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.

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.

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?

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.

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?

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?

Bomb Girl – Coming Soon

Since the start of the year I feel as if I haven’t stopped writing, yet haven’t actually written anything. My free time, outside of family and work commitments, has been taken up with penning query letters and synopses for the book. Fionnuala and I have been querying literary agents, hoping one will pick up on the manuscript. This has entailed a lot of hard work on our part, and my writing has been an unwitting casualty.

I’ve still kept blogging but, at times, sense that I sound like a broken record, dishing out the same tired information. Yes, I’ve written a book. Yes, I’m trying to secure literary representation and a publisher. No, I can’t let you read it yet. I’m like a boxer who talks a good fight but has yet to step into the ring or throw a punch in anger. It’s all swagger, bravado. There is no substance to his claims.

I’m always grateful for the support and encouragement I receive via the blog. It’s one of the reasons I keep reaching out to you all, day after day. Your kindness reassures me that I can write and my dream of publishing a novel is more than the sad musings of a middle aged wannabe author. Yet, it’s all take, take, take on my part. I want to give something back, to prove that this is more than a facade, a dreary delusion on my part.

Which leads me to the title of this post. I’ve recently opened a Wattpad account, where writers post works in progress for free, acquiring feedback from peers and book lovers. It’s free and even a Luddite like yours truly can navigate the app. I had been toying some time about taking the plunge and joining Wattpad and at last it has happened. It’s a resource whereby I can practice and share my fiction writing without all the subterfuge and mystery.

Yes, I’m finally climbing over the ropes and into the ring. In gaudy, ill fitting shorts and holding my paunch in, but I’m there nonetheless. To date, the only people who read my fiction have been family, friends and beta readers. So, this is a daunting prospect. I hope you will all be gentle with me. I’m seeking honest, constructive feedback which will allow me to improve as a writer. Who knows, you might even enjoy it.

The first work I will be putting up is ‘Bomb Girl,’ the story of Ariana Hennessy, born amidst the carnage of the worst terrorist attack in the troubled history of Northern Ireland. The Monksbridge Massacre. Portrayed by the media as a symbol of hope amidst the horror, Ariana has reluctantly born the mantle of ‘Bomb Girl’ into adult life. Now nineteen years old and free from the shackles of her infamous past, Ariana is settling into student life in a new town, where she can start afresh.

That is until the premonitions begin. Graphic images of blood and devastation. On the university campus she walks every day with her new friends. When Ariana can no longer ignore the horrific images and starts to probe their meaning, she discovers a chilling connection between them and her past. A past about to revisit the campus with devastating consequences. Only Ariana stands in its path. Can she avert a second atrocity which will make the Monksbridge Massacre pale into insignificance?

I hope to post the first chapters of ‘Bomb Girl’ in the next few weeks so watch this space.

You can find me on Wattpad at @stephenblack70

I will also be posting updates on Twitter at @stephenRB4

Thank you!

Are you looking forward to ‘Bomb Girl?’

Worst Limerick Ever

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from a blustery Northern Ireland. Fionnuala suggested an ‘Oirish’ themed post today, so here’s a photo of our three hatchlings celebrating as only they can. The photo was taken a few years ago but you get the idea.

As for me, well the best I could come up with was this well below average limerick.

‘There once was a family called Black

Who always enjoyed mighty craic

When Dad wasn’t blogging

He’d be away jogging

The rest of them thought he was daft.’

Ahem….

Apologies to all concerned. Enjoy your day wherever you are.

How To Break Bad News To Your Wife….And Get Away With It

Fionnuala is always the first up in our house on week days, busying herself making lunches, ironing uniforms and the million and one other things she has to do to get three kids and a husband out the front door in the morning. It’s chaos, but organised chaos. I normally arrive downstairs 15 minutes or so after her, having spent the preceding time making myself beautiful in the bathroom. Or something like that.

This morning I discovered my wife humming along to some tune on the radio. I sniffed an opportunity to tackle our plans for the weekend….or rather my plans for the weekend. Adam has a rugby match on Saturday morning, while in the afternoon there was the Ireland v Wales rugby international. Probably the biggest match of the season and utterly unmissable.

Then there’s the small matter of Manchester United v Wolverhampton Wanderers in the F.A. Cup Quarter Final after that. Probably the biggest match of the season and utterly unmissable. Basically I was seizing a window of opportunity to tell my beloved, overworked better half that I intended to devote the majority of the day to watching sport. Or sports as my North American readers call it.

Men and their sport eh? Er…sports. Oh….whatever. Fionnuala is not a sports fan, while I will watch almost any sporting event. Although I’m not that keen on golf. Or tennis for that matter. But give me football (soccer), rugby or the NFL and I’m glued to the screen. If I was allowed to get away with it. Thankfully, she manages to divert my attention to more rewarding endeavours. Like starting this blog, writing a book, getting up and behaving like a functioning human being most days.

We’ve been together for 22 years now and have survived via compromise on many topics. Give and take. I’m not a total sporting bore. I’ll only watch a game if one of my teams is involved. Which means United, Ulster, Ireland, the Redskins and Tyrone GAA. I’ve cut down on my celebrations over the years, satisfying myself these days with a strangled roar and muted fist pump whenever they score.

To compensate, Fionnuala has unlimited access to her soaps throughout the week. Eastenders, Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Neighbours, need I go on. The same goes for her legendary box sets binges. After the summer long digestion of Breaking Bad a few years back, she is currently immersed in The Good Wife. And don’t get me started on her obsession with Blue Bloods. Although Selleck’s moustache looks as magnificent as it was in his Magnum P.I. days.

We don’t hide the remote control on each other. We have middle ground which we both comfortably inhabit as opposed to peeking out of our respective trenches across a no man’s land of bomb craters and barbed wire fences. We are flexible and accommodating. An attribute it has taken my self centred, selfish inner voice many years to come to terms with. But I’m getting there, slowly.

Fionnuala jokingly sighed when I tentatively broached the subject this morning, but I knew it wouldn’t be a problem. Just as it’s not a problem me writing this post as she devours Season 5 of The Good Wife. The white flag of truce flutters over chez Black. Peace has broken out in the battle of the remote control. Now come on United. Let’s go Ireland. And where’s that tub of honeycomb ice cream and six pack of Diet Coke?

Who wins the battle of the remote control in your house?

What was the last show you binge watched?

Do you ever miss a game when your favourite team or on TV?

Chasing Your Losses

This week the Cheltenham Festival takes place, the biggest horse racing festival of the year in the United Kingdom. Four days of top racing as the very best horses, jockeys and trainers from Britain and Ireland compete for the glory and prestige of a Festival winner. It’s the World Cup of equine sport, think Kentucky Derby and Melbourne Cup rolled into one and then spread out over 28 races.

I used to be obsessed with Cheltenham. It was my Christmas Day. I didn’t bet excessively throughout the year, but from January onwards would start to study the racing form in forensic detail, trying to pick out Cheltenham winners. The house would become cluttered with racing papers and I would spend my lunch breaks scuttling round the city’s bookmakers looking for the best prices.

Come Cheltenham week itself, I was a nervous wreck. I would always take the week off work and watch every race, a case of beer at my feet. My stomach would be in knots as I jumped every hurdle and willed my horse to be first across the finishing line. Sometimes they were, but invariably they were not and my racing funds would steadily become more depleted. The initial excitement would turn to despair and self recrimination.

The buzz would dissipate and the ‘poor me’ mentality descend upon my shoulders like a robe of disgrace. Why had I been so stupid to fritter away the little money I had on a useless nag who was still toiling several minutes after the rest of the field were home and hosed? I would wake up every morning, hungover and miserable. A wise man would have got out while he could. Instead, I chased my losses.

For the uninitiated this means placing increasingly large bets in the hope of recouping the money you have already lost. Speculating to accumulate. Punters call it ‘getting out.’ Sometimes it works, and that 33-1 long shot romps home, amidst scenes of wild hysteria. Grown men hug each other and backs are slapped as we smugly collect our winnings. These moments, however, are few and far between.

Normally you lose, and dig an even bigger financial hole for yourself. You fail to see the warning signs and instead hurtle down the track towards oblivion. You are that train wreck. I would wake up the morning after the festival with a bruised liver and even more bruised ego. Vowing to never again indulge in such reckless abandon. Until the next time. For it was only 364 days until the next Cheltenham.

I don’t bet on the horses anymore but it was another manifestation of the addictive behaviour which ruled my life with an iron rod for many years. Horses, alcohol, people, I was easy prey to them all. There was no filter, no panic button, no emergency brake. I chased my losses, until I stood teetering on the brink, staring down into the abyss below. Just one more step. One more step. Chase your losses to the bitter end.

You might be chasing your losses today. It could be anything. Alcohol, drugs, relationships, the list in endless. My advice? Get out. By whatever means you can. Break the cycle and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction. While you still can. For the abyss will swallow you whole if you take that final step. Only the blind chase their losses. Open your eyes before it’s too late. Chase the things in life that matter.

Are you chasing your losses today?

Have you chased your losses in the past?

How did you break the cycle?

The Morning I Regretted Making Breakfast

As it was Fionnuala’s birthday the other day, I bounced down the stairs and grandly announced I was going to make breakfast for everyone. I zoomed off to the village shop, returning with bacon, sausages and fresh bread. Throwing them onto the grille, I began to probe the Black clan for orders as they blearily emerged from under duvet covers. Everything was going swimmingly. Or so I thought.

Fionnuala queried what type of bread I had purchased. If it was a pan loaf, she wanted it toasted, but untoasted if a plain loaf. Lightly buttered, bacon and sausage. Sorted. Hannah wanted sausage, not bacon, while Rebecca wanted bacon as opposed to sausage. Even though the former likes bacon on her burgers and the latter sausages in her hot dog. Er….right.

My head was already starting to spin and the anxiety levels rising as Adam emerged from his lair. He wanted bacon on plain bread. Or was it sausage on toast? I looked despairingly at Charlie the border terrier who sat patiently at my feet awaiting his sausage. Bacon? Either way, his dog food would sit uneaten while there were tastier treats on offer from his human masters.

Had there been vegetarians or vegans in the house, I fear my brain would have imploded. I slaved over the breakfast counter, sweat lashing from my brow, muttering under my breath, while simultaneously ensuring all and sundry that everything was under control and I was ‘just fine.’ There was nothing could tip me over the edge. I was on the brink of a culinary conquest of epic proportions.

Until I asked Fionnuala if she wanted a cup of tea. Why, yes she did. Not too weak and not too strong. With milk. No sugar. Oh and when it’s made, can you top it up with cold water? Which necessitated making the tea, then pouring half of it down the sink again. My mind was well and truly boggled. I eventually slumped into an armchair, mission accomplished but utterly exhausted.

I eat most things. Apart from Brussel Sprouts, don’t get me started on them. And beetroot. But I now understood how frustrated Fionnuala would get when she compared making dinner in our house to working in a hotel, cooking five different dishes at a time. Why couldn’t we all eat the same thing? Spoilt rotten we were. I can only now nod in agreement at the varied palates of the Black household.

We are all very different people, with eclectic tastes and preferences when it comes to most matters. Yet, we are all part of the one family and somehow, despite all said differences, we somehow make it work. We are one. A largely functioning one, despite all the hiccups and glitches along the way. We can’t choose our family, unlike our friends. So we have to make it work, knuckle down, and get on with it.

It’s all about compromise. Compromise and a generous topping of patience. We adapt, we agree to disagree, we give and take. Yet the central core remains intact, the bond that holds it all together. Love is the glue. A love which forms the cornerstone of this crazy, chaotic household. Although it might be a while before I volunteer to cook breakfast again. I think I need a lie down after all that.

Sausage? Bacon? Veggie? How divided is your household when it comes to breakfast?

My Little Black Book

I have a little black book….

But don’t worry, it’s not that kind of little black book. My little black book contains the details of literary agents I’m researching. Agents who, if they tick all the requisite boxes, I will query with regards the book. The book, the book, always the book. Writing it was the easy part. This is the real battle, the real war of attrition. Trying to hook that one agent. The one.

I had a nibble last week, a chink of light in the dark abyss that is attempting to secure literary representation. An agent asked to read the full manuscript. Which, I duly forwarded. Now, I wait again. The voice in my head rubs its hands, if it had hands, with glee. She will hate it, it whispers. It’s too long, too wordy, too….everything you don’t want to see in a published book.

In the meantime, I update my little black book. More agents to query, Twitter accounts to stalk, websites to devour. Query letter, book synopsis, first three chapters. Times New Roman, double spaced, no Word attachments. Bang, Bang, Bang. 6-8 weeks, if you don’t hear from us then consider it a pass. An endless not so merry go round of raised hopes, dashed dreams and interminable waiting.

Agents. What do they like, what do they hate. What do they want? Plot, characters, rinse and repeat. Their details are highlighted, circled and underlined before being savagely crossed out the moment the dreaded rejection e mail arrives. There are worse little black books to keep, much worse. Especially those we keep away from prying eyes, locked away in the deepest, darkest recesses of our hearts.

Filled with petty grudges, festering emotions and dangerous desires. We clutch them close to our chests and will fight tooth and nail to keep them from seeing the light of day. If only people knew what lay beneath the bland facade we display to the world every day. If only they could see the hate, the guilt, the devastation. If the truth of our little black books were known, then anarchy would reign. Madness would triumph.

I hope one day, and soon, to no longer need my little, black book. In my dreams, I secure an agent who, in turn, secures a publishing deal and we all live happily ever after. It lies open for anyone to see, yet it hangs around my neck like a rotting albatross. Taunting me, reminding me of imagined flaws, inadequacies and failings which wreak havoc within my already spinning head.

Do you have a little black book? What’s in it? Let me see, let me pry, just a peek, I promise not to tell anyone. Cross my heart and hope to die. What secrets do you hide? What monsters lurk? The deceit, the loathing, a Pandora’s box which would destroy your life and many others, were it to be unleashed, screaming and flailing into an unsuspecting world. A personal apocalypse.

Let’s build a funeral pyre, a bonfire or these terrible tomes. Stand with me as I light a match and toss it on the pile. We form a circle round it, holding hands, united in our desire to change, to build a better future. A future where no such books exist, where hope replaces dread and doubt. A better place, where you and I can live the lives we were born to live. Oh little black book, where are you now?

Tell me about your little black book?

Planes, Cranes & Swedish Fish

Whenever one of the hatchlings misbehaves, which is most days if I’m honest, Fionnuala and I threaten to hit them where it hurts the most. We go for the gadgets. Want to make a 6’1” rugby playing teenage son’s bottom lip quiver? Take his PS4 off him. The same applies to our two delightful daughters. Hannah cannot exist without her phone, while confiscating Rebecca’s I-Pad is a sure fire way to guarantee tears.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised, yesterday, to discover a technology free way of holding their attention. Take them to the top of a multi storey car park and let them watch the planes taking off from the adjoining Belfast City Airport. Well, Adam and Rebecca were entranced. Hannah took one look, decided it was too windy and took off for the sanctuary of IKEA, remarking she didn’t see what the big fuss was as it was ‘only bits of metal flying into the air.’

I loved how she witheringly dismissed one of the miracles of 20th century invention in a single sentence. Who can be bothered marvelling at the genius of the Wright Brothers et al when there are acres of Scandinavian flatbed furniture to navigate prior to buying your body weight in ‘Swedish Fish’ sweets at the end of your trek? You just can’t compete with logic like that.

We took a few snaps of the Belfast skyline. Incredibly, it’s not raining, so I hope you get a taste of the city and surrounding hills. The big yellow cranes dominating the skies are situated within Harland & Wolff shipyard, where The SS Titanic was built. They are called ‘Samson’ and ‘Goliath,’ and stand at 348 and 315 feet tall respectively. Or, at least that’s what Wikipedia says and we all know that it’s always right.

Almost as famous as the iconic cranes, are the tourist t-shirts proudly claiming ‘Titanic – She was all right when she left us’ and ‘Titanic – Built by the Irish, Sunk by the English.’ To say Northern Irish humour is dark, is like saying President Trump tells the occasional fib, but it got us through 30 years of murder and mayhem so who am I to argue. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the photos.

What is your city/region famous for?

The Good Wife

Last night Fionnuala and I settled down at the dinner table, the kids in their rooms and the house unnaturally quiet. I poured us drinks and settled down beside my lovely wife. Romantic dinner for two? Er….not quite. But close. The night was young and the entire evening lay ahead of us. But we were not there to play footsie under the table and whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears.

No, we had much more pressing business to attend to. Two days ago Fionnuala phoned me at work. ‘Check your e-mail. Now!’ she bellowed down the line. Ever the pessimist, I decided to hedge my bets. ‘Is this good news or bad news?’ I tentatively replied. ‘Good’ she responded and with that I nervously checked my phone. As a querying writer, it could mean only thing. An agent had been in touch.

To date, I’ve received a handful of standard ‘thanks but no thanks’ brush offs. Several actually named me, although one referred to me as ‘Dear Author’ and another didn’t feel the need to address me at all. One stood out, the agent complimenting the quality of my writing and adventurous nature of the book. I had been clinging to these small crumbs of comfort in my ongoing battle to secure literary representation.

This latest e-mail took it a stage further. An agent based in New York with a swanky address involving the word ‘Suite’ and lots of numbers was ‘intrigued’ by my book idea and requested the full manuscript and a detailed synopsis. Had I been sitting down, I would have fallen off my chair. Me, messed up, socially awkward, uber nervous me had been e mailed by Sarah Jessica Parker or someone equally swish.

A full manuscript? Not a partial. The whole shebang. She may well read it, conclude it’s utter nonsense and regret the day she ever contacted me but that’s by the by. I can now bore my grandkids rigid with the story of that time Granda thought he was getting a book deal and becoming a famous author. Up there with that time Granda cornered the Stark sisters in a Belfast jewellery store and refused to let them leave until they posed for a photo with him.

Which was why Fionnuala and I were slaving over a very uncooperative laptop last night. My Australian editor Laura worked nine hours straight to complete her edit after I sent a frantic e mail, informing her of the SJP development. Then my wife displayed the patience of Job tinkering with the manuscript as her computer illiterate husband peered over her shoulder, biting his nails and chain drinking cans of Diet Coke.

Eventually it was done. I typed up a covering e mail and hit the send button, before asking Fionnuala 19 times if it had gone and, if so, did the Word attachments go with it. Did I tell you I have OCD? Eventually I sloped off to bed, giving her some peace to continue her last box set binge – The Good Wife. How very apt I thought, for not many spouses would have put up with the fretting and fussing that I displayed.

The waiting game begins again now. I’m already bombarding Fionnuala with further agent details for her to fire off more queries and sample chapters. I jump three feet in the air every time an e-mail lands in my in box and read the tweets of queried agents for a subliminal signs they have just received the humdinger of all books from some random debut Northern Irish author. It’s no wonder most writers are barking mad. Querying breaks even the strongest mind.

Good News!

I have good news. This afternoon I received an e mail from a literary agent based in New York City asking to read a full manuscript of my book. To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement. My flabber has been well and truly ghasted. This isn’t a book deal, or even an offer of representation, but it’s a big step in the right direction and a massive boost to my confidence. I’ll write more about this tomorrow.

Thank you all so much for your continued support.

Are You A Confident Person?

Fionnuala and I are attending Hannah’s annual school review this lunchtime. This does exactly what it says on the tin. We sit around a table and listen as her teacher, classroom assistant, physio and occupational therapist update us as to her progress so far this school year. I know we will have nothing to fear as Hannah is a model student, popular, polite and hard working. We always leave such meetings with smiles on our faces.

It’s also fast approaching the time of year where I am subject to my own annual review at work. This time, the shoe is on the other foot. I sit quivering before my boss as he gives me his thoughts on my performance over the past 12 months. Thankfully, I have a very understanding and accommodating manager and I don’t think I’ve screwed up (too much) during the reporting period.

This year is a little different as there is a promotion opportunity looming on the horizon that I have been encouraged to apply for. On the face of it, this might seem a no brainer. I’m one of the few people within the organisation trained to do the job. It’s a considerable pay hike and people have been telling me for years I am capable of performing the role. And yet, I hold back, reluctant to throw my name in the hat.

There’s the little issue of my lack of self confidence to begin with. I’m my own worst critic and constantly tell myself the promotion boat has sailed. My face doesn’t fit, senior management don’t rate me, I wouldn’t be able to cope with the added pressures and demands of the job. I’m the king of excuses when it comes to such matters, my own worst critic. I don’t just knock myself down. I then check the rear view mirror and then reverse over my inert body, just to be sure.

I’ve been dreading this past week where I’ve held the on call phone. I’m not good enough, I won’t be able to cope, I’m going to make a total mess of a call and be found out. I’m always worried about being found out, shown up for the fraud and charlatan hiding behind the professional and competent front I present to the ever watching world. The same applies to the other hats I wear.

Husband, Father, Christian, Runner, Writer. I’m a big, fat imposter and today is the day I’m going to be found out. Today is the day I’m going to sit in front of those who matter and be told I’ve fluffed my lines and my services are no longer required. Pack up your belongings and hand in your ID card on the way out. Stephen has left the building with his tail well and truly between his legs. Game, set and match to the nagging voice inside my head.

Do you ever feel that way? Where your confidence pours through your fingers like water from a gushing tap. You watch as it trickles down the drain, unwilling and unable to take that step out of your comfort zone. It could be the step that changes your life, one way or the other. There’s only one way to find out and yet you hesitate, you hold back. The self survival mechanism within tells you to stop.

You’re at a crossroads. Which way do you turn? You’re sitting in front of an interview panel. What do you say? Decisions need to be made, yet you sit there floundering, barely able to draw breath, let alone formulate an eloquent answer to the question you have been asked. It’s at times like this you need to draw deep from the well within. Hoping you find deep, refreshing waters of inspiration as opposed to a few inches of stagnant, murky despair.

Are you a confident person?

Have you a big decision looming on the horizon?

How do you combat the nagging voice of doubt?

Temporary Pain, Long Term Gain

Regular readers will know I’ve been struggling to locate my running mojo of late in the lead up to the Belfast Marathon in less than two months time. I’ve been restricted by illness and even then, I’ve found it hard to get motivated for this year’s event. Training runs have been missed and my diet has been all over the place. I’m two weeks behind where I need to be and my times and mileage reflect that.

I gave myself a good talking to at the weekend and resolved to get back on track this week. This coincided with atrocious weather conditions and runs yesterday and today have been completed in driving wind and rain. On both occasions I have resembled a drowned rat by the end of the run. The key word here is ‘completed.’ Despite the squall outside. I’ve went out and got the job done.

Mo Farah has no need to look over his shoulder yet. My times have been far from spectacular but every mile counts, and I’ve racked up 16 miles. I’ll rest tomorrow and then go again on Thursday, with the plan to fit in a 12 mile run somewhere before the end of the week. The Omagh Half Marathon has been booked for next month and I’ll be running to raise funds for SHINE Charity.

Some days are so meh you see no point in showing up and lacing your running shoes. But when you do go out there, even if it’s blowing a gale l, the endorphins kick in and it all becomes worthwhile. Temporary pain is necessary for long term gain. Here’s hoping these rainy runs are the gateway to a clear path to the starting line of the Belfast Marathon. I certainly hope so. I’ll continue to keep you all updated.

What temporary pain are you experiencing at present? Is it worth it?

Another Day, Another Mid Life Crisis

A work colleague of mine has started training for a charity white collar boxing event. He’s thrown himself into an intensive programme of gym classes, sparring and weights. The big day is less than a month away and he’s truly a man on a mission. Personally, I don’t understand these men who hit their forties and take up sports when they should really know better. It’s all a bit sad don’t you think?

Errrrrrrr….moving on.

Today he brought in a pair of boxing gloves as he has a sparring session tonight after work. After impressing us with how many one handed press ups he could do, he then produced the gloves and handed them to me. ‘I want you to hit me as hard as you can in the stomach,’ he cheerily announced, keen to display the benefits of six trillion sit ups a day. ‘Er….sure,’ I replied. I wasn’t at all sure.

If I’ve ever worn a pair of boxing gloves before, then I can’t remember. I’m proud to say I’ve never thrown a punch in anger and would run a mile in the opposite direction were a brawl to break out. It took me the best part of five minutes to put on the gloves, gnawing at the velcro straps with my teeth, as my colleague patiently looked on, with tensed abs. If that’s what people with abs do. I wouldn’t know.

Finally ready, I launched a tentative jab towards his rock hard six pack. I didn’t want to hurt him, after all. He didn’t bat an eyelid, causing me to put more force into the next punch. Nothing. I looked him in the eye to see him smiling back amiably. Okay, I thought to myself, to an imaginary Rocky soundtrack in my head. It’s time to up the ante. My manly reputation is on the line here, there are people watching.

Summoning up my inner Raging Bull, I drew my right fist back and unleashed a haymaker of epic proportions. Surely that muscular missile would cause him to double over in agony, the wind knocked out of his sails. I was ready to rumble, to bring the pain, unleash hell and stuff like that. He smirked at me. Smirked, no less. I gritted my teeth and unloaded one last blow, putting every fibre of my being into it.

At which point, a shard of agony roared up my right arm and into my shoulder. ‘Are you okay?’ he enquired as I winced in pain and fought back the tears. ‘Yes I’m fine,’ I lied, convinced I had broke my thumb. I gingerly removed the gloves and retreated to my desk, vowing never to indulge in pugilism ever again. My feeble fists had been overcome by a washboard abdomen. I looked down glumly at my own rather less Herculean midriff.

I’ll stick to running in future. The funny thing is, I’ve run with my work colleague before. He’s as fit as a fiddle but when it comes to running, he collapses in a heap after 3 miles, whereas I can plod on forever. We are both fit but have different kinds of fitness. His relates to physique and strength whereas I have stamina and endurance. I guess it’s a case of different horses for different courses.

Today taught me a lesson. Have you ever set out to hurt someone emotionally but ended up only causing pain to yourself? I know I have, and still do. We need to let go of those petty grudges and move on. They say revenge is a dish best served cold, but its best to scrape those leftovers into the bin and start afresh. Otherwise you will end up with a badly bruised ego. And possibly a broken thumb.

Have you ever thrown a punch in anger?

Do you struggle to let grudges go and move on?

I Don’t Snore….I Breathe Heavily

Gosh I’m tired. Have you ever went to bed, dropped off to sleep and then been rudely awakened by the phone ringing? You jump up, thinking you’ve been in a deep slumber for hours, only to look at the clock and realise it’s been for a matter of minutes. It’s a disconcerting, disorienting experience. Well, it happened to me last night. Not once, but twice. Now that’s beyond rude, that’s downright barbaric.

The calls were work related but on both occasions I was in the land of Nod. After the first one was concluded, I grumpily returned to bed, muttering to Fionnuala about how much I hated being on call and the sooner I published my first New York Times Bestseller the better. I was wide awake so read for a while until my eyelids began to droop once more. I set down my book and drifted off to Sleepyville again.

DRIIIIINNNNNNGGGGGG!!!

The phone again. This time I was slightly less irritable to the unfortunate soul on the other end of the line. I listened carefully, took some notes and asked the relevant questions. Content the matter could wait until morning, I trudged once more up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire. As I slipped beneath the covers again, I silently prayed there would be more nocturnal disturbances.

Thankfully, on this occasion, my prayer was answered. I woke up this morning, considerably fresher than before. Fionnuala confirmed I slept soundly, making scurrilous allegations that I woke her up with my snoring. Utterly unfounded, I might add. I may have been breathing a tad heavily due to my levels of exhaustion, but snoring? Now that’s a bridge too far.

I spent the morning busting myself with phone calls, scene visits and collating and reviewing documentation. I was bright and focused, as opposed to the crankasaurus who answered the phone not 12 hours before. I sheepishly conceded I had been less than friendly with the first caller. As opposed to being rudely awakened I was also rude once awake. I felt more than a little guilty as a result.

Consistency is something I am always working to maintain in respect of my temperament and behaviour. It’s all part of becoming a better human being, the ability to remain on an even keel whatever external factors I am facing. I can always do better and last night was a perfect example of that. Yes, I was tired, but that’s no excuse for my impersonation of Oscar the Grouch.

The person on the other end of the phone wasn’t particularly helpful or co-operative. They were contacting me to pass on a problem as opposed to helping me resolve it. Again, this doesn’t excuse my tetchy response. It was unprofessional and unnecessary on my part. I’m not perfect, far from it, but at least I’m aware of my shortcomings and working towards eradicating them.

When were you last rudely awakened?

Have you been abrupt with someone recently and regretted your behaviour?

When were you last accused of snoring?

Rewrites and Rejigs

I’ve acted on feedback these last few days and tweaked the opening chapters of the book. This has involved removing my beloved prologue on the advice of a literary agent, my agent Laura and Fionnuala. As usual, my wife was weeks ahead of the ‘experts’ with regards this observation and, as ever, I ignored her advice. She was right all along, of course. The prologue will now be broken up and drip fed to the reader throughout the book.

I’ve also reshuffled a number of chapters and split others. This has meant the reader is thrown straight into Kirkwood’s story as opposed to holding back in the early chapters and focusing on his and Skelly’s back story. The rejig has also led to some minor rewriting to connect the chapters as seamlessly as possible. The end result is a punchier, pacer opening which hopefully hooks the reader from the start.

I’ll be querying agents with these new streamlined chapters as of Monday. My editor, Laura, is now two thirds through the book and well on schedule to forward me her complete edit by the end of March. I’ll then start querying indie publishing houses who specialise in fantasy fiction. My query letter and book synopsis will also require some amendments but they can wait for now.

#PitMad is coming up on 7th March on Twitter where you can pitch a 280 character tweet regarding your book to literary agents. How hard is summing up a 100K plus book in 280 letters or less. I’ll be giving it a go, anyway. I’m also considering launching some of my other fiction projects on another social media platform. It will probably be ‘Bomb Girl,’ a story which has been brewing in my mind for some time now.

What projects are you working on at the minute?

The Hole In The Hedge Train

I’m on the early train this morning. It’s half empty and I’ve two seats to myself. Normally I get a later train where there is no room to swing a cat. I could swing several cats on this one. Simultaneously. We could have a cat swinging contest. I doubt if I’d win though. I’m not a fan of cats. Give me a medium sized dog though and I’d be fine. I’d slaughter the opposition in a medium sized dog throwing competition.

This train isn’t an express which means it stops at every station on the way into Belfast. All 367 of them. Or so it feels. We call them ‘hole in the hedge’ trains. I’ve never climbed through a hole in a hedge and wonder if they reveal some Narnia-esque kingdom. This seems unlikely as, to date, no talking otters or fauns have boarded the 6:49 to Great Victoria Street. One can live in hope, though.

My monthly ticket runs out tomorrow. It clearly says that on said ticket. Yet, my mind works differently. I fret and worry that the conductor will say it runs out today and hauls me off the train into the arms of the waiting constabulary. My career and life in ruins, a social pariah all for the sake of a £9.60 return. This is how OCD works. Never mind mole hills. It turns flecks of dust into Everests of the subconscious.

The automated voice lady is earning her corn today. In seven years doing this journey, I’ve never been able to place her accent. It’s a not quite anything accent. Saying that, she always brings her A game and never gets a word wrong. I wonder who she is and how much she got paid for perfectly pronouncing every ‘hole in the hedge’ service between Newry and Bangor. Whatever it was, it wasn’t enough.

I often imagine she is an out of work Shakespearean actor reduced to reading train timetables in order to keep the wolves from the door. How demeaning for her. I bet she does a mean Lady Macbeth and dreams of plunging a dagger into the heart of the agent who booked her this rubbish gig. Hubble, bubble, toil and trouble indeed. Thankfully I have yet to encounter the ghost of Banquo.

The train is starting to fill up now with ‘hole in the hedge people.’ Given they reside in fields and start their working days clambering through muddy ditches, they all look very presentable. Not a hair out of place, or a stray twig to be seen. Maybe it’s magic or possibly they have so perfected their morning routines they can slide effortlessly past thorn and bramble. It’s quite the achievement.

We are entering the suburbs now. The city is starting to stir and reality is beginning to settle on this magical train as it trundles through the murky morning. City types will be getting on at the next stop. There are no hedges on this section of the line. I will have to stop writing gibberish soon and don my grown up mask. I am entering the world of the grown ups. I don’t fit in here. I like to gibber.

Sometimes it helps to gibber. To just write, to free flow. To stop worrying about what you think other people want to read and just purge your head of all the nonsense floating around inside. I may gibber more in the future, I may not. Anyway I am nearing my final destination. There are no more stops. The day has started in earnest now. It’s time to smile and face the big, bad world. It’s time to play the game.

Rejection Never Tasted So Good

I received another rejection e-mail yesterday, my fifth in total, but this one was a little different from the others. It contained feedback, words of encouragement, a glimmer of hope in the dark world of the querying wannabe author. What was even better was that it came from one of the biggest literary agents in the U.K. I won’t name names but this agency carries some clout in the world of publishing.

The agent thanked me for my submission and stated she admired the ambitious premise and quality of my writing. Unfortunately, she wasn’t completely drawn in by the opening chapters. So it was a no, but possibly the best no I have ever had in my life. The word quality was there. From someone whose job it is to assess and analyse hundreds of manuscripts a week. She had actually read my work and liked it.

Prior to receiving her e-mail I had been a bit down in the dumps. As days went, this was turning into a pretty rubbish one. Nothing serious, just minor irritations that I won’t bore you with. The e-mail was manna from heaven and I gratefully gobbled down its content like a hungry Israelite wandering around in the wilderness. It re-energised me and provided the kick up the backside I sorely needed.

The key word in her e-mail was ‘quality.’ I was beginning to doubt myself and my writing. Despite the daily encouragement I receive on the blog, the dreaded voice was back telling me I wasn’t good enough, I was wasting my time. It was also constructive. Do I have to work on the opening chapters in order to draw prospective agents into the story? Do away with the prologue?

It truly was a ‘glass half full’ moment. The blog has just passed 9000 followers and there are still a host of other agents to query. Once my editor has completed her work, I can also begin to directly query smaller, independent publishing houses. Then there are the other projects I’m planning to start work on soon which I hope to talk about in a post later this week.

I can’t give up and I won’t give up. Too much has been put into the project in order to chuck in the towel now. There are, no doubt, further rejections ahead but this one was different, one I will forever cherish. A very step, but a step nonetheless, in the right direction. I’ll keep stumbling down the path. Who knows where it will take me but I sincerely hope you all stick around for the ride.

What’s the best piece of constructive feedback you’ve ever received?

9000 Followers Can’t Be Wrong….Can They?

A belated thank you as the blog passed 9000 followers over the weekend. We continue to be amazed by the support and encouragement we receive on a daily basis from you all. The fact that people take time out of their busy days to read the posts and comment on them is a humbling experience in itself. When we reach 10,000 I’m considering a big party at our house with cake and balloons. Everyone is invited.

Fionnuala And Stephen: A Love Story

Fionnuala and I are going out! Together! At the same time!! With no kids in tow!!! This is a cause of great excitement for the last time we had a night out, Bill Clinton was still President. Thankfully I got some new ‘going out’ clothes at Christmas otherwise I would have been reduced to wining and dining my beloved in a Washington Redskins hoodie and Buzz Lightyear pyjama bottoms. Which nobody wants to see.

The occasion is Fionnuala’s upcoming birthday in a couple of weeks. We talk about going out all the time, but life and other family commitments always seem to get in the way. Take this weekend for example. Adam had to be ferried to and from his part time job while today Hannah is performing at a concert in Belfast. We always put the kids first, which is right and proper, but sometimes you need a bit of ‘us’ time.

I love my wife very much. And when she’s not shouting at me for leaving stuff lying around the house or forgetting important appointments, I know she loves me too. We have been married for 16 years and together 22. We aren’t a particularly ‘lovey dovey’ couple. We don’t do public displays of affection because we don’t feel we need to, but have a strong bond. Many have tried to break that bond, and all have failed.

We both work hard for the family and often it feels we are ships passing in the night. There are evenings we are exhausted and conversation is at a minimum. We just want to go to bed and sleep. Such is the nature of raising a family. I keep saying we can make up for lost time when the kids are grown up and settled. But there are times, when such a day seems impossibly far off. As in, never.

Fionnuala is everything to me. I know I don’t say that enough. She has kept me going through my darkest days and always been there to pick me up on the many occasions I fall flat on my face. She works incredibly hard even though her health hasn’t been great in recent months. She rarely complains and just gets on with life. She is tough and practical, never afraid to roll her sleeves up and get her hands dirty.

She is also incredibly loyal and loving. She always puts the needs of the family before her own. She is forgiving and would drop everything for a family member or friend in need, expecting nothing in return. Her kindness is second to none. I learn from her every day and am in awe of the standards she sets as a mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend. Even when that love is not reciprocated, she keeps going.

So we are donning our glad rags and hitting the town. I’m on taxi duties, affording Fionnuala the opportunity to have a glass of wine or seven. I’m hoping we can talk about our plans, our hopes, our dreams. Without being interrupted by squabbling siblings or queries regarding missing school uniforms and tricky algebra homework. This will be a time for us to refuel and reflect on our crazy, incessant lives.

Love is many things. These include resilience. It can bend, but it doesn’t break. It has to be capable of withstanding the many storms of life and still be there when the sun rises the following day. It might not be pretty at times, but it’s still there, intact and defiant. It is an iron act of will as opposed to a fluffy emotion. It is turning up every day even when you don’t want to. It is my wife. And for that I am forever indebted.

When did you last have a night out?

What is love to you?

Do you love enough?

Don’t Try This At Home Kids

Any distance runner knows that Vaseline is their best friend. I’ve seen and heard enough horror stories to realise that. Grown men weeping as they cross the finish line in blood soaked t shirts, their nipples red raw and on fire. And don’t get me started on the joys of inner thigh chafing. Who needs a knife wielding Anthony Perkins when you can run 15 miles without Vaseline and then create your own horrific shower scene.

I always make sure I have a tub on hand. When I run out, I steal a dollop from Hannah before I hit the roads, much to her disgust. ‘Ewwwww Daddy, I put that on my lips and you rub it on your….’ I’m always finding new ways to embarrass our teenage daughter but prancing about in public dressed in bright orange Under Armour while smothered in Vaseline is a hard one to beat.

Only an idiot would embark on a run without their bits and bobs suitably protected from the horrors of chafing. Or so you would think. Two days ago I headed out on a lunchtime spin around the Titanic Quarter of Belfast. I’m slowly upping the mileage again as I recover from the latest bout of illness to have laid me low. I thought I was well equipped and had everything I needed before setting off from home that morning.

How wrong I was. No Vaseline. I weighed up the options before shrugging my shoulders and deciding to chance it. I mean, it wasn’t as if I was tackling a 26.2 mile trek. This was a gentle training spin over a fraction of the distance. I’ll be alright. So off I sauntered, throwing caution to the wind. An hour later I hobbled back into the office, a broken man. Think John Wayne in business attire and you’re not a million miles off the mark.

It felt as though my thighs had been attacked by a sandpaper wielding maniac. I had been flayed alive. Every step was tortuous and my 15 minute walk later in the afternoon to the train station was a trail of tears. Fellow commuters shot me concerned looks as I crawled onto the platform, wincing every time trouser fabric caressed skin. Crawling home over broken glass would have been more fun. And less painful.

I won’t repeat what Fionnuala said to me when I arrived home but it was words to the effect of ‘Have you had an accident in your trousers my poor, darling husband?’ I can always rely on her to cut the chase on such matters. The remainder of the evening was an uncomfortable ordeal. I arranged myself on the sofa, smothered in Sudocrem, unwilling to budge an inch for fear of much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

48 hours later and I’m thankfully recovered. I’m out running again later today but won’t be taking a step out the door unless I’m smothered in the good stuff. I’ve learnt my lesson, and a very painful one at that. The mind is a fickle mistress. She often seeks to diminish and soften past memories. They become dim recollections, easy to brush aside as we stumble on towards similar calamities. The penny never drops.

Pain can be a good thing. Sometimes we need it. It is the red flag warning us there are dangers further up the road. The rest then is up to us. Do we blithely ignore it, hit the accelerator and hurtle round the next bend to face our fate? Or do we stop, frown and think back to the last time we faced such a dilemma. Before taking a step back and sheepishly reaching for the Vaseline?

How do you use pain as a warning system in your life?

What’s been your worst chafing experience? Do share. I promise not to breathe a word of it to anyone.

Do You Say Yes When You Mean No?

I’m not very good at saying no. In fact, I’m pretty useless at it. I’m a people pleaser, I hate the thought of others thinking bad of me. I’ll do anything I can to avoid confrontation and disagreements, even if it means placing myself in a position where I commit to something which is detrimental to my own well being. This has led to all kinds of calamity down the years. I’ll always say yes as opposed to cause offence.

Does it have its origins in my OCD? Possibly. In the bad old days, before I was properly educated and medicated about the illness, I would succumb to intrusive thoughts and the related compulsive behaviour 99 times out of 100. I was powerless to resist, or so I thought. I would cave in with disturbing frequency. The compulsion would always triumph and the beast within would be sated.

Until five minutes later, that was, when the next tranche of disturbing words and images would hit me, washing away my feeble defences. Such patterns instilled in me an ethos of worthlessness which spilled out into the real world. I was weak and needy because in my skewed mind I didn’t deserve anything more. My default setting was that people didn’t like me as I didn’t particularly like myself.

I could see it in the way they looked at me, the way they excluded me. I felt alone and excluded, unaware this was largely the figment of a damaged imagination. And in doing so I was isolating myself from the people who really mattered, those who cared and could help me. Blinded to this, I stumbled on wrapped up in my own sad little world of self pity and recrimination.

I said yes. A lot. There was no filter mechanism, no ‘off’ switch. I was a runaway train, careering down the track towards my doom. One minute everything was ticking along nicely, the next I found myself somewhere I didn’t want to be, with people I didn’t particularly want to be around. Extracting myself from said scenarios was invariably awkward and protracted. There was always a price to be paid.

Yesterday at work I said no. I could have said yes and the old Stephen would have, then fretted and worried for the next week about what lay ahead. Upon saying no, I was immediately submerged into negative and unwanted thinking. What if my bosses think badly of me? What if it leads to a confrontation? What if this impacts on my career? Am I letting people down? Acting unprofessionally?

I know in my heart that I have made the right call. I’m heading into work shortly to find out if there is any fallout to my stance. I’m hoping not. I’m also hoping this isn’t an isolated incident and it paves the way for further instances where I stand my ground both within and outside the workplace. Being a yes-man is no longer a coat I care to wear. Such people are taken for granted, to be used and abused on a whim.

Are you good at saying no? Or is it a struggle?

Are You A Wall Builder?

Everybody is talking about walls. Or barriers. Obstacles. Objects which will keep people apart. For a plethora of reasons, some of which make sense to me, others where I go ‘hmmmmm….I’m not so sure.’ This post is not about my opinions though, rather the subject of walls. This could be a bit of a rambling piece, so bear with me. Hopefully it will make sense.

There’s Brexit for a start. The British are obsessed with it. The politicians can’t agree on anything and we seem to be going in ever decreasing circles. Some want out, others scream remain. Everything hinges on a hard border. Around my country, Little Northern Ireland, no less. The spotlight is well and truly on our little part of the world.

Then there’s President Trump and his Mexican wall. I’m a bit sketchy around the reasons for this, as I’m no expert on U.S. politics. But a lot of people seem to be getting very angry about it. I watched him give a speech the other day and there was a woman called Nancy sitting behind him in a white suit. I don’t think she was very happy with him for she kept pulling lots of strange faces behind his back. Either that or she was constipated.

Not forgetting the ISIS brides. The English teenage girls who upped sticks a few years ago and headed to Syria and the caliphate. Radicalised online and married off to ISIS fighters they disappeared off the face of the planet. Until now that is. It’s all gone a bit askew for our ‘Jihadi Janes’ and they are begging to return to the U.K. Those of them still alive that is.

This has sparked outrage. Some holler ‘Let them rot,’ while others argue these young women have been used, brutalised and deserve a second chance, as British citizens. Not to mention their newborn babies they are now pleading should be allowed back into the country to receive the urgent medical attention they cannot access in Syria. As moral dilemmas go, it’s right up there.

We are obsessed with walls, be it building them up or tearing them down. But what about the walls within? The walls we construct around our hearts and minds, again for a billion and one different reasons. Some are necessary in order to survive and protect ourselves – from toxicity be in the form of people, objects or situations. Others are cemented by jealousy, fear and mistrust.

I see walls every day I venture onto WordPress. Fellow bloggers peek over them on occasion but hesitate to let the drawbridge down and reveal themselves to the online community. For me, writing is a means whereby I can lower my defences and express myself in a way I have struggled to do for most of my life. It is part of my therapy, my recovery. It is a natural part of my day now. Writing is part of who I am.

Walls have their uses. But it’s a case of horses for courses. Building, and then hiding behind, a wall shouldn’t be our default setting. For decades, Belfast was divided by a ‘Peace Wall’ to keep apart the warring loyalist and republican communities. It was anything but peaceful. 3000 dead testify to that. Some walls are necessary. Some walls bring peace. Others need to be smashed to pieces. You decide that.

Have you constructed walls in your life?

Are they healthy? Necessary?

I’m Exactly What It Says On The Tin

It’s Day Two of my Interview Panel Skills Training – everybody go yaaaaay – and today we are conducting mock interviews – everybody go boooo. I woke up with a sickly sheen of dread coating my body. For I despise days like this, where you are encouraged (forced) to partake in role play within the training environment. The only benefits are I don’t have to go near the office today.

Mock interviews involve us practicing the classroom skills we have been taught during the first day of the course. It’s the safe place where we can make mistakes prior to being unleashed upon the general workforce. Many embrace this opportunity but I’m the opposite. I cower in the corner of the room dreading those fateful words – ‘Your turn Stephen.’ The spotlight suddenly settles upon me.

it’s made worse in that I have to endure this ordeal with, and in front of, complete strangers who then, horror of horrors, provide you with ‘constructive’ feedback regarding your performance. I cringe, I cower, I place my hands over my ears and go ‘lah lah lah’ over and over again. For we hates it my preciousssss, we hates it. Have I ever told you I tend to exaggerate occasionally?But you get my drift.

Hate is a strong word, I know, but I hate these training exercises. Playing a role, donning a persona and acting it out in front of others. I might be asked to be a nervous interviewee, or an empathetic and supportive interviewer. There has even been talk of the interviews being video recorded. So I have to watch myself going through the ordeal. Ye Gods, is there no end to this madness?

I would far prefer to be out in the workplace, doing my job for real and just….well….getting on with it. Being real, being me. Thinking this thought yesterday as I was informed of what lay ahead, I suddenly stopped in my tracks. Playing a role? Donning a mask? Haven’t I been doing this for most of my adult life? For when it comes to fitting in with others and acting the social chameleon, I am second to none.

It’s only since I started seriously writing I have stripped back the layers of pretence and revealed the real me, warts and all. Fellow bloggers commend me on my honesty, but for years I wouldn’t have known the truth if it had walked up and slapped me about the face with a wet fish. I was a liar, a fraud, and especially online where I created a faux personality in order to impress and ingratiate myself with various social media communities.

The book I have written is fiction, an urban fantasy where supernatural forces of good and evil battle one another on the back streets of Belfast amidst its homeless community. Yet my central protagonist, Kirkwood Scott, is loosely based on me in my mid twenties. Within this fictional work I write more honestly about my struggles and flaws than I ever have on this blog.

So, think of me today as I mutter and mumble my way through mock interviews like the most miserable of fish out of water. I will be at my most awkward, socially inept to the point where people may pity me. But, at least they will be seeing the real me. The ugly duckling as opposed to the proud peacock who used to preen and strut around, playing to his audience . Today I’m exactly what it says on the tin.

Have you ever donned a mask? Played a role? Pandered to an audience?

How did you feel, both then, and looking back now?

Why Do You Read Fractured Faith Blog?

I’m on a course this morning. It has a very grand title – Interview Panel Skills Refresher Training. One of the many hats I wear at work is that I interview prospective employees. You know, when you apply for a new job. You nervously enter the room in your best suit to find a stony faced interviewer or three sitting across the room from you. Your heart sinks and your stomach performs a cartwheel.

Well, worry not, for that stony faced suit is me. And one of the first things we are taught is not to be stony faced. Quite the opposite actually. We are to be welcoming, friendly and do everything within our powers to make the applicant feel at ease. We smile, offer them glasses of water, encourage them to relax and make themselves feel comfortable. For the next 45 minutes or so, I’m their new best friend.

The reason for this? We want the interviewee to do well, to perform to the best of their ability and blow us away with their awesomeness. We want to give them the job, not intimidate them to the point they are a gibbering wreck unable to string two sentences together. If we do that, then we risk losing high quality applicants and never filling the vacancy. Our job is to guide you through the interview and bring out the best in you.

To do so, we ask lots of open questions. We allow the candidate ample time to answer. We nod, we smile, we maintain eye contact. We take notes and, where required, offer helpful prompts to ensure they don’t veer off track. We mark fairly and consistently to give the applicant the best possible chance to pass the interview. And at the end we afford them the opportunity to ask any questions they might have about the job or the organisation.

Before they know it the interview is over and it’s warm smiles and handshakes all round. We thank them for coming, show them out the door and tell them we will inform them as to whether they have been successful or not at the earliest possible opportunity. We want them to leave the room on a cloud as opposed to under one. So that when their friends ask them how the interview went they will reply ‘Yeah, it was tough. But it was fair.’

I want this blog to be a similar experience. When you dip into it, I want it to be a welcoming and positive encounter. I want to encourage, facilitate and accommodate. There’s nothing worse than an awkward, one way conversation where you are made to feel on the back foot from the word go. I want this to be a safe place, a place where you can be yourself and leave your worries and problems at the door.

I want to get you thinking and talking. I want you to engage, leave comments and interact with both myself and the wider blogging community. I want you to leave this blog in a better frame of mind than when you entered it. I want you to come back, day after day, and become a regular visitor. To share your knowledge and wisdom with us all. For isn’t that what blogging, and writing in general, is all about? To share, to learn, to grow?

As Fractured Faith nears 9000 followers, I’m proud to watch our little community grow. I’m constantly seeking feedback as to how we can improve, how we can develop into a blog that you always look out for on your cluttered timeline. So I’m throwing it out there. Why do you visit the blog? What are we good at? And where can we improve? Please leave your comments below and let’s get talking.

Stop Beating Yourself Up

Of late, I have been bumping into people who I used to spend a lot of time around. I would have regarded them as friends. In fact, I spent more time with them than I did with my own family. It was a period of my life when I had stopped drinking and started running. I thought this was a massive step forward at the time. In reality, I was merely replacing one addictive behaviour with another one and my loved ones continued to suffer.

The chance encounters were not wholly unpleasant. I had a long chat with one of the persons, a lovely man who I never had any issues with. Part of me regretted the way our friendship ended, but after our talk I realised there were no hard feelings on his part. He was always the wise one in the group, who tended to keep a wary distance from the more negative behaviours and conversations. Turns out he no longer runs with the others, either, although he still sees them about.

I drove past two of the ‘others’ recently. I was driving Adam to a rugby match and they were, naturally enough, running. They didn’t see me, thankfully, and I’m not proud to say that the sighting elicited less than savoury feelings within. I felt anger, bitterness and resentment towards them. I looked at then and saw nothing but arrogance and vanity on their part. I wanted nothing to do with them.

I later told Fionnuala about them. I needed to tell someone as I could still sense the encounter festering within me. It was cathartic to talk about it, a form of purging. ‘You used to be like that,’ she replied, just like that. I was initially a little taken aback although I don’t know why as my wife is nothing but frank when it comes to telling me how it is. The truth can be hard to swallow. The best medicine always goes down hardest.

Was I really that self absorbed, that much of a strutting peacock? Obsessed with appearance and personal bests as opposed to my family, the people who truly mattered? Deep down, I knew that I was. I spent my weekends away from home, on endless long runs or travelling up and down the country in pursuit of medals or ‘bling.’ ‘It’s all about the bling’ was our motto, our mantra. How wrong I was.

I wasn’t drinking, I was going to church, I was off social media and leading a clean and virtuous life. Or so I thought. But the truth was I was as bad as ever, having merely placed one flaw with another. Inside I was the same shallow, weak, insecure mess I had always been. Except now I had added hypocrisy to the host of other character traits I possessed. Blinded to the truth by shiny, worthless trinkets.

The scars remain, even to this day. My encounter with the runners proved that and I’m forever struggling to contain the resentment that lies dormant within. I still run but it’s a solitary, slower pursuit now. The days of running clubs and multiple race entries are a thing of the past. I see it for what it is now. Vacuous and meaningless. I would never go back to that lifestyle. Once bitten, forever shy.

I’m not jealous of them. But I am annoyed seeing them still produces such emotions within me. I need to feel nothing. No, that’s not quite right. I need to feel forgiveness. Towards them and towards myself. Stop beating myself up about the past and move on. For I’m only hurting myself and, again, those around me who require my unrivalled attention. They deserve better than that. I deserve better than that.

Do you still beat yourself up about the past?

Do you ever bump into ghosts from your past?

How do you move on?

I’m Having A Bad Hair Month

I’m overdue a haircut. This, I might add, is not a deliberate act on my part, for those of you thinking I have opted to grow my locks in an effort to imitate a bohemian writer. No, I’ve just been too disorganised and lazy to walk the five minutes from my office to the barber shop I usually grace with my patronage. Plus, there’s my illogical fear of stilted, awkward conversations with barbers which I have written about in the past.

My hair is therefore at that annoying ‘just too long’ phase. I find myself absentmindedly playing with my fringe as it threatens to submerge my eyebrows, edging evermore towards them. I have now taken to maintaining a ridiculous side parting in a futile attempt to tame a barnet which is threatening to rebel against all known forms of acceptable follicular etiquette. I look ridiculous.

The back is faring no better. My hair is starting to curl as it brushes my neck, reminding me of the disastrous ‘grunge years’ when I thought I was Kurt Cobain and tried to grow my hair accordingly. The few photographs that remain from that dubious period of my life show me scrunching my shoulders in a vain effort to make my hair look longer than it actually was. In a checked shirt, Metallica t shirt and DM boots. Not my best look.

Then there’s my sideburns. When closely cropped and well maintained, I keep a pair as a desperate throwback to my trendier youth. Quite frankly, I’d feel naked without them. But now, I resemble an extra from a Dickens movie. I’m Stephen Whizzlemarch or something like that. All I’m missing is the top hat and surly demeanour towards orphaned children. If I extend them with my fingers I may take flight such is their length.

My morning routine now involves a losing battle with my hair, as I battle to mould it into some presentable shape which won’t scare babies and pensioners. It’s worse on the colder days when I wear a hat to work. I stride into the office and remove it, to be greeted with hoots of derision from my co-workers. I look like a deranged clown and may as well have been atop a miniature tricycle, juggling oranges.

The horror continues, now that I have resumed running again. It’s a sweaty, hot mess. I’m amazed I didn’t cause a crash yesterday as I lumbered through the village, looking like Christopher Lloyd in his Back to the Future days. Thankfully the police did not receive any calls regarding a wacky scientist running amok donned in high visibility running gear. The shame, I fear, would have been too much for me.

So, I need a hair cut. I dream of sitting in the barbers chair and telling him to get rid of it, all of it. A number four all over, the joy of watching my troublesome lockstumbling to the shop floor. It would be a huge weight off my mind. Literally. And well worth enduring ten excruciating minutes of small talk about the weather, local politics or what sort of a season Paul Pogba is having.

I shouldn’t complain. I’m a 48 year old man and have a full head of hair. As well as most of my own teeth. It’s starting to take on that ‘salt and pepper’ look that Mrs Black loves so much. I like to think I’ll turn into a silver fox a la Clooney, looking all mean and moody on the sleeve of my debut best seller. Only time will tell. But I’m the meantime, I need to get to the barber shop. And pronto.

What’s been your worst hairstyle down the years?

Have you destroyed all photographic evidence of it?

I’m On The Comeback Trail….Again

After two weeks out of action with a chest infection, I ventured back onto the roads again. I also lost three weeks over New Year with a virus so this really is my last chance at making the start line for the Belfast Marathon in early May. I’m already several weeks behind in my training programme so any more setbacks would realistically scupper my chances of being ready on time.

It was a beautiful morning, mild and dry with only a light breeze. I set out on a mostly flat 6.4 mile route which took me out of the village to the shores of Lough Neagh and then back again. I purposely set off at a slow pace as my target was to complete the run in one piece with no mishaps. There were no personal bests going to be set today. Such heroics can wait until I get a few more miles under my belt.

My only company on the outward journey was the occasional cyclist who whizzed past with a wave or greeting. Rural folk tend to always do this when we meet on the roads and there is a particular camaraderie between runners and cyclists. We are all in the one boat, using our spare time to exercise and enjoy the fresh air. City folk are less friendly, but I guess that is the same wherever you go.

At the turning point I stopped for a couple of moments to catch my breath. I was trialling a new smart watch Fionnuala bought me for Valentines Day and was still coming to terms with its various buttons and settings. It sure beat running with my phone, however, which I had been doing for several months in order to record my pace and mileage. In a way, it was liberating not to worry about mile splits and overall targets.

The return leg was slightly more uphill and I caught a stiffer breeze in several sections. I focused on keeping my legs and arms pumping and not stopping, no matter how tired I felt. Thankfully my stamina held out. I was slow but comfortable and my breathing was relaxed. There were no aches or niggles and as I entered the final mile I knew there were no concerns as to me making the distance.

I made the final turn towards the house and glanced at my watch to reveal a slow, but respectable, time given it was my first outing in a fortnight. I had risked running a bit further than I probably should but lived to tell the tale. The plan is to run again tomorrow provided there is no adverse reaction to today’s exertions. Another injury or illness is my worst nightmare. Here’s hoping it doesn’t happen.

Are you planning to get outdoors this weekend?

What are you up to?

The Shameless Plug

Kirkwood Scott is looking for a home! As I continue to query literary agents with my first book – ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square’ – I’m also on the outlook for any small, independent publishing houses who publish urban fantasy literature. Would they be interested in running with my tale of Kirkwood Scott, Meredith Starc and Harley Davidson as they battle an ancient supernatural evil on the back streets of Belfast?

The book is a fantasy adventure but addresses the very real issues of mental illness, addiction, disability and self harm as our three heroes battle their own internal demons while facing the external threat of Colonel Augustus Skelly and his Company, a ragtag ensemble of Waterloo dead who have returned to wreak havoc on the city and beyond. Only Kirkwood and his newfound allies stand in their way, aided by a wine sodden tramp, Cornelius Dobson, and Emily O’Hara, a tragic ghost girl from Meredith’s past.

At present the book is a 120K manuscript which has been through a beta reading exercise and is now being revised by a professional editor. It is anticipated that this will be complete within the next few weeks, whereupon I would be in a position to submit the completed manuscript to interested parties. The book leans heavily on my own experiences with mental illness and knowledge of the Belfast homeless community.

It tackles these issues head on, interlaced with a healthy dash of Belfast wit and humour. If you know of an agent or publisher who might be interested in my writing then please pass this post on to them. In the meantime I will keep blogging and working on book two in the series along with a number of standalone projects I am currently plotting. The writing never stops. Thank you!

My Valentines Date With Mrs Hinch

You can never accuse my wife and I of not being romantic. Yesterday, as a pre Valentines Day treat, Fionnuala took me shopping….for cleaning products. You see, my better half has recently become obsessed with a number of home improvement gurus on social media. As a result, our home has been glistening despite the best efforts of a slovenly husband and three chaotic hatchlings to undo all her good work.

Who are these people? Well, I’m glad you asked. Firstly there’s Marie Kondo, a diminutive Japanese lady who appears to have taken over the world, such is her current status. I was introduced to her via her television show where she sweeps elegantly into the cluttered houses of messy Americans to restore calm and order. She declutters, in a brutally efficient manner.

Less is more. She is the queen of minimalism. The episode I watched, she was rifling through wardrobes, encouraging her baffled victims (I mean clients) to talk to their clothes and tell them they loved them. Before promptly chucking the majority of it in the bin. Throughout, she maintains a fixed smile on her face, nodding and bowing to all and sundry, while explaining her philosophy to an ever present translator.

Then there’s Sophie ‘Mrs Hinch’ Hinchcliffe. This woman is literally everywhere, with an army of Instagram followers. Fionnuala follows her cleaning tips with religious fervour. It’s like a cult, a very clean cult, where everyone brandishes feather dusters instead of bibles and there are no shoot outs with federal agents. Well, not that I know of anyway. Mrs Hinch rules our house with a rod of glistening iron.

Yesterday, I was introduced to a whole new world. I discovered what a scrub buddy was, became an authority on fabric conditioners and a plethora of other products. Fionnuala ooohed and aaaahed as she dragged me up and down the aisles like a seven year old in a toy shop the week before Christmas. All in order to stock up her cleaning cupboard, or ‘Narnia’ as Hinchers refer to it.

Fionnuala’s Narnia cupboard terrifies it. It’s like a holy shrine and woe betide the person who plunders it unbeknownst to her. Every item has a place and she can tell, can tell I tells ya, if anything is a millimetre out of place. Narnia is a scary place. C.S. Lewis would be turning in his grave if he had an inkling what Mrs Hinch was up to, with Mr. Tumnus and the talking beavers nowhere to be seen.

Fionnuala has always been houseproud and spends most of her life running around picking up after me and the kids. I like to think I do my bit around the house but she does a mountain of unheralded tasks when we are out at work and school. She’s the glue who holds us all together. Personally, I’m a shambles without her encouragement, advice and practical wisdom. She is an unsung hero.

So thank you Mrs Hinch and Domo Arigato Marie Kondo. There’s clean and then there’s Hinch clean. There’s tidy and then there’s Kondo tidy. There’s love and then there’s Fionnuala love. A love which she selflessly shares with us on a daily basis. Even when I leave the toilet seat up, forget to put away the bread or wreak havoc to her Narnia cupboard. Happy Valentines Day. We love you.

Are you a cleaning freak? Or a slovenly mess? Leave your comments below.

Are You Gerascophobic?

Oh good….now that I’ve got your attention I’ll begin.

Ahem…..

I’ve just finished reading ‘How To Stop Time’ by Matt Haig which I highly recommend to you all. Haig writes a lot on mental health issues but is also an acclaimed novelist. The book tells the tale of Tom Hazard, who on the surface is a very ordinary forty something History teacher leading a very ordinary life in London. Except he isn’t. Tom has an incredible secret. He is almost 500 years old.

Tom was born in 16th Century France and stopped ageing at 13 years old. Well, I say stopped but that’s not strictly true. He does age, only much more slowly than you or I. For every 10 years we age, he ages one. When he’s 300, he looks around 30, and so on. He has lived numerous lives around the globe, always staying one step ahead of suspicion and rumours regarding his youthful appearance.

Tom’s longevity means he plays the lute at the Globe Theatre when hired by William Shakespeare. He discover new lands as part of Captain Cook’s crew and parties in Paris with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He never gets ill and doesn’t have to worry about grey hairs or wrinkles. He is immune to the toll that time takes on the rest of us. He is invincible, untouchable, the nearest thing to a superhuman on the planet.

This sounds like an incredible existence except, again, it isn’t. Tom is something of a social pariah, a fugitive from society. His mother is drowned by witch hunters who suspect she has cast a spell on her son. The love of his life ages and then succumbs to the plague in Elizabethan London. He is unable to form meaningful relationships or become close to anyone. His life is a lie, a lonely lie.

The fear of growing old is called gerascophobia, derived from the Greeks words ‘gerasko’ (to grow old) and ‘phobia’ (fear). I googled that, in case you think I’m a smarty pants. But I’m glad there’s a recognised term for the condition, as I think I may suffer from it. Increasingly so, of late. I constantly feel as if my ship has sailed and I’m running out of time. It’s frustrating and more than a little frightening.

I’m 48 years old. I like to think a young 48, both physically and mentally. People tell me I don’t look my age, whatever that means. I’ve a full head of hair and (most) of my own teeth. I’m fitter than I was when I was 18, or at least was until perpetual illness plagued me since Christmas. That has put the marathon training on hold and I’ve consoled myself at the biscuit barrel.

I don’t want to be Tom Hazard. He has centuries of old age to not look forward to, but if someone offered to rewind the last 10-15 years or so, I’d more than likely jump at the chance. Or would I? Yes, I would relive those years very differently but then I wouldn’t be the person I am today. And for one who fears the sands of time then why do I continue to wish my life away when it comes to so many aspects of it?

Nobody in the history of mankind has lived a perfect life. We all have made mistakes, carry regrets and eye the future with trepidation. What lies ahead? Is it all downhill from here. We fret over our futures, and ponder over our pasts. In doing so, we forget the most important time of all. The present. For that is where we are and that is where life is lived. Live in the present. The future can wait.

Are you afraid of growing old?

Would you like to live a life like Tom Hazard?

Where is your present?

What Is Your Worst Habit?

Yesterday I wrote about my ongoing querying of literary agents and how researching their backgrounds prior to submitting your manuscript to them, is the acceptable face of online stalking. It was a tongue in cheek piece, as most of my writing is, but there was a serious message wrapped up inside the frivolity. That being, the obsessive behaviour which fuels the mind of a stalker.

I have OCD and an obsessive personality. I have no filter, no brake, no off switch. I can easily become fixated with activities and even people. This is exacerbated by a complete lack of self awareness when it comes to this particular character trait. I am unaware of my behaviour, in fact I rationalise that it is completely normal and those raising the alarm to me are the killjoys and bores.

This obsessive streak can be explained away as having a stubborn streak or being ultra single minded and determined. Which, in themselves, are admirable characteristics. You need these to run marathons. You need them to carve out a reasonably successful career in my chosen fiend. You need them to slave away at your novel for over a year until it is finally complete.

It’s a double sided coin, however. It’s not so admirable when you become obsessed with running, or paragliding, or base jumping. These activities are designed to be a release from the daily grind, as opposed to becoming the grind itself. They become destructive and counter productive when they drag you away from your core values and the people and pursuits who truly matter.

We become ensnared by these pastimes, they become our raison d’etre. They possess and consume us. They same can be said of online activity. I admit I spend far too much time online, trying to build the blog and related social media platforms. I know it is a necessary evil to pursue my writing dream, but I often need Fionnuala to remind me that I also have a wife and three kids who supersede all my other responsibilities.

This weakness has led me down all sorts of nasty rabbit holes in the past. I cultivated unhealthy online habits which damaged both myself and those I love. I became secretive and distant. Thankfully my current online incarnation is founded upon transparency and accountability. This affords me a safety net should I ever feel the urge to slip back into old habits. I’m learning to police myself again and, in doing so, trust myself again.

Any habit is hard to shake. I bite my nails, drink too much Diet Coke and the list goes on. I’ll never be a hand model but I do recycle all my empty cans and bottles. There are worse habits to have, I glibly inform people whenever I am challenged on these. And, indeed there are. But it’s a warning to always be on my guard. Old habits die hard. They are always lurking, waiting to pounce. The demon that is OCD is never far away.

I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. I’m a boring, middle aged husband and father. I don’t attract a second glance on my daily commute to and from work. None of us do. We are normal. Oh, but if only they knew. If only they knew the dormant madness that lies within. Just waiting for it’s opportunity to be unleashed and wreak havoc on our carefully constructed worlds. If only….

What are your bad habits?

Does madness lurk within you?

I’m The Acceptable Face Of Stalking

Now that I’ve finished my first novel and it’s been through the beta critique and editing phases, the next step is to query literary agents. This, unfortunately, is a bit more than e-mailing them the manuscript, sitting back and crossing my fingers and toes. Instead I have to draft and forward them a bespoke letter of introduction, known as the query letter. My entire submission hangs on the quality of this.

A good query letter should be concise, but informative. It should entice the agent, telling them enough about you and their project, to leave them wanting more. The agent wants to connect, to feel intrigued. You need to hook them, snare them, make your manuscript stand out from the hundreds of others which hit their ‘slush piles’ every week. You need to be unique, different, you need to be ‘the one.’

To do so, you need to find out everything you can about the agent. This shows them you have put the work in, that you care, that you want them above anyone else to champion your literary gem. You research them. Which is a polite way of saying you embark on an online stalking crusade of epic proportions. You binge on their Twitter accounts, pore over their website biographies, eking out every last nugget of information.

You find out their favourite genres, authors and who they already represent. You uncover their pet hates, what they love and what they loathe in a submission. You want to know everything. Their favourite pizza topping, shoe size, the name of their dog. Anything that will give you an edge over the opposition. It’s needy, sycophantic and cringe worthy work on the part of the querying hopeful. But it’s all part of the game.

Fionnuala and I have been watching a Netflix show called ‘You’ where a mild mannered bookshop employee becomes obsessed with a beautiful aspiring author in New York. He stalks her, both online and in real life, worming his way into her life, until he eventually wins her heart. Nothing will stand in his way and he stops at nothing to win the object of his affection. It is a creepy, psychological, seat of your pants show.

I’m beginning to feel like Joe, the star of the show. Beneath the mild mannered, affable exterior he’s a sociopathic monster. I don’t think I’ve quite strayed into the latter territory when it comes to my querying, but my obsessive personality certainly means I am well suited to the task. Down the years I’ve been fixated with authors, musicians, sports stars and authors.

Someone with an obsessive personality has no ‘off’ switch when it comes to such behaviour. We are runaway trains, hurtling down the tracks towards the buffers. We have no filter mechanisms, there is no emergency brake. When I’m in this zone, I’m oblivious to the various screaming sirens and flashing lights telling me I’ve overstepped the mark. It’s like opening a tub of honeycomb ice cream. I don’t know when to stop.

The first mouthful is heavenly, the second better, and before you know it you are halfway through the tub. You want to stop, you know you have to stop, but you continue to gorge on the sticky, sweet goodness until there is nothing left. Just an empty tub, a guilty conscience and the beginnings of a food hangover churning in the depths of your stomach. Yes, your stomach is full, but your soul is empty.

That is the nature of obsessive behaviour.

Part 2 later today….

Are you guilty of obsessive behaviour?

Do you know when to stop?

Sticking Your Head Above The Parapets

I was raised on fantasy novels and this has largely continued into my supposed adult years. It began with a fascination for Middle Earth and all things Tolkien. My mind was filled with adventures accompanied by hobbits and elves, battling orcs and armies of darkness at the foot of Mount Mordor. As a teenager I was a massive Dungeons & Dragons player.

D&D was much more preferable to the realities of surviving a grammar school where bespectacled nerds were fair game for class bullies and psychotic teachers alike. I returned to my love of reading and fantasy in the last decade or so. Once again, it was a means of escape from the harsh realities of life. Except now my wounds were self inflicted ones. I was the sole architect of my demise.

Hiding between the covers of a book allowed me to regroup and lick my wounds. I binged on the sprawling, epic trilogies of Robin Hobb and Raymond E. Feist. I recall reading Feist’s ‘Magician’ at my lowest ebb. The thicker the book, the better, for such tomes were my sanctuary from what lay beyond. Eventually, however, the final words were greedily consumed and I was forced to re-emerge, squinting and blinking into the 21st Century again.

Many fantasy novels involve castles. And where there is a castle, a siege is never far away. Sieges where the beleaguered heroes are surrounded by a brutal enemy; where they face insurmountable odds and all seems lost. Our ragtag armies man the ramparts, pummelled by arrows, boulders, and anything else the opposition can hurl their way. Defeat seems inevitable. There is no way out.

Except there usually is. Reinforcements appear on the horizon at the eleventh hour, a friendly dragon swoops from above to barbecue the enemy, or an unlikely hero leads a handful of brave troops in a last ditch counter attack which sweeps all before them. Usually aided by a wizard or two. The storm clouds lift, the sun peeks through and the forces of good prevail. For good always overcomes evil, right?

Such heroics require a decision. Followed by an act of will. Someone has to take a risk, a chance. They need to raise their head and look over the castle parapets to see what is going on outside. This is a dangerous business. Lifting your head above the parapet turns you into an immediate target for eagle eyed sharp shooters on the other side. Before you know it, you’re being peppered with missiles of various shapes and sizes.

Yet, it has to be done. To invoke change, to lift the status quo, to turn the tide. It could backfire horribly and end up with you toppling over the castle walls, an arrow between your eyes, dead before you hit the ground. But what’s the alternative? Skulking, shaking, waiting for the inevitable when the enemy swarm over the ramparts unopposed and butcher every last man, woman or child? What’s it to be?

I’m at a stage of my life where I’ve made the decision to poke my head above the parapet and face the enemy squarely in the eye. And guess what? They don’t like it. Hell has been unleashed in all its many guises. I’ll continue this theme in a later post but, until then, keep your wits about you if you dare lift your head above the parapet. And more importantly, keep your head on your shoulders.

Who are your favourite fantasy authors?

What role do you think you would play in a castle siege?

Do You Believe In Yourself?

I received an e-mail earlier this week from a fellow blogger asking for advice on growing their blog. This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked this question. After much frowning of brows and scratching of heads I cobbled together a reply where I talked about quality writing, consistent themes and regular interaction with fellow bloggers. Something like that. You get my drift. Etc etc.

The reality is, I haven’t a clue. When I started writing almost two years ago now, it was because Fionnuala saw a talent in my writing and encouraged (forced) me to share it with the world. I never expected it to take off like it has and I never thought I’d now be looking at a blog with almost 9000 followers. One person, my wife, believed in me at a stage in my life when I didn’t believe in myself.

I don’t consider myself a particularly gifted wordsmith. Every day I marvel at the talent of fellow bloggers who, quite frankly, knock my clumsy prose out of the ball park. They have bigger, better stories to tell than me which they do with a skill, passion and verve that I struggle to emulate. Some of you people have no idea how good you are. Seriously. You need to go away and write a NYT bestseller. This minute. Now. Go.

Sooooo….what is it I do? Well, I try to post every day. I’m present, I’m here, that annoying relative who is always the last to leave family functions, making you think they have no home to go to. That’s me. Although I try to turn the annoying dial down to the bare minimum. Some of the best feedback I get is from people saying they look forward to reading my blog every day. I’m a familiar, comfortable pair of old slippers.

I seek to reassure people. To tell them they’re not alone, and there is hope even on the most desolate, windswept nights. I want to be a light, a strong hand hauling them from whatever deep pit they have fallen down. For I’ve been there but was unfortunate enough to survive and clamber out to tell the tale. The blog is a living testimony to that. I want to help, I want to put my own many failings to good use.

I want to make you smile, think, engage, and, most of all, believe. Believe in yourself. For there is a gift within you begging to be birthed, for all to see. For if you believe in something hard enough, then it will happen. Don’t buy that? Then check out that 15 stone, hungover, miserable couch potato who used to dream of running marathons and writing books. Six years later I’m doing both.

You see, I’m nothing special. But one day, the penny dropped. Just as Fionnuala believed in me, I began to bet on my own inherent ability. Initially it was a long shot, a Hail Mary pass of ridiculous proportions. But, occasionally, the long shot romps home first past the finishing past. Occasionally the Hail Mary bobbles and bounces into the grateful hands of the wide receiver.

So, my advice to you all, whatever you are doing, is to believe in yourself. You only get one shot and you’re a long time dead. If you have a dream, pursue it. With passion and tenacity. Let your talent breathe and your hopes soar high into the sky. Live the impossible. It’s closer than you think. That new life is there for the taking. All you have to do is reach out and touch it. Written by one who knows.

Do you believe in yourself?

What makes a good blogger?

I Didn’t Want To Write Today

I didn’t want to write today.

Yet here I am, tentatively tapping at the keyboard. Feeling my way into the next sentence, fumbling through another paragraph. The words come, they always do. A hesitant trickle at first, before I relax and they flow freely. And when they flow freely, then I am free as well. From the past, from the voices that claw at my ever fragile mind. I didn’t want to write today. I had to write today.

I lost my father nine years ago today. To prostate cancer. I remember sitting in a waiting room at the hospital, as a brutish consultant dispassionately informed us there was no hope. I’ll never forget that man. He might as well have been telling us the weather forecast for the week ahead. The words meant nothing to him, yet their impact shattered us. Nothing would ever be the same again.

I rose that day. There was a funeral to arrange and I was the only son, the eldest child, the one of whom strength and courage were expected. So I donned the mask and played the role to a packed auditorium. I was the centre of attention and, sick though it may sound, part of me revelled in it. Though surrounded by death, this was my lifeline. I clung to it for all I was worth.

I revelled, but then unraveled. The bottom of a pint glass became my harbour from the storm. A temporary respite, however, for when I lifted my groggy head above the parapet, the wind and rain lashed more furiously than ever. I was adrift, askew, a mess. I struck out for shore, my compass spinning, floundering, sinking. Constant drinking. Until the day, I said no more. Until the day I stopped.

I’m battered today. Battered by sickness which has reared its ugly head again when I thought I’d shrugged it aside. Fretting over immaterial matters. Matters that don’t really matter. Marathons that aren’t being run. Books that aren’t being written. Six years ago they would have buzzed and niggled until I cracked open a beer and shooed them from my mind. But now, I write.

Battered but blessed. Looking ahead, clear headed and driven. The glass is half full these days, the wallowing no more. I want to make my father proud of me and, more than that, I want to make those still here proud. My wife and children, my friends and anyone else whose life I touch. I’ll visit my past and learn from it, grow, but no longer be held prisoner by it.

No longer consumed, obsessed, possessed. Still stressed. That is me. But blessed. Blessed that these words pour from my pen, from my soul. There’s hope, always hope. If you take nothing else away from this post, I hope you take hope. Hope that there are better times ahead, times you deserve, times which will reveal the real you, the true you, for all the world to see. Is that so hard to believe? For belief costs nothing?

Why do you write?

What do words mean to you?

Are you battered, blessed or both?

Three Rejection E-Mails Later….

It’s two weeks since I started querying literary agents with my book ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square,’ and I said I would keep you all regularly updated, so here goes. To date I have queried 15 agents, all of whom I chose after researching them online and judging they would be a good match for both myself and the novel. This has been a sizeable piece of work in itself.

Each agent has differing submission guidelines. Some ask for attachments, others that you cut and paste into the body of the e-mail. Some ask for the first 10 pages of the book, while others want 50. Some want this, and others demand that. It is a confusing and baffling world I have entered, and on more than one occasion I’ve queried the sanity of my actions. Is this really worth all the time and effort?

Especially since, to date, all I have received is three format rejection e-mails. The first one didn’t even name me. There has no feedback, no advice, nothing. Just cold, impersonal ‘thank you but no.’ Every time I see an e-mail in my inbox now, a clammy sweat breaks out across my back. People keep telling me I only need one agent to say ‘yes’, others that you’re not a real author until you receive at least 100 rejections.

I’ve braced myself for all this, of course, but it still niggles at my fragile self belief. I’m only human, after all. Yet, I’m remaining hopeful. I know the book will see the light of day, somehow, even if I ultimately have to go down the self-publishing route. It would be nice to be taken on by an agent but, in this ultra competitive market, I know it’s not the end of the world if I don’t. I’ll keep you all updated in the weeks and months ahead.

How do you handle rejection?

I Write This From My Deathbed

I write this from my deathbed.

Well, not quite. But, having felt rotten all week, I’ve decided to take a day off work to try and shake off this cold once and for all. Fionnuala, wonderful wife that she is, has promised to make me soup and my bedside table is crammed with liquids, tissues and paracetamol. My colleagues will undoubtedly be delighted that my sniffling, sneezing self won’t be in the office to infect them all.

I’m hoping that a day’s rest will resurrect my flagging spirits. There has been no running so far this week so my marathon schedule continues to gallop into the horizon, without me in harness. I reckon I can still make it as long as this current bout of illness is the last one between now and the big day in May. Today I can barely run a tap, let alone the thought of 26.2 miles.

I’m also conscious of infecting the rest of the family. The last thing my super busy wife needs are my germs and the kids similarly; Adam has a big rugby match at the weekend, Hannah a science test next week, and Rebecca is just over a tummy bug. It’s bad enough being ill myself, without the added guilt of striking down one of my nearest and dearest. Hopefully 24 hours of self enforced quarantine will do the trick.

If I can get caught up on some sleep today, that would be a bonus. I also plan to read a little and continue my never ending research of literary agents I aim to query with the book. I may even blog a little update later. Until then any comments would be most welcome to lift my spirits and alleviate the boredom. You can even call round later with a bunch of grapes or bottle of Lucozade. I promise not to sneeze over you.

An Apology To My Family

Last night my adoring wife posted a blog about our new coffee table. A very lovely addition to our house, which was positioned slap bang in the middle of the living room, patiently awaiting my return from work last night. As the kids returned from school, it was the first thing they noticed and the centre of conversation. The family waited with bated return for my entrance. And, whether or not, I would notice.

My family delight in such cruel taunting of dumb creatures such as I. New photographs are strategically placed around the house. Curtain drapes change colour overnight, furniture is repositioned at a whim. And the first thing I’m asked is ‘Do you notice anything new?’ At these dreaded words, I break into a clammy sweat and descend into panic, desperately attempting to detect the offending article.

I’m no good at this. I live in a bubble. It’s no excuse, but my OCD means I am often wrestling with unwanted thoughts and urges which, while nowhere near as bad as they used to be, still lurk at the edges of my consciousness, threatening to consume me. Last night it was food related, as I fretted and worried over calorific intake, my weight and current lack of exercise due to a head cold aka ‘manflu.’

After dinner I plonked myself on our sofa, within inches of the coffee table. I sensed something different in the room but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The fact I had, minutes before, taken the cardboard packaging the table arrived in to our outside recycling bin failed to register with me. I attempted to strike up conversation with Fionnuala but she simply looked at me, a knowing smirk on her face.

Hannah then swept into the room, enquiring ‘Has he noticed yet?’ It was then I realised there was something afoot. By day, I’m a supposedly highly trained investigator who shifts through masses of material in forensic detail so as to progress complex enquiries. When I leave the office, however, I’m an idiot. Were Godzilla to lumber through Belfast city centre, I doubt if it would evoke a flicker of recognition.

After several tortuous moments and frantic scanning of the room, I finally noticed the gleaming table, a foot in front of my nose. This sparked scenes of great hilarity amongst the other members of the Black household. Once more, I was the clown of the piece, and the butt of their jokes. Yes, I am your idiotic, non observant husband and father. Guilty as charged. Sent to amuse and entertain you as I stumble through life as awkwardly as possible.

I do my best, I truly do. But there are times I feel I’m not cut out for this whole husband and father carry on. I feel I’m continually letting the side down, neglecting my duties, struggling in a role I’m entirely unsuited to perform. I’m selfish and needy, wrapped up in my own mental maze. I blow the tiniest disagreement out of all proportion. I should be the rock of the family whereas I’m usually drowning in quicksand.

I guess we all feel like that at times. Utterly inadequate. We do the right thing 99% of the time but that one failing can bring the whole house of cards tumbling down. Life. It’s a baffling puzzle we will never master. Until then, all we can do is our very best. I’ll soldier on. Fighting my demons, internal and external. Peering ahead for the next coffee table on the horizon. I can do better. I must do better.

Are you oblivious to much of what goes around you? Do you live in a bubble of your own making?

Or are you eagle eyed? On time for every appointment? On top of every aspect of your life?

New Table

Today I went out shopping and got an amazing bargain. For a few weeks now I have been looking for a new coffee table but couldn’t see anything that I liked until today. You might be thinking why on earth is Fionnuala blogging about buying a new table but please bear with me I’m actually going somewhere with this.

On writing this Stephen has been home for just over an hour now and he has yet to notice the new shiny table right under his nose! You can see in the photo that it is less than two feet away from him but he is oblivious to it.

It gets better not only has he walked past it, and sat right next to it he lifted the huge box of it which I left sitting at the back door and moved it out to the bin. He also squeezed past the old table which was on its side under the stairs. Stephen is the butt of many jokes in our house but this one is one I don’t think the kids will let him live down.

This has also got me thinking how often do we just go about our day and are oblivious to things that are going on around us? On our streets there are so many people crying out for help that we don’t see because we are so wrapped up in our own little boxes. Sometimes we need to look outside the box and you know it is even safe to step outside of the box nothing bad will happen to you you never know you might even enjoy it and discover something new.

In our house it’s a running joke to see how long it takes Stephen to notice something. The kids are busting to tell him to look at the new table but also watching the clock to see just how long it is taking him to notice it. I personally don’t think he will notice it not until he sees this blog post.

Anyway here goes I’m going to post this it has now been an hour and 30 minutes since he has been home and he still hasn’t noticed it 😆 I could be in trouble here please pray for me. By the way I do love and respect my husband and we both like to have the odd prank on each other now again so please take this post in the humour it’s been written in 😊

Why Do Women Not Understand Manflu?

I woke up this morning and groaned. Not only was it a dark and dreary Monday morning, but I sensed a tickle in my throat. My nose was blocked and my energy levels were even lower than I normally would have expected. I sighed and sadly informed Fionnuala that I appeared to be unwell. I received zero sympathy as she launched into the 1001 tasks she has to perform every weekday in order to get the hatchlings out to school.

Manflu had struck….Now I’m not one to complain (cough, cough) but it strikes me that the female of the species struggle to understand the traumatic nature of this affliction. When it comes to empathy and understanding they tend to stare blankly at us, before making some snide remark about childbirth. The words ‘weak’ and ‘pathetic’ are muttered beneath their collective breaths as we shuffle miserably around the house.

I go to work every day. I’m rarely sick, not counting the four week virus I had a few months back and er….all the other times I sniffle or feel a slight twinge. I run marathons in all weathers and regard myself as in reasonably good shape for a man of my years. So, when I am struck down by the lurgy, the lack of female concern and compassion leaves me baffled.

I have queried this with my wonderful wife, to be greeted with a withering stare or hoot of derision. I still await her considered response and I fear I may be waiting a while. So I’m throwing it out there to the rest of the WordPress universe. I look forward to your thoughts as I heroically struggle through the working day. I know I will be in your thoughts and prayers

Ladies – what’s your beef with manflu?

Men – argue our case! Tell them how it is!!

Are You Alone? Then Read This

I joined Twitter a couple of months ago to promote my (currently) non existent writing career. I used to be a bit of a whizz on Twitter back in the day. I held court on it and waxed lyrical to my army of adoring followers. My dry, yet achingly witty and intelligent, tweets won me adoration and acclaim. Usually typed when I was several sheets to the wine courtesy of my old friend, Mr. Budweiser.

But that was then, and this is now. Now I stand awkwardly in the corner of the room with my Diet Coke as all around me fellow authors, who all appear to know one another, tweet nonsense about their current work in progress and whether or not their protagonist should be written in the 1st or 3rd person. It’s a dog eat dog and me, me, me social platform. Heavens above, some of them even post selfies, an unwritten no no on WordPress.

I’ll persevere as that is where all the literary agents and publishing houses hang out. But it’s just somewhere I go to ply my trade, a 9-5 environment I’m obliged to visit on a regular basis. It’s not my home, it’s not the place I retreat to at the end of a long, tiring day. A place where I tear off the mask, slip into something more comfortable and abandon the airs and graces of social etiquette.

For that place is WordPress. It is my home and you are my people. A place where I am accepted for who I am, not who I want to be. Yes, I can be witty and intelligent if the mood takes me but I can also be honest, brutally honest if need be. Where I can bare all, safe in the knowledge I will be supported and valued. WordPress is my safe place, and you are my people. It will always be my online home.

Which brings me to the point of this rambling post. It’s great that people can be themselves on here, but it also means I see a lot of pain. I see desperation, anger, guilt, rejection, hopelessness and sorrow. I see people on the edge, one step away from toppling over the precipice and falling into a chasm of nothingness from which there is no return. But most of all, I see raw, unfiltered loneliness.

Loneliness is a silent killer. You can be in the middle of a crowded room, smiling and nodding in all the right places, but inside there is nothing but a hollow shell. Your phone rarely rings, beeps or vibrates. You have nobody to talk to, to sob and scream at. You are an island of isolation, adrift on a sea of sorrow. So you cling to the only piece of flotsam within sight, you cling to it for your very life depends on it.

You cling to WordPress. For it is the only community where you feel a semblance of self worth and acceptance. My message to you today is that you are not alone, for we are many. We need to reach out, engage and care for each other. Visit other people’s blogs, check up on the quiet ones, read between the lines and scan the skyline for rescue flares and warning beacons. They need us just as we need them.

I post every day on WordPress. I am here. Use me. Talk to me. For I’ve been there. Where you are now, as you read these words. Or talk to someone else if you think I’m the most annoying blogger on the planet. It doesn’t have to be open forum. Send an e-mail. Reach out, for there are strong hands, able and willing to pull you from the pit. Yes, you are lonely. But you need never be alone again.

Are you alone, desperate, frightened? Then reach out?

Or do you want to help others? Then reblog this post or write your own.

Let’s slay those demons.

I Have An Obsessive Personality

I have an obsessive personality.

Regular readers will know this anyway. It’s an aspect of my OCD which I have struggled with for the majority of my adult life. I don’t do things by half. When I develop a new interest or passion I must push it to the nth degree, to the point where everything else takes a back seat. When I am in this zone, my moral compass spins horribly out of control and I lose all sense of perspective.

I used to be obsessed with work, although this was often driven by a fear of failure. I would work ridiculous hours and was forever spending my weekends immersed in it, when I should have been focusing on my family. In my warped mind, this wasn’t a problem as I was doing it for them. The next promotion or pay rise. Putting bread on the table, bringing the bacon home. In reality, it was all about my ego.

When my father died, It was alcohol. I was a weekend drinker, but before long the weekends began on Thursday evening and ended on Monday morning. When our finances were tight, I always made sure there was enough for a case of beer. I drank to forget. To forget about my father’s death, to dull the intrusive thoughts and compulsive urges, to block out the mess I was making of my life.

Alcohol fuelled the Twitter years. I became obsessed with building up a legion of followers although I tweeted largely nonsense. It made me feel wanted, valued, relevant. I didn’t realise though that is was further estranging me from my loved ones, from the people who mattered. I was in the room with them, but I might as well have been a thousand miles away. I was an empty shell.

When I stopped drinking, running took over. My weekends would be spent away from my family again, at races all over the country. I became obsessed with personal bests, medals and beating the people I trained with. While my body was healthier than it had ever been, my mind was sinking further into the more. Image and appearance were everything. I was shallow and selfish.

I still run, but nowhere near the levels I used to. I now race 2-3 times a year when it used to be 2-3 times a month. I enjoy running but largely train alone now. I prefer it that way. Before I used to feel under intense pressure, both from myself and other people I ran with. I don’t want to go back to that way of living. When I run now I reap the mental as well as the physical benefits.

Passion. Drive. Ambition. Determination. These are all words which most of us would agree are positive. But there is a line and, when you cross it, you enter a whole new world. The world of the obsessive. We suck the joy out of everything like a ravenous lion sucks marrow from a bone. Except our demons feed on anxiety, fear and doubt. We lose all sense of who we are and who we want to be. It is the darkest of realms.

I don’t want to go back there, and I don’t think I will. But I must never rest on my laurels. You can’t be cured of OCD. It’s like someone saying they used to be an addict, but they’re not anymore. It is always there lurking, watching, like a dormant volcano waiting for its opportunity to unleash death upon the unsuspecting countryside. It stalks its prey, waiting to pounce and rip you apart.

Have you an obsessive personality?

Have you ever crossed the line?

How is your mental health today?

The Blind Leading The Blind

The other day I encountered an elderly blind man in the city centre. He was experiencing some difficulties as double decker buses roared past, mere feet away. I instinctively wanted to go to his aid but the introverted, socially awkward voice in my head held me back. ‘You don’t talk to strangers, Stephen. What if he spurns your offer of help, becomes offended, tells you to clear off and leave him alone?’

I stood there, watching the man, as this internal monologue raged within me. In the end, my guilty conscience outweighed the reticence. In some ways, it was a selfish as opposed to selfless act. Imagine if I turned on the news later to discover the man had been mown down in the rush hour traffic. Never mind the poor man’s family, would I ever be able to live with myself?

I took the plunge, approached the man, and politely asked did he require assistance, half expecting to be told to bugger off and mind my own business. Before the words had departed my lips, however, he gratefully grabbed hold of my forearm and thanked me, explaining where he was going. His knowledge of Belfast street names far outweighed mine, and he knew exactly where he was going.

The problem was, he had strayed a few yards off his predetermined route and lost his bearings. I carefully guided him across the street as he chatted cheerfully, before thanking me and continuing his journey with renewed confidence and purpose. He wasn’t too proud not to accept help when he found himself in a bit of bother. I headed in the opposite direction, impressed by his positive attitude and refusal to let his disability get the better of him.

I know our blog has several followers who are blind or partially sighted. Others have a range of other physical disabilities or chronic illnesses. Many have mental health problems. Blogging is our shared passion, the medium whereby we tell our stories and encourage one another. WordPress is a sanctuary of sorts to us, where we take temporary shelter from the worries of the outside world. It is our safe place, a place where we can be us.

Despite his disability, this man was not afraid to step out across a chilly Belfast on a busy weekday morning and do what he had to do. He wasn’t going to allow his disability to dictate his life for him. He refused to succumb to it and hide at home, wallowing in self pity, as I would have been tempted to do. He rose above it and, even though it was a difficult journey, he persevered. I know he reached his final destination.

He taught me a lesson. He teaches us all a lesson. We are all on a journey and, at times, we will stray off course or encounter unexpected challenges. We cannot allow those to put us off and must keep our eyes fixed on the prize. Where we falter, we should not be afraid to accept the arm of a well meaning stranger. For, while blind, the vision and passion of this man put me to shame.

I moan, I complain, I sulk and I pout. We all do. But that can only be temporary, we cannot allow transitional emotions to define who we are and deflect us from the path we were born to travel. There was a light within this man’s soul which lit up the path ahead for him, a light I have been struggling to ignite for some years now. It truly was a case of the blind leading the blind. On a freezing Belfast morning I was the one being led.

Have you ever helped a person in need on the streets?

Are you in need of spiritual direction?

Do You Have Recurring Dreams?

I don’t dream much, and when I do, I invariably cannot remember their content when I wake up the next morning. Fionnuala is the dreamer in our family. She regularly has lucid dreams that often end up becoming reality down the road. She is a seer and her nocturnal adventures are often a startlingly accurate glimpse into our future lives. It is a gift I’ve always said she should develop further.

But last night I had a dream. A recurring one at that. I was at an airport, going through security. I knew I was on time and there was no great rush to make the flight. Yet, things started to go wrong. I set off the alarm going through the security scanner so had to be searched. Turns out it was the zipper on my jacket. What an idiot! Then I dropped some coins so scrambled about on the ground to collect them.

It went downhill fast after that. I got separated from the people I was travelling with. I have no idea who they were but it was a business trip to London. Then I misplaced my boarding pass so had to root desperately through my bag in order to locate it. By now, I only had thirty minutes to make the flight. I could still do it. I hurried in the direction of my boarding gate only to turn a corner and find myself….in a hospital!

And no ordinary hospital. A porter breezed past me pushing a trolley carrying the charred remains of a body. Suddenly I was in a nightmare. I retraced my steps and thankfully found myself back in the airport. After studying the overhead signs I figured I had to leave the main terminal and make my way outside to another building, from where my flight would depart. I was just relieved to leave the sinister hospital behind me.

As I walked towards where my plane was supposed to be, I found myself alone. Where were all the other commuters and tourists? I kept walking and realised I was hurrying through a building site. This part of the airport hasn’t even been built yet. I resigned myself to the fact I was missing the flight and immediately started worrying about how I was going to explain this to my bosses.

It was then that I woke up and started writing this post. I have a vague recollection of having had the same dream before, although cannot be certain. Other recurring ones include sitting an exam which I haven’t studied for, and walking about with a fringe that obscures my vision. Answers on a postcard please as to what that last one is about. Which reminds me, I need a haircut.

I often worry that I’ve wasted my life in respect of my writing. I know I’ve achieved a fair bit in respect of my family and working life. But I’ve a deep seated fear I’ve blown it with regards becoming a published author. I should have had my head in the game a good decade ago, instead of drifting along ignoring the nagging need to write which has always tugged at my subconscious. There is too much to do now and it’s too late. I’ve missed my flight.

I hope I’m wrong and that next time I dream I make the flight. Pass the exam, get my fringe trimmed. Dreams are weird places. Some are comfortable there, but it’s largely an unknown landscape to me. Im in no hurry to return to that creepy airport/hospital complex. I’m awake now so I guess I’d better arise and get ready for work. Thankfully no airports are involved in my daily commute. Although I hope the train is on time.

Do you have recurring dreams? What are they about?

Have you ever missed a flight?

We All Need To Eat More Pizza

We had friends visiting last night so treated ourselves to Dominos Pizza, given it was buy one get one free Tuesday. It was too good an offer to miss out on, so we ended up going buy three, get three free. And try saying that with a mouthful of ham and pineapple deep crust. Everyone got stuck in and I could barely move by the end of the night. Good job I went for a run earlier in the day.

Calorific intake aside, is there anyone out there who doesn’t like pizza? Certainly not at chez Black last night. The kids attacked it with their usual famished relish and, to be fair, the supposed grown ups weren’t that far behind them. There were a multitude of toppings on offer, something for even the pickiest palate. Ham, pineapple, mushroom, chicken, you name it we had it.

I came downstairs this morning to find Hannah munching happily on a cold slice. Despite our best efforts the night before, there was still loads left over. I reckon if Jesus appeared on Earth today he would be performing his ‘loaves and fishes’ miracle with a Meat Feast 12′ and sides of garlic bread. Everybody loves pizza, it has a universal appeal, right? World peace would be a dawdle if world leaders sat down and discussed it over pizza.

If only everything was that simple. Our world is so fragmented at present it feels as if nothing works. We can’t seem to agree on anything. Nations clash and politicians fail to grasp the nettle. In Northern Ireland, we have been without a functioning government for over two years. I think that’s a world record which we inherited from Belgium the other month. Or somewhere like that.

This is staggering. Even the amiable Belgians are at loggerheads with each other. When did Belgium ever start an international incident? I know they have had their differences with the Dutch down the years but they even make the Swiss look like bloodthirsty warmongers. Us Northern Irish are comparatively off the scale. 3000 dead during 30 years of our ‘Troubles’ is testimony to that.

We cannot agree on our past, our present or our future. Our politicians bicker and bluster but nothing is agreed, and we seem further away from agreement than ever before. At times it is akin to a schoolyard squabble. You feel like banging their heads together and sending them to bed with no dinner. And no cold pizza the next morning either. That would teach them a lesson they’d never forget.

Cold pizza. Cold comfort. This morning is bitter as I sit and write this, and that’s not just because Jack Frost paid our fractured land a visit overnight. Some days the zombie apocalypse doesn’t seem such a bad alternative after all. At least you know where you stand with zombies. They are as predictable as they are hungry. Although don’t try to entice them with a Hawaiian thin crust. That simply won’t work.

Back in the day it was a Noah and a flood. Today fingers hover over nuclear launch codes, and people have nightmare about Brexit, while disease and famine ravage large swathes of the globe. If we can’t agree on the small things then how on earth will we ever agree on the issues that truly matter. I just don’t know anymore. Maybe we all need to eat more pizza. A lot more pizza.

What is your favourite pizza topping?

Can your leaders agree on anything?

The Day My Dog Spoke To Me

Our dog, Charlie the border terrier, isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. Every morning I fill his bowl with fresh water, and every morning he and I enact the same routine. He pads over to the bowl, sniffs at it and then rewards me with a withering glare, before sulking in his cage for the remainder of the morning. If looks could kill then I’d be halfway to doggy heaven by now. Charlie doesn’t do tap water.

I’ve no idea why as it’s perfectly acceptable tap water. Good enough for the human members of the household. Perhaps he’s just not thirsty, I used to think. Or his sensitive canine palate will only accept Evian sparkling H20 from the purest Alpine springs. His father was a pedigree so maybe that’s where his culinary pickiness comes from. Possibly there’s a bit of corgi in his family lineage.

Given this, I was surprised the other day to find him slurping noisily from a plant pot in the back yard. It had rained heavily overnight so the saturated soil in the pot contained a good few inches of dirty rainwater. Dirty rainwater that our Charlie was gulping down at an unprecedented pace. It was as if he had just crossed the Sahara Desert and was on his last legs. Paws. Whatever.

When he was finished, he ambled past me with a smug expression on his face, his thirst quenched. Can dogs look smug? He trotted past his bowl of clean, cool tap water without a second glance. Here was a dog who knew what he liked and no dumb owner was going to stand in his way. I initially dismissed this as a one off but have since caught him a number of times lapping up muddy water from the back yard.

It doesn’t appear to have affected his health. He’s still a bouncing ball of energy and his all consuming hatred of neighbourhood cats and our amiable postman, Tony, remains undiminished. He just has a preference for al fresco dirty water. Maybe, somewhere deep within his admittedly tiny brain, it is the same primeval beast within which still makes him circle ten times before lying down.

I used to be like Charlie. I had a loving home and family, everything I needed on tap. Yet I preferred spending my nights at the bottom of a pint glass or talking online to complete strangers. I turned my nose up at the pure refreshment on offer for my soul and wallowed in self pity and shame. A physically and mentally unhealthy mess who was more interested in his Twitter followers than his wife and kids.

I’m glad that those times are behind me now. They say you should never look back but sometimes it does no harm to peek over your shoulder to see how far you have come on your journey. We often forget to reflect positively on what we have achieved, instead becoming overwhelmed by the present and what yet lies ahead of us. It is our past conquests where we attain the strength and skills to forge ahead. Our past arms us for the future.

When I get home tonight, I may sneak Charlie an extra biscuit for teaching me an important lesson today. For a dog, he has a pretty comfortable life. I’ll allow him his back yard forays to the dirty plant pot knowing that I now drink from a well of living water. Everyone has the opportunity to sip from this well, yet it remains the less traveled path to so many. I’m glad I made the right choice in the end.

Have you got a pet? What lessons do they teach you?

Have you drank dirty water in the past? Where are you now on your journey?

Four Seasons In One Hour

Northern Ireland never fails to disappoint when it comes to the weather. The forecast is not good for the coming week so I was determined to get out for a run at some point today. I’m slowly building up my mileage after illness and my target for this week was 25 miles; which necessitated 5 miles today to reach that total. I decided at lunchtime to head out as conditions were chilly, windy but dry.

There was even a glimpse of blue sky. All that changed as ominous, dark clouds began to gather overhead. Blustery conditions turned into a full on gale and I soon was treading water into a strong headwind. Rain followed, and then snow as I battled on out of the village and into the bleak countryside. Thankfully the route I had chosen was circuitous so the wind was in my back on the return journey.

I was nearly lifted off my feet and carried Mary Poppins style back to the house. Mo Farah would have struggled to keep up with me as I barrelled back towards the house. I was frozen and bedraggled when it was all over, but Week 4 of my training for the Belfast Marathon was in the can. It’s been purposely slow, but steady, progress this year and I’m erring on the side of caution so that I reach the start line in decent shape.

Four seasons in one hour, never mind one day. But these are the hard, cold, wet miles that form the backbone of any marathoners training plan. Come the big day itself, when it’s warm and sunny, it will be runs like today’s which will keep me going when the going gets tough. Next week my long run will be 9 miles. Stay tuned for further progress updates and I head towards Marathon number 10.

My First Rejection E-Mail

I was a little disheartened to receive my first rejection e-mail from an American literary agent yesterday. Not disheartened I received one but, rather, I received it less than ten hours after submitting it to said agent. I had been told it could be anything between 4-12 weeks to receive a reply, given agents are so busy. Given this agent works for a top U.S. agency I therefore had my suspicions.

To be fair, at least I received a response. Some agents state they will only contact you if they are interested in your work, otherwise you are left hanging in suspense until you eventually give up hope, assume the worst, and move on. I was prepared for rejection, it’s part of the process, but not quite so soon. Was this some sort of a world record? Were my sample chapters really that bad?

Or had the agent even bothered to read my submission? Given the five hour time gap between where I am and the Big Apple, it appeared she had dropped everything and spent her working day reading the query letter, synopsis and 50 page sample of an unknown Northern Irish unpublished author. High powered meetings were rescheduled and working lunches cancelled for little old me.

Her rejection e-mail offered little in the way of clues. I wasn’t named and it’s bland, generic quality suggested it was a standard automated rejection. It offered no feedback, stating I wasn’t the right fit and something about her heavy workload. I sighed, added it to my newly created rejection e mail folder and went to bed, the excitement of the last few days a distant memory.

How do you handle rejection?

Today Has Been Exciting

It was with much excitement today that I submitted my first query to a literary agent in respect of my book – ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ Having checked font, submission guidelines and e-mail addresses a million times I finally summoned up the courage to hit the submit button and watch my beloved KSC fly off into the great unknown.

Seconds later I got an automated e-mail from the agent acknowledging receipt of my submission. I stamped my feet and clapped my hands like a kid on Christmas morning as Fionnuala, who was an immense help on the IT front this morning, looked on with a mixture of pride and bemusement. I’m planning to send out ten queries this weekend, all to agents who I’ve been monitoring/stalking on social media for some time.

Then it will be a matter of sitting back and waiting. I’m under no illusions as to how competitive the market is. Agents receive hundreds of submissions a week and I am but one writer trying desperately to catch their eye. But if you’re not in you can’t win and finally after almost 18 months, I’m in a position to say I’m a querying author. It’s been a long, winding, but ultimately worthwhile road.

There will now commence a period of self enforced wailing and gnashing of teeth as I await responses. I’m braced for rejection but also hopeful of more positive feedback. Responses can take from 2-12 weeks, depending on the agent. Even then agent interest doesn’t necessarily mean you will be taken on. So, it’s a waiting game. But it’s a start. I’ll continue to keep you all updated, good news or bad.

What Hogwarts House Are You In?

You people know me, right?

Well then you know I’m a knowledge free zone when it comes to Harry Potter. I’ve blogged about this before and almost worn this ignorance like a badge of honour. Well, no more. My chickens have well and truly come home to roost. Serving of humble pie for Mr. Black? Er, that’ll be me. And you might want to bring a bigger spoon as this could take a while.

I’ve been researching literary agents for some time now, drawing up a shortlist who I’m about to query with my first novel. Today was to be the day I forwarded my first submission. My literary baby was about to leave the nest and venture out into the big bad world of rejection letters and less than flattering critiques of my writing style and plot development. But I’m a big boy and was ready for it.

What I wasn’t ready for was the submission criteria. Five page sample? Check. Query letter? Check? Book synopsis? Most definitely. E-mail address, contact telephone number, full name and address. Yes, Yes, Yes! Then I saw it, near the bottom of the screen. What is your Hogwarts house? What is my Dumble what? Turns out this agent is a huge HP fan and dropped that question in there to flummox smug wannabe authors like moi.

So I need your help. I need you PotterHeads to look me up and down and tell me what you think I am. Isn’t there a hat or something I need to put on? I think there’s a hat. While you’re at it, let me know why I belong to that house so I can lie to the agent if she has follow up questions. Leave your comments below. I’m off to the library to beg, steal or borrow a copy of The Philosphers Stone. Whatever that is. Sighs.

What Hogwarts House Do You Think I Belong To?

At Last. The Long Awaited E-Mail

The long awaited e-mail from my editor, Laura, arrived yesterday, giving me the green light to commence querying literary agents with the manuscript for my first novel, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ Laura has worked wonders with the opening chapters of the book. Clunky prose now runs seamlessly from page to page. This is one rough diamond that has been well and truly polished.

While Laura has been editing, I’ve been researching agents online and have drawn up a shortlist of those who I feel would be the best fit for the book and selling it to publishers. I will be e-mailing them in the coming days with sample chapters, in addition to a query letter and book synopsis. Then it’s just a matter of sitting back, waiting and jumping three feet in the air every time I get an e-mail notification.

I’m hopeful, without being cocky. I recognise how competitive the market is out there and how tough it is to secure representation. Agents are flooded with hundreds of submissions every week. I just hope they see something in KSC that makes it stand out from the crowd. I’m prepared for rejection as well and have been busy thickening my skin for what may lie ahead. What will be, will be.

If all else fails, there is the self publishing route. But first I want to give the agents a shot. I may get invaluable feedback and at least I can say I’ve tried. The blog has recently passed 8500 followers so I must be doing something right. I’ll keep you all updated, of course, but if any of you know of any literary agents or smaller publishing houses interested in an urban fantasy set in modern day Belfast, then please let me know.

These Boots Were Made For….Squelching

Now that I’m a full time Rugby Dad, my son honoured me at Christmas by buying me a pair of Wellington boots to keep my tootsies dry and warm as I prowl up and down the touchline. He even included a pair of thermal socks which almost reach my knees. Combined with winter coat, gloves, hat and scarf I now resembled Scott of the Antarctic as I dropped him off for Saturday’s match.

Adam rewarded my sartorial elegance with probably the best match I have ever seen him play. He scored two tries (North American readers think touchdown) and played his heart out. His coach was suitably impressed while my heart burst with pride beneath the 17 layers of clothing I was wearing. I clapped and roared like a demented Eskimo as he hurtled around the pitch for 70 minutes.

All the other Rugby Dads, for we are many, were suitably impressed as well. And not just by what was happening on the pitch. One sidled over to me during the second half. ‘Nice boots,’ he remarked, glancing down in admiration at my new footwear. ‘Thanks’ I replied. ‘My son got them for me at Christmas. I guess I’m a real Rugby Dad now’ I added, clicking my muddy heels like Dorothy on her way to Oz.

‘You certainly look the part now’ he continued, before roaring at the referee about the other team being offside, a rule I’m still struggling to get my head around. Yes, I did look the part. I felt like I belonged there, that I fitted in, a sensation which for most of my life was an alien concept to me. Instead, I was a social chameleon who changed his behaviour and opinions like Lady GaGa changes clothes during a concert.

I was perfectly happy with Adam being the star of the show, the centre of attention. I may have looked faintly ridiculous but I was where I was meant to be, supporting him. Despite the early hour and the dreary conditions, it certainly beat lying in bed with a monstrous hangover, a pastime which, until several years ago, occupied the majority of my Saturday mornings.

I hope Saturday was the first of many such outings for my boots. There are many muddy fields to be traversed. And win, lose or draw at least I won’t lose any toes through frostbite. Safe in the knowledge that, as well as looking the part, I now feel the part as well. Part of a jigsaw which, when pieced together, is called family life. It’s where I’m meant to be, rather than the many other places I’ve tried to squeeze myself, desperate for attention and acceptance.

I used to be a square peg struggling to fit into a round hole. I’m still a square but much more comfortable in my own skin now. I’m where I needed to be all along, where I was meant to be, with the people who believe in me and what I am trying to achieve. I have cast off chains of self loathing and doubt, in order to reveal the real me, warts and all. I look the part because I am the part. The missing part.

Are you a social chameleon?

Do you look the part? Is it all just a show for the outside world?

Are you happy in your own skin?

What Do Bloggers Do On Sunday?

From personal experience, Sunday is the quietest day of the week on WordPress. People tend to be offline and blog traffic picks up later in the week again. For many people, Sunday is traditionally a day of rest. They have a lie in, spend the day with their family, some go to church. I also realise that others have to go to work. To some, Sunday is just another day while others treat it as special time which should be protected at all costs.

My Sunday’s follow a typical pattern. They used to start with a stinking hangover, followed by skulking around the house eating unhealthily and largely feeling sorry for myself. How times have changed. We aren’t connected to a church (loooooooong story) but friends do come to our house every Sunday morning to listen to worship music, pray and study the Bible. Today, I spoke about using the Bible as a weapon.

Now, by weapon I don’t mean literally bashing people over the head with it, although I have been sorely tempted at times. Even loooooonger story. No, the Bible can be used to protect you from unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour. I know it is not for everyone but I believe it has helped me become a better, more thoughtful, considerate person. I’m no expert and a lot of it still challenges and confuses me, but I do get a lot out of it.

Afterwards we all hung out for a while. Fionnuala baked a birthday cake for our friend, Graham. When our friends left, I ran a 5K even though I felt tired. I’m still recovering from a mystery virus I’ve been battling since before Christmas. I’m much better than I was, and back running again, but there are days when it is the furthest thing from my mind. I forced myself out there, though, and felt all the better for it.

I’m no culinary giant but promised Fionnuala last week I would cook dinner on Sunday. She suggested sausage casserole as even a walking disaster zone like yours truly could manage that one. Rebecca helped me by cutting the up carrots and onions while I peeled potatoes. We both ended up with stinging eyes from the onions but I managed not to burn anything and everyone seemed to enjoy it. It’s another dish I’ve mastered which I can add to my recipe book.

The remainder of the day will be taken up with blogging and writing an article a website has approached me about. I’ll also drop an e-mail to my editor to see how she is progressing with the book. We will hopefully get caught up on some of our shows, although Fionnuala always has a busy Sunday evening, preparing lunches and uniforms for the week ahead. So much for Sunday being a day of rest then.

Monday comes around oh so quick. Our weekends are precious times and I’m blessed that I can spend mine with family and friends, people who truly matter. I hope you do the same and are doing so now, instead of reading my rambling words. We only have so many of these days, we should make the most of them. I hope you are all having a great Sunday. Whatever you are doing today.

How do you spend your Sunday?

This Bloody Sleeve Of Mine

I wear my heart on my sleeve. I always have. I’m not one of these people who can face the world with a cheery smile, while inside said world is crumbling to a pile of acrid ash. I don’t do deadpan and if I played poker, my pile of chips would be gone after a few disastrous hands. When it comes to office politics, I can’t play the long game. I become impatient, frustrated, the emotions splashed across my face for all to see.

Take this week. Both inside and outside of work I’ve struggled and failed to remain patient. When I should have bitten my lip and counted to ten, I’ve got to about four before losing my cool and venting my ire. This, of course, has accomplished zilch, zero, nada. Situations have remained unchanged, other than me making myself look foolish and regretting having opened my big, fat mouth.

When things aren’t going my way I tend to force the issue, rather than sitting back and waiting. I’m selfish so me, me, me always trumps the bigger picture and the needs and feelings of others. I end up with egg all over my face and that’s even before the main course of humble pie is served up. I reluctantly gulp it down, resisting the urge to gag on my own bitter, acidic bile.

I wish I wasn’t like this but I am. I always have been. I’m a bull in a china shop when things aren’t going my way. I’m 48 years old but sometimes feel I stopped developing emotionally somewhere in the early 80’s. Maybe that’s the problem. Rather than remain calm and look ahead, I fret that I’ve wasted my life and achieved nothing. I always have one eye on the ticking clock.

It’s a no win situation on all sides. I don’t trust others to deliver the goods because I know best and everyone else knows nothing. I obviously don’t trust God so I turn my back in frustration and snub my nose at his ‘perfect timing.’ I also don’t, and can’t, trust myself. I roll my eyes in office meetings, fire off poorly thought out e mails, and lash out at loved ones who deserve so much better.

My writing is my sanctuary, a safe place where I can think and compose measured, rational prose. It is where I cool off and reflect on my less than perfect behaviour in the big, bad world. I used to think this was where the real me could be found, but that’s not true. Blogging Stephen is kind, thoughtful and considerate. The real Stephen struggles on all these fronts. He aspires to be better but so often fails.

When I’m muttering to myself about the injustice of it all, I’m taking my eyes off the people who need and deserve my attention. As my wise wife often reminds me ‘The world does not revolve around Stephen.’ I hate it when she says that but only because she’s struck the bullseye and spoken the truth. I gripe and groan but should be thanking my lucky stars as to how good I have it.

I’ll try again, and most probably fail, but I’ll try. I’ll hand over my problems and frustrations. To my higher power. I will trust and believe with this most fractured of faiths. I can’t do it all on my own and no amount of ranting will change that. My heart deserves better. It’s time to put it back where it belongs, rather than leave it exposed and vulnerable to the casual slings and arrows of this unforgiving and relentless world.

Do you wear your heart on your sleeve?

Are you a patient person?

How do you deal with frustration and disappointment?

Belfast Marathon Training – Week 3

It’s my third week back running after illness and I completed a seven miler in wet and windy conditions this lunchtime. I’m still not feeling completely 100% but I was pleased to get this effort under my belt, especially given the grim conditions. I was also pleased with my pace which remained consistent, even into a strong headwind. My final mile was one of my quickest, indicating my fitness is slowly returning.

The plan is to run 25 miles this week, so another 10K or so over the weekend should cover that. Each week I will gradually up the mileage, as I work towards my ultimate target of the Belfast Marathon in early May. I hope to increase my long run by a mile each week. This means I should peak at 21 miles 2-3 weeks before the race, before tapering down again until the big day itself.

Words

Words are something that we all use every day of our life

Words that are spoken in many different languages and ways be it through speech, sign language, communication boards, text messaging and writing to name but a few

Words that are loving, encouraging, beautiful, uplifting and words that are dangerous, nasty, hateful and ugly

Words can be as damaging as being physically assaulted. Those words stay in your head torturing you putting you down and make you feel hopeless, worthless and useless again and again and again. Bruises fade, cuts heal and memories can fade but the power of a spoken word can last forever in your head.

We all have the power of the spoken word within us it’s how we use it that counts. My mum brought me my brothers and sister up telling us “if you can’t say nothing nice then say nothing at all” and I can’t honestly say that I have not always put that into practice. Sometimes our mouths or our fingers on the keyboard can run away with us and before you know it you have tore somebody’s character to shreds or insulted and hurt someone who in turn will replay those words over and over again in their head because once that word is out there there is no taking it back. We can apologise and ask for forgiveness and that can done but forgetting is the hardest part.

I now tell our children “if you can’t say nothing nice say nothing at all” I’m pretty sure they don’t always practice it but I still keep telling them it because one day it could stop them from hurting someone they love more than they could ever know.

The spoken word can be very powerful but the unspoken word can be even greater.

God Bless

Fionnuala xx

I’m With The 39%

According to a poll taken yesterday, 61% of its population think the United Kingdom is in crisis. The reason? Why, Brexit of course. The ongoing saga reached new depths last night when Prime Minister Teresa May’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement was defeated by over 200 votes in Parliament. This triggered the Labour opposition calling for a vote of no confidence in her leadership.

That vote will be tonight and, no doubt, front page news tomorrow morning. The television news has almost exclusively led on Brexit for months now. It’s everywhere, you cannot escape it wherever you turn. Even Donald Trump is tweeting about it which, I guess, makes a change from building walls. Northern Ireland certainly has had its share of walls down the years, primarily to keep our opposing communities from killing each other.

Northern Ireland lies at the heart of the dilemma. If the U.K. withdraw then it causes all sorts of problems regarding the ‘invisible’ border between ourselves and the neighbouring Republic of Ireland. It’s a logistical and trade nightmare. The threat of a ‘hard border’ terrifies many. Unionists insist it will lead to a weakening of the relationship between our little country and the so called mainland.

I went for a run this afternoon. The sun was shining and I was surrounded by blue skies and mild temperatures. I ran two miles out of the city to a park where I completed two circuits of an idyllic lake, inhabited by graceful swans and inquisitive ducks. After three weeks of sickness, I was finally starting to feel healthy again. I forgot the worries of my world for an hour and focused on the next mile, the next bend in the road, the next step.

I know crisis. Often it has been self inflicted, but on other occasions it has been simply life pulling the carpet from under our feet as only life can. You’re drifting along minding your own business when BAM! Your world collapses around you. Be it bereavement, illness or financial hardship we’ve all been there at one time or another. Crisis is as much part of life as the air we breathe.

We often become desensitised to the true meaning and impact of the words we casually throw about. How many of the 61% who took that poll will sleep in a doorway tonight or worry where their next meal is coming from? How many are picking up the telephone to be informed that a loved one has been killed in a road crash or diagnosed with a terminal illness? How many?

Brexit sucks and, yes, it will impact many people. But is it really a crisis? I didn’t feel in crisis today as I ran out of the city centre. I was alive and grateful. Grateful that I could run and had a well paid job to return to afterwards. Grateful to drive home to a loving and supportive family. Grateful to have loyal friends, willing to stick with me through the good times and the bad.

I’m proud to be one of the 39%. Count your blessings and not your woes. Love your loved ones and block out your foes. I’ve spent most of my life wallowing in a half empty glass, but no more. Even if it’s only 39% full I’m going to focus on it and not the ‘what if or could have been’ culture which blinkers many of us. Brexit will come and go, just like the many other temporary storms sent to test us. Look beyond them. For there lie the blue skies.

Are you a 61% or a 39% kind of person?

Algebra Is Hard. Common Sense Is Harder.

Rebecca handed me the homework from hell yesterday evening. Algebra, no less. I initially thought it was Geography and was a study of North African nations until I realised it was Maths. Or, in order to avoid confusing our loyal North American readership….Math. Armed with a lowly ‘C’ in my O Level Mathematics back when we used chalk and slate to ‘do our sums’ I endeavoured to assist.

Algebra is HARD! How they expect a 12 year old girl to get her head around it, I don’t know. Einstein and that bloke in the bath (Archimedes) would have struggled to compute the fiendish equations devised by Rebecca’s Year 8 Maths teacher. I scratched my head, furrowed my brow and sweated profusely until tentatively arriving at the answers. How I got there I’ll never know. Although Google helped.

I’m confident Rebecca will get there, though. She has taken to Junior High School with her usual enthusiasm, throwing herself into both academic and extra curricular activities. She has a work ethic second to none and can often me found voluntarily taking on extra work or reading, in addition to her allotted school work. She sets a great example to everyone else in the household.

Algebra is an acquired skill. With study and perseverance you can get better at it, and improve your understanding. I was queuing in the village shop this morning when I heard two of the older members of staff discussing their teenage colleagues who work most of the weekend shifts. ‘They’ve brains to burn, but no common sense’ remarked one of them. The other wholeheartedly agreed before they became aware of my presence at the till.

‘My wife always says that about me, and I’m 48’ I cheerily informed them. The two ladies looked at each other, before exploding into laughter. I made my purchase and walked away from them, both still chortling at my hilarious statement. It’s not for nothing that locals call me the Oscar Wilde of the village with my witty repartee. Oh alright then, nobody says that, I made that bit up.

It’s true though. Fionnuala says I am one of the most intelligent people she has ever met, but also one of the dumbest. I’m utterly impractical and if there is an awkward, convoluted way of doing something then I can be relied upon to stumble across it. I get out of taxis backwards, stuff like that. Write a 400 page novel, run a marathon, hold down a reasonably important job? No problem. Rewire a plug or change the tyre on a car? Errrrr….

There’s a less humorous side to this. I’m an appalling judge of character and throughout my life have made terrible choices, landing myself in all sorts of hot water in the process. I can only blame OCD and excess alcohol for so much. At the end of the day, I had to realise I’m a grown man and needed to take responsibility for my decisions and their consequences. Life is a constant battle to bolster this particular Achilles heel of mine.

You can’t teach common sense, like you can algebra. But I can learn from the many harsh lessons I have rightly experienced down the years because of my foolhardy nature. Scars have their value. I bear mine as a reminder of what can go wrong, if I press the self destruct button, and bring unnecessary pain on both my loved ones and myself. I’m learning. Slowly. Algebra is hard. Common sense is harder.

Do you struggle with common sense?

How good were you at algebra?

Can someone please explain the whole Maths/Math thing to me?

The Land Is Yours

Every so often, I get a phrase in my head that won’t budge. It’s different from the million other thoughts which bounce around my head every day. Different in that I know it is not of me. It’s as if a flying saucer has landed on my cranium and a team of little green men have dumped the phrase out their landing doors. Well, they have returned. For a phrase has settled. Four little words. Or possibly four HUGE words.

The land is yours….

Yup, that’s it. As a C minus Christian with a deeply fractured faith, I want to believe that God has placed the phrase in my head for a purpose, a specific reason. And I believe this to be the case in this instance. I believe I was given the phrase for a friend of ours who has to make a big decision. Hopefully it will help him to make the correct choice. But it’s landed with such a thump on my doorstep that I feel I should share it with you all.

We all have decisions to make in life, difficult choices to take. These involve change, which can be daunting and frightening. Change can be a white knuckle ride of epic proportions. Life is about moving forward, often into the unknown. This invariably involves sacrifice and hard work. Many shy from such responsibilities, preferring the safety of the status quo as opposed to rolling the dice and seeing what numbers come up.

I was such a person for many years. I wallowed in a bubble of inertia, consumed by self pity and haunted by the ghosts of my past. My mental and physical health deteriorated. I succumbed to addictive and inappropriate behaviour. It was my security blanket, my shield. For the last thing I wanted to do was draw back the curtains and expose myself to the truth.

I reckoned nobody liked me much, for I didn’t particularly like myself. I sulked in the darkness and avoided the light at all costs. Until the penny dropped one day. I realised I was wasting my life and wasting the lives of my loved ones. I ripped up the book of excuses and chose to step forward into the destiny that had been staring me in my face all along. All I had to do was reach out and touch it.

The land was mine….

Any farmer will tell you that in order to reap the benefits of the land, you must work hard. Fields of corn don’t just sprout up overnight. You need to tend to them, put the hours in. It applies to everything. Your career, your education, your relationships. Yet, if you combine a strong work ethic with an equally strong belief, then that’s when the miraculous happens. I believe that is where God steps in and turns the impossible into the inevitable.

You might believe in God, Allah, Buddha or the man on the moon. You might believe in nothing, including yourself. If you do, then that is your prerogative. I can’t force you to change. All I can suggest is you might be wrong. Step up and step out. The land is yours and, what’s more, it’s closer than you think. Clamber over the fence or whatever barrier is holding you back from where you need to be, from where you were born to be.

The land is yours….

Start walking and, whatever you do, don’t stop and don’t look back. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the horizon and feel the virgin earth beneath your feet. Watch as the veils of failure and defeat fall away to reveal what is meant to be. Now look around and marvel at the lush, verdant fields stretching for as far as the eye can see. There is no limit to what you can achieve. Just believe. And leave the rest to your higher power.

Is the land yours?

My Afternoon With Harry Potter

Fionnuala and the girls commissioned the television this afternoon to watch the first Harry Potter movie. This is an experience I have managed to avoid in all my years on the planet to date. I’ve also never read the books. I blogged about this once and the response was phenomenal. It remains my most popular post of all time, sparking fierce debate between PotterHeads and the rest of us. HP, it seems, is a bit like Marmite. You either love or loathe him.

As ever, the female members of the Black clan were several steps ahead of me. Having booked the television to watch the Manchester United – Spurs match later in the day, I could hardly demand they turn off the Hogwarts Express as it trundled away from Platform 9 3/4. Not that they would have paid me the slightest bit of notice anyway. So I reluctantly resigned myself to almost three hours of annoying child actors with squeaky voices and overactive wands.

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far. Robbie Coltrane is in it. I loved him in Cracker. And Gandalf! Except he’s called Dumbledore. Is he an undercover wizard? And if so, what’s his game? Warwick Davis is also in it. I loved him in that documentary with Karl Pilkington. You know, the bloke from ‘An Idiot Abroad.’ Was Warwick in Star Wars? Something tells me he played an Ewok. Or was he a robot? Turns out, there’s another multi billion movie franchise I know nothing about.

I now understand what quidditch is. Harry seemed to spend the first ten minutes of the match doing very little, bar acting poorly. The captain of the other team was nasty and had bad teeth, whereas the captain of Harry’s team was a good guy and had better teeth. Alan Rickman turned up, although I preferred him in Die Hard, where he had much better hair. Imagine Bruce Willis playing quidditch. He’d soon sort out those bludgers.

As for Harry himself? He’s like a teensy weensy Daniel Radcliffe. Oh hang on, that’s because he is. What’s with his monobrow? He looks like a pre pubescent Liam Gallagher. Ron Weasley was as annoying as I expected and as for Hermione Grainger? Well, I’ve never quite bought into the ‘Emma Watson is the greatest young actress of our time’ and this movie reinforces my stance. Saoirse Ronan anyone?

I got a bit bored after the quidditch match and the fight with the troll in the toilets. There seemed to be a lot of running around darkened corridors, interspersed by cryptic conversations with heavily made up legendary British thespians. Rebecca wandered off at around the two hour mark, saying it was too long, but Hannah stuck it out to the bitter end, stating she enjoyed it. And Shaun Mendes was nowhere to be seen.

I bit my lip and said nothing. The match kicks off in under an hour and I don’t want it to be banished from the living room for anti-Potter sniping. There’s currently a battle raging on a giant chessboard. It’s very dusty, yet Harry hasn’t stopped to clean his glasses once. Now that is magic and a spell I’d pay good money to learn. I also saw a centaur at one point. Or was it a faun. No wait, that’s Narnia.

I think I’ll stick to Middle Earth, hobbits and orcs. I know where I stand with them. Hogwarts is a strange and unsettling place, where I feel hopelessly out of my depth. Oh look! It was the bloke with the turban all along. Well, I never saw that coming. Voldemort looks a bit like Darth Vader without his helmet on. Oh dear. There I go with the Star Wars comparisons again. I wish this match would hurry up and start.

When did you last sit through a movie you weren’t fussed about in order to keep the peace?

What’s your favourite big budget movie franchise and why?

Is the movie ever better than the book?

A Win-Win Weekend

It’s been a great start to the weekend here at chez Black. Adam’s school, Lurgan College, progressed to the 3rd round of the Schools Cup with a hard earned 13-8 win over Foyle College. It’s a big achievement for a relatively small grammar school especially as Foyle were fielding an Ulster Schools U19 player. The next round is in two weeks time against Cambridge House Grammar School.

I settled my shredded nerves afterwards by going for a run. I think I’ve finally turned the corner regarding sickness which I’ve been battling since before Christmas. Yesterday was the best I’ve felt in quite some time, and I’ve gradually been upping my distances and mileage since returning to running last week after a three week break. The long term target is the Belfast Marathon on 05 May.

Today I managed my first 10K of the year in an unspectacular, but steady time. I felt well throughout and finished strongly over a hilly final mile. 26.2 miles still seems an awfully long way off but I’m thankfully headed in the right direction. I hope the sickness has run its course as I seek to up my long run by a mile a week over the next few months. It will be my 10th marathon in my home city so I really want to make the start line.

I have no plans to stray far from the sofa for the remainder of the day, before going on call in the morning until Friday. I’m trying to rest whenever I can although my blood results came back as all clear earlier in the week. I’ve been eating healthier so maybe that is assisting my recovery. Whatever the upturn in my fortunes I’m not complaining. Here’s to more rugby and running success in ten months ahead.

How win-win is your weekend?

I Interviewed A Dying Man….

I interviewed a dying man once. I was visibly shocked when he calmly informed me that this was the case. He mentioned it as you would the weather, or how shocking the train service has been of late. It was matter of fact, making conversation, a throwaway comment. To many, that sounds as if he did not value his life, that he had given up, that he no longer cared. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The dying man had lived a full life, an incredible life which he gradually revealed to me during the course of our interview. If I were to tell you half of it, you might raise an eyebrow but I can tell you that it is all true, having researched this man before we met l. He had squeezed every last drop out of it, and now looked back upon it as it drew to a close.

He spoke clearly to me throughout, and his eyes had a piercing intensity that suggested an iron will and steely focus. For this man, though dying, had unfinished business. Which was why he had agreed to meet me, after weeks of careful brokering via an intermediary. There was still work for him to do, and I was the conduit he had chosen to facilitate his dying wish.

I cannot tell you what that wish was, as to do so would reveal his identity and betray his trust. Other than to say, if and when it is fulfilled, it will probably feature on the front page of many newspapers. There are very few people on this planet who can work towards granting his wish, but I happen to be one of them. I feel pressure, responsibility, a burden. But it is one that I gladly accept.

The dying man told me exactly what I needed him to tell me. The baton had been passed on, the gauntlet thrown down. The ball was and is in my court now. The dying man told me he had found his faith in the depths of his despair. As such, he was prepared to meet his Maker. He believed and had spent the latter years of his life helping others as God had helped him through his own personal valley of death. He believed.

This incredibly intelligent, wildly successful man believed. Prior to meeting him, I was somewhat in awe of his achievements and reputation, I was nervous meeting him, unsure as to what to expect. Yet where I might have expected arrogance and vanity, instead I found humility and compassion. He was at peace with his circumstances and his diagnosis. Utterly confident as to what lay ahead.

Yet, I still doubt. I waver, I falter, I stumble in my faith. This great man had chosen me to assist in granting his dying wish. Am I even fit to lace his shoes? As we shook hands at the end of our meeting he said two words to me – ‘God Bless’ – and it was as if his eyes bored into my soul, stripping away all the earthly layers and seeing me for the broken earthly vessel I am. Yet still, he believes in me. He trusts me to deliver my end of the bargain.

I saw life in his eyes. Life and hope and purpose. The dying see the world in 20/20. They see the rest of us, the living, as we stumble about lost in our earthly fogs. The dying implore us to carry on, to realise their dreams and aspirations. They see that time is short, but they know the truth. I interviewed a dying man and looked into his eyes. He shared his truth with me.

An Idiot Abroad – My Adventures In London – Part 2

Those of a nervous disposition will be relieved to learn I landed safely in Belfast last night after my business trip to London. Thankfully there wasn’t a drone to be seen, although I suspect I will encounter several when I return to the office this morning. Boom Boom! Yesterday was slightly less eventful than the outward leg but there was still much to see and learn.

Having mastered the possessed lift at the hotel, we only had a short walk to where our meeting was taking place. Through Mayfair and Pall Mall, two of the posher parts of London. I almost got run over by a Rolls Royce, so busy was I gawking at it and then posed like a loon outside the Ritz Hotel, insisting my colleague photograph me. I’m the idiot in the bright orange coat by the way.

I came to the conclusion that nobody in this part of London eats anything but caviar. The remainder of their diet consists of Havana cigars and expensive wines that cost more per bottle than my monthly salary. These were the only types of shop we passed. There wasn’t a Tesco Express to be seen. Thankfully, tea and biscuits were on offer upon arrival at our meeting place.

We met in a very grand room, adorned with paintings of Waterloo and other legendary military encounters. I wandered around the room, like a star struck teenager, taking more photographs, while my slightly bemused colleague and our hosts politely made small talk until I had finished gushing over a bust of the Duke of Wellington. When it comes to 19th century military history I’m a complete and utter fanboy.

The meeting itself went well and we were treated to lunch in a members club by our hosts. Following that there was a further meeting, followed by handshakes all round and a quick dash back to Heathrow via tube and train. I am now an expert on such modes of transport, even remembering what side of the escalator to stand on in order to avoid being trampled over by my fellow commuters.

Security at Heathrow was slightly more glamorous than usual as a drag queen and her manager passed through. ‘I insist you frisk me dahhlliiings,’ she hollered, much to the amusement of fellow travellers and staff. It goes without saying that the sensors were activated. We retired to the lavish surroundings of the business lounge, where a fridge full of chilled Diet Coke almost reduced me to tears.

While the extensive buffet offered all kinds of hot dishes I was content to nibble on crackers and cheese, immersed in my Kindle. The flight home was uneventful and we landed in Belfast bang on schedule, where Fionnuala was waiting to whisk me home. I was in my own bed within 15 minutes, such was my exhaustion. I get the results of my latest blood tests later today, which will hopefully explain the fatigue I have been experiencing.

I enjoyed my trip to London, and it was successful with regards the purpose of our visit. But there really is no place like home. Who knows, the next time I visit it’s bright lights might be to sign a book contract. If so, I might treat myself to a plate of caviar. Hold the cigars. All washed down with a glass of Diet Coke, of course. A boy can dream. Until then, however, it’s back to the grind.

An Idiot Abroad – My Adventures In London – Part 1

I write this post from my hotel room in London. Despite the street outside sounding like a scene from ‘The Fast And The Furious’ last night, I managed to sleep quite well. We are staying in Mayfair, which is one of the most expensive properties on a Monopoly board. It’s apparently quite posh, swanky and other words to that effect. I will take their word for this as we arrived at the hotel at 9:00pm last night and I was in bed by 9:15.

The journey from Belfast to London passed without incident. Oh, apart from the drone sighting at Heathrow which meant we were kept on the plane for an extra 30 minutes upon landing. Tempers flared and mutinous mutterings abounded as the captain and his crew valiantly attempted to keep passengers in their rows with their seatbelts on. I buried my nose in my Kindle and pined for bed.

We eventually disembarked and, after a 17 mile hike, caught the Heathrow Express to Paddington. My colleague has little experience of public transport in the capital so it was left to yours truly to navigate the route to Mayfair. This involved Phase 3 of our arduous journey – the London Underground. This entailed catching the Circle Line to Baker Street before transferring to the Jubilee Line, and continuing on to Green Park.

I worked out the route, mastered the ticket purchase machine, and even managed to get us through the barriers without being knocked over by herds of Oyster card waving commuters. After another 5 mile trot we found our platform, to be informed by a disembodied voice from above that there were delays on other lines due to there ‘being a person on the line at Sloane Square.’

The tube journey itself was a mildly disappointing experience. There were no stabbings, mass brawls or tense hostage situations involving Tom Cruise or that other bloke, what’s his face, Jason Bourne. Our transfer passed without incident and we arrived at Green Park in good time. From there, our hotel was a two minute walk away. I was home and hosed, or so I thought.

I spent the next 20 minutes travelling up and down in a Victorian era lift which resolutely refused to deposit me on the 5th floor. Other residents came and went, while I smiled and nodded at them while frantically pressing buttons like a demented lift attendant. I contemplated using the stairs but a sign sternly informed me that they were for emergency use only. In the end I stormed to reception, where the bemused concierge looked at me as if I was an utter idiot.

‘Have you used your keycard sir?’ he politely enquired, before referring me to the large sign within the lift indicating that the lift would only function if you inserted your room keycard in the equally visible slot. I mumbled an embarrassed apology and sheepishly retreated to the now perfectly functioning lift. I had triumphed over drones and one of the most complex underground systems in the world, only to fall flat on my face at the final hurdle.

I need to get up now and do battle with the aforementioned lift shaft again. Who knows when I will reach the breakfast buffet, if ever. Stay tuned for a later update on my adventures in London. Our meeting this morning is in Pall Mall. It’s the pink section on a Monopoly board. Then, it’s back to Belfast this evening. That seems like an awfully long way away at present. And who knows what adventures lie in between.

What’s been your weirdest lift/elevator experience?

Have you ever been stuck on a plane or train?

Where Did It All Go Wrong?

I’m on a road trip today. Not that I particularly want to, what with this current lurgy still afflicting me. The only trip I want to take these days is up the wooden hill to my bed. But, needs must, the hatchlings require feeding and Fionnuala has cushions to buy. So I’m off to London today with work. I return late tomorrow night with a busy schedule in between. I can hardly contain myself. Hmmm.

Fun fact. Northern Ireland has two main airports. Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport. I’m flying out of the latter, named after one of the city’s legendary sons, the Manchester United footballer. Regarded by many as the greatest footballer of all time, including the legendary Pele no less. The Spanish media christened him ‘El Beatle’, such was his fame.

Best truly had the world at his feet, such were his silky footballing skills. But he succumbed to the glamour and the glitz and his incredible talent was stunted by alcoholism and a life of excess. He died prematurely of liver failure, the world never seeing his full potential. His burial was akin to a state funeral, with thousands lining the streets to pay homage to a sporting great.

His death was all the sadder, given this unrealised potential. A European Cup winner, he left United due to his chaotic lifestyle and followed a career path which meandered and then flatlined with a number of increasingly smaller clubs. It was a life of unfulfilled potential. He could have been so much more, he should have been so much more. His legacy was ‘what could have been.’

This is a question that intermittently haunts me as I navigate life. What could have been? Could I have done better? I know I could have? Could I have done more? Most definitely. Have I spurned countless opportunities? Absolutely. Have I fulfilled my potential? Probably not. Is there still a chance I can? YES! I may be 48 years old (but a strikingly young looking 48 years old at that) but I can.

Potential is such a subjective term. The good news is that there is plenty of it around. We all have it, by the bucketful. It’s coursing through our veins. Yet it, in itself, is not enough. It can only be realised through hard work and commitment. That is where so many of us fall away. We are beguiled by the earthly trinkets of this world which tempt and distract us from our true calling on this world.

There’s a famous story about George Best. He is in a five star hotel room, cavorting with his girlfriend, a current Miss World. He is sipping champagne and the bed is covered with banknotes. He is laughing, partying, the happiest man in the world. A hotel porter enters and looks around the room. He fixes Best with a sombre expression and asks ‘So, tell me Mr. Best. Where did it all go wrong?’

Best died a legend. They named an airport after him. His face appears on our banknotes and, yes, there is now a George Best Hotel in the city centre. But, to many, his legacy is one of failure and unfulfilled potential. He achieved so much on his God given talent, but there could have been so much more. To many, he is a hero, a role model. To me, he is a warning sign. I don’t want to be another George Best. Do you?

Are you fulfilling your potential?

What more can you do with your life?

The Day The World Went Mad….Again

Happy 7th January everyone! The day the world went mad….again. Well it is in this little corner of the planet anyway. The day, all the schools return after the Christmas break and offices and businesses crank into gear once more after the limbo of last week. The trains will be packed, the roads will be gridlocked and stress levels will begin to creep up again after the festive lull.

Many New Year resolutions will already be in tatters, others teetering on the brink. We kid ourselves that this year will be different, special but 7th January suggests otherwise. We find ourselves back exactly where we started, two weeks ago when tinsel and shiny baubles blinded us from the grim reality of the 9-5 grind. It’s back to normal. Or as normal as many of us will ever be.

Grim isn’t it? Enough to make you want to pull the covers over your head and give the crazy carousel of life a miss for another day. I know that’s how I felt when the alarm clock went off this morning. Outside, it was depressingly dark and dank. I have a doctors appointment first thing, then the dreaded commute into Belfast to be greeted by an office of in boxes and in fighting. The joy, the joy.

it’s a churning sea of insanity where the waters rise, covering the last craggy outposts of what we truly want to do with our lives. So easy to be swept away, never to be reunited with our hopes and aspirations again. We cough and splutter, desperate to keep our heads above the waves, gasping for one last breath of the life we crave so badly. Sucking the oxygen of our futures into starved, raw lungs.

It is all we have, so cling on tight. Kick and thrash if you must but survive. Get through today, that’s all that matters. Reach out and cling to something, anything as long as it gets you through the tempest. It can be a person, an event, a target, a place. Reach out and pray for strong hands to pull you above the waves and onto the slippery rocks. Safe, for now, from the numbing nausea of normalcy.

The world has gone mad….again. We are the sane. The dreamers, the idealists, the head in the clouders. They mock us as naive and misguided, but we know better. We see beyond the next bend in the road, we raise our eyes and see blue skies ahead. We strive, we survive, we feel alive. Death can wait, for seasons change and the air suddenly feels fresher. We are the sane, we are the few. We choose a different path.

How mad is your world today?

What are you doing to keep your head above the waves?

A Sneak Peek For You All

A little book update for you all this morning. For it is morning in not so sunny Northern Ireland. Regular readers will know that I forwarded the 6th draft of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles – Skelly’s Square’ to my editor, Laura, before Christmas. She had the audacity to take a break over the festive period (shocking, I know) but is now fully back in harness and furiously polishing the very rough manuscript that I have spent the last year toiling over.

In the meantime I haven’t been resting on my laurels. I’ve drafted a query letter for prospective literary agents in addition to a two page book synopsis. I’m quite chuffed with how well the synopsis reads but how tough is it to summarise a book into two pages. Sheesh! I’ve also ventured back into the murky world of Twitter to research/stalk prospective agents who I believe are a good fit for Kirkwood.

After looking at in excess of 500, I’ve drawn up a shortlist who I will be submitting my query letter, synopsis and sample pages to, once Laura has worked her magic. Then it’s a case of wait and see. I’m hoping an agent will pick up on it, but if not I will consider self-publishing if there is no interest. It’s a highly competitive market and there is no shame in venturing down the latter route.

So….what is ‘Skelly’s Square’ all about? I thought I’d tantalise your taste buds a little. So here’s a snippet of the synopsis:

Many books have been written about the Battle of Waterloo. Some painstakingly researched by learned historians, others penned by those who were there and survived the horrors to tell the tale. Yet, despite the millions of words, there still remains an element of mystery as to what happened amidst the mud and the smoke. There are grey areas. Some stories have never been told. This is one such story. The story of a company of men, who fought and died as one, but whose valour and courage never saw the light of day. This is the story of ‘Skelly’s Square,’ the ‘Forgotten Regiment.’ For they have returned.

Modern day Belfast, Northern Ireland. Meet Kirkwood Scott. He’s having a bad day, no make that life. He’s stuck in a dead end job, his girlfriend has just dumped him and his family have emigrated to the other side of the world. Then there are the routines, the endless routines which haunt his every waking thought. Kirkwood has OCD, a mental disorder triggered in him as a young boy following the brutal murder of his father. A murder Kirkwood feels responsible for.

Responsibility brings consequences. Ever since that day, Kirkwood has paid the price via a series of tortuous routines, ‘The 49,’ which he must perform. Failure to do can lead to all sorts of bad stuff happening. Planes crash, tower blocks collapse. And it’s all his fault. Why? Because Skelly says so. Kirkwood believes it to be nothing more than an imaginary voice, created as a child when he innocently played with his toy soldiers. But we know better, don’t we? Skelly has returned to wreak his revenge on an ungrateful world which turned its back on him.

Kirkwood is resigned to a life of quiet torment until he meets a mysterious young homeless woman, Meredith Starc. Meredith has her own problems. Traumatised by the suicide of her best friend, Emily O’Hara, indifferent parents, and callous school bullies she flees her privileged upbringing to the streets of Belfast where she survives on her wits, only interested in where the next bottle of wine is coming from. Then there’s the graffiti where Emily appears to be communicating to her from beyond the grave. Not to mention the blood drenched dreams where she is pursued by a figure very familiar to Kirkwood.

Kirkwood and Meredith join forces, slowly gaining each other’s trust and discovering that beneath the gritty reality of Belfast’s streets, a brutal battle rages between supernatural forces of good and evil, with the future of the planet at stake. Guided by a kindly tramp, Cornelius Dobson, who is not all he seems and a wheelchair bound teenager, Harley Davison, they realise they hold the key to saving mankind from a new Dark Age. But can they survive long enough to figure it out, as Skelly unleashes his army of ghost soldiers on an unsuspecting city to hunt them down?

The above is only a snippet of the story and the KSC universe. But I’d be grateful for any feedback. Feel free to comment below.

Heavy Legs, Happy Heart

Well, I did it. I survived yesterday’s run and took my first faltering steps towards the start line of the Belfast Marathon on 05 May. It was a flat route around the Titanic Quarter of the city, out over the River Lagan to the Titanic Museum and back. I had planned to run 3.5 miles but ended up doing a little more. Overall, I was pleased with my pace and stamina. I’ll rest today and then go again tomorrow, hopefully 5 miles.

I’m still not firing on all cylinders but it’s a marked improvement on how I felt over the Christmas period. I woke up this morning to take Adam to rugby training, with heavy legs but a happy heart. I know I’ve written about running two days in a row (yawn) but I just wanted to update all the well wishers from yesterday on how the run went. I really appreciate the support I received from you all.

What have you planned over the weekend?

Belfast 2019

I’ve been a bit under the weather of late, and unable to run, but it’s good to have targets so I thought I’d write about my main racing target for 2019 – the Belfast Marathon on 05 May. It seems a long way off at the minute, but for most people January marks the beginning of their marathon training programme for Belfast. Due to this sickness, I’m not quite there yet but I’m hopeful the situation will improve soon.

This will be my 4th Belfast Marathon and my 10th in total. Not bad for the out of shape wreck who first donned running shoes almost five years ago. There have also been a raft of half marathon and 10K runs for good measure. Like last year, my warm up race for Belfast will be my home town half marathon, in Omagh, on 06 April. As with Belfast, it will be my fourth time running this undulating route.

Belfast will be particularly exciting this year, as it is a new route starting at the iconic Stormont Parliament Buildings and winding its way through all parts of the city before finishing off in Ormeau Park. There are several sections of the route I’m looking forward to, areas of the city I have never run through before. What won’t be different will be the fantastic atmosphere and crowd support. Belfast is a special city.

I’m not running for a charity this year, I’m doing this one for myself. Collecting sponsorship brings its own pressures and I think I’ll have enough on my plate just getting to the start line in one piece. And as for time? Well, I’d be delighted with sub 4 hours having run the other three in 3:56, 3:33 and 3:51 respectively. I’ll have to research the new route to see if it’s as challenging as the original course was in sections.

You might be thinking to yourself, is he mad? Hasn’t he enough to be getting on with? Family life is exhausting at the best of times, not to mention work, blogging commitments and the small matter of writing and publishing a book. But I need to run, even if it’s slowly and way off the pace I’m accustomed to. That is frustrating, but nowhere near as frustrating as not running at all.

There are physical benefits of course. Running keeps me in shape and I’ve worked hard at my fitness these past few years. But more importantly, is my mental health. Running maintains me on an even keel, it detoxifies and purges a lot of the nonsense that rattles around my head on a daily basis. It focuses me. I don’t want to run, I need to run. It keeps the wolves from the door. For there are many of them.

I’m heading out for a lunchtime plod later. It won’t be pretty and I’ll not be setting any personal bests. But I’m feeling a little better and I can’t sit around on my bum any longer. The pain in my legs afterwards will be compensated by the sense of achievement. 26.2 miles seems a long, long way at the minute but I’m going to get there, one step at at time. I’ll keep you all updated as to my progress.

Don’t Tell My Wife I’ve Written This

They are legion. Breeding. Multiplying. Every time I turn my back, more of them appear. Cloning. Driving me to the depths of despair and the heights of frustration. Are they a hallucination? A figment of my overworked imagination? Is there a medical term for such a psychosis? Do I require medication, counselling, a lie down in a darkened room? No, for they are real and I am, therefore, doomed.

Cushions….

It all started innocently enough. Almost as an afterthought, Fionnuala mentioned one day last month that she had her eye on a new set of cushions for the living room. I thought nothing of it, as I leave all such interior design matters to her refined eye. I struggle to match my socks in the morning so this was a whole new world to me. A world I had no intention of setting foot upon.

I had my side of the sofa, and Fionnuala had hers. We had a cushion each, with one in the middle to act as a security buffer or sterile corridor in the event of any unwanted infractions by either party. The United Nations were on speed dial in the unlikely event that this occurred. Unlikely, but you can never be too careful where such matters are concerned. All was well with the world.

Now we have three cushions. Each. With a Great Wall further separating us. Woe betide me, if I attempt to dislodge any of them even a fraction of an inch. I used to recline and relax on our leather settee. Now I teeter on the edge of it, scared to breathe. Nothing, but nothing can be found, in this forest of fabric. Phones, Kindles, remote controls, even Rebecca disappeared for several hours over the festive period.

I thought there was a glimmer of hope as one set featured some elegant swans within a wintry backdrop. Perhaps they will be gone by Easter. But what seasonal horrors will replace them? Chicks? Bunny rabbits? The mind boggles. Either way, I am fighting a losing battle for the one domain where I thought I was safe. If a man’s home is his castle, then surely the sofa is his throne.

And there’s more. Oh, so much more. The madness has spread. To the bedroom. Never one to rest on her laurels, Fionnuala has started spring cleaning a full two months early. The cushion invasion has spread to the bedroom. I returned home yesterday to be greeted by an impenetrable barrier of the abominable objects. A Grand National winner would have struggled to hurdle them.

I have estimated that if I want to go to bed at 10:30 p.m. I will actually need to commence operations at around 9:45 p.m. in order to complete a successful excavation and reach my mattress. Any less time, will result in abject failure. There are also a myriad of Health and Safety ramifications. Do I now need to wear a hard hat when on site? Perhaps a hi-vis vest, clipboard and whistle?

If you are talking to my wife, for she occasionally blogs herself, deny all knowledge of this post. It can be our little secret, okay? For I fear the consequences if my concerns are divulged to her. Suffocated under an avalanche of cushions or battered to an unrecognisable pulp by them. Neither modus operandi particularly appeals to me. Instead, I will grit my teeth, smile, and continue to teeter.

On the brink….

Are you a lover of multiple cushions?

Or do they strike dread into your heart?

What household habits within your home drive you insane?

And So It Begins….

The grind, that is. Back on the 07:53 express train to Belfast. The platform bathed in a sickly glow, casting up the faces of my fellow commuters to me for scrutiny. The same faces as before, some new clothes and accessories, but the same faces. Wearing the same expressions. Mostly frowns, mostly down. The occasional smile, but they are few and far between. I stare at my reflection in the cracked carriage glass. I fit in effortlessly.

I wonder how many New Year Resolutions have been broken already, now we are almost 40 hours into 2019. Or, are they clinging on for dear life as the train rattles through the darkness towards the city lights? Clinging on to hopes and dreams that seemed so attainable, but two nights ago. But now, they squirm and slither through steepled fingers, for another year.

I stand my ground amongst the frowns. Wrapped in layers of woollen hope. Slick with sick but still I see the magic. I see it, eyes wide open. I pray my resolve does not dissolve, does not corrode a hole within my soul. A soul I’ve fought so hard to fill, with iron will. We go again I spoke, I wrote. I’ll practice what I preach this year. They drive me on. The doubters, mockers. I know them well.

The grind is hell to those who dwell within a world of broken dreams. I am the glue, for you, the means and the ends. I am your friend. If you will allow me. Rise up, for we know not where we are going until we take that first faltering step. Watch barriers melt and hurdle fears, go through the gears. To find the grind is but a temporal state. Berate this date. For you and I are more.

How are coping with your grind today?

2019….We Go Again

Being a full time rugby dad, I’ve heard the above phrase often over the last few years as I’ve stood on the touchline supporting Adam. When a team scores and is regrouping for the resulting kickoff it is a rallying cry for the side. Yes, we may have just scored. Yes, we may be leading. But the game isn’t won yet. There is still work to be done. We can’t afford to relax or be complacent.

We go again….

On a personal level, I achieved a lot in 2018. I wrote a book. I ran two marathons. I watched the blog grow to over 8000 followers. But, more importantly, I grew as a person. Yet, there’s still so much to do and I can’t help but feel time is not on my side. So, I go again. Despite being sidelined with illness currently, I’m still hopeful of completing my tenth marathon in May. The Belfast Marathon has a new route this year which I’m looking forward to tackling.

Then there’s the little matter of my book, ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Skelly’s Square.’ I’m loathe to blog about it as it’s an entirely selfish exercise, but I realise in order to promote it, I have to occasionally blow my own trumpet. I’m wary of that side of my character, but have good people around me to guide me along that particular path. I’ve even ventured back onto Twitter, which was a huge, and still weird, experience.

The book is currently with my editor, Laura, having gone through the beta reader process. When she returns it, I will be ready to start querying literary agents. I’m currently drawing up a shortlist which I’ve been researching online. I’ve also drafted my query letter and book synopsis. So, I’m standing on the cusp, the edge of submitting sample chapters to them. It’s exciting, but also terrifying.

I’m hoping to be a better husband and father in 2019. A better manager, a better employee, a better son, brother, uncle, everything really. As ever, I will strive to blog regularly and honestly, keeping you updated as to my successes and setbacks. I will also continue to battle with my fractured faith and work at keeping the beast that is my OCD, well and truly shackled in the deepest recesses of my mind.

I want to read more books, watch more movies and start work on KSC2. Ideas are starting to form in my mind as to where Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley go next. I also want to engage more with my fellow bloggers. I regard many of you as friends now, people I would miss if you dropped off my online radar. Blogging is more than just posting blogs. It’s about reading, interacting with, and supporting others. I need to do that more.

I hope you all realise your dreams and targets in the coming year.

We go again. We go together.

What are your 2019 goals?

Blessing Jar

Friends of ours have started up their own ministry.  We meet up every Sunday morning, currently it is at our house as it’s best suited to meet our family’s needs but we believe 2019 is going to bring new and bigger premises in order for it nourish and grow.  Yesterday I shared something at our meeting that Stephen thought would be good to post today so this is Fionnuala signing us off for 2018 – don’t worry normal services will be resumed tomorrow!

January is not a good month for me and at the beginning of this year I was going through a very low period where I had no interest in anything really I just felt useless and worthless. I would wake up in the morning crying and didn’t show any interest in anything other than what I had to do each day for the house and everybody else around me. I needed to find something for me to do to lift me out of the pit I was gradually burying myself in each day. I have always loved making things and last Christmas I blogged about making gifts for the children’s teachers as opposed to buying them and the girls and I enjoyed the experience.   Stephen has been telling me for along time I should start up my own craft business  – but I never listened to him.

In March I woke up one Sunday morning with a thought in my head that I should start to make crafts and sell them online or at craft fairs. I couldn’t believe why I had never thought of this before it was as if a light switch had just been switched on in my head and was flooding me with light. I got up and got on to Pinterest and got lots of ideas of things I could start making. Stephen came downstairs and when I told him about my idea he said I’ve been telling you that for years!!

This was when Rehanna Crafts came to life. I was kept very busy with orders and my mood changed and the darkness that had been descending on me had pretty much disappeared. On the run up to Christmas I felt the craft business was distracting from what I should be doing and that’s spending time before God and doing things that glorify him and low and behold a few weeks after making that decision to scale back I started getting little thoughts about making Blessing Jars for 2019.

The purpose of a Blessing Jar is to record either daily or weekly on a piece of paper something good that has happened to you. It can be an answer to prayer, a thought from God, if someone blessed you or even something that made you smile. Blessing Jars can be started at any time of the year but I thought that it would be good to start on 1st January 2019 and then on New Years Eve you can open your jar and read about how amazing your year has been.

It is important to write down these occasions because it will help us to remember and recall the blessing. We need to be reminded of God’s goodness and faithfulness throughout the year because a lot of the time we tend to focus on the negative things in our lives like the things that we don’t have rather than the things that we do have and while we are focusing on that we actually miss our blessing or forget about the good thing that did happen.

I had planned on using a small jar but something just didn’t sit right with me. I thought about recent prophetic words that our friend’s have received lately about going big and other prophetic words I have been reading online from Doug Addison about thinking bigger and changing our mindset of just settling and making do so why should these Blessing Jars be anyway different. I went into my craft boxes in the garage and found the biggest jars I had. I feel we need to be going into 2019 with big expectations because lets face it we serve a huge big God that loves us and only wants the best for us.

 

We need to move into 2019 with the glass is half full rather than half empty attitude and look more to the positive things going on with us every day rather than focusing on the negative.

To make our Blessing Jar I used a large mason jar, 4 brown postage labels, string and post it notes.  On the brown postage labels I printed off some scripture verses about blessings to encourage us throughout the year and glued them onto the labels.  I tied them all together with the string and fastened the string around the top of the jar.  I am using colourful notes to fill our jar up with so it will look lovely and cheerful as we watch it fill up with all the goodness that God sends our way throughout the year. I’ve posted pictures below.

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your love and support this year.  This year has been a difficult one for me I lost my father which came with it’s own rollercoaster of emotions but it has also been a very joyous year for us watching Hannah and Rebecca grow up and perform well at school and Adam going from strength to strength in both his academic field and on the rugby field and not to mention Stephen finally finishing writing his book – did you know he wrote a book this year lol.

2018 has been eventful but I feel 2019 is going to be even more eventful. I feel its going to be the year that Stephen is going to overcome all of his insecurities and he is going to see himself for the man that we see him as and not what the doubters and voice in his head tells him he is.

Happy New Year WordPress Family
with lots of love from
The Black Family xxxxx

All I Want For Christmas Are My Blood Results

The more eagle eyed of you may have noticed I haven’t posted a running blog in some time. Well, that’s because I haven’t been running. It’s been two weeks now due to an illness which has made climbing the stairs, let alone marathon training, an ordeal for me. I’ve been lethargic, listless, exhausted and no matter how much I sleep, have been unable to shift the symptoms. To use a medical term, I feel rubbish.

I struggled during the summer of 2017 with a similar ailment. Doctors poked and prodded me, but seemed none the wiser as to what was the cause. Two courses of antibiotics failed to clear matters up, and I routinely informed enquirers that I’d picked up some mystery bug. I resigned myself to feeling lousy and soldiering on as retiring to my bed for the remainder of the year was simply not an option.

I continued to run, but my times were a minute a mile slower than normal. In the end, my doctor took a blood sample which revealed a folic acid deficiency. This impacts upon the production of red blood cells, which we rely on to carry oxygen around our bodies. Without the sufficient levels of folic acid, the body lapses into a state of fatigue. Which was exactly how I was feeling.

I was prescribed a folic acid supplement and, within weeks, was feeling much better. It took another few months to regain my running form but by the end of 2017 it was all systems go again. Until this month, when I have been struck down with exactly the same lethargy. I told the doctor as much when I returned to the surgery on Christmas Eve but they cannot prescribe anything until fresh tests are run.

I phoned the other day to get the results. The receptionist rather cryptically informed me that they had come back clear, bar my folic acid levels, which they wanted to test again. The earliest they can see me, though, is 7th January. Until then, I remain in limbo, unsure as to what the problem is, and unable to access the medication I need to resolve the issue. To say I’m frustrated is an understatement.

My energy levels have slightly improved since Christmas but I have been taking it very easy and haven’t taxed myself. The furthest I’ve walked is to the freezer to get another bowl of honeycomb ice cream; which has bolstered my morale but also, unfortunately, my waistline. I miss the physical benefits of running, and wallowing at the bottom of a biscuit tin is not where I want to be.

The mental benefits are even more important to me. Running purges me of the negativity and ‘stinking thinking’ which used to hold court in my head. In order to maintain reasonable levels of self-belief, I need to be running. The physical exertion is painful but nothing compared to the mental anguish which distance running helps prevent within me. There’s also the small matter of my scheduled 10th marathon in May.

I received a lot of lovely gifts this Christmas, but I’m going to be greedy and ask for one more. Santa has returned to the North Pole and it’s a bit early for the Easter Bunny, so I’d appreciate your thoughts and prayers to get me through the next week so these new tests can hopefully get to the bottom of my present malaise. All I want for Christmas are my blood results. It’s not much to ask, is it?

The Days When Everything Clicks

Today was one of those days as far as Adam’s rugby went. He was selected to play for Lurgan College’s 2nd XV away to Banbridge Academy. Banbridge had won the corresponding fixture 10-7 earlier in the year, and another close contest was expected. We were missing a few players however, due to the Christmas holidays, so my hopes were tempered accordingly.

How wrong I was. From the kickoff, Lurgan tore into the opposition like teenagers possessed. I don’t know what they put in their Christmas turkey but, whatever it was, it worked. A series of surging runs, slick passing and crunching tackles in the first five minutes set the standard for the remainder of the match. Lurgan emerged 48-7 winners, with Adam scoring twice.

He was then called upon to play the last 10 minutes of the 1st XV match, due to one of our players going off injured. Showing no fear at the step up in class against bigger and older boys, he played his part in a smart passage of play which culminated in Lurgan scoring under the posts. Lurgan ended up winning 43-15. Adam, the only member of the squad who had played in two winning sides in one morning.

On the drive home Adam confided in me that there had been times earlier in the season when his spirits had been low, due to the team underperforming. Despite that, he never missed an early morning gym session; nor did he fail to attend a training session, despite the grimmest of weather. He turned up week after week, playing his heart out in under strength sides.

Today, everything clicked. All the hard work and perseverance paid off and Adam earned the reward. The Schools Cup, the biggest school’s rugby tournament in the country, starts in two weeks time. Lurgan College will be competing against the top sides in and Adam will be going toe to toe with the best schoolboy players in Northern Ireland. He was worked hard for that privilege and Fionnuala and I were very proud parents today.

Talent and natural ability can only take you so far. It counts for nothing, unless it is underpinned by hard work and determination. Often the most brilliant talents fall by the wayside, distracted by other trinkets and temptations. It’s so very easy to take your eye off the ball, your foot off the pedal; so easy to succumb to the doubters and mockers. To succeed, you need more.

Hard work. Dedication, refusing to give up whatever the obstacles and whatever hand grenades are lobbed in your direction. I often doubt my own ability as a runner and writer. I let my head drop and listen to the voice telling me that I’m not good enough, that I’ll never be good enough. Voices from my past, voices from the here and now and, who knows, voices further down this road we call life.

I always seek to set a positive example to my son, to encourage and support him no matter where his rugby career takes him. Fionnuala and I treat the girls exactly the same way. We live for them and through them. But today, Adam made me a very proud father and taught me an equally valuable lesson. Dreams can come true, but only if you are prepared to put the hard work in. That is where the best days are.

The days when everything clicks.

Stop The World….I’ve Lost My Kindle

If you asked me what three items I would take onto a desert island (go on, ask me) I’d probably plump for my glasses, a lifetime supply of Diet Coke (surely that counts as one item?!) and my beloved Kindle Fire. You see, I read….a lot. And the Kindle is my way of stashing hundreds of books without Fionnuala shouting at me for the clutter around the house. Happiness is a new book on the Kindle. Assuming the island has wifi of course.

All that changed a couple of months ago when my favourite electronic device went AWOL. MIA. It vanished. At first I assumed it would turn up as misplaced items tend to do in our house. Or rather, Fionnuala would find it for me. But as the weeks passed, there was no sign of the prodigal paper substitute. I even, shock horror, started to look for it. But it had vanished. Like the Marie Celeste. Gone.

The mystery niggled at me increasingly. Searches under various pieces of furniture proved negative and I began to worry. Had I actually lost it? How could that be, given I rarely take it out of the house. I was resorting to squinting at the Kindle app on my phone. I was even considering the unthinkable, purchasing a real book. You know, with pages. Real paper pages.

My whining increased to such levels that by Christmas morning, Fionnuala had enough and took it upon herself to search for the offending item. She tutted, climbed the stairs and entered our bedroom. I followed her, safe in the knowledge I had turned the room upside down and the Kindle was not there. No way, was she making a fool of me by placing her hands on it within seconds.

She strode over to my side of the bed and began to rummage through an old briefcase where I store random bits of paperwork. Pah, I sniffed. I’ve searched there at least a dozen times. What does she take me for, some sort of buffoon. I froze as, after a cursory search, she stood up and flung the Kindle Fire in my direction. There followed a brief exchange of words, where my wife gently challenged various aspects of my intellect and wisdom.

Once this loving verbal wave had washed over me, and I’d recovered from the shame and embarrassment of being an incompetent numpty, it was as if I had received a new Christmas present. I charged up the Kindle and proceeded to surf Amazon for all sorts of cut price bargains and new releases. All at a fraction of the price I would have paid for them on the high street. Check out this lot.

  • The Cruel Prince – Holly Black
  • Eat, Drink, Run – Bryony Gordon
  • How To Stop Time – Matt Haig
  • Into The Water – Paula Hawkins
  • Echoes – Laura Tisdall
  • Dreamlander – K..M Weiland
  • The Grey Bastards – Jonathan French
  • My Thoughts Exactly – Lily Allen

All for £20! But here’s where I need your help. I still have a few Christmas shekels left. Can you recommend a book to add to my collection? My favourite genres are fantasy and dark thrillers but I’m open to all your suggestions. I also have an interest in biographies that focus on mental health and addictive behaviour. Leave your comments below. I’m looking forward to reading them all.

What books can you recommend to me?

Have you ever lost anything and it’s been under your nose all along?

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – Day 12 – What Are Your Blogging Plans For 2019?

To be totally honest with you, this themed series has been a bit of a slog at times. You see, I haven’t really been able to write about a lot of stuff, other than er….Christmas. And there’s only so much I can come up with about food, elves and all things ho ho ho. So I’m kind of glad that today is Day 12 and normal service can be resumed. Or as normal as this blog can ever be.

The upside is I have lots of topics and ideas stockpiled that I intend to unleash upon you over the coming weeks and months. I hope for 2019 to be a big year and that you will stick around to discover what lies around the corner. Thank you for enduring this series and here’s the 12th, and thankfully final, Blogging Question of Christmas – What are your blogging plans for 2019?

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – Day 11 – Is It Over Yet?

I know Christmas isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Some people dislike the increasing commercialism of the festive period, while for others it brings back painful memories. There are empty seats around the dinner table. Some are going through despair and tragedy. Christmas is an unwanted distraction, something they could do without. Many cannot wait until it ends and normality can return. Or as normal as life will ever be.

I’m mindful of this as I progress through this festive series. I’ve been delighted by the response and that so many of you are having a great time with friends and family. But when do you call it a day? Or you itching to take the tree down on Boxing Day? Sick of turkey sandwiches by New Years Day? Or a traditionalist who squeezes every last drop out of the 12 Days of Christmas.

When does Christmas end for you?

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – Day 10 – Are You Having A White Christmas?

Happy Christmas from snowy Northern Ireland!!!

Except it’s not snowing. In fact, it’s not even cold. Rather, it’s unseasonably mild. 12 degrees centigrade no less. It’s grey and drizzly naturally, but there will be no sleigh rides or snowball fights here this year. The coldest thing I’ve experienced has been the four litre tub of honeycomb ice cream dived into following Christmas dinner. Yes, you read that right. Four litres. I’m hardcore when it comes to my ice cream.

So as I sit here, slipping in and out of a self enforced food coma, I’m left wondering what’s the weather like where you are? Is it a Christmas card scene with seven foot snowdrifts and conifers heavily laden with the white stuff? Or does it just look like any other day? Are you on the beach? On top of a mountain? In a cave? Wherever you are, I hope you are having a great day.

What’s the weather like on Christmas Day where you are?

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – Day 9 – What Last Minute Shopping Are You Doing?

Fionnuala is super organised when it comes to Christmas. When it comes to most matters, really. But it’s inevitable there are always a few last minute purchases to be made on Christmas Eve. Today was no exception. I was dispatched to source Christmas crackers. There was no joy in our village shop, which resembled the American evacuation of Hanoi. It was akin to one of those supermarket scenes you see in zombie movies. Every man, woman and child for themselves.

Onwards to the next village. When I asked the shop assistant if they stocked crackers she stared at me blankly until I clarified ‘Christmas, as opposed to the edible variety.’ She giggled, before cheerily announcing they were sold out, and directing me to an even tinier shop on the outskirts of the village. So tiny, that I thought it had closed down years ago. I often run past it, and it rarely shows any signs of life. But desperate times call for desperate measures.

Shop Number Three most accurately resembled a shack, opposite an equally derelict petrol station. Parking outside it, I half expected to be greeted by a grizzled hillbilly bearing a double barrelled shotgun. ‘We don’t get many strangers round these parts’, prior to yours truly disappearing and my body never being found. So I was semi relieved to be greeted by a pleasant middle aged lady when I entered. Not a skin mask to be seen.

Relief soon turned to disappointment, however, as she informed me that, lo and behold, they had also sold out of Christmas crackers. I returned home empty handed. I don’t even like them anyway. Who needs toe curling jokes and cheap, plastic toys? The paper hats never fit my meaty head and invariably rip, leaning me looking stupider than ever. Plus they leave a mess and I’m usually the one who has to clear up after the kids. Bah humbug, I say.

What last minute Christmas item are you running around after today?

What Christmas ‘necessity’ could you live without?

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – Day 8 – Do You Like Or Loathe Chris Rea?

You know that Chris Rea song, ‘Driving Home for Christmas’? Well I hate it. Whenever it comes on the radio, I reach for the tuner and change channel pronto. I think it’s his gravelly, dour voice. He turns the most positive message into a depressing dirge. I can think of nothing more depressing than being stuck in a festive traffic jam with Mr. Rea. It’s ‘no, no, no’ as opposed to ‘ho, ho, ho’ as far as he’s concerned.

I did travel today, however. To pay a pre-Christmas visit to my mother. I dragged myself off my death bed, a la Lazarus, and made the hour long car journey with my very own Christmas elf, Rebecca. The weather was foggy and drizzly but we made good time. Even better, Chris Rea was nowhere to be seen. Or heard. My old home town of Omagh was busy, busy, busy with last minute shoppers.

Hopefully, this is my last long trip before the big day itself. Fionnuala is taking the kids to see the new ‘Mary Poppins’ movie tomorrow but, much as I love all things Emily Blunt, I’m going to spend the day resting at home and hoping this illness clears before Tuesday. I hope that wherever you travel over the Christmas break, it is a safe and incident free journey. Chris Rea or no Chris Rea.

Will you be travelling over the festive period?

Do you like or loathe Chris Rea’s ode to Christmas?

What’s your favourite festive jingle?

The 12 Blogging Days Of Christmas – Day 7 – What Is Your Favourite Christmas Food?

Fionnuala was up at the crack of dawn this morning to hit the supermarket for the traditional pre-Christmas big food shop. At the mention of food, Adam leapt out of bed to accompany her. If only he could be roused so easily on a school morning. Rebecca also joined them, but I remained in bed due to my continuing illness. Even climbing the stairs is hard work at the minute, let alone battling through the festive hordes.

Next thing I knew, it was 10:30 a.m. and they back, laden down with bags of shopping. I can’t remember the last time I slept so late. I stumbled down the stairs to find the kitchen table, laden down with all manner of treats. Foods that we only ever get at Christmas. My favourites are always the various cheeses, crackers and pates. Last year the girls and I set up a cheese society to sample the various produce.

Have you done your Christmas food shopping yet? Or are you a last minute.com person? Perhaps you stick to the same foods all the year around and Christmas is no different? Share your comments below and I’ll read them later, while eating a mince pie or three.

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – Day 6 – What Do You Believe In?

Sixteen years ago today, Fionnuala made one of the worst decisions of her life. She married me! I’m joking…..I think. Since then, we have had our ups and downs, but we are still together and facing all the world has to throw at us. We have been blessed with three wonderful kids, and I’m looking forward to finishing work today and spending five (yes five) days off, in their company.

I won’t be running over the Christmas break, due to illness, so hope to spend as much time as possible lounging on the sofa watching Christmas movies and observing the ongoing chaos all around me. I don’t deserve my wife and kids, but I have them anyway. They are always there to support me, be it in my work, my writing, or my running. They believe in me, so I must be doing something right.

Christmas is all about belief. For the kids, it can be whether or not the big guy in the red suit exists and, if so, are you on the good or naughty list. For others, it can be whether or not the Son of God arrived over 2000 Christmases ago, or is that nothing more than an elaborate fairytale. We all need to believe in something. For if we don’t believe in something, then we’ll fall for anything.

What do you believe in?

Who believes in you?

The 12 Blogging Questions of Christmas – Day 5 – How Much Sleep Do You Need?

Fionnuala and I are permanently tired. The joys of parenthood and having very busy lives. Fionnuala, particularly, never stops. She is always on the go, either in the house, or out and about, tackling the million and one tasks required in order to keep the household afloat. I also struggle to keep on top of my work and parenting responsibilities. Then there’s the small matters of writing a book, maintaining the blog, training for marathons etc.

We go to sleep at night and it seems that within minutes the alarm clock goes off, telling us it’s time to get up again. Weekends are no exception as we have Saturday and Sunday morning commitments meaning lie ins are out of the question. I fell asleep on the sofa last night and have been feeling exhausted of late. There may be reasons for this, which I’ll cover in a later blog. Needless to say, we both feel permanently sleep deprived.

The Christmas break is supposed to be a time for rest and relaxation, to recharge the batteries and prepare for the year ahead. But often we work ourselves into such a lather that, by the time January 1st comes around, we are ready for another holiday. We burn candles at both ends and then wonder why we need matchsticks to keep our eyes open. We are a 24/7 people.

Something has to give, and often it is our sleep regimes. I’m as bad, if not worse, than the next person for surfing my phone in bed when I should be getting my head down. Are you insufferable without your eight hours shuteye a night? Or can you function on much less? More? Are you an insomniac? Could you sleep on a clothes line? Leave your comments below and don’t be sleeping on it!

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – Day 4 – What Is Your Favourite Christmas Movie?

I saw a poll on the news this morning which announced the most popular Christmas movie of all time was ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’. It beat ‘Elf’ to the top spot which pleased me no end. If there’s one thing in life I can’t get my head around it’s the love affair people have with Will Ferrell running around New York in a pair of green tights. I don’t find it funny and I don’t find it moving. Zooey Deschanel can’t even save it.

Today’s Christmas question is simply – ‘What is Your Favourite Christmas Movie.’ For me, it’s got to be ‘Home Alone.’ Closely followed by ‘Die Hard.’ And I don’t care what you say, Bruce Willis running around a skyscraper in a vest shooting foreign actors may not be your festive cup of tea, but I’m including it as a Christmas movie. Yippy Yay Aye and all that to you too. I digress. Leave your comments below.

What Is Your Favourite Christmas Movie?

The 12 Blogging Questions of Christmas – Day 2 – Why Do You Blog?

Good evening from blustery Northern Ireland. Thank you to everyone who took part yesterday. Some great suggestions. Today I’m going to revert to the topic of blogging, and why we do it. Some of us are frequent bloggers, others less so, but we all share a love of the written word. Getting our thoughts out there and sharing them with the big, bad world.

The question is simple.

The answer possibly less so.

Why do you blog?

The 12 Blogging Questions Of Christmas – What Was Your Favourite Book Of 2018?

Blogging is all about interaction and community. During the course of 2018 I have stumbled across all kinds of varied, interesting people. All with relevant and inspiring stories. I’m hoping to find, and interact with, many more in 2019 and beyond. To encourage this intent, I’m going to run a festive themed blog series over the next twelve days which I have imaginatively titled…..cue drum roll……

The 12 Questions of Christmas!!!

Catchy, huh?

Each day I will ask a question. All you have to do is comment and engage with other like minded bloggers. Who knows, your new blogging best friend could be out there just waiting to hear from you. The Lennon to your McCartney, the Simon to your Garfunkel, the Sonny to your Cher. Okay then, maybe not the last one, but you get my drift.

So, without further ado, here’s today’s question.

What’s the best book you read in 2018 and why?

For me, it has to be ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman. Startlingly original. Dark, funny, quirky, heart wrenching. Just a few of the words to describe the debut novel which stood head and shoulders over anything else on my Kindle. With honourable mentions to ‘Dark Places’ by Gillian Flynn and ‘Bonfire’ by Krysten Ritter. Anyway, enough of me. Over to you….

I’m Very Very Tired – Part 1

Heavy legs this morning after yesterday’s run but glad I went out when I did, as we are set for another wet and windy weekend in Northern Ireland. It’s 9 a.m. here and still dark. Adam’s rugby has been called off because of the weather and I doubt we will be straying far from the house between now and Monday morning. Which suits me just fine, as I’m very, very tired.

More to follow….

How tired are you today?

Attitude Changes Behaviour

Adam’s rugby squad were visited by a motivational speaker yesterday. Sports psychology is big industry now and with the Ulster Schools Cup starting next month, it was a very appropriate time for such a visit. So instead of charging about on a muddy pitch, thirty teenage boys sat in a classroom and heard the following message – Attitude Changes Behaviour. Three big words.

The speaker told him that if they took nothing else away from the session, to take those three words. He spoke about walking out onto the pitch, as opposed to running out. Not looking at the opposing team, but focusing on your own warm up. And how victory started in the mind, before a ball had been kicked or tackle had been made. The brain is the most important part of any professional athlete. It all starts there.

The same applies to any walk of life. It all starts in the head and, if we confront any situation in life with the wrong attitude, then we are destined for failure. If we adopt a negative attitude, then more than likely there is going to be a negative outcome. I know this better than most people. My default setting is pessimism. Where I am concerned, the glass is invariably half empty.

I struggle with self confidence issues. When you have been plagued with OCD for the majority of your life, it is hard to think otherwise. You are your own worst enemy, an ever decreasing circle of self pity and negativity. If I can’t even defeat the enemy in my head, then how can I be expected to overcome the myriad of challenges I face in the outside world.

For many years I gave up. I allowed the enemy to wash over me and waved the white flag of surrender. I ran away, I gave up on my dreams and aspirations. Alcohol became a refuge, as well as a plethora of other addictive, inappropriate behaviours. I was a mess without a message. There was no hope, no glimmer of light. Only self enforced darkness. I stood on the edge of the abyss, staring down.

The penny eventually dropped. I run marathons now, I’ve written a book. I hold down a challenging, responsible job and have a great family. I’m still wary of new situations and people but I’m trying to instil the same positive mindset in our kids. If nothing else, I want them to avoid the many pitfalls and hazards which I stumbled over. I want them to be better than me, they can be so much better. I want them to attain their full potential.

I don’t want them to be like me, charging around in my 40’s, playing catch up and trying to realise dreams I had 20 years ago. I constantly feel like I’ve wasted time, that I’m running out of time. There isn’t enough time. My every waking hour is taken up with this. I have the attitude now, but my worry is that it’s too late. No matter how hard I work now, it’s too late. This is a ripe feeding ground for my old friend; OCD. It watches. It lurks.

Attitude Changes Behaviour. A phrase I had never heard before the motivational speaker visited Adam’s squad, but one which deeply resonates with me today. I have changed and I am continuing to change. The attitude has been corrected and healthier behaviours installed. I just hope I haven’t left it too late. But at least the kids have a future now. If nothing else, i have achieved that. A legacy I can live with.

Something Has Been On My Mind.

I wrote some time ago that I was no longer going to write exclusively about Christian topics. I described myself as a Christian who blogs, as opposed to a Christian blogger. My reasons for this have been well documented so I don’t think I need to repeat them on this post. Suffice to say, I felt awkward and uncomfortable doing so, given my own fractured faith. Enough said.

At the time, I received a lot of support for my stance. From Christians and non-Christians alike. People replied that they respected my decision and the rationale behind that. Phrases like ‘refreshing honesty’ were thrown about and I felt vindicated. People understood, or at least I thought they did. I forged forward, content that all was well and I could focus on other topics close to my heart.

Very, very gradually though I began to realise that all was not as rosy as I first thought. Certain Christian bloggers stopped reading and commenting on my posts, others less and less so. It has been a trickle, as opposed to a flood, but a noticeable one, nonetheless. Like a leaky tap in the corner of the room. Barely audible but there all the same. Drip. Drip. Drip. In certain quarters, I have become somewhat of a blogging outcast.

It’s not as if I’m shouting atheism from the rooftops. I still consider myself a Christian, albeit a deeply flawed one. The majority of my posts contain a consistent Christian message. Love others. It’s just I choose not to deliver it as overtly as I used to, and as others continue to do. I don’t quote Scripture, although I still read my Bible. My faith is more private. I’m seeking to focus on my relationship with Jesus.

My daily views have dipped considerably and for a long time I was unable to put my finger on the reason for it. Or rather, I chose not to. I didn’t want to speak out loud what I’d been privately thinking for some time. Even less so, I haven’t wanted to air my thoughts. Yet, here I am, writing about it. It’s that whole ‘refreshing honesty’ thing again. I write what I see. I might be horribly mistaken. But that’s what I see.

WWJD – What Would Jesus Do, or rather think? I’m not sure what his views on social media would be. I know it can be a fantastic evangelical tool, if used properly. But I still reckon he would be old school when it came to missionary work. Walking the streets, looking the broken in the eye, loving the unlovable. Not sitting behind a keyboard, tapping merrily away. You can only do so much from there.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still a core of Christian bloggers who I read, and interact with, on a daily basis. They have always shown love in the way they support and encourage me, no matter what I write about. But I see a worrying trend amongst other Christians on WordPress to only interact with other overt Christian bloggers. Isn’t that kind of missing the point?

I saw the same thinking when I went to church. We stick to our own, we don’t reach out beyond our comfort zone. We smile politely and nod and say all the right things, but where is the integrity, the desire to get your hands dirty and mingle in the mire and the mud of the sinful. For that is where Jesus would be. Up to his knees in it. Be that on WordPress or in a doorway with an alcoholic, a drug addict, whoever needed him.

I’m Twitter Famous….Except I’m Not

I woke up to 30 new followers on Twitter this morning. This kind of freaked me out. Where had they all come from? Had I been sleep tweeting? Is that even a thing? As I was pondering this, I received another three followers. What on Earth was going on? This must be how Justin Bieber feels when he wakes up and checks his phone in the morning. Although he probably has people to do that for him.

Turns out an established author had included me in a tweet, asking his followers to support new writers on Twitter. And by golly, they did. The idea is to build up an online writing community where authors can advise and encourage one another. I must admit, this is a very different Twitter from the one I inhabited many moons ago. Support? Encourage? These were an alien language back in my Twitter heyday.

Back then, I had no purpose on Twitter other than to spout (usually) drunken nonsense and hide from my real life responsibilities. I was an inebriated ostrich with my head well and truly wedged in the online sand. Not a pretty sight, let me tell you. And not a very nice person, either. I had no focus, no passion, no ambition. Other than walking to the fridge to get another beer. And possibly a packet of crisps.

The 2018 version of me is hopefully a very different beast. I’m on Twitter to broaden my online presence, a seeming prerequisite for any aspiring authors seeking literary representation. There is a method to my madness. For that’s what it is, madness. Trying to seek literary representation is the long shot to end all long shots. But God loves a trier, and believe me I’m trying.

I’m writing this post as much for myself as for anybody else. It’s a reminder. A reminder to keep my feet firmly rooted to the spot as I reach for the stars. The maths, are math as you lovely North Americans insist on calling it, are simple. For all the multiple followers, I still haven’t sold a copy of this blasted book. I don’t have a publishing deal. I don’t have literary representation.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch. That’s where I’m at, that’s my starting point every day. That’s what I focus on. I need to remain humble, accountable and transparent. For otherwise, what’s the point? It’s easy to hit a retweet button and acquire new followers. Money for old rope. But the people that matter? That’s a whole different ball game. And they are who I most focus on as this crazy rollercoaster ride to publication takes another unexpected twist.

Everybody Hurts. Most of the Time

My neck hurts. This is a surefire indicator of stress. Here’s a true story. The night before I got married, I got a cramp in my neck. Since then, whenever I get stressed, I develop a dull ache in one side of my neck. Cracking it helps. A little. I have no idea if there is a physical reason for this pain, as I’ve never sought medical help. Maybe it’s all in my head. Or neck. Whatever. My neck hurts. No pain in the neck/marriage related jokes please. I’ve heard them all.

The cause of the stress? Undoubtedly the work report from hell. For there must be a hell. Otherwise, where could this report have been spawned? It is a 300 page, paper boomerang. It keeps coming back. Landing on my desk when I least expect it. Edits of edits. Ad nauseum. Maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist, maybe I should just let it go. Wash my hands of it. They know best. Did I mention that my neck hurts?

My legs hurt. Like, proper ache. At least I know the cause of this. I’ve ran the last three days and was contemplating doing likewise today. But I knew after yesterday’s 10K effort, that I needed a day off. I’m trying to run more consistently and my times have reflected that of late. Yesterday was my best 10K in many moons. It’s a great stress buster as well. My neck doesn’t hurt when I run. But now my legs do.

Swings and roundabouts. My father once said you can’t have a pain in two places at the same time. He might have had a point. So, there will be no running today. I’ll be back on it like a car bonnet tomorrow. Winter running is essential if I’m going to be anywhere near ready for my 10th marathon next year. So I grit my teeth, take the wind and rain, take the cold, take the pain, and get out there and do it.

My brain hurts. Who would have thought that the actual writing of a book was the easiest part? Now I’ve entered the murky world of seeking literary representation. I plan to query 10 of them in the New Year. That’s the shortlist. The long list I’m currently wading through nears 500 in total. From there, I’m seeking to whittle down those who I feel are best suited to my work. It’s hard work. My brain hurts.

I’m researching their likes, dislikes, blah blah blah. British, Irish, American. Male, female. Some seem lovely. Encouraging and understanding. Others less so. They portray themselves as gods and seem to delight in intimidating debut authors from their lofty literary towers. ‘If I don’t like the first line of your manuscript, then I probably won’t read anymore.’ One of them actually said that. Jaw dropping arrogance.

I’m about halfway through the long list. My short list is too long. Should I be spending more time on my query letter? Are my opening three chapters strong enough? Why am I thinking about the second book when there is still so much to do on the first? Will people get the humour? The anger? The hopelessness? I’m bracing myself for the worst, and hoping for the best. But my brain hurts.

That’s the icing on the cake. The hurt cake. Cut into it and you find all the other hurt. The worries, the frustration, the disappointment of everyday life. Family, faith, finances, friends. It goes on. Hurt is everywhere. Physical, Mental, Spiritual, it’s all there. Why bother? Why try? What’s the point? Well, here’s the point. Everybody hurts. Most of the time. But I’ll keep going. Because there is hope.

Yesterday was our daughter’s birthday. Our beautiful, brave daughter who has defied doctors and proved them all so wrong. She is worth the hurt. As are my wife and other two kids. I hurt for them. I run to keep the mental demons at bay. I work to pay the bills. I write to pave a better future for us. I hurt for them. Every day is a battle, but every day is an inch in the right direction. Proving the doubters wrong. Proving. Improving. Embrace the hurt.

Where are you hurting today?

Are you embracing the hurt?

Happy Birthday Hannah

Today marks a special day at chez Black. Our middle hatchling, Hannah, turns 15 years old. Fionnuala and I are deeply proud of the wonderful young woman she is turning into. She has her moments, don’t we all, but her kind nature, sensitive heart and bubbly personality serves as an inspiration to us all. We love her almost as much as she loves Shaun Mendes. Happy Birthday Hannah. Have a fantastic day shopping with your mummy and granny.

The Try That Never Was

Adam was involved in a very tightly contested rugby match yesterday against a much bigger Belfast school. Privately, I wasn’t expecting the boys to win but they played out of their skins, and almost did. The final score was 17-14 but the score doesn’t fully reflect the courage, skill and work ethic the team put into the contest, which was played in wet, bitterly cold conditions.

The score also doesn’t reflect an incident in the first half when Lurgan almost scored a try which would have won the match for them. A kick through was chased to the line by a Lurgan player and member of the opposing side. As the ball crossed the line, both boys dived on it. From where I was standing, it was impossible to tell who had touched the ball first.

The referee was equally unsighted and asked the boys who had grounded the ball first. The crowd, all seven of us, collectively held our breath and I crossed my fingers and toes, hoping it was a score for the home side. At which point one of the Lurgan players, a good friend of Adam’s, informed the referee that the other team touched the ball first. The referee thanked him and the game carried on. No try.

It was a gesture of sportsmanship by a teenage boy which touched me. Rugby is massive in Ireland and our little nation has arguably the best side in the world, heading into next autumn’s World Cup in Japan. It is fiercely competitive at schoolboy level and played to an incredibly high standard. The top schools players normally end up playing professionally. Think college football and the NFL.

It is also a game where the boys are taught to play hard, but fair. They put in bone shaking hits, but afterwards shake hands and applaud each other off the pitch. The referee is always referred to as ‘sir’, and his decisions are final. The game teaches discipline, self control and respect. I often I wish I could display the same restraint on the touchline as Adam and his teammates show on the field of play.

After the match, I asked Adam his thoughts on the try that never was. He replied that they were mixed. While he desperately wanted to win, he admired his friend for doing the right thing, even if it meant defeat. The school principal later tweeted about the incident, stating that he was proud of his pupil for putting honesty before victory at all costs. It represented the values of the school and what they are trying to instil in their students.

I wondered if I would have made the same call. I’m not sure I would have. I’m incredibly competitive and not the best of losers. I so wanted Adam’s team to win, but it wasn’t to be. Yet, as I walked back to the car it didn’t feel as if the team had been beaten. Instead, there was a sense of pride and vindication. I know that, somewhere down the road, the team will be rewarded for what happened on the pitch.

What would you have done? It’s a tough one, isn’t it? The desire to win versus adhering to the rules. It’s so easy for our moral compass to spin out of control when the stakes are high. Dizzy with success, but left inside with an empty feeling and a bitter taste in the mouth. But next time I’m faced with such a decision I’m going to think back to yesterday’s match and the shining example of a 16 year old boy.

What are your thoughts on the try that never was?

How competitive are you? Are you a bad loser?

Have you ever experienced somebody cheating in order to win?

I’ve Written A Book. Now What? – Beta Readers

I’m a happy wannabe author today, having received final feedback from two of my loyal beta readers, Katie and Shae. To say I was pleased with their e-mails is probably the understatement of the decade. I would have jumped in the air and clicked my heels together, but I’m just back from a 7 1/2 mile run so thought better of it. I’ve ended up on my backside once already this week, thanks to an unfortunate encounter with a banana skin.

Both Katie and Shae have waded through all 88 chapters of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles – Skelly’s Square.’ They both deserve a medal or, at the very least, a round of applause. I really appreciate the time they have given up to read the book, and the care and detail they have taken in providing constructive and honest feedback. I intend to use it to fine tune KSC even more, before I begin querying literary agents in the New Year.

I was filled with trepidation when I first became aware of the beta reading process. The thought of giving up my labour of love to other people was deeply worrying. What if they hated it? What if my dream of becoming a published author was shot down in flames before it even got off the ground? Thankfully, that wasn’t to be and I can now blow a hearty sigh of relief and look ahead.

I struggle with self-belief, and the beta process has proven to me that the last year has been worthwhile. That KSC is not a heap of garbage, and my crazy tale of supernatural beings battling it out on the back streets of Belfast has some merit to it. My heroes are credible, especially Meredith Starc who quickly became the darling of my beta reading community.

I have also stumbled across a villain who drips evil, in the shape of the malignant Augustus Skelly. I have loved writing Skelly probably more than any other character in the book. I’ve only scratched the surface of what happened in the Square on that muddy, bloody afternoon over 200 years ago. There is much more to come and Skelly has plenty more tricks up his sleeve for Kirkwood and Co.

Then there’s Harley Davison, the youngest and bravest of my heroes. She may have the most unfortunate name of all time, but the ‘Rainbow Girl’ means so much to me, being based on my own teenage daughter, Hannah. Hannah has more courage and fight in her little finger than I have in my entire body. I only hope an iota of that comes across in the character of Harley.

The unsung hero is the city of Belfast, where the majority of the book is set. I walk it’s streets every week day and it is the sights and sounds of this beautiful, tragic city that I yearn to convey to you all via the pages of KSC. It’s murky bars and murkier alleys, the humour and resilience of its people. It is a city emerging from a very troubled past into a brighter future. But it still bears the scars.

KSC is currently with my editor, Laura. Another wrench for me, but I need her skilful eye to polish this rough gem into the finished article. I cannot stress enough to those of you setting out on the adventure of writing a book, the value of having it go through the beta process, and then be professionally edited. It’s frightening, but so worthwhile. Dreams do come true. Just ask Kirkwood, Meredith and Harley.

All comments regarding the above post are most welcome. Thank you.

Free Christian Children’s Kindle Book 10/4 – 10/5

Free Christian Children’s Kindle Book 10/4 – 10/5

Free Christian Children’s Kindle Book 10/4 – 10/5
— Read on meghanewhite.blog/2018/10/03/free-christian-childrens-kindle-book-10-4-10-5/

Please check out Meghan’s debut middle grade novel, an inspirational tale of a young boy travelling across America and finding God in the process. A great Christmas present for the kids, methinks

#pitmad #amwriting #writingcommunity #MG

#PitMad On WordPress

On Twitter yesterday, writers posted book pitches along with the hashtag #pitmad. The idea was to promote their work and garner support amongst the writing community. If you liked the pitch you hit the retweet button. I’m fairly new to Twitter, but decided to give it a rattle anyway. I got 4 retweets! Well, two if you don’t count Fionnuala and Hannah. It’s a start, I guess.

I’m not sure if there’s a similar phenomenon on WordPress, but I do know that there’s no more supportive social media platform. So, why don’t we try it? If you would like to promote your blog, book, poem, short story etc then simply do so in a short post, then share the link with me. I’m not sure what sort of a response I’ll get, but I will then reblog a percentage of them.

Please don’t be offended if I don’t reblog your post. It’s only a bit of fun, after all. Alternatively if you like the idea, but perhaps don’t want to participate, then reblog this post and share the love with your blogging community. I look forward to to being inundated with your offerings. What better way to start a dark and chilly morning here in the frozen wastes of Northern Ireland.

Only People In The Movies Slip On Banana Skins

Have you ever watched an old black and white movie where one of the characters slips on a banana skin and then launches into mid air before coming crashing back to earth again. Cue howls of laughter. Oh stop, my aching sides. I always thought such scenes were confined to the silver screen. Surely such idiots didn’t exist in the real world. Until two days ago, that was.

I was walking through the city centre, on my way to the train station, minding my own business, when suddenly I was propelled skywards. In a scene more befitting of a slapstick version of ‘The Matrix’ I found myself experiencing a weird, out of body sensation. I realised I was in mid air and hung there, awaiting gravity to do ‘its thang’ and return me to terra firma. I didn’t have to wait long.

My right hip collided painfully with the pavement and I lay there, dazed and confused, staring at the offending article. A banana skin. I was more embarrassed than hurt. It was a busy street and I cringed, expecting howls of laughter or, at the very least, a stifled snigger. Nothing. I waited some more. Life continued on around me, as if I was invisible. Had I imagined the entire episode?

Hauling myself gingerly to my feet, I checked all was in order, desperately avoiding eye contact with any of the pedestrians hurrying past in either direction. Too late. An old man caught my eye. Oh well, at least he had the compassion to show an interest in my well being. I braced myself for an embarrassing conversation about how I was fine really, no harm done, thanks for asking anyway, etc etc.

‘You slipped on a banana skin,’ he cheerily announced, before continuing on his way, a broad smile on his face. ‘Er yes, I was aware of that,’ I sourly replied, not sure if he was extracting the urine or somehow thought I was unaware as to what had happened. An old lady then distracted me, by asking was I alright. In the the meantime, 8,473 other people had scurried past, unconcerned as to my plight.

I thanked the lady, muttering I was fine, before fleeing the scene as quickly as I could, given my aching hip and bruised pride. In hindsight, I should have disposed of the banana skin, to save somebody else a similar plight, but at that moment in time, all I wanted was for the ground to open and swallow me up. Later though, I thought about it more. Are people really that uncaring in today’s society?

Okay, I wasn’t badly hurt, but I could have been. Bar Olly Obvious and the old lady, it was as it my aerial antics had been invisible. Are city folk that conditioned nowadays to avoid interacting with other people, for fear of being stabbed, mugged or otherwise harmed? Where have all the Good Samaritans gone? Would I have ran to someone’s aid if I witnessed a similar scenario? I’d like to think I would have. Does that make me a minority of one?

Life is full of banana skins, scattered along the road we travel, just waiting to trip us up along the way. It’s inevitable we will all come a cropper one day and find ourselves flat on our backs, staring up at the sky. It’s then that we need people around who love us and will help us back onto our feet. People who will always love us, no matter what the circumstances. People who hang around, when the going gets tough.

We need those people. We also need to be those people.

Have you ever slipped on a banana skin? Or witnessed someone else? How did you feel? What did you do?

Have you the people around you, who will step up to the mark, when you need help in your life?

Where Are You God?

It was a frosty start this morning as we arose to face a dark and dreary Tuesday. The car thermometer informed us it was below freezing as Fionnuala drove me out to the train station for my daily commute to Belfast. Ahead of us was another busy day. The weekend seems a long way off, and tends to be even busier than the week itself. The Christmas break can’t come quick enough.

My local train station in the morning resembles the American evacuation of Hanoi. Utter chaos. Woefully inadequate car parking facilities mean vehicles are abandoned on the road, as school children and office workers converge on the tiny stop. The mighty minds at Northern Ireland Translink have also cut the number of carriages, meaning getting a seat is nigh on impossible.

We cram onto the train, jostling for position and breathing space. I’m convinced I will be asked one of these days to sit on the roof, more akin to Mumbai than Moira. Everyone looks suitably miserable on the journey into Belfast, the majority with their noses buried in their phones or other electronic devices. Eye contact is kept to a minimum and Heaven forbid you attempt to strike up a conversation.

When we arrive in Belfast, it’s a stampede onto the platform and every man and woman for themselves in the dash for the barriers. Where sour faced staff await us, begrudgingly inspecting our tickets before allowing us through and onto the hustle and bustle of the city centre and beyond. Despite the lights being up, I don’t think the festive spirit has gripped the city yet. I’m not sure if it ever will.

The walk to the office is equally grim. It’s as if the number of homeless people in Belfast multiplies by the day. They huddle in doorways and shopfronts, cocooned in blankets, but still shivering against the biting cold. I walk past and onwards to my warm office, where petty office political wrangles await. Want to fully expose yourself to the lowest human qualities? Greed, arrogance, deceit? Work in an open plan office for a year.

It’s at times like this I ask, where is God? For I don’t see him on my daily commute. Instead, I see a world I’m not particularly proud to be a part of, a world that seems to be spiralling out of control. God has been very quiet in our lives of late. Hopes have been dashed, prayers gone unanswered, and obstacles loom up in every direction to frustrate and restrict us. I still believe in God, but I do wonder at times. Where are you?

Then, Fionnuala pointed out the sky to me this morning. She was looking up, whereas I was glumly staring ahead. That sums up the two of us quite well. The photo below doesn’t do justice to the majestic orange and purple hue, framing a crescent moon, kept company by a lone star, blazing brilliantly over the gloomy earth below. I wonder if the Wise Men looked upon a similar sight as they journeyed to Bethlehem.

The sight gave me hope. Hope that there are better times, and that God has better plans ahead for us. It certainly doesn’t feel that way, at present, but I guess that is what faith is all about. Without hope, we are lost. We need to believe in something, otherwise life is pointless. We need guidance. A single star in a chilly morning sky might not be much. But for me, today, it was enough.

What do you believe in?

Life is Meh. But At Least We Have Doughnuts

I pride myself on being positive when I blog, but when I sat down to write today, I was struggling to find anything. The well was empty . The last few days have been quite disheartening for us, with very little seeming to go our way. Fionnuala saved the day, though, by bringing these bad boys home for from a shopping trip to Dublin. Everything seems (slightly) better after a Krusty Kreme Doughnut.

What treat makes your day less meh?

I Don’t Believe in Santa Claus But….

For the first time since the year of our Lord 2002, Santa Claus is not coming to our house this Christmas. The hatchlings are all grown up so the Big Man is going to give chez Black a miss and leave it to their long suffering parents to ‘deliver the goods’ come the 25th. He will be missing out on his mince pie and glass of Diet Coke and Rudolph will have to go elsewhere for his carrot and bowl of water.

This hasn’t impacted, however, upon the current level of excitement in the house, especially amongst the girls. I have already sat through ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ with Kurt Russell four times, and the decorations went up well over a week ago. And are still going up. Despite Fionnuala’s insistence that this would be a more low key Christmas, every time I leave the house I return to find another wreath or set of lights in situ.

On Friday night, Rebecca and her friends went to their old school for the switching on of the Christmas tree lights. As self confessed ‘big girls’ at Junior High, they sniggered knowingly when informed that Santa Claus and his elves would be there for all the younger kids. They made me drop them off down the road from the school itself, to avoid the embarrassment of being dropped off by an adult human being.

The same applied to being picked up. They phoned through a rendezvous point where I waited patiently, until they graced me with their company. As they piled into the car, giggling and nattering, I raised an eyebrow in surprise. Both of them were clutching selection boxes, yet I knew there was no shop at the school and neither of them had any money on them. Hmmmmm….

Me: ‘Where did you get the selection boxes?’

Them: ‘Santa.’

Cue further giggling. It seemed that, despite their avowed intent to no longer write Father Christmas letters, they had no problem with playing along if there was free chocolate on the table. Twelve year old girls can be brutal. Oh, to have their moral compass, I mused, as they proceeded to demolish the contents of their dubiously acquired boxes in front of me. Santa Claus had been played, and I was an unwitting accomplice to this heinous crime.

Just as I was about to clamber upon my metaphorical high horse and deliver a lecture about integrity and values, I thought to myself – ‘They’re twelve year old girls. What’s your excuse?’ How many times had I said one thing, then acted in a way that suggested the complete opposite. I stick to my principles when it suits me, then chuck them out the window when I see an opportunity that addresses my own selfish needs.

Behaving in a consistent manner is hard work. I like to think I’m solid in that respect, but the truth is I can do so much better. It might not be chocolate boxes, but it’s so easy to rip up your belief system and chuck it in the bin when you’re faced with an easier option, a more tempting alternative. And before you know it, you are surrounded by empty wrappers and your face is smeared in tell tale chocolate.

Is Santa Claus coming to your house this Christmas?

When did you last say one thing and then did the complete opposite?

How do you stick to your beliefs and values?

It’s Not Online Stalking! It’s Research!!

Now that the book is written and nestling in my editors inbox, I’ve been twiddling my thumbs about what to do next. Well, that’s not strictly true as it appears writing the actual novel is only the tip of the iceberg. I’ve now entered the wonderful world of submissions to literary agents. Which brings me to the title of this post. I’ve started to follow a number of them on social media. Because, it appears, that is the ‘done thing’ to do.

In the New Year, I will start to submit the manuscript to a number of these agents. Between now and then, I need to draw up a shortlist, agents who are seeking the type of book I’m pitching. There’s no point singing the praises of my urban fantasy book blockbuster to someone who is only interested in period romances. It’s like trying to hammer a round peg into a square hole. With a lettuce leaf.

Most of these literary agents hang out on Twitter, so I’ve set up an account to study them in their natural environment. I want to learn what they’re looking for, who they already represent, what colour their underwear is, stuff like that. Ok, I made the last one up, but you never know when such information can come in handy. At the end of this process I should have a list of agents who I can approach.

In a past life, I had a Twitter account with 8500 followers. This was during a particularly bleak period of my life when I was more interested in likes and follows than I was in what was going on around me in the real world. So, it is with some trepidation that I am returning to the world of the little blue bird. It brings with it some memories I would rather not revisit. Yet, here I am.

Seems, not much has changed. A lot of tweeters still post religiously requesting retweets, follows and er…..little else. I’m giving such people a wide berth, seeking to focus on legitimate authors, agents and publishers who all share a love of the written word. I have a grand total of 102 followers! Not quite the dizzy heights of 8500, but I’m happy so far with the niche I’ve carved. I’m focusing on quality, as opposed to quantity this time around.

Now, WordPress is an entirely different social media beast from Twitter. From my experiences to date. bloggers appear much more genuine, supportive and dare I say it….real. But the 8500 figure has always bothered me, increasingly so as Fractured Faith nears 8000 followers itself. I don’t want to get dragged into past mistakes I made on social media. Following people, just for the sake of it.

I care about my followers now, and I want to conduct myself online in a manner where I interact with fellow bloggers for genuine, as opposed to shallow, reasons. I see blogging and the book as a pathway to a better life, as opposed to the drain hole I was being sucked into in my Twitter heyday. I want to construct a future, where previously my destructive urges held sway.

I’m back stalking the Twittersphere but in an entirely different guise. I slip, I stumble, I get horribly lost, but I refuse to give up. I refuse to give in. When my son loses a rugby match, he comes back fitter and stronger for the next game. I’m aspiring to be the same, but with less mud and bruises. Look out literary agents, I’m coming to get you. And no restraining order is going to hold me back this time.

Why do you have a social media presence?

Can You?

Northern Ireland seems to be in a state of permanent darkness at present. When I wake up it’s dark, cold, wet and windy. I go to work and sit in an office all day. With no windows. Then I come home. It’s dark, cold, wet and windy. The only time I encounter daylight is on my lunchtime run. When it’s slightly less dark but still cold, wet and windy. Has the Arctic Circle been moved south without anyone telling us?

These conditions affect us all but at least I have a warm house to go home to at night. On my walk to and from the office I feel sad for the growing number of rough sleepers who I pass. I stopped the other day and gave a few pounds to one of my homeless friends, Inesa. She was huddled outside the train station with her dog, Poppy. Poppy is in immaculate health. Shiny coat, wet nose and well fed. Inesa, not so much.

You see, Inesa puts her dog’s health before her own. She told me she has had a flu for three weeks and her boyfriend, Vladimir, was too ill to venture down into the town from the park where they sleep at night, when they don’t have the £40 needed to stay in a bed and breakfast. Inesa is too scared to stay in a hostel because of the hassle she gets from another girl, Maria.

Maria told me a different story, of course. The truth is an evasive commodity and I have to take everything I’m told with a generous pinch of salt. I’m minded to believe Inesa, though. She is always sober, polite and humble when I see her. She never asks for anything and when I do offer to help, she always accepts it reluctantly. She once told me she felt bad taking money from me, as I have children to look after.

Inesa is on a journey, as am I, and our paths have chosen to cross on the drab streets of Belfast. The aforementioned Maria is the inspiration behind the character of Meredith Starc, in the book I’m just finished, but there’s a dash of Inesa in there as well. Meredith also has that humility and pride, despite her circumstances. I told Inesa this once and she laughed with genuine delight, that she would end up in a novel.

I was running along the Lagan Towpath yesterday, accompanied by two rowers who cut a swathe through the water to my left. All three of us were working hard. I was pumping my legs while their arms strained to propel themselves along. It was a fairly even contest. At times I was ahead of them, while on other occasions they forged into the lead. But, we were all heading in the same direction.

My prayer and hope today is that Inesa, Maria, Vladimir and all the other rough sleepers in Belfast, continue on their allotted journeys, with brighter times ahead. And if this post can prick the conscience of one person today to show kindness and love to similar folk in their own town and city, then my work is done. They deserve better and I know I can do more. Much more. Can you?

Who Would Win A Fight Between Donald Trump’s Hair And Tom Selleck’s Moustache?

Living in Northern Ireland, a country obsessed with politicians who are utterly incapable of agreeing about anything, you would think an educated, intelligent young man about town like myself would have more than a passing knowledge of the subject. Well, yah boo sucks to you, for I have very little interest in our learned leaders. As they are, by and large, buffoons of the highest order.

I don’t understand Brexit other than it appears to preoccupy the majority of the United Kingdom. Hard borders? Me no understand. Nor do I care to. No, whenever the news is on, I tend to zone out and focus on matters utterly irrelevant to what is actually being said. This happened earlier today when I watched an interview of Donald Trump on the White House lawn. He was about to get into a helicopter.

Firstly the background noise suggested that he was standing quite close to the helicopter for he could barely be heard about the sound of its rotor blades. He was shouting, something else which he tends to do a lot. I couldn’t tell you what he was shouting about, but I’m sure it was very important and probably involved the Russians or the Saudi Arabians. Possibly both.

No, there was only one question burning a hole within me. Why doesn’t somebody tell the helicopter pilot to turn the engine off.? That way, there would be no need for POTUS to bellow like an angry hippopotamus and become so red faced I feared he was about to suffer an embolism. You would think he could hold fire a few minutes, to allow the most powerful man in the free world to speak in more measured tones.

Equally disturbing was Mr. President’s hair which has always fascinated me. It has a strangely mesmeric quality. Whenever it appears on my television screen, I am hopelessly glued to it which is all the more ironic given it’s attachment to Donald’s skull. Yet, in the face of high powered chopper blades, it didn’t budge an inch. Not an inch, I tells ya!

Is there where the NASA budget is currently being siphoned off? To fund top secret government research into industrial strength hair products. I suspect this may lie at the heart of improved US-North Korean relations of late. Kim Jong-Un anyone? Never a hair out of place. I’m right you know, I know I am. Putin has no need for such products. Never mind the hole in the ozone layer, if it even exists that is. More hairspray please.

The only man who even comes close to matching Trump with regards follicular matters is Tom Selleck. He of Magnum P.I., Friends and most recently, Blue Bloods. Quite frankly, the man has most magnificent moustache I have ever set eyes upon. His face furniture is unparalleled. I’m convinced he got the Magnum gig, due to similar helicopter/hair related issues as referred to above.

Which brings me to the heart of this post. Never mind international trade treaties or gun law restrictions? The real debate is – If Selleck and Trump were to go toe to toe in a wind tunnel then who would prevail? The immovable barnet or the unstoppable lip caterpillar? I ask that you give this matter your urgent consideration and comment below. The world thanks you.

I’m On Twitter. I Think.

I’ve made the decision to open a personal Twitter account in order to promote my writing. It’s early days yet but I’ll be tweeting bite sized versions of the usual nonsense you find on the blog every day. If you’re on Twitter, pop over and say hello. Or follow me even. My username (is that even the right word?) is:

@stephenRB4

Just click on the hyper link to follow me there

Help Required

Now that the manuscript for ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles – Skelly’s Square’ is with my editor, you would think I could slow down and take a break. Er….no. I’ve decided to give the traditional publishing route a shot and see what all those lovely literary agents think of my work. In order to do that, I have to submit query letters, a book synopsis, stuff like that. Does this madness never end?

I need YOUR help, good people of WordPress. So, pay attention please.

Do you know any reputable literary agents currently accepting submissions for Urban Fantasy novels?

If you don’t, I’d be grateful if you could reblog this to your community as maybe someone out there might be able to help.

Thank you in advance

Stephen

Kirkwood Flies The Nest

Yes. It’s finally happening….

Later today, I will be e-mailing my editor, Laura, the latest (5th but who’s counting) draft of my book. It weighs in at a whopping 125K words and 425 pages, but I can do no more with it. Time for ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles – Skelly’s Square’ to fly the nest and venture out into the big, bad world. It’s also the reason the blog has been reasonably quiet this last while. Needs must all that.

While Laura works her magic on the manuscript, I will be refocusing on preparing my query letter and book synopsis. I’ll also be targeting via online research the literary agents I would like to approach. Then I’m going to cross my fingers, legs and toes and hope for the best. What’s the worst that they can say? We hate it? It’s rubbish? Well, we shall see. But at least I can say I’ve achieved my dream of writing a book.

Thanks to everyone who has supported this far on the journey. Further updates to follow.

It Was Too Good To Eat….So I Ate It

I was in a coffee shop the other day and was drawn to this bad boy. A raspberry and white chocolate scone. An uber scone, a scone to end all scones. Thankfully the calorific content was nowhere to be seen, as it lured me onto the rocks of decadence. I was powerless to resist and, before I knew it, the scone was on my plate and destined for my stomach. Scones like this are the reason I run 40 miles a week.

I’m happy to report it tasted just as good as it looked although, if I’m honest, it barely touched the sides going down. I was tempted to go up to the counter for a second one, but at the last minute resisted the urge to make an utter pig of myself in public. Self control and Stephen are not normally on speaking terms, but on this occasion I reined in my baser cravings and stuck to the one serving.

I’m not very good at saying ‘no.’ I’m a creature of excess. When I drank, one or two beers wasn’t enough, I had to keep going until I passed out, making a complete idiot of myself in the process. When I took up running, I wasn’t happy at reaching 5K. I kept going until I crossed the finish line in my first marathon. And then ran another eight. So far. Number 10 is planned for next year.

The good thing about running is that I can pretty much eat what I want, within reason. My thighs might ache, but it’s worth it when you can look forward to edible treats at the end of the day. In the bad old days, I would binge eat and then crash diet, surviving on toast and Diet Coke. This behaviour was all tied into my OCD, resulting in bizarre eating habits which I found incredibly hard to shake.

Many people see OCD as a controlling mental illness and, to an extent, it is. Victims are shackled to an ever decreasing circle of unwanted obsessive thinking and irrational compulsions. We also lose control, though. Control of our lives as we succumb to the routine, always the routine. It takes control of our lives as we simultaneously lose control. It tricks, it seduces, it tears us to pieces.

OCD promises release and relief from its mental anguish if we only wave the white flag and surrender to the compulsion. The thought of even momentary escape from it, is tempting beyond belief. We are dragged, kicking and screaming, into its hungry embrace. Like my raspberry and white chocolate scone, that next pint, that next whatever my obsession of the week was, I couldn’t say no.

It was too good to eat, but I still had to eat it. The texture, the taste, it lured me to the extent where, before I know it, I’m cramming it’s sugary goodness down my throat. I cross the line, I push the button, I crave the one thing that’s bad for me, but I just have to have it. Until reality sets in. The next time I wake up with a hangover, step on the scales or fall down the OCD rabbit hole without a bottom.

I manage my OCD today through a combination of medication, having the right people around me and being transparent and accountable about it. I can never rest on my laurels, for it is a slippery and cunning enemy. All it needs is one chunk in my armour, one gap in my defences and it will pour through. It will unleash hell and I will be powerless to resist. OCD is a killer, but I’m alive today and that’s all that matters.

Do you struggle with addictive behaviour? How do you control such urges?

Where are the gaps in your defences? How do you prevent them from being breached?

10K Day

I ran my fastest 10K in months today and finally feel I’m coming out of the running slump I underwent following the Causeway Coast Marathon, two months ago. I’ll not be setting Personal Bests any time soon, if ever, but it feels good to recover a little speed and be running at a reasonable pace again. The fact I haven’t ran beyond 10 miles since the marathon also helps.

I’m increasingly convinced my running improves in the cooler weather. The last two summers my form has tailed off, and only picked up again in the autumn. Maybe it’s my Northern Irish blood, but I don’t seem to appreciate warm conditions. Colder weather can be tough initially but, so long as you have sufficient base layers, you soon heat up after a mile or so.

My thighs are aching this evening but it’s a worthwhile pain. My long term target is the 2019 Belfast Marathon, my 10th. I’ll factor in a few half marathons in the New Year as prep races and start to build up my longer runs from after Christmas. Until then, it’s just a matter of keeping things ticking over. Running is my therapy and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to clear the cobwebs from their head.

It’s 23 November….Happy Christmas!

HAPPY CHRISTMAS!

Er….okay. I realise it’s not even December yet, but Fionnuala and I buckled to pressure from our daughters today. Hannah has already been watching Christmas movies for several weeks, and was belting out festive tunes this morning in the car. It was only a matter of time before I was dispatched to the roof space, armed only with a shaky stepladder and a wonky head torch which has seen better days.

Every January I vow to put away the Christmas decorations in an orderly, systematic manner so that the following December, or mid November, I can easily retrieve them without sustaining a hernia in the process. And every January, they get haphazardly hurled into the pitch black void and forgotten about for the next twelve months. Do I ever learn my lesson? No, I do not.

There follows the traditional sight of yours truly stumbling about in the darkness, muttering and mumbling at the grievous injustice of it all. I wrestle with artificial trees, hunt down recalcitrant Santa figures and roller skate on stray baubles, my arms flailing like windmills as I struggle to stay upright and avoid an unscheduled visit to Accident & Emergency. The joy of Christmas. No. Not ever.

This year’s frolics were enhanced by being on call. There is no more bizarre feeling than conducting high powered telephone conversations while balancing precariously ten feet off the ground in pyjama bottom, a tatty hoodie and several garlands of tinsel. Please do not tell my bosses any of the above. Christmas on the unemployment queue would not go down very well with Fionnuala and the hatchlings.

My efforts were not in vain, however. While I was lurching from one calamity to the next, Fionnuala and the kids were assembling the masterpiece below. I take no credit whatsoever for it, as my wife is undoubtedly the brains and beauty of our marriage. Her innovation and imagination when it comes to all things creative, never fails to amaze me. I can barely tie my own shoe laces.

So, Christmas has arrived at chez Black, and not before time. As ever, ours is the first tree up in the street this year. That said, Fionnuala has vowed we will be scaling down the decorations this time around. No seven foot inflatable Homer Simpson Santa’s in the front garden and NASA will not be able to see our house from space. The plus side is we won’t have a five figure electricity bill to look forward to in January.

You may share in our early festive spirits. You too, may be breaking out the mince pies and binge watching endless Christmas movies which all have the same plot; successful business type who hates Christmas returns to their home town, only to fall in love with their high school sweetheart (eventually) and, in doing so, discover the true meaning of Christmas. Tell me I’m wrong?

I promise not to blog about Christmas again until at least 01 December. Although, that may be a lie. Now excuse me while I extricate myself from the roof space. I’ve been up here for hours, my head torch is fading and I’m starting to get hungry. If I’m not back on here tomorrow can someone contact the emergency services. Or at the very least, lob a few mince pies in my direction.

When does Christmas start in your house?

Who puts the decorations up in your home?

Where is the strangest place you’ve taken a phone call?

Why do all Christmas movies have the same plot?

Happy Thanksgiving From Ireland

Happy Thanksgiving to all our American followers. Being a sad man, I looked up the number of views Fractured Faith has had this year. Of the 79,053, over 45,000 of these were from the good old U.S of A. I have no idea what you see in the ramblings of a Northern Irish man but I am thankful today for all of you. Have a great day, don’t eat too much turkey and let’s hope the Redskins beat the Cowboys!

How are you Thanksgiving Day?

I hate Guinness and I’m Irish. What national treasure do you despise?

What NFL/College team do you follow?

It Is Finished

It is finished.

The report, that is, which I’ve been fretting over these last few weeks at work. Following a final big push, it will be submitted today to they who must be obeyed. I can sit back, relax for 11.6 seconds, and then find something else to panic about, for that is who I am and that is what I do. I used to joke that I don’t meet deadlines, I beat them. Well, this one has left me feeling half dead, as well as pretty beat up.

I’m celebrating by taking a half day and going to watch Adam play a cup match against my old school, Omagh Academy. Today, though, I will be cheering on Lurgan College. Adam is returning to the team after a bout of illness. Part of me doesn’t want him to play in such a big match as he might not be 100% recovered, but I don’t think wild horses could keep him off the pitch today.

Watching my son play rugby is one of my favourite pastimes. Yes, I’ve become a ‘Rugby Dad,’ and I rarely miss a match. It’s nerve wracking watching him out there competing in such a tough, physical sport against boys two years older (and bigger) than him; but that’s the level he’s playing at now and he gives as good as he gets. He has no fear and a level of composure and concentration that I can only aspire to.

His position is tight head prop, one of the most technical and important roles in the team. He is the base of the scrum, the lynchpin if you will. If he is having an off day, then the pack cannot function as a unit, and it all starts to fall apart. I think that’s why the coaches are so keen for him to play today, in such a big match. They need him, in order for the team to perform to its full potential.

I’ve been feeling demotivated and a little jaded in work of late. Unappreciated and frustrated. But the report deadline, stressful as it was, has succeeded in making me realise, I still have a role to play in my 9-5 world. I contributed and know my boss valued my efforts. I surprised even myself with my knowledge of the subject matter and performed under pressure in order to hit the submission time on time.

I’m fortunate to have the job I do, and should never take it for granted. My family come first obviously, but publishing books and running marathons won’t happen unless the bills are paid. The job is the foundation, upon which the other dreams are built. I should be grateful for my job, not griping that it takes me away from the fun things I would rather be spending my time at. The two go hand in hand.

So, today, as I stand on the touchline, trying desperately not to embarrass my son by haranguing the referee, I will realise I’m only there because of the job. It’s a grind, it’s a pain, but it’s a blessing as well. I contribute, I make a difference, and this report is part of that. Like with Adam, the team I work in cannot function to its full potential, without my input. I’m a cog, but a crucial cog.

This deadline has breathed new life into me. It’s another corner turned, another obstacle overcome. Another step in the right direction, to where I want to be. To where I need to be. I have a plan, and I’m totally focused on getting there. I’m not going to give up now, not when I’m so close. Wild horses couldn’t keep me from playing in the games coming up. Yes, it is finished. But, in other ways, it’s only just begun.

Do you ever feel undervalued at work?

How do you handle pressure and deadlines?

Are you where you want to be in life?

I’m Giving Up Blogging To Join The Circus

Relax. I’m not. Although….

I was driving home from work last week, after a brutally tough day in the office. My head was fried, my brains were mush. All I wanted to do was get home and vegetate on the sofa. I was too tired to write, run, do anything really. My neck ached, a sure fire sign of a stressed Stephen. That’s when I saw it. Sitting in front of me at traffic lights. Sign from above or utter coincidence? I had no idea. But there it was.

The circus school van…..

I had no idea such centres of learning existed. A school where I could learn to crack a whip and traverse a tightrope. A seat of education where I could master the art of being fired from a cannonball, yet live to tell the tale. This was my chance, an opportunity to escape the monotonous morass of life. Where the bills mounted up and responsibility weighed heavy on tired shoulders and weary eyes.

Then reality struck as it invariably does, and the dream evaporated in front of my eyes, before it had even taken shape. The grass wasn’t greener on the other side. The side where the big top sat proud, it’s flag fluttering enticingly in a refreshing breeze. I couldn’t ditch life, and run away to join the circus. I had a wife, three kids and a border terrier. What’s more, there was all this….

Ahem. In no particular order….

1 – I’m scared of heights. So you can forget about the tightrope walking, or being flung through the air from one trapeze artist to the next. I don’t care if there’s a safety net below to catch me if I fall. I ain’t going up there. It’s non-negotiable. Plus, nobody wants to see me in sequins and lycra. That’s a bridge too far, in anyone’s books. As in, bridge between Hong Kong and mainland China too far.

2 – I’m scared of clowns. No, make that terrified. Clowns are evil. Ever since I watched the library scene in Stephen King’s ‘It,’ where Pennywise the Clown is standing there with the red balloon. Then there’s Brian Denehy in that John Wayne Gacy movie. The zombie clown in ‘Zombieland.’ The list is endless. Clowns are a phobia I will take to my grave. Behind their rictus grins lie madness.

3 – I can’t juggle. Give me two batons and I’m fine. Add a third, and within seconds, I’m all fingers and thumbs. My hand to eye coordination, what little there is of it, goes to pieces and it all comes crashing to the ground. It’s a metaphor for my current circumstances really. There are too many balls in the air, so something has to give. And as for flaming torches? Let’s move swiftly on, shall we?

4 – Only an idiot would get in a cage with a ravenous lion, armed with a chair, whip and comedy moustache. If Leo really wanted to, I’m sure he could make quick work of Marco the Magnificent or whatever he chooses to call himself. Plus, there’s the whole ethical side of it, which I won’t even go into. Suffice to say, the taming of lions is a non starter. I couldn’t even train our Charlie to sit and give you his paw.

So, as I said, relax. I’ll be here on WordPress for the foreseeable future. I’ll run and I’ll write. I’ll slog on at work and do the best I can to finish this book I’ve been droning on about for over a year. But I won’t be picking up the phone and calling Belfast Circus School. Life in a caravan, traveling the length and breadth of our fair island is not for me. I’ll stick to what I know. Sometimes that’s the best way.

Do you ever dream about running away and joining the circus? Or just running away?

What are the pros and cons of running away?

Homeless Jesus

Soooooo…..

I was out for my lunchtime run today, when I was literally stopped in my tracks by a new addition to the Belfast landscape. Outside a homeless centre I regularly run past, was a statue. At first glance, it appears fairly unremarkable. It’s a bronze sculpture of a man lying beneath a blanket on a park bench. What caught my eye, however, was the name of the sculpture – ‘Homeless Jesus.’

Behind the statue was a inscribed description of the piece. It was created by a Canadian sculptor, Timothy Schmalz, and depicts Jesus as a homeless person. His face and hands are obscured by the blanket, but the crucifixion wounds on his feet reveal his true identity. The sculpture is intended as a visual translation of the words Jesus gave to his followers in Matthew 25:45.

‘As you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me.’

Over the last couple of years I have built tentative relationships with a number of rough sleepers who I regularly pass in my travels around the city centre. I’ve blogged about them in the past and one of the main characters in the book I’m currently writing is homeless. I try to help these folk the best I can, by conversing with them, helping them where I can financially, and basically treating them as human beings.

I could do so much better though. When it’s been near the end of the month and the bank account is running low, I’ve been known to actively avoid my homeless friends as I cannot afford to buy them a cup of tea. Even though very few of them ask for money and often I have to force it upon them. They are proud young men and women and are loathe to be regarded as wasters and scroungers.

The statue stopped me dead today for it pricked my conscience. I once attended a suicide in the homeless centre outside where it is now located. A tragic end to a young life, but sadly no longer a rarity amongst our urban homeless communities. The underbelly of our society which we are quick to hurry past on our way to the office, or chuck a few coins in their direction and smugly feel we have met our social and moral obligations for the day.

I can do so much more. I call myself a Christian and like to view myself as a decent person. Yet, what would Jesus make of the behaviour I’ve described in the paragraphs above? Talking the talk and walking the walk, but only when it suits me. Even if I can’t give them the coins in my pocket, I can still afford them my time and prayers. I’m not perfect and I never will be. But I can do better. Much better. Can you?

What do you make of ‘Homeless Jesus’?

Do you do enough for the homeless people in your town or city?

Cutting Corners

Life is so busy at the minute, I’ve been tempted to cut several corners. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything I want to cram into it. Something always has to give, which I’m loathe to do as everything seems a priority at present. It would be so easy to take a few short cuts on my way from A to an increasingly far away B. I mean, would anyone even notice if I took a teensy weensy deviation or two?

In my early running career, I ran a trail 10K over a winding forested route. I knew I was running well, but amazed when I neared the finish line to see the digital clock displaying I had slashed three minutes off my previous personal best. I was delighted….until I checked my Garmin which showed my distance as several hundred metres short of 10K. I was gutted and most annoyed with the organisers who had robbed me of my moment of glory.

I was on the verge of firing off a strongly worded e-mail when I checked the small print of the race instructions. Here, I was rather smugly informed that race distance could not be guaranteed due to the hilly topography of the area. I was left with a conundrum. Did I claim a PB (it was a 10K race after all) or just scratch a line through the event, and put it down to experience. In the end, I chose the latter.

It just didn’t feel right to claim the accolades when I hadn’t run the full distance. I had cut corners, albeit not knowingly. The race organisers were at fault, but it still felt disingenuous of me to crow about my time. I hadn’t run 10,000 metres and wasn’t comfortable claiming I had. This weird, heavy sensation settled on my chest. I think it’s called guilt, but could be mistaken.

The same applies to my work and other commitments this week. I could turn a blind eye here, and overlook dotting that ‘I’ or crossing that ‘t’. But it wouldn’t sit easily with me. I would be putting quantity ahead of quality and undoing the high standards I previously have applied to the various projects I’m working towards. Life is about the long haul, taking the rough with the smooth and battling through whatever obstacles confront you.

Short cuts lead to danger. Less traveled paths are poorly lit and full of traps and pitfalls waiting to trip up the unsuspecting hiker. There are bears, wolves and all sorts of beasties waiting to pounce. Best keeping to the wide, well lit avenues you are supposed to be on. So I’ll keep plodding along. It might not be the most exciting journey in the world but at least I know I’m on the right track. Plus you can be guaranteed one thing. You never know what is around the next corner.

Are you tempted to cut corners?

What path are you on today?

Is it the right one?

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