Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the barn,
The rafters were festooned with fine silken yarn.
The spiders had woven their intricate lace
And fireflies like fairy lights lit up the place.
Thus the barn looked so festive yet down in the hay
A girl dressed in nothing but rags and tears lay
Cast out in the cold with no friend to stand by
She wept without hope and waited to die.
Her warmth ebbed away as the source of her shame,
She clasped to her heart, a mere babe without name.
Her lover was false and her trust he’d betrayed
And her parents had spurned her, this poor desperate maid.
So in her last hours she’d trudged through the snow
And entered the barn with its welcoming glow.
And that’s where he found them, the farmer so old,
And carried them into the house from the cold.
And called to his wife to bring blankets and tea
And said, “Here’s the wonder we long wished to see,
“We yearned for a child as months turned into years
“Till time took our hope and wasted our tears
“And now in midwinter our dreams have come true
“Not one child we’re given, for here there are two!”

twas-poster

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

I entered a competition to write a poem continuing the first line and this is the result. The prize was a poster made especially for the poem and “The Grubdale Chronicles” by Michael Williams). Much to my surprise, I won first prize !

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Justice

I don’t know whom my ancestors supported in the English civil war. Their voice, their sufferings, during the republic’s creation and dissolution are, like those of most common men lost to history. Battlefields have been reduced to tourist attractions.

I weep for ordinary people like me who send their last tweets as bombs fall after another failed ceasefire. Tourist attractions are reduced to battlefields.

The murdered, the displaced, the orphaned are hard to unsee or unhear.

When our descendants decide on this war’s  “worth”, at least there is a little justice in that the common man’s condemnation is broadcast.

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Corfe Castle – destroyed in the English Civil War, now a tourist attraction.

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Prompted by Thin Spiral Notebook to write 100 words exactly about “Justice

Feeling Failure

We rarely used our ancient microwave. Its main purpose was cooking peas and porridge (not together). Nevertheless it caught fire last week when all I was doing was heating up a little water in a dish to warm the dish. (Don’t ask me why I didn’t just use water from the kettle, but it may indicate my current state of mind. Plus the house was very cold, hence warming the plate.)

A couple of days after this, the internet router went into death spasms and finally croaked on Friday evening, just in time for a weekend when having access to the web was actually essential rather than simply desirable.

This seemed a fitting end to a stressful November and I’m trying to restrain the illogical superstitious nagging voice which sneers “things come in threes – it’ll be the washing machine next. Mwah-ha-ha!”

This time two years ago, everything I had ever written was for family viewing only because I was too shy to let anyone else see it. In 2015, with some prompting, I entered a local competition and then joined some Facebook writing groups and by the end of November, had managed to complete my first Nanowrimo with a thriller (completely different sort of genre for me), had written a piece of flash every day for Flashnano, had joined a local writers’ group and was, having enjoyed this experience so much, was about to launch into writing a piece of flash every day for advent too. These two sets of flash ended up as the basis of two collections of short stories: “Kindling” and “The Advent Calendar”.

So having got to the end of 2015, my plans for 2016 included: finding a new job or new role within my current organisation; self-publishing “Kindling” before June and “The Advent Calendar” in September; revising last year’s Nanowrimo novel and finding an agent with a view to maybe getting it published; finishing a novella I started a few years ago and maybe (when feeling at my most optimistic) losing two stone (twenty-eight pounds), getting fit, getting/keeping the house straight and increasing our family intake of vegetables.

Things started ok. I went running after work in January and used my Christmas money to book onto a “how to self-publish your book” course at an arts centre which counts as local if seventeen miles is local. In February, I finally braced myself to actually read my 2015 Nanowrimo novel and found it was not too terrible. I started to read bits of it out at my Writers’ Group and got some good, useful feedback.

The actual slog of revising the novel however, was put to one side as I revised “Kindling” and “The Advent Calendar” and found volunteers to be my reviewers/proof readers and tried to work out what to do about covers. Meanwhile, the “how to self-publish your book” course was cancelled. The urge to exercise waxed and waned with the outside temperatures/weather fronts and inside stress levels. All the other things were a non-starter as they had been every year beforehand.

Then again, with the help of old friends, new friends, internet friends and books by Jo Roderick (“Publish it Yourself” and “Format it Yourself”) and Rick Smith (“How to Publish your Paperback with Createspace”), I published “Kindling” at the end of September. I agonised over the design of a cover and in the end, bought one. “The Advent Calendar”, with a cover I designed myself, came out just in time for Christmas and the leader of my writers’ group organised a story evening when I would get the chance to showcase my work and maybe sell some copies of both books. I decided I would do Nanowrimo again and maybe actually finish that novella after all and should it finish short of 50k, start something else to make up the words.

Meanwhile, after seven internal applications, I finally obtained another role within my own organisation and this started on 1st November, with two days of travelling to London and back from country-mouse territory, just in time for Nano and Flashnano. All started well. But, to cut a long story short, what with work and a number of other things, I gave up on Flashnano after 11th November and on Nanowrimo on 20th (having reached 25k and knowing it would be impossible to get any further).

The day of the story evening loomed. I was immensely nervous. “Tell us something about yourself” I was advised. What’s there to say about myself? I’m just a working mother who juggles work, teenagers, husband, housework, writing despite the fact I can’t juggle. In the end, on the way to a meeting the morning of the event, I sat on the train and jotted down a plan to “tell my story” using my actual stories. The day at work then deteriorated into one of those where you end up just wanting to crawl in a hole and lick your self-confidence back from minus ten to maybe zero. From this, I had to force myself into actress mode and be a story teller, make people laugh, make people think, make people go “aah”.

Do you know what? It went well. It went really well. I should have an Oscar for that performance. I sold some books. People said nice things. They wrote even nicer things. I came home high as a kite. But at four a.m. what woke me up was the bad day at work, churning over and over and over, obliterating all the positives. And although I had already resigned myself to not finishing Nano, I still felt disappointed that I hadn’t managed to do half of what I’d done the year before.

I’m not naturally a pessimist, so what’s wrong? Why is my default to think about the things which haven’t worked out rather than the things which have? My whole life has been a series of changes of direction resulting from bad choices or bad grades or just taking different routes from the ones I meant to take or simply life getting in the way of plans as it tends to do. (For example, if I’d followed the plan I’d set at eighteen, I’d have married my first love, would now have four grown up children and be a long established, award winning novelist. Instead I married a later love, have two teenage children (aargh), am still employed and only just starting on my published journey.)

Of the many management courses I’ve been on in a long (some days it feels longer than others) career, the one which I found most useful was about coping with change. Reference was made to “the change curve”. This was established from research into grieving, when it was discovered that the same pattern of behaviour applies to major change as it does to grief. Understanding this helped me immensely a few years later when my father died. I knew I was feeling positive because I needed to do a lot of coping for myself and my mother and also knew that shortly, the grief and disbelief would kick in, followed by a period of depression and/or utter weariness, followed by picking up the pieces once more.

In November this year, I started a new job and launched two books to an audience of strangers. These two things were good but stressful. The two books were the result of a year of work and emotion.

It is now wintertime, getting darker and darker, colder and colder, a season which drains me. My daughter is about to do her GSCEs and my son, about to do his A Levels, has his first university interview next week. They are on the threshold of adulthood. It seems like a hundred years since I was at that stage of life. There was bound to be a reaction.

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try, the ability to feel positive, however illogically, is overwhelmed by negative events. I need to give myself a break. It’s just the way I feel right now.

And if you’re feeling as down as I am, you need to give yourself a break too.

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Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Four a.m.

Yet again, despairing, I wake at four
Hoping this time the lava of oblivion
Will overwhelm the vortex of my thoughts
Spinning in chaos at this burgling hour.

Outside from house to house invaders peak
Easing open windows, doors
Armed with picks, crowbars and ill-intent
Burglars sneak.

In nurseries, dream-fogged people creep
Feeding, rocking, soothing
Those soft and milky balls of want and fear
Burgling sleep.

Elsewhere, people pause in jaws of death
Frail pulses beat, hands clasp, tears run
Exhaustion flutters in vain against the foe
Who burgles breath.

And in my mind, these thoughts won’t cease
Fears, anger, confusion whirl with draining force
Worry forces entry into sleep
Burgling peace.

vortex

Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission