ariana Hennessy, struggling to build a life for herself after being born at the time of the bloodiest terrorist arrack in Northern Ireland’s troubled history, the Monksbridge Massacre. 18 years later, Ariana is starting a new life at college, trying to forget the events of that dreadful day.

But try as she might, Ariana cannot escape her past and is plunged into a brand new nightmare as a damaged young man threatens to unleash a second bloodbath which will make the horrors Monksbridge pale in comparison. Only Ariana can prevent it from happening but can she put together the pieces soon enough to save her college from devastation.

Bomb Girl is free to read and you can access the first two chapters by clicking on the link above.

Thank you.

How I Spent My Easter Monday

Charlie the border terrier may be seven now, but he doesn’t know that, so still bounces about with all the energy of a three month old pup. We woke up to a beautiful, sunny day so I decided to take him for a walk around the village so as to burn off some of his excess excitability. The loop in question is 2.5 miles which I regularly run. It’s undulating so I was certain Charlie would be ready for a lie down by the end of it.

Charlie has a unique walking style which involves sprinting 30 metres, stopping, sniffing a fence/lamppost/wall, cocking his leg, and so on. He was on a mission to let every other canine within a five mile radius know that this was his village and it was time to set a few markers down. We tweet, text, and occasionally talk to one another. Dogs bark, sniff and er….urinate.

As such, my 25 minute run turned into a 55 minute stop/start walk. Charlie had a whale of a time and returned home to a well earned bowl of cool, fresh water. Followed by a snooze in the shade. Fionnuala was by now performing heroics tackling the ironing so I resorted to my next chore; clearing our front garden of a mountain of bark, prior to digging it up and replanting for the summer months.

I’m no gardener but who needs the gym after an hour in the son shovelling bark clippings into rubbish bags. I was covered in sweat and aching all over. It’s what we refer to in this part of the world as ‘real work’ which a pen pusher like me is totally ill equipped for. Fionnuala often remarks on how smooth my hands are, given I’ve never done a proper days work in my life. Today confirmed the above.

The sun was now high in the sky as we were blessed with the hottest day of the year so far. I decided to make the most of it as, let’s face it, it could be snowing this time next week. We do live in Northern Ireland, after all. Fionnuala raised an eyebrow when I announced my intentions, suggesting I wait until later in the day when it was a bit cooler. Did I listen to her wise advice? Of course, I didn’t.

The plan was a gentle 10K out of the village to the shores of Lough Neagh and back. As I set off I was greeted with a tailwind which ensured the outward leg was brisk and cooling. No problem. I turned in a reasonable time and headed home in good heart. That’s when the heat hit me in the face, combined with my dog walking and gardening duties. The inward 5 K was sweaty, stifling slog.

I returned home and promptly collapsed in the kitchen in front of a bemused Hannah and a wife wearing her best ‘I told you so’ expression. Thankfully neither CPR nor oxygen were required but maybe I’ll listen to my wife in future when I contemplate running in the Irish equivalent of a heatwave. Us Celtic folk are not built for such conditions. Give me freezing sleet any day of the week.

So a most productive Easter Monday so far and several welcome opportunities to work off the calorific excesses of the day before. I’m back to work tomorrow to start my new job as a BIG BOSS. I’ll be shaving, wearing a suit and tie, talking corporate gobbledygook, that sort of stuff. Thank God for WordPress where I can be me. Simple, silly me. You lucky, lucky, people. Happy Easter wherever you are.

How are you spending your Easter Monday?

Bomb Girl – Chapter 2

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Chapter 2 of my new story, ‘Bomb Girl’ is now up on Wattpad. Just click the link. All feedback would be much appreciated. Also if you like the story and want to follow the story of the ‘Bomb Girl,’ Ariana Hennessy, then feel free to follow me on Wattpad or reboot the post.

Thank you and enjoy!

He Is Risen

Good Morning WordPress.

Fionnuala and I hope you all have a wonderful Easter wherever you are.

I’ll post my ‘normal’ blog later in the day.

Never give up, no matter how much of a mess your life has become.

I’m a walking, talking testimony to that.

Don’t give up.

There is still hope.

For….

He is Risen.

Let’s Start Again

When it comes to beating yourself up, I could compete for Ireland at the Olympics. But the last few days have taught me I need to focus on my strengths as opposed to dwell on the perceived weaknesses which always loom large in my rear view mirror. Fionnuala reminded me recently of what I have achieved in the last year, achievements I should be proud of, it’s not all doom and gloom.

I’m a hypocrite but I need to practice what I preach. When I write, I try to be positive and inspire others. The blog is nearing 10,000 followers and I’m hopeful we can hit that target within the next month. We value every one of you, both regular visitors and less frequent fliers. WordPress is the most supportive social media platform and has restored my fractured faith in online communities.

I was asked recently why I feel the need to blog every day. Isn’t it too much for me? Do I really need to? Well, there are a number of reasons. Yes, I am seeking to promote my writing career. It’s my dream to write for a living one day, although a job promotion earlier this week means there is less pressure on me at present to do so. But more than that, I enjoy writing, it is my release, my therapy, my passion.

Above all of these, however, YOU are the reason. I love my WordPress community and I look forward every day to engaging with, and learning, from you all. Communication is a two way street and I get as much out of your comments, as I hope you all do from this one. I read A LOT of your stuff, even though I don’t always get the opportunity to comment in detail due to my million and one other responsibilities.

I’m currently beta reading for three other talented writers, and I’ve connected with many other great people along the way. You are ALL part of this journey and you will never know how much your encouragement has spurred me on in other areas of my life. So today’s post is a thank you and a celebration. I see a lot of pain and sadness on here, people who feel life has passed them by and there is no way back in the game.

My experiences these last two years tell me it hasn’t and there is. Easter is traditionally seen as a time of resurrection and revival. A time when light prevails over darkness, where hope and faith are rewarded. Whatever your spiritual beliefs, we can all agree on such sentiments. Wherever you are, whatever your current situation, you can and you will punch through to the other side.

Starting today.

Do you want to start all over again?

Do You Know Where Your Mobile Phone Is Tonight?

It arrived in the post this week. My new phone. Fionnuala had been counting down the days until my current mobile contract could be upgraded. She was more excited than I was, explaining the improvements in the I Phone XR I was receiving. Lots of long words I didn’t understand about mega giga bytes and pixels. Free minutes galore and lots of unlimited stuff regarding data and messages.

She painstakingly set it up for me, talking through the various new features. I felt like a petty criminal being photographed in a police station as she made me look this way, then that way as the face recognition password was installed. What’s wrong with a good, old fashioned six digit password? It was like explaining fire to a caveman. I sat baffled and bewildered as the education continued.

Finally I got my sweaty palms on this slimline piece of cutting edge technology. I will probably utilise about 10% of its all singing, all dancing capabilities. As long as I can make and receive calls, message people and access my apps then I’m a happy camper. There were one or two features, however, that got my juices flowing. And neither of them required any NASA wizardry, either.

It’s red!!!!

That’s right. After twenty years of black mobile phones, I threw caution to the wind and opted for a different colour. This was an utter revelation. I misplace my phone, on average, around 147 times a day. I invariably phone it, before realising I had it on silent. Cue much face palming and hunting of the house. But now, with a bright red phone, even a myopic fool like me can locate it in super quick time.

And, second, it came with stickers!!!!

Two Apple stickers. I can whack one of them on my battered laptop, et voila, I have a MacBook at no additional cost. I can now pose in arty coffee shops, writing ground breaking fiction, while sipping my frothy caramel steamer. No more hiding my laptop inadequacies under the table. Where will the second sticker go? Who knows! The world is my oyster with this one and the possibilities are endless.

An Apple fridge? Television? Car? Or maybe I’ll save it for that extra special occasion, jealously protecting my one remaining sticker like Gollum with the one true ring. It will be my preciousssssss and woe betide anyone who tries to pinch it from under my nose. Stickers are the way forward. Bitcoins are sooooo last year. You mark my words. I’ve seen the future….and it’s sticky!

Yes, Yes. I realise I’m a bit of a Luddite. But grant me these simple pleasures. As you read this, I won’t be head first down the back of the sofa, wondering where on earth I’ve put it down this time. Which means more blogging and less muttering and head scratching. Now, excuse me, while I nip off to polish my sticker and scout potential locations for its new permanent phone.

What colour is your mobile (cell) phone?

How often do you lose it?

Where would you put your Apple sticker?

I Got The Job

Well, despite my best efforts I passed the interview board earlier this afternoon and have been promoted. I am now officially a BIG BOSS. Two weeks of worry and gnashing of teeth evaporated the second the BIG BIG BOSS told me I was a BIG BOSS. I’m now in charge of a NOT QUITE SO BIG BOSS and a team of human beings. They are also going to give me extra money. Every month, no less.

The interview went much better than I expected. My brain didn’t turn to mush and I was able to string together several coherent sentences. The panel took notes, nodded and smiled throughout. I even managed to give a ten minute presentation without knocking over the flip chart or falling out of a window. It would appear that I’m slightly better at this ‘adult’ stuff than I first surmised.

For those of you worrying I now have to be sensible and mature, worry not. You can still look forward to the normal blogging silliness on a regular basis. Writing remains my passion and I’d miss you all too much if I disappeared back into the real world. I’d like to think some of you might miss me as well. Although given the success of Fionnuala and Hannah’s posts last week, I’m not so sure on the latter count.

If nothing else, the pay hike will be a much needed boost to the Black coffers. Which is always nice. But, more importantly, this has given me back some much needed confidence. I now know I can perform at a high level in the workplace, something I never thought I’d hear myself say again. Thank you again to everyone on WordPress who has been praying or thinking kind thoughts these last few days. It is MUCH APPRECIATED.

My Mind Is Turning To Mush

I’m….ahem….working from home today. My ever so supportive boss authorised this so I could prepare/cram/panic blindly in advance of my promotion interview tomorrow. I’ve hit the books all morning but, as my brain is on the verge of turning to macaroni & cheese, I’ve decided to take a blogging break. Some people boil the kettle or go outside for a sneaky cigarette. I blog….and bite my nails….and drink excessive amounts of Diet Coke.

Studying is hard! I’ve completed my research, written my study notes, and pondered what questions might come up during the interview. Now it’s simply a matter of getting it all to stick in my head. Oh, and there’s a 10 minute presentation to give. Just me, the interview panel, a flip chart and collection of brightly coloured markers. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? On second thoughts, don’t answer that, I’d rather not think about it.

My revision technique is the same one I used back in the day when I was a university student, blasting my way to a glorious 2:1 B.A. Honours Degree in Modern History. Followed by a rather less glorious four years of unemployment as countless companies screwed their noses up at my hard earned qualification. I make notes, memorise them, write them out longhand and so on, ad nauseum. Repeat to fade.

That’s the easy part. The trick is to stride into an interview room and effortlessly rattle off said notes in textbook responses to questions on leadership, resource management and strategic thinking. What, no questions on sport, hobbits or the Battle of Waterloo? My worst case scenario is staring blankly at the panel, before beating a hasty retreat, muttering apologies about being in the wrong room.

Well, I guess I should stop wittering on and get back to the serious business of corporate values and public governance. Whatever that is. Big Boss talk. Twenty dollar words. This time tomorrow it will all be over. Except it won’t as I’m the last to be interviewed so I have to hang about the office all afternoon, talking to myself and avoiding all other forms of human interaction. Bilbo Baggins never had these problems. Plus, he had Sam Gamgee to help him.

How do you study for exams or interviews?

Man Vomits Casually Outside Bar

Catchy title, huh? But there I was, hurrying through the city centre to catch my train home when I beheld this wondrous sight. A very respectable looking middle aged man, standing outside a bar smoking a cigarette and checking his phone messages. Nothing to see here, folks. Perfectly normal. Next thing, however, he casually leans over and vomits before taking a leisurely drag of his cigarette and returning his attention once more to the phone screen.

It was a genuine double take moment, like you see in the cartoons. Initially I thought he had spilled his drink but nope, there was no pint glass, and it was the contents of his stomach that was forming a puddle on the pavement as opposed to any beverage he might have been holding. I’ll spare you the gory details but, upon closer inspection, I’m fairly confident I could have hazarded a guess as to what he had for lunch.

Nobody else was paying much attention to this startling spectacle. I mean, what else, would you be getting up to on a grey Tuesday afternoon in Belfast other than being violently ill outside a local hostelry? This is a city where the bars are always busy and an increasingly noticeable percentage of the population stumble about in broad daylight under the influence of something or other. Beer, spirits, drugs, illicit or prescription. Whatever.

Let he who is without sin cast the first stone, Stephen? Too right for, ten years ago, this could well have been me. Except I usually made it to the bathroom on time. Usually. Have I ever been sick outside a pub? Yup. But at least I looked suitable sheepish about it and made a reasonable attempt to conceal myself down a side entry before I performed the dastardly deed. Plus, I was never a smoker.

If I was still a betting man, I’d wager top dollar that Casual Vomit Man is back in the bar now, having cleared his nausea and returned to the fray. It’s a well known trick of the drinking trade. Empty stomach means more capacity for further alcohol intake. It’s like starting all over again. Twice the fun at zero expense. Except for the poor soul expected to clean up the mess outside.

I sincerely hope he gets home in one piece, without any further mishaps. Who knows, he may well wake up in the morning feeling as fresh as daisy, with no recollection of the incident. I’m afraid I won’t though. I’m a writer and I’m always greedily scanning the horizon for material. Casual Vomit Man is already immortalised in the blog, maybe he will turn up in a future book. It’s classic Kirkwood Scott territory.

Our streets aren’t paved with gold anymore. They’re paved with vomit and blood, decorated by broken bottles and discarded needles. We are all culpable, none of us can turn our backs on a society we have contributed towards, be it consciously or unconsciously. This is now and this is us. Man vomits casually outside a bar. Teenage addict begs for loose change around the next corner.

Nobody looks twice.

Nobody thinks once.

Bomb Girl Hits 100 Views!

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Chapter 1 of ‘Bomb Girl’ has just hit 100 views on Wattpad. Thank you to everyone who took the time to read it and offer feedback. I hope to put Chapter 2 up in the next week, where we fast forward 18 years to find out what became of Ariana Hennessy.

The Job Interview

I’ve been quiet of late for a number of reasons. One of these is that I’ve applied for a promotion at work so have been working on my application. Lo and behold, I now have an interview on Thursday so need to further prepare for that. This has meant less time for writing but considerably more time for fretting and imagining the worst possible scenario when I step in front of the interview panel. I am DREADING IT.

I might appear confident, calm and collected in the bloggerverse but I can assure you all, it’s a carefully contrived front. I have zero self confidence and continually run myself down, before others get an opportunity to do so. I’m at my most comfortable when I’m writing when I can be at my witty, most erudite best. A bit like Oscar Wilde, my fellow Irishman, but without the side burns and frilly collars.

If I’m successful at interview I become a BIG BOSS, as opposed to my current medium sized self. The fools might even give me my own office, although I think asking for a nameplate on the door might be a bridge too far. Maybe I could just make do with a nice potted plant or desk diary. Either way, it’s a big step up in salary, workload and responsibility. I applied for the position very reluctantly and with a heavy heart.

You see, I want to be a writer. I’m a homebird. I want to sit at my laptop on the sofa and tap out stories and tall tales to my heart’s content. I wrote a 350 page book last year. My family loved it. My friends loved it. My beta readers and editor loved it. Two literary agents have asked for the manuscript but still I’m waiting for ‘the one.’ To temper the euphoria I’ve also had my fair share of rejection e-mails.

Am I selling my dream down the river by going for this promotion? Is it the end of my hopes of becoming a full time writer? I sincerely hope not. If nothing else, it could provide me with the finances if I end up going down the self publishing route. It will also put the family in a much more comfortable financial position. I’m being a realist here, much as I prefer to daydream about book deals and signings.

We shall see what Thursday brings. For all my doubts, I’m a competitive bugger so will give this my best shot. Part of me will be bitterly disappointed if I don’t get it, part of me relieved. Does that even make sense? This post has been more a rant off the top of my head, as opposed to a structured, thoughtful piece. I hope you can excuse me the luxury of shooting from the hip in this one.

I’ve Got 99 Bibles….

While I’m an avid reader I haven’t picked up my Bible in some time. This has niggled away at my conscience but there always seems to be something else which gets in the way. It’s hard to put my finger on but one of my ‘problems’ is that when I think about reading it, I can’t decide which one to open. Saying I’ve 99 Bibles is a little disingenuous. I’ve actually got five. But 99 made for a cooler post title.

My first Bible was a zip up, tiny travel New International Version (NIV). It was when I started to explore my faith and I was so clueless I went to a high street bookshop as opposed to a specialist Christian one. They had a very poor selection and I settled for this one, even though I can barely read the print. For a long time, I carried it everywhere with me in my manbag.

It was replaced with a larger, black leather NIV which Fionnuala bought me as a Christmas present. This was my go to text when I was at my most diligent. I’ve read it from cover to cover, scribbling notes in the margins and highlighting verses that spoke to me. I was passionate about my faith then, so much so that I’m almost afraid to open it again and see how far I may have fallen backwards.

Next up was another present from Fionnuala. A beautiful C.S. Lewis Bible, peppered with quotes from my fellow countryman. My problem with this tome is that I love it so much I’m afraid to write on it or do anything to detract from its pristine condition. It’s like an immaculate sports car which sits in the garage as it’s owner is afraid to take it out in case it gets scratched or muddy.

Then I tried The Message version. I loved its New Testament translation, especially Paul’s letters, which really came alive for me. But I struggled with its paraphrasing of the Psalms. As in really, really struggled. Oh and don’t get me started on Proverbs. It proper butchered Proverbs. So, once again, I found myself in my local Faith Mission store, scanning the hundreds of translations on offer.

This time, I plumped for a New King James Version (NKJV). I heard that the NKJ is the most accurate translation of the original text but it reminded me of Sunday School with all its ‘thees’ and ‘thous’. I liked the NKJV but, again, it just was a tad old fashioned for me in its language. And while I love my Kindle, I can’t read the Bible online. I need a physical copy of it in my hands.

Before you all start, I know I’m just making excuses. God’s Word is God’s Word. Just pick up a copy, any copy, and read it Stephen. Let go and let God. The truth will set you free, be it KJV or NIV. Just make it ASAP. It’s a mental block, a hurdle I’m struggling to negotiate. And the longer I stare at them on the bookshelf, gathering dust, the bigger the issue becomes for me. It’s the white elephant in the room.

I know you aren’t all Bible readers but, to those of you who do, any advice would be much appreciated. I’ve been very anxious this last week, worrying about big stuff looming up on the horizon. To the point, I felt on the verge of a total meltdown a few days ago. Thank goodness Fionnuala and Hannah were on hand to keep the blog going over the weekend. I’m glad we are all back under the same roof again though.

We found him!!

As most of you are aware Hannah and myself are in Dublin for Shawn Mendes concert and Adam and Rebecca are at home looking after Stephen! AWhilst we were in the same city as Mr Mendes we thought we would try and catch a glimpse of him before the concert.

Hard stalking, sorry work, certainly does pay off and after locating his hotel last night this morning we casually stood outside said hotel for 2 hours and yes we saw him all be it just the back of him but that was enough for Hannah.

We are just back from the concert and Hannah has had the best night of her life she says and it actually was a brilliant show.

Me and Hannah love our selfies ❤️

Just look at that smile and the excitement in our girls face ❤️

I have enjoyed this very special time with Hannah and special memories have been made this weekend. This has been first time Hannah and I have had the opportunity to take a trip together and it has been so special for both of us. We have always been close but this weekend has brought us even closer.

There is a phrase that a lot of parents of special needs children have said to them which is “God only gives special children to special people” and I know a lot of people that that phrase really annoys and upsets them. To me all children are special and Stephen and I have been blessed with three amazing children in Adam, Hannah and Rebecca each of them totally amazing in their own light. As for Hannah yes she has additional needs and I am honoured that God choose me to be her mum and look after such a precious gem. So if you have children cherish them because they are our treasures.

Normal services will be resumed tomorrow with Mr Black he has had two days off now and I’m sure will have plenty of his own antics to update you on.

Fionnuala & Hannahs Quest to Find Shawn Mendes in Dublin

So day one is over and our quest to meet Shawn Mendes was unsuccessful but we did find his hotel which had lots of fans and photographers camped outside.

Here are a few photos from today

Hannah counting the minutes till we were in Dublin

Mummy & Daughter Selfie

We travel all the way to Dublin to see Shawn Mendes and Stephen sends us this from home 😂

Hannah with the River Liffey behind her no Shawn Mendes here but she’s still smiling ❤️

The River Liffey

Dinner with our God Parents ❤️

We found his hotel 😆

Family pose

Time for sleep 💤

We are on the train!!

Ok so this day that has been on a countdown in our house for what seems like an eternity has finally arrived yes it’s the weekend that Shawn Mendes has the pleasure of being in the same city as the one and only Hannah Black!!

We are on the train sitting next to the most boring people we’ve ever heard in our lives but thankfully we will be off the train in just under an hour and will never have to see or hear them again!!

Anyway Hannah and I are going to do lots of mini posts over the weekend we are going to go sight seeing round Dublin City centre this afternoon actually that should be corrected we are going Shawn Mendes stalking this afternoon in Dublin lol

Here’s a photo of Hannah ready to go this morning

This is Hannah heading into the station with her luggage

This is Hannah waiting for the train nothing is taking this smile off her face today ❤️

I’m Home Alone….What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

I’m Home Alone this weekend.

Well, almost. Fionnuala and Hannah are off to Dublin tomorrow for the Shaun Mendes concert. Hannah is fit to burst with excitement and I think Mrs Black is secretly looking forward to it as well, although she would never admit as much. They are packing as if they are going for two months, as opposed to a couple of nights. Hannah has saved enough euros to buy the entire merchandise stall at the show.

Adam is attending a formal on Friday night and has various chores and studying to occupy him the rest of the time they are away. Rebecca was going to stay at her Granny’s but has now decided, after consulting with her mother, that she will remain at chez Black to ‘look after Daddy.’ Isn’t it great to know that your children have such utter faith in your parenting abilities?

I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Fionnuala has stocked the freezer with enough frozen food to get us through a zombie apocalypse. We will be feasting on burgers and pizza, breakfast noon and night. Equally, reserves of Diet Coke have been replenished and, if all else fails, I am competent in the use of the toaster and microwave. Although probably not at the same time.

There are tasks aplenty to keep us all busy. The front garden needs weeded and the back yard power hosed. There are clothes to wash, socks to match and shirts to iron. Floors to sweep and dishes to wash. We also have a hyper border terrier to tend to. It’s not as if I’m going to lounge all weekend on the sofa with the remote control. Pffffft. Perish the thought. Whatever gave you that idea?

However….I do have a promotion board coming up that I need to prepare for. There’s also the Ulster – Edinburgh and Manchester United – West Ham games on the high definition 50′ television screen I now have all to myself. Oh….and a few training runs to fit in. I also have to keep the blog up to date, work on Chapter 2 of ‘Bomb Girl’ and obsessively scan my inbox for responses from literary agents.

Hmmmm. So much for the 48 hours of total relaxation I was anticipating. It seems I’m going to be busier than I first thought. It really is incessant at the moment. But I’ll try not to blow up the kitchen or put red clothes into the white wash by mistake and turn everything pink. I have my trusty 12 year old daughter to keep me on the straight and narrow. Failing that, I’ll ask the dog.

Have you a busy weekend ahead?

How do you cope when you’re home alone?

Putting the Gory Into Glory

The other day I posted about running the Omagh Half Marathon on Saturday. And, sad man that I am, I spent a good part of yesterday evening scrolling through the race’s Facebook page in an effort to find a half decent photo of me crossing the finish line. I wanted to capture that moment of glory, of triumph, the culmination of several months toil and turmoil.

In my mind’s eye, I strode over the finish line like a Greek God, the sole focus of the crowd’s adoring cheers. ‘Isn’t that Stephen Black?’ they murmured to one another. ‘The renowned blogger and talented, if unpublished, author? He runs as well? Is there no end to this man’s talent?’ There would be hearty handshakes and back slaps all round as I bounded home, as fresh as a daisy.

The reality was, of course, somewhat different. I’m just one sweaty, gasping middle aged man lost in a field of other runners. If I resemble a Greek God, then it’s certainly not one who adorns art galleries and museums. I’m not punching the air in triumph, rather fiddling with my stopwatch and begging for the agony to end. I have run the race but, rather than wax lyrical, all I want to do is lie down.

It was glory of sorts, but the most gory sort of glory. It was aches and pains, and not the perfect, pretty picture I naively expected. Not all successes are ticker tape parades and front page news. Many are quiet acts of determination. Glory is most often an ugly, solitary act, gone in the blink of an eye as the next hurdle looms up on the horizon. Yet, you did it, and that’s all that matters.

What are your thoughts on gory glory?

What Mythical Being Are You?

Eyebrows were raised across the nation last week when Good Morning Britain, the U.K.’s leading breakfast show, interviewed an American lady who had decided to live her life as an elf. Complete with prosthetic ears, flowing dresses and ethereal eyed elegance. A proper elf, a la J.R.R. Tolkien as opposed to Will Ferrell prancing around in a pair of green tights and a pointy hat.

The woman….elf…..person informed the bemused interviewers that she was an ‘otherkin.’ She believed she was the spirit of an elf living in a human’s body. She considered herself ‘transpecies,’ identifying herself with elven folk as opposed to the rest of us. And apparently they are many. People who think they are tigers, mermaids and er……unicorns? The list is apparently endless.

Now I’m all for diversity and I’m not averse to living next door to Liv Tyler or Evangeline Lily. Or even Orlando Bloom, especially if Katy Perry moves in. But isn’t this lady going to get a bit of a shock when the first wrinkles appear and she realises she’s isn’t going to live until she’s 900 and sail off to mythical lands to while away her days playing the harp and table tennis with Elijah Wood.

This got me thinking, however. Imagine if we could down tools and drop out of the human race? It’s not as if the species has covered itself in glory so far in its evolutionary journey. Wars, famines and generally making a bit of mess of the planet. You wouldn’t get any of that if the elves were in charge. Imagine a North Korea populated by elves. World peace sorted immediately.

Or if Elrond was POTUS. There would be no inflammatory rhetoric about walls and fake news, although I fear dodgy hairstyles would still be on the agenda. Justice would be dispensed fairly and all would be well with the world. Or, at least until the dwarves invaded from Canada or a psychotic dragon decided to lay waste to Capitol Hill over a congressional misunderstanding.

So today’s question is this? If you could hand in your human card and live the rest of your days as another species, what would you choose? Does a serene elven existence tick all the boxes or would you prefer to live in a hole, eat breakfast seven times a day and be a hobbit? How about an orc? You could be in a bad mood all the time and have a perfectly plausible explanation. I’m an orc! What else do you expect?

What mythical being would you like to live your life as?

Bomb Girl

I’ll be posting the first instalment of my new work in progress, ‘Bomb Girl’, on the Wattpad app later today. It’s an opportunity for me to showcase my fiction writing. You can download the app for free and follow me, if you are not already on it. Alternatively I will share links on the blog.

Thank you and stay tuned.

Mission Accomplished

I’m delighted to say I completed my home town half marathon in Omagh today. I was very nervous about this run as my training this year has been disrupted by three bouts of illness. I had a heavy cold for most of the week and haven’t run since last Sunday. I wasn’t sure until Thursday I was going to run and, even then, was concerned I would be able to complete the course.

Somehow I did. Thankfully the weather conditions were kind and I awoke to dry, sunny conditions. My target was to complete the undulating course in under two hours and I set out hoping to stay ahead of the pacer. I plodded round at a steady pace, conscious I was always ahead of him but afraid to look over my shoulder to be greeted by the two hour pack bearing down on me.

At the half way mark I was over a minute ahead of schedule and I dared to dream. With 5K left I knew I only had to keep going and I would hit my target time. The final 400 metres is around the leisure centre’s running track and a big crowd dragged my flagging body round it. I was so pleased to look at my stopwatch and see the time at 1:58:05. I clutched my winner’s medal. It was over.

I don’t think I’ve ever been as pleased with a time. It’s nowhere near my fastest but, given my less than perfect preparation, it proved to the nagging voice in my head that I’m still a decent runner. My legs ache now but it was all worth it. I’ll take a break now and work on steady mileage before planning my next race. Thank you to everyone who has supported my moaning running posts in recent months.

I Won’t….I Can’t….Oh All Right Then….I Will

Tomorrow I’m due to take part in my 4th Omagh Half Marathon. I should be excited but have never felt so underwhelmed before a race. I’ve been sick all week, my third bout of illness since the start of the year, which has laid waste to my plan to run the Belfast Marathon next month. Omagh was meant to be the consolation prize but, low and behold, a stinking head cold has struck down the entire household.

I’m over the worst of it thankfully and it’s Fionnuala and Hannah who are currently in the midst of Storm Influenza. Our family’s general health has been under attack for some months now. But I’m determined to run the race if I can, despite my doubts I will be able to complete the course. As such, I intend to set out with the two hour pacer and cling on to them for all I’m worth.

My PB is 1:35 but I think running a two hour marathon tomorrow would be a bigger achievement. I haven’t run in a week and am nowhere near the physical shape I’ve been in before previous events. I feel unhealthy and out of shape. Mentally, my confidence is also at a low ebb. It doesn’t take much for me to launch into full-on pity party mode so Fionnuala has been giving me much needed pep talks throughout the week.

I’ll post tomorrow after the race, whatever the outcome. I’m hoping I’ll feel better after another 24 hours of paracetamol and rest and that my legs will remember enough to fuel me round the undulating 13.1 mile course. Life is about soldiering on, even when every fibre in your body wants to disappear under the covers and switch the lights off. Tomorrow will be one of those days. But I’ll get through it….somehow.

It’s Showtime

Well, we made it to the NewAdamB99 show at the Ulster Hall, Belfast. Rebecca is super excited but doing a sterling job supervising her father. Hope to survive and see you all on the other side.

The Things We Do For Our Kids

This evening I am accompanying Rebecca to a show at the Ulster Hall venue in Belfast. And by ‘accompanying’ I mean being dragged along kicking and screaming. Who are we going to see? One Direction reforming? No, it’s Northern Irish YouTube ‘sensation’, TheNewAdamB99, on the Belfast leg of his sold out tour. YouTubers go on tour? What on earth do they do? Sing? Dance? Well I guess I’m about to find out.

Rebecca spends a lot of her spare time watching his shenanigans so I’ve endeavoured to prepare myself for the forthcoming ordeal by conducting some online research. The gist of it is Adam Beales, for that is his real name, playing endless pranks on his long suffering parents and younger brother, Callum. It is childish, silly and regularly watched by over one million subscribers.

Adam Beales probably earns more in a month than I do in a year. He has his own clothing range, meaning not only are we forking out for two concert tickets but also the NewAdamB99 hoodie which Rebecca will be proudly wearing tonight. So who am I to turn my nose up at the young man. He’s fleecing your truly left, right and indeed, centre. Oh, and there will no doubt be a Burger King meal thrown in for good measure.

Fionnuala does not escape the fun and games. Next weekend she’s off with Hannah to Dublin for the Shaun Mendes concert. Hannah is on the verge of exploding with excitement for this one. Such levels of excitement haven’t been witnessed since the young Stephen Black saw Belinda Carlisle live in Belfast back in the day. Ahhh, Belinda. Heaven was indeed a place on Earth that evening.

I’ve no idea how I’ll get through the working day, such is the anticipation for tonight. What hi jinks await? I have images of me standing on one leg in front of 2000 hysterical teenagers as a hyperactive YouTube sensation tips several buckets of cold custard over my head. I’ll provide a further update later, if I live to tell the tale. Adam Beales I’m coming to get you. Or, at least, my wallet is.

Will you pray for me tonight? Or think kind thoughts?

What’s the worst concert you’ve ever attended?

Warning: This Game Could Take Over Your Life

In recent months, I have felt increasingly excluded from the Black clan as Fionnuala and the hatchlings have sat hunched over their phones. Furiously punching keys, they have cackled and hissed in equal measure, accompanied by groans of dismay and squeals of delight. What on earth were they up to, I pondered? I decided to investigate and find out what was taking up so much of their time.

The reason? A free app game called CoinMaster. In a nutshell, you gather coins in order to build themed villages. Hawaiian Village, Medieval Village, 1950’s Village, there are hundreds of the places. The only problem is, your opponents are continually seeking to attack your village, stealing your hard earned coins and damaging your property. To prevent this, you purchase shields.

Now, normally I avoid such nonsense. I was once so addicted to a PlayStation game called Final Fantasy VII that it occupied my every waking hour. Then there was my obsession with Lara Croft. No, not the Angelina Jolie movie but the game where I would get horribly stuck on Level 17 and end up phoning premium line rates in order to work out how to progress to the next stage of the game.

I broke my self enforced gaming ban, however, to discuss what all the fuss was about regarding CoinMaster. It’s fairly easy to pick up and, before too long, I was happily minding my own business, constructing my first village. Then BANG! I received a notification I had been raided. 1,000,000 of my precious coins had been pinched from under my nose. By my twelve year old daughter, no less.

This was accompanied by evil laughter from said child’s bedroom. I’d heard of there being no honour amongst thieves but this was ridiculous. I looked to my wife for support but she only shrugged her shoulders, before proceeding to nick another 3,000,000 from me. This was outrageous. Surely a man’s home, or in this case, Candy Land Village, was his sugar coated castle?

So started a vicious, tit-for-tat, virtual guerilla war of epic proportions. Words were exchanged and thinly veiled threats of adoption and divorce thrown about. In the end an uneasy truce was declared and the various warring factions met in the living room under a white flag of parley. It was unanimously agreed that family members would no longer attack one another and such raids would be restricted to other random gamers.

An uneasy peace has since descended over chez Black but it will only take one infraction for it all to kick off again. Tensions are simmering and I now know how folk felt during the Cuban missile crisis. It’s like living along the Indian-Pakistani border. Every time I hear the dreaded CoinMaster music drifting through the house I brace myself for an unprovoked assault.

The next time Fionnuala hints at a foot rub I have no choice but to immediately comply. I’m in the middle of constructing my North Pole Village and this condo sized igloo is costing serious coinage. A raid now would set me back weeks. Thankfully I am a man of honour and would turn the other cheek if such an abomination occurred. Or at least I think I would for even I have my limits.

Has gaming fever ever gripped your life?

When did you last get involved in a family feud over a game? Board games included.

Why I Won’t Be Lying For Another 364 Days

Yesterday was the busiest ever day in the two year history of the blog. Our April Fool’s Day post received 227 views and, in total, we broke the 500 view barrier for the first time. We also broke the 9500 follower mark and are heading towards the big 10K, a figure we never dreamed of attaining all those months ago. The old Stephen would have been ecstatic with these numbers.

That’s because the old Stephen loved nothing more than attention and plaudits. He was so insecure and full of self loathing that he fed off such infamy like a blood sucking leech. This morning, though, I look at these figures and, while inwardly pleased, I now recognise they mean nothing. 10,000 followers doesn’t make me a better person or anything special. In the greater scheme of things, they mean nothing.

Especially given yesterday’s record breaking totals were based upon a lie. An innocent, playful lie, but a lie nonetheless. This resonates deeply with me, as my previous incarnations on social media were equally disingenuous. I created a fake persona, the life and soul of the party, Mr. Nice Guy. The more popular I became online, the more detached from reality and miserable the real me became.

10,000 followers won’t guarantee me a publishing deal, nor will it make me a faster runner. It won’t dazzle my bosses and it cuts little sway with Fionnuala and the kids. Blogging is good for me mentally as it allows me to express myself and get a lot of issues off my chest. Issues that I kept bottled up before, festering and rotting inside me like me a rancid carcass.

It’s what I do away from blogging that truly matters. I used to lie a lot. They rolled off my lips effortlessly, I didn’t even think about them as I dug myself into a deeper and deeper hole. It got to the point where I started to believe them myself, or at least could justify them to the extent that I couldn’t or wouldn’t stop. I was aboard a runaway train, hurtling down the rickety track towards my doom.

It all ended in tears of course. Lies cannot lead to happiness. They only paper over ever increasing cracks while you flounder in ever decreasing circles. So, while yesterday’s fibbing was harmless fun, I have no intention of turning it into a regular pastime. This blog is founded on the truth, warts and all, so if you want a sugar coated version of my life, then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed.

Which means more rejection e-mails and below average runs. More tales of the domestic chaos that is the Black household. We get sick, we get on each other’s nerves, we bicker and scream at each other. But we always make up, and the deep love we have for one another never changes. It’s who we are, it’s what we are, we know nothing else. It’s the truth. Lying can wait. Until 1st April next year.

Have you ever struggled with the truth?

How real are you online?

Newsflash

I’d just like to dispel scurrilous rumours sweeping WordPress earlier today that our account was being suspended due to the content of my ‘silly’, ‘immature’ and irrelevant posts. Particularly the ones about honeycomb ice cream. This caused unnecessary distress to a number of fellow bloggers. Several threatened to march on the offices of WordPress, while more than one choked on their breakfast.

Thankfully order was quickly restored, when those affected were gently reminded of today’s date and assured that fracturedfaithblog has no intention of going anywhere in the foreseeable future. I would like to apologise to all concerned and reassure readers that there will be no repeat of this infantile behaviour. Or, at least, not until this time next year anyway. I thank you.

Happy April Fools Day everyone!

Some Unfortunate News

Unfortunately I have some disappointing news to share with you all. Last night I received an e-mail from WordPress informing me that unless I radically changed the content and themes contained within the blog, the account would be suspended. When I queried their rationale, I received a second e-mail stating that 80% of my posts this year have contained ‘silly’ and ‘irrelevant’ topics not appropriate for a platform such as WordPress.

I am obviously devastated at this news but unfortunately have no option but to comply with their stipulations in order to keep the blog alive. WordPress were particularly specific with regards my numerous honeycomb ice cream posts which they stated were ‘immature’ and not suitable for the type of platform they are seeking to develop in future years. I hope you can all adapt to changes I have no choice but to make.

Thank you again for your support.

I’m No Gordon Ramsay But….

A rare event occurred this afternoon. I cooked Sunday dinner. Yes, you read that right, and what a triumph it turned out to be. A massive success. And by success I mean I didn’t set the house on fire and managed to create an edible dish. I watched anxiously as the Black clan took their first tentative mouthfuls and blew a sigh of relief as nobody spat it back out again or collapsed in a writhing heap on the floor.

The occasion? For there has to be an occasion. Stephen cooking Sunday dinner doesn’t just happen. I normally give culinary duties the widest of berths. I can boil an egg and haven’t burnt water yet, although there have been a few close shaves. Well, it’s Mother’s Day on this side of the Atlantic so I felt duty bound to don my apron. I didn’t wear an apron by the way. That line was just for dramatic effect.

I had been anxious all morning about what lay ahead, just as I’m anxious about anything I have to tackle looming up on the horizon. A dry run of bacon and sausage sandwiches passed without incident and a 5K run also helped to settle the nerves. Once I got into the swing of it though, reverting to Fionnuala for advice where required, I settled into the job and began to enjoy myself.

I peeled and stirred while Hannah helped by mashing the potatoes. It’s all a matter of timing really, ensuring that the vegetables come to a boil at exactly the second the stuffed pork chops are ready to take out of the oven. I watched the clock like a hawk while busying myself setting the table and pouring drinks. I felt like the conductor of an orchestra, bringing the piece to a rousing crescendo.

Cooking is hard work and takes me many miles out of my comfort zone. But it does me no harm to slave over a hot hob now and again. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate all the countless meals Fionnuala prepares for us the rest of the year round. It’s all too easy to take for granted those nearest to us who do the most for us. I’ve offered to cook Christmas dinner in the future, which was met with sceptical glances from the rest of the family.

A bridge too far perhaps….

The Curious Case Of People Who Read Christmas Blogs In March

As the first quarter of the year draws to a close, I’m somewhat surprised that people are still viewing a series of blogs I posted at Christmas – imaginatively entitled ‘The 12 Blogging Questions of Christmas’. Are people accidentally stumbling across these posts or are there folk out there who just can’t abide parting with the festive period? To them, every day is Christmas Day.

These are the people who still have their Christmas decorations up and who binge watch Hallmark Christmas movies which all have the same plot and, more often than not, the same cast of jobbing actors. Their fridge never runs low on cranberry sauce and you can be guaranteed a glass of eggnog if you drop round to politely complain about the constant Michael Buble soundtrack pumping through the speakers.

April Fools Day is just around the corner and I must be ever vigilant against the hatchlings who will be queuing up to make a fool of their clueless father. Is the assault on my Christmas blogs an early strike on their part? It’s another theory to consider as the daily viewing of them continues. Are Santa and his big eared helpers starting early this year? Has the Easter Bunny downed tools and gone on strike?

I will continue to monitor this startling situation and keep you all updated in the weeks and months ahead. You’re welcome, it’s the least I can do. For it’s only 270 days until the big day again and you can never be too organised. Why wait when you can dive waist deep into Yuletide themed blogs written by some strange bloke from Northern Ireland. Watch this space, people.

Why do people read Christmas themed blogs in March?

Even Useless Information Has It’s Uses

Fionnuala and I went to a table quiz last night at our local rugby club, a fundraiser for Adam’s rugby tour to South Africa in 2020. There was a tremendous turnout and the event raised more than £1500 towards the trip. Fionnuala had a couple of cheeky glasses of wine while I stuck to the Diet Coke. Most surprising of all was that our team finished 2nd out of 17 entrants. Not bad considering our initial target was to ‘not finish last.’

I don’t know about you but isn’t it amazing the amount of useless information we cart about in the deepest recesses of our minds. Facts and figures that serve absolutely no purpose other than they pop into your head at times such as this. I found this during the sports round last night. Random facts about football, cricket and lacrosse. Lacrosse! I know nothing about lacrosse but, there I was, answering a question about it yesterday evening.

The same applied to the other team members, dragging obscure trivia from their noggins regarding geography, music and food and drink. Questions about cheese phobias, obscure African rivers and how many U.K. number one singles the Spice Girls had. Nine, no less! The human mind truly is a sponge, soaking up all this nonsense and spewing it out years down the road.

Our team ended up winning nine bottles of wine. That’s one for each Spice Girls hit. Plus Mrs Black won two store vouchers in the accompanying ballot. I felt like a high roller swaggering out of a Vegas casino as we trudged back to the car afterwards, laden down with our spoils of war. The wine will keep Fionnuala going until late 2022. Here’s to useless information and the mysteries of the human mind.

Is your mind full of useless information?

My 20th Rejection E-Mail And Other News

Regular readers will know that I’ve written an urban fantasy novel which I’m currently querying with literary agents and publishing houses. I went into this process with my eyes wide open. I knew it was an incredibly competitive environment and very, very few authors are successful in securing representation. The majority of authors receive nothing in return for their efforts other than bland, generic rejection e-mails.

Today I received my 20th such e-mail. It hasn’t been all doom and gloom, of course. A handful of agents have sugared the pill by adding positive comments about the story and standard of my writing. Others have been more blunt. Some are so dry you wonder if the agent has even bothered reading the submission you have slaved over all these months. I’ve received six such e-mails this week and I must admit they have knocked my confidence.

As a result, I haven’t felt much like writing. Fionnuala has done a fantastic job keeping the blog ticking along. In fact, her posts this week have been so popular I’m tempted to offer her the job on a permanent basis. I’ve much appreciated those of you who noticed my absence and posted kind comments as to my welfare. I’m fine, honest. A little battered and bruised but still standing.

I never expected to become the next Stephen King overnight but I’m going to persevere with the querying process for now. One agent did ask for the full manuscript so there is a glimmer of hope amidst all the ‘thanks but no thanks.’ And if all else fails, I will lick my wounds and scrimp together the pennies to self publish. Thanks again to those of you who have posted support and encouragement these last few days.

Stephen

Why I’m Pulling Out Of The Belfast Marathon

I decided to pull out of the Belfast Marathon today. It would have been my tenth but I realised I was fighting a losing battle and was nowhere near ready for it, both physically and mentally. I’m disappointed with myself but I knew it could well have been an even bigger disappointment had I turned up on the day unprepared. Marathons are brutal. They will chew you up and spit you out if they see a chink in your armour.

The disappointment and frustration is also tinged with relief. I was dreading the prospect of long training runs on my own which would have eaten into the already limited time I have at the weekend. I’ve been without a running buddy for some time now and, while I largely enjoy running on my own, it’s tough plodding 20 miles along deserted country roads with nobody to keep you company and take your mind off the discomfort and pain.

I still plan to run the Omagh Half Marathon next Saturday. It’s my home town and I’ve already paid the entry fee so I’m determined not to miss out on it. There will be less pressure on me now and I’d be happy to complete the course in 2 hours. That’s almost 1/2 hour slower than my Personal Best but my days of killing myself to run faster and faster are long behind me. I’m 100% with my place further down the field these days.

Running, for me now, is about keeping fit and mentally healthy. It makes me a better husband, father and person. I’m not interested in strutting about adorned in medals and bragging about my exploits on social media. That was the old me. Which is why I love writing on WordPress. It’s me. Good days, bad days. What you see is what you get. Warts and all. 26.2 miles can wait for now.

Can I Introduce you to Father’s Love Ministry Ireland

You may have all read in previous blogs we have posted about very good friends of ours called Anne and Graham who have started up a ministry, if not let me tell you a bit about them.

Graham and Anne have received numerous prophetic words all pointing towards starting up their own ministry and in September 2018 it was birthed. For the past 6 months we have been meeting weekly at our house until suitable premises became available and after much prayer the new premises have been found.

If you would love to hear more about Father’s Love Ministry Ireland and are on Facebook please give their page a like https://m.facebook.com/Fathers-Love-Ministry-Ireland-283189355639753/ you may even see some posts from Stephen and myself.

Graham and Anne have been tremendous support to Stephen and I especially in our darkest days and we are so happy and proud of them today.

God Bless and have a lovely day

Fionnuala ❤️

Stephen Has Lost It

He has lost it people and we need your help to get it back!!

Stephen has lost his writing mojo!! He hasn’t wrote a blog since Sunday which has lead me to write this week and now I’m posting a second what is the world coming to what’s going on?

All us at home really look up to Stephen, apart from Adam because he is taller than him but you get what I mean, we love and respect him and are so proud of how he has turned his life around these last few years. When he sets his mind on doing something he does it, apart from DIY projects he would rather run a marathon and that’s were we are different and that’s how we work so well together. So to see him feeling not so great about himself it concerns me I’m a fixer but I can’t fix this one by myself I need our WordPress family to contribute to.

Can you all send him something encouraging to help get his creative juices flowing again please.

Tell us what your favourite blog has been the popular ones I might even reblog again.

Tell us about something you lost before and how you got it back

I know you guys won’t let me down so please accept my thanks for your encouragement and help.

Hopefully normal services will be resumed soon.

Don’t Give Up

Do you ever get the feeling that there is something exciting in the air like there is good news coming? You feel as if you stretched your hand out far enough you might even be able to touch it? I’ve been feeling this way for a while now chasing and waiting and wondering and hoping and praying that time would speed up and all our prayers would be answered. But today we are still waiting!

It’s not just Stephen and I that are feeling this way close friends of ours are experiencing the same feelings also. I shared a few weeks ago at our prayer meeting that as Stephen is training for his 10th marathon in May we all feel like we’ve been completing a marathon ourselves and are on the final stretch. We are all tired and weary and feel broken and ready to give up but if we just keep going round that next bend it will be all down hill SO DONT GIVE UP.

I’m waiting every day for a letter, an email or a phone call to tell me that a situation I’m going through with my family has come to an agreement, Stephen is checking his email every 30 seconds for good news on his book, Hannah is waiting for Shawn Mendes to follow her on twitter and friends of ours are waiting on prayers to be answered and promises to be fulfilled. We all have something we are waiting for we just have to keep going forward till we get round that last bend.

So whatever you are going through today if it’s not going as well as you wanted it to be just realise you are a day closer to your dream or promise coming to fruition so please don’t give up keep pushing forward.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Isaiah 41v10

Two Weeks To Go

Yikes. And other Scooby Doo-esque exclamations. The Omagh Half Marathon is only two weeks away. That crept up quickly. In less than two weeks I will be plodding round the byways and highways of my home town for the fourth time. The course is described as ‘undulating’ which is race organiser speak for hilly. They lie. They always lie. Anything to get the entrance fee from us.

The good news is that this week saw something of a running renaissance on my part. It was my first 40 mile week of the year, capped off by a blustery 10.5 mile effort this morning. My pace is steady, if unspectacular, but I’m aiming at consistent mileage as opposed to breaking any land speed records in the coming weeks. My legs feel okay and I’m sickness free. A relief given the last few months.

I’ve never raced with a pacer before but I’m seriously considering it for Omagh. All I want to do is complete the course in under two hours. That will tell me if I’ve got enough in the tank to tackle the Belfast Marathon in May. A pacer will ensure I don’t go out too quickly and ‘blow up’ before the finish. I’m erring on the side of caution, but I think it’s the right call.

I’ll try and clock up another 40 miles this week before easing off, or tapering, in the days leading up to race day. This year is the 30th anniversary so I’m delighted I’m finally regaining the fitness I require to enter these distance events. I get very anxious before big runs but know the mental and physical benefits far outweigh any pre-race butterflies. I’ll post another running update next week so stay tuned.

Don’t Tell My Wife I’ve Written This 2

Pssssssst….

Yeah. You. Over here. But quietly. And quickly. Here’s the deal. Adam’s rugby season is over for another year. It’s been seven months of highs and lows which I’ve experienced from the touchline, in all weathers. Sun, rain, wind and lots of mud. I’ve cheered his every run and tackle, paid him £5 every time he’s scored, and generally annoyed opposing teams with My noisy cheerleading antics.

But now it’s over. He’s entering exam season. Important exams. I’ve devised a study timetable and he’s chained to his desk for the next three months, with not a rugby ball in sight. Pre-season doesn’t start until August again. That’s five months away, people. FIVE MONTHS! How on earth am I going to survive until then? Which is why I’m writing this. I’m in urgent need of advice and support.

Those of you thinking I’m reliving my youth vicariously through my sixteen year old son are of course well wide of the mark. I mean, how ridiculous. Yes, I was an incredibly average schools rugby player who never made the first team, but that’s not the point. At all. I want the best for my son, as I do the girls. The fact he’s incredibly good at my favourite sport and a rising star is a mere side issue.

Which brings me to the fifth member of the Black clan. My wonderful wife, Fionnuala. Who has patiently endured my rants about team selection and training tactics throughout the winter. To the point she has suggested I take over the team, were it not for my complete lack of experience and qualifications to do so. There’s also the small matter that Adam would be mortified and probably never speak to me again.

Fionnuala no doubt has a list of chores as long as my arm to occupy me over the coming months. Chores that have been screaming out for completion, yet been blindly ignored as I’ve researched upcoming teams via snooping on their Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Obsessive? Moi? How very dare you! I’m just very hands on when it comes to rugby. And decidedly hands off at home improvement.

I wanted to share this with you all in confidence as I know Fionnuala never reads this blog and none of you would ever rat on me. I trust you implicitly. But if you do happen to bump into her, then this conversation never happened, right? I’m sure you can all relate to, and empathise, with my predicament. Especially all you female readers with equally work shy, sports mad spouses.

Which is where I need your help. There are approximately 20 empty Saturday mornings until pre season starts up again. How do you suggest I occupy them. Should I find a new hobby perhaps? Hang gliding? Origami? How about ultra marathons. Isn’t a mere 26.2 miles a bit of a wimp out these days? I’d be interested to hear your comments on my dilemma. I’m not one to complain much but….

Let me know your suggestions?

And remember, don’t tell Fionnuala!

Remaking Dumbo: A Dumb Idea?

I see that a remake of Dumbo is to be released. Starring Danny de Vito, who I always get mixed up with Joe Pesci. I reckon Danny would have been just as funny in ‘Home Alone,’ but I’m not so sure about ‘Good Fellas.’ The ‘do I amuse you’ scene just wouldn’t be the same if it was Ray Liotta and de Vito. I would keep expecting Annie to pop up somewhere. I didn’t laugh once during ‘Twins.’

This is not a unprovoked attack on the pint sized performer, however. It’s about sequels. Or more specifically, remakes. Why do the Hollywood moguls insist on remaking movies which were perfectly fine and in no need of such a revamp. Especially classics such as ‘Dumbo.’ Maybe I’m an old grouch but doesn’t it take away from the magic of the original? Or have they simply run out of ideas?

Now, before you all start I haven’t seen the ‘Mary Poppins’ remake. But Fionnuala and the kids have and tell me it’s very good. Plus Emily Blunt is in it. I can find no fault with Emily Blunt. I could watch Emily Blunt watching paint dry on a wall. She was excellent in ‘Girl On A Train,’ despite being far too glamorous to portray the pathetic, wretched character in the book of the same name.

But, la Blunt is la exception. Will they be remaking ‘Frozen’ in another 50 years? Perish the though and, no, I won’t let it go. Emma Watson? Don’t start me. ‘Beauty and the Beast’ was perfectly fine the way it was. I stand to be corrected but what are your thoughts? Have you been horrified at news your childhood classic is being remade? Or can they be an improvement on the original?

Answers on a postcard please. Or, alternatively, leave your comments below.

I Check My E-Mail 6,479 Times A Day

I’m on the train into work after five days off. Yeeee-haaaa!

Not….

My work inbox will be full of e mails. Some I will delete without even opening, others after cursory glance. Some will require immediate action, others I can put on the long finger. I may even reply to the occasional one. I will delegate, prioritise, solve problems and make decisions without a second thought. It’s what I do. All while stifling groans, and the occasional moan.

An old boss of mine once told me to only check your e-mail twice a day. Any more, was a waste of time. If something is really, really urgent then you won’t get an e mail about it. You will receive a personal visit, or at the very least a phone call. E-mails eat into your working day, they suck at your attention and distract you from the priority business. It’s a piece of advice which has always resonated with me.

I check my business e-mail twice a day. Or at least that’s the standard I try to maintain. I check my personal e-mail 6,479 times a day. I’m a querying writer. That’s what we do, right? For that next e-mail could be the one from a literary agent making all my dreams come true. Although in all likelihood, it’s a ‘thanks but no thanks’ generic rejection, plunging you into the depths of despair again.

So, I’m a hypocrite but at least I’m consciously hypocritical. I need to let it go a la Frozen. What will be, will be. But then the notification appears on my phone and I’m scurrying to the in-box. Only to sigh in disappointment when it’s Manchester United trying to entice me into buying a season ticket. Which I’ll never afford unless I get a six figure advance. Anyway, back to the day job. Time to tuck ten dreams away for another 8 hours.

Step Away From The Ice Cream

It is finished….

Yesterday afternoon I consumed the last of the gallon tub of honeycomb ice cream which has taken up residence in our garage freezer. Taunting me, tempting me, luring me onto the rocks of overindulgence like the most seductive of sirens. I have battled the urges, wrestled with the need, but finally succumbed to its delicious, sugary, ice cold charms. I write this a broken, but satiated, man.

The Omagh Half Marathon is now less than three weeks away so I have slapped a self imposed ice cream ban on myself. The Black household has gone into training lockdown, meaning Maud’s Pooh Bear is now a banned substance. Random freezer inspections will be taking place to ensure this ruling is adhered to; any infractions will be frowned upon and dealt with sternly. I have been warned….by myself.

My addictive nature of course snorts in derision at these feeble attempts to lay down the law. He’ll crack, it tuts knowingly. Pay day is less than a week away and he always likes to treat himself at the end of the month. A new book for the Kindle? Stylish running attire? His own body weight in honeycomb ice cream? Yes, it’s only a matter of time, you wait and see. He’ll fold like a deck of cards, just like he always does.

Well, maybe so. And, as I write this, I already feel anxious at the thought of life without ice cream. I’m entering (ice) cold turkey and don’t fancy my chances. But if I’m to have any hope of running 13.1 miles at Omagh without stopping, then Winnie has to go. No more sitting on the sofa, digging into its sugary goodness with my trusty spoon. Nay, nay and thrice nay. I say.

I still have my beloved Diet Coke. To deprive myself of it would be a bridge too far and I fear my body would enter some form of anaphylactic shock. My central nervous system would shut down and I’d take to my bed, turning my back on society like a 21st Century Miss Haversham. Without the creepy wedding dress, of course. Creepy wedding dresses are not my best look.

The running has been going quite well. I’ve been steadily upping the mileage and, while my times haven’t been spectacular, they’ve been respectable enough. But there’s little point slogging ten miles in the wind and rain, to undo all your good work in a feeding frenzy last witnessed when Roy Schneider hollered ‘Get out of the water’ in ‘Jaws’ all those years. I’m no Great White and I don’t want to turn into a Great Black either.

Fionnuala and I are going to take a potential new car for a test drive this morning. Afterwards I’ll head out on a training run, weather permitting. Both of which should distract me from all things ice cream. Crisps, biscuits and chocolate are also to be consumed in moderation from this date onwards as I work towards a lean, mean running machine turning up on the start line at Omagh.

I expect the blogging community to fully support me in this venture. If you detect even the slightest whiff of backsliding on my part, then I fully endorse a ‘naming and shaming’ WordPress intervention on your part. This is no time for pandering to my doe eyed, whimpering, needy self. Tough love is required and I know you’ve got my back on this one. I thank you all.

Are you willing to drop everything and intervene?

Have you ever wrestled a fully grown man to the floor over a tub of ice cream?

What are you willing to give up to support me in the coming weeks?

Playing The Bad Cop….Badly

I spent a bit of time last night drawing up a study timetable for Adam’s GCSE exams which begin in May. These are very important and will largely determine his educational path for the next few years. If he does well he can move on to study A levels, which he will require in order to get into university. More important than rugby, even. There I’ve said it, even if it was through gritted teeth.

Adam is a bright young man but, like most teenagers, he’s not the most organised. Which is where I come in. If it was left to our son, he would probably leave his studying until the last minute and then sit up all night, desperately cramming. To avoid that, I devised a study schedule spread out over the next two months, which allots specific hours each day to revision.

Each of the ten subjects he will be sitting examinations for is covered by the timetable, with additional hours for subjects he isn’t that keen on. Like French. Yuck! And Physics. Double Yuck! It’s weird, but I struggled with the same two subjects at school while I also excelled at Adam’s favourites – English, History and Geography. Like father, like son you might say. But it’s about the only thing we have in common.

Adam is a rugby star while I was rubbish at it. He’s popular and funny, the class clown. I was an utter nerd who spent most of his school career trying to keep as low a profile as possible. I’ve no doubt he will be fighting off the girls in the years to come. I don’t think I spoke to a girl, other than my sister, before I was 18. Even then, I was a largely girlfriend free zone until Fionnuala finally took pity on me.

The timetable is aimed at keeping Adam on track and allowing him to perform to the best of his abilities, come exam time. We know he has the intelligence and ability to do very well. I can’t sit the exams for him but I can do my very best to prepare him for them. The same goes for Hannah and Rebecca who I’ve coached through Geography and French tests in recent weeks.

I spent a good part of my adult life off track. I can’t blame this on my parents who were largely unaware of my antics until it was too late. I didn’t come completely off the rails until after my father’s death. Thankfully I had people around me who dragged me kicking and screaming back onto the right path. I don’t want our kids to wander down the dark alleys and dead ends I used to traverse and will do everything in my power to prevent that from happening.

If I were to list Fionnuala’s parental strengths then I would still be writing this blog in a month’s time. She is a brilliant mother and superb role model to them all. I chip in where I can and try to be the best father I possibly can. If that means getting frozen to the bone on rugby touchlines and designing tortuous study timetables then so be it. I’m your man. Parenting is a never ending learning curve

Adam may despise me in the weeks ahead as I nag him mercilessly regarding his studies. I will undoubtedly have to play the bad cop role at times, one which never sits comfortably with me. But I hope, when he gets his grades in the summer, he will realise I did it with the best of intentions. As Fionnuala occasionally reminds me I’m their father, not the their best friend. Which now and again means laying down the law. Even when I don’t really want to.

Can you play the bad cop?

How effective are you at laying down the law?

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