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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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I Read A Book, Once.

             ‘I read a book once, by … I can’t remember now. It was about this woman whose husband who was living a double life.’

            ‘What was it called?’

            ‘No idea. It was last year sometime. Made me think at the time.’

            Fiction, unlike its more robust counterpart, non-fiction, can easily fall into the twilight zone of fragmented recall, its authors vanishing into oblivion, once the hype and spin of the publicity machine is exhausted.  

The most fashionable authors of today need to consider, when they stand before adoring crowds at literary festivals and book signings, that they, like those who have gone before them, are not permanent features of our consciousness. Some gather accolades from the grave – those underrated writers who are rediscovered and rebirthed under a Classic imprint.

            Thousands of books are stillborn the moment they leave the publishing houses, despite the promises of radio shows, TV appearances and endless articles regurgitating the story, simply because they don’t resonate with current readership trends. Success today, is as much about the author’s personality and platform as the book itself.

Whatever the fate of your newly printed novel, you can be sure it’s in the hands of a capricious reading public.  It’s almost as if we are embarrassed to say we like an unknown author or out-of-fashion style of writing, especially if everyone is devouring the latest best-seller which you really must read, if you are to be considered someone of substance. It reminds me of the time I would read Penny Romances behind the cover of an O’ level Geography textbook.

            I’ve rediscovered the works of Barbara Pym, delighting in her dark, but highly amusing observations of the lives of ordinary people in “Quartet in Autumn,” (original publication 1977), which was once nominated for the Booker Prize. It was republished in 2015 as a Picador Classic.  I understand she fell out of favour with her publisher at one point and didn’t write anything for several years. Philip Larkin described her as one of the most underrated novelists of the twentieth century. I have to agree.

A society in her name, keeps her work alive and whilst many people today would consider her writing politically incorrect  ( a bit like the radio comedies of the 1970s) and lacking a plot, her powers of observation about the detail of daily life provides an ideal model for character study.

She wouldn’t fit in with today’s editorial thrust towards manuscripts with inciting incidents, conflict and tension to keep readers on the edge of their sofas. I turned all the pages of her book this weekend, savouring each one, rather than feeling a pressure to race through to the denouement. (I do love that word).

My personal view is this – books that speak to you and maybe only you are to be treasured. Publishers can’t be indulgent with their authors since they have to recoup their investment, but there may come a time, when one or two of your loyal aficionados, talk to someone of influence and say, ‘You really must read this book. It was quite a find, ( on Amazon, in the charity shop, in the bus- stop litter bin). Books, like people, provide legacies, linking fragments of the past to possibilities for the future. One tiny sentence or phrase can be enough to create impact.

You might be long gone when that novel you birthed some years before is reprinted as a classic and nobody is saying… ‘I can’t remember the title.’

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Forgiveness

Forgiveness is when we choose to let go of negative emotions relating to the perpetrator of an action which has hurt us deeply. Built up resentment, anger and a thirst for revenge serve no purpose as they can’t change the outcome but they can gnaw away at us.

Long term anger is corrosive. It can damage the heart, the immune system and change how we think. The only reason we hold on to it is because it’s serving a purpose – usually by giving us a false sense of power. We feel it's a just form of punishment when all we are doing, is  punishing ourselves.

When this turns to bitterness, it poisons how we view the world. We forget the good that’s in our lives, as we pursue vengefulness or a pay-back for the pain inflicted.

Forgiveness is misunderstood. It doesn’t mean you gloss over the seriousness of the offense nor does it imply a willingness to forget and pretend it never happened. It means deciding not to let the pain define who you are as you move forward in life.

I love what it says in The Bhagavad Gita. ‘If you want to see the heroic, look to those who can forgive.’

It’s not for the weak and faint-hearted as it requires bravery and a strong mind to not pass down  bitterness and hatred to the next generation.

I witnessed such a shift in mind-set when I worked in Belfast on the Shankill Road in the early 2000s. The paramilitaries on my training programmes wanted their children to have a different future and that meant forgiving those who had murdered and maimed people in their communities in the name of religion, politics and territory. Moreover, it meant forgiving themselves for similar actions. That requires enormous courage and strength.

Recently I found myself in a similar position. It was time to forgive my former husband for the emotional abuse and his cruel decision to cut off all contact with his daughters for the past twenty years. Saying those few words, ‘I forgive you,’ were like sticking my tongue into battery acid at first, but as I expanded on my reasons, I knew it was the right thing at the right time. You can’t be glib or plaster on a fake smile. It must come from a place of love. In my case, it was for my daughters. I don’t want to leave them a legacy of resentment.

I’ve been told that some things are unforgiveable. Sexual abuse and neglect of children being one of them. That being said, I have talked to survivors of horrendous abuse who  explained that holding onto the anger has trapped them for too long  and it’s only by letting it go, can they be free. Heroic indeed.

Like the Dalai Lama says,'You can take everything from me, even my country, but I won’t let you take my joy'. (roughly quoted.)

Forgiveness, like death, taps us on the shoulder to remind us it’s time. Often the two come hand in hand. It’s too late to forgive ( and reconcile) at the funeral service. Think about it. If you want to be truly free, forgive someone today. It’s through compassion that we become real and true to ourselves. It might be all we have to offer. 

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Time for a Reality Check

Every year, before my birthday, I do a reality check. Being a mid-winter baby, I am prone to melancholy and need to ground myself for the coming year. It’s a salutary exercise as it means stripping away fantasies and unrealistic expectations. It’s akin to severely pruning your favourite rose bush in the hope of a more abundant crop of blooms.

Facing the truth about yourself and your circumstances doesn’t come easy to everyone. There’s a need to be conscious about what is happening in your life which doesn’t involve media influence or the rampant competition to be more special than the next. It’s hard enough maintaining being you without the exhausting mirror- gazing to seek out the next flaw that you feel needs fixing.

With so much so called fake news around, it’s difficult to know what to believe about the world, but so much easier to know what to believe about yourself since you are your best and only authority.

I am not part of that bold generation who like the laser beam to be shining on me all the time. In truth, it makes me feel slightly uneasy. However, I’m going to share with you my ten point reality check which will guide my sixty second year beginning with the least talked about. I’m not self-pitying or looking for sympathy, in case you think I am. These are the facts.

  • I am a year older than I claim. I mean, my birthday marks the end of my 62nd year on Planet Earth and the beginning of my 63rd. Same for all of us.
  • There are many things I can no longer do comfortably. One of my birthday gifts is a walking pole. Call it Nordic, Martian, what you will, but the reality is that I need support when climbing the mountain sides in my beloved Peak District.
  • My weakened eyesight and poor spatial awareness means I am a danger on the road. I can no longer fantasise about driving again. My optician doesn’t recommend it.
  • I miss going out to work. Writing at home is a lonely business. I am lonely. That’s the truth.
  • No longer as confident as I once was, I rely more on other people for validation. This year I won’t look for it from social media. Only from people whose opinions I trust.
  • For those of you who’ve ever  listened to Garrison Keillor on the radio and the tales of Lake Wobegon, “where the children are above average”, - that’s me.  I wanted to be able to hold clever conversations, be an eloquent writer, an artist… all sorts of things but the truth is… I sit at 6.5/10. Even my fitness level hovers around that.
  • I’m a decent person. I try to help people where I can and don’t expect anything back.
  • I’ve learned to accept what I can’t change and I’ve let go of controlling outcomes but I overthink. I am my harshest critic.
  • I try to listen more than I talk and I don’t offer opinions unless I am asked for them.  These days I think more about “Other” than Me. I also think about death. A lot.

My list is much longer than this, but I appreciate stuff like this can become monotonous. Reality checks are important if we are to find a level of acceptance about our limitations at any given time. This way we can clear the decks of the pressures we put on ourselves and move along our individual path, one step at a time.

It’s Blue Monday. My birthday is tomorrow. January 16th. According to the astrologers, there’s a mega planetary line up on that day. A stellium of six planets. It’s supposed to bring positive changes. That’s good. It might lift the melancholy that sits on my shoulders every winter, like a damp tea-towel.

Happy birthday to all Capricorns reading this. Keep climbing that mountain but settle where it feels the most comfortable.

Angelena  

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On Slowing Down - My New Year's Resolution. 2018

In a couple of weeks it will be my 62nd birthday. I came to terms with aging when I turned sixty so that doesn’t give me angst. I remember driving through Snowdonia on that day, January 16th   2016, and seeing a goat standing proudly on a rock. I’m sure his eyes turned to me with a message – slow and steady if you want to get to the top. This was particularly significant as I’m a Capricorn, the symbol of which is the goat, (actually the goat-fish but we won’t split fins on this).

From my particular plateau, I’ve watched prolific authors publish one book after the other with barely a blade of grass between them and wonder what drives them. They tell me it’s about boosting their brand, or making sure they don’t get forgotten between books. Always interested in their writing schedules and methods, I’ve come to the conclusion there seems to be two main approaches to this novel writing business.

One way is to go with the stream of consciousness and get the first draft down not worrying about the plot, characters, grammar, etc. as you can solve them in the next several drafts. That’s the way I’ve been working to date.

Another is to write fewer words each day (I currently write 2,000), but take more time over the crafting of those sentences until you are absolutely happy about every aspect of the daily output. Know where the book is going and make sure every scene gets you there.

In my business life there was no time for procrastination or pontification. I had to make decisions on the spot for clients and get on with it so my mind- set before writing my first novel was already fixed. This is going to change. The draft of my third novel is completed but I’m going to take my time in getting it ready to leave my laptop.

If you go by the announcements on Twitter, you’d be forgiven for panicking that you’re behind in the game. But what game? Only the one you’re playing against yourself. The first task of any author is to write the best book possible and not rush to publication. Life has a way of bringing up opportunities when it’s time and not before. Submit to agents and publishers in haste and there’s a risk of losing out because the book simply isn’t ready. It’s not so easy to go back a second time.

This is one of the dangers of going down the self-publishing route. The temptation to press the upload button before all the checks have been done several times over might mean giving the reader an inferior product and that’s what your book is in the business world – a product which is competing with disposable income for any product, not only books.  No matter how much we love our story telling this is the harsh reality of the publishing industry today.

You’ve got to be that mountain goat. Take your time with the climb and be careful where you stick your hooves.

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