"FUIMUS - We Have Been"

"FUIMUS - We Have Been!" motto of Clan Bruce

All material on SHIMMERCASTDREAMS copyright of Marie Bruce and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

BOOK NOOK; Favorite Summer Reading

There is something about the long summer days which seems to make people want to read more...  from easy chick-lit or racy novels quickly devoured while lazing on the beach, to the doorstop novel you can get lost in for hours while swinging on the hammock in the garden...a cool glass of wine and a great book can turn an ordinary day into something special.

I am a lifelong bookworm and I read all the time, but even I tend to stock-pile a few novels for the summer season.  As the sun shines down on the page, I like to loose myself in novels which feature large country houses, beach walks, sailing, horses and country pursuits.  I like stories set in the past rather than contemporary fiction, and I especially love books with descriptive passages detailing the life of a well-to-do lady.  One author I always find myself reading in the summertime is Daphne du Maurier.   Her descriptions of the Cornish coast are so vivid I can almost smell the ocean and feel the sea-fret on my face as I read and her novels just sum up summertime, but with a twist of danger and suspense...I find her work totally compelling.  Here are my most loved summer reads...the novels I come back to year after year.

  1. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  2. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
  3. Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier
  4. Wideacre by Philippa Gregory
  5. The House of Echoes by Barbara Erskine
  6. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  7. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  8. Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
  9. Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt
  10. The Time of the Hunter's Moon by Victoria Holt
These books all have one thing in common; beautiful, affluent people living rich lives in rambling country homes - it is pure escapism! Some, like those by Victoria Holt and Barbara Erskine have a touch of Gothic romance while others are literary classics. Each novel carries me away... to the sea, to the woods, to a Gothic mansion of many mysteries. Is there anything on this list that you haven't read? If so, give it a try and don't let the word classic put you off!  Happy reading.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

WRITER'S DREAM; Romancing the Writer

There is something very romantic about being a writer.  There is a wispy, dreamy quality about sitting with a note book, catching at any random thought that strays your way and hoping to turn it into something more solid – like a book.  The image of the Great Writer lost in thought, swigging back absinthe and feverishly producing page after page of manuscript is very seductive. This is not to say that all authors aspire to write great literature; many of us are just happy to be consistently published and to make a modest living.
            Unlike some other career paths the writing profession has an iconic place in popular culture.  Iconic, romantic images abound in the literary world; images such as Emily Bronte dying on the couch in the parsonage at Haworth before knowing the success her novel Wuthering Heights was to achieve in later years; or Robert Louis Stevenson writing Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in a feverish rush just before he died; the Romantic Poets chatting over absinthe and laudanum; Jane Austen defying convention by choosing to remain unmarried and supporting herself by the work of her pen; Virginia Wolfe walking into the river with a stone in her pocket.  No other profession has such an air of romantic tragedy about it.  It is not surprising that we allow ourselves to be seduced by such imagery.
 As you have probably guessed by now, I love reading classic novels and poetry and I am a fan of the Great Writers.  I am intrigued and in awe of their dedication.  They wrote very long books in the age of pen and ink, painstakingly copying out their manuscript several times to ensure it was presentable.  The postal service was also relatively new back then and one can only imagine the increased agony of a lost manuscript, when the whole thing would have to be hand written again.  Many of these great tomes were written by candle light, leaving their authors with sore eyes and poor vision. Although they knew no other way, this does not make their complete dedication any less valid and remarkable.  These writers were Committed with a capital ‘C’!
 I like to bring an air of  classic romance to my desk and because I am very inspired by the likes of Jane Austen and the Brontes I bought myself a replica of a Victorian ladies writing slope.  I can remember when I first saw these beautiful replicas on a visit to the Bronte Parsonage Museum in West Yorkshire.  I was 20 years old, still unpublished and I imagined these replicas to be akin to lucky charms.  Unfortunately at that time they were beyond my price range as they are very expensive.  Years later however, I bought my own writing slope with some of the proceeds from my own work.  I use this writing slope when I write out my first drafts.  It gets me into the right/write frame of mind and frees my creativity.
            I recently returned to Haworth and was thrilled to see my own work being sold in one of the shops on Main Street, just below the Parsonage.  In the space of 18 years I had gone from an unpublished wannabe to a published writer whose work was represented in Howarth, the literary Mecca of Yorkshire.  It might seem strange, but to me this is the ultimate accolade and one of the high points in my career so far. Perhaps it means such a lot to me because I am a Yorkshire lass but whatever the reason, now when I work at my writing slope I think of my work in that little Haworth shop and I am newly inspired.
            The writing slope is just one of the little tricks I use to summon up inspiration. I have also used a feathered biro – a modern take on the old quill pens and much easier to use.  I have been know to wear poets tops with frilly cuffs and I have tried absinthe, though to be honest it didn’t inspire me so much as leave me with a killer headache!  These are some of the things I do to keep the writing flowing and to navigate past writer's block.
 So now the question is; what would inspire you? What trick or romantic tool could you use to free your creativity and put your mind in the mood to write?  It might be a writing slope, a director’s chair, a quill pen or a new laptop. It might be something as simple as re-reading the old classics or a visit to a literary location.  Whatever it may be, bear in mind that you are investing in yourself as a writer. Such money is never a waste so dare to invest in your dream. Where do you hope your writing will take you in the next 18 years? 

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Lazy Summer Rides

Longer days means more time spent messing around at the stables, though it must be said that the British summer this year has made for some very soggy rides!  Summer riding is a completely different experience to winter riding, which is why people who begin taking riding lessons in summer often drop out by mid-winter.   In winter the ground is hard so there is little jumping and not much fast pacing if its frosty.  This all changes in spring and summer when long rides of cross country jumps and fast gallops can be enjoyed to the full.  I love riding at any time of year, in any weather. Each season presents its own challenges to horse and rider and fair-weather riders never get to enjoy the beauty of hacking out through a snowy Narnian forest.

Although it has been very wet and grey this summer, this essentially means that the ground hasn't been hard baked by sunlight and the going is reasonably good.  As the trees are in full leaf and the canopy is closed the local woods are a shady space, full of magical summer shadows.  There is a dark greenish light filtering through the trees, almost like an underwater atmosphere.  Even the rain is refreshing as it energizes the horses and puts a spring in their step.  When the sun does break through one cannot help but smile at the reminder that yes, this is summertime and there are still hours of daylight and horse time to enjoy.

I really enjoy hacking out in the woods and fields and it was during such a ride that I came up with the song Call to Epona   for my Moonchants album.  I don't always ride out with others as sometimes I want to enjoy the experience of being the only one out in the woods, hearing the sounds of my horses hooves and the gentle snorting of a happy mount.  Summer woodlands can be just as spooky as winter landscapes as there are more shadows at play.  I like a meditative ride through the still summer forest, watching the wildlife as I go, before a hair-raising gallop across open fields; that is the best feeling!  The air is fresh with the scent of summer rain and meadow flowers, mingled with the aroma of newly turned earth as hooves dig into the muddy bridleways.  Further more, the rain often keeps other people indoors - there are no children climbing trees, no young families out walking, no mountain bikers or worse trail bikers around; even dog walkers tend to stay closer to home in a downpour, so I often feel as if I have the whole forest to myself.  It makes me think of days gone by when people would travel by horseback, through deep forest, in all weathers.  It is like stepping back in time, just for a short while...a complete escape which I am glad that I have the skill to enjoy.

If horse riding is something you have always wanted to try I can heartily recommend it for its uplifting, energizing benefits.  Book a few lessons and see how you go. Some stables offer special rates during the school holidays, or family lessons. You won't be hacking out and jumping right away as that it too dangerous for a beginner, but you can still enjoy the experience of being out on horseback in the fresh air of a very British summertime!

Friday, 13 July 2012


Have you ever created a goddess book or a style file?  This is basically a collection of pictures torn from magazines and put together to inspire your day to day style or to remind you of a look you are trying to achieve.  It is good for those down days when you feel a bit under the weather, or when you are having a Fat-day or an Ugly-day!

I have done this kind of thing for years and I enjoy creating collections of glamorous images which inspire me.  They can be images of cat walk outfits from Fashion Week, make-up tutorial photos or tear sheets of an advertisement campaign for a perfume I want to try or an item of clothing I love,  like the picture on the right which is from www.hush-uk.com  This Annie dress is one of my favorite Hush purchases. I love their smock dresses and I own quite a few.

Style files work in the same way as treasure maps and vision boards; they are a visual cue to help your dreams and aspirations come true.  With this in mind I have just spent a couple of happy girly hours this evening going through old fashion magazines, back dated Hush brochures and perfume ads.  Once I selected my chosen images I set to work arranging them in a collage on the inside of my wardrobe doors - this way no-one else can see them, but I am inspired whenever  I open the doors to get dressed each morning or to put clothes away after picking up the room in the evenings. In this way I am inspired to put my best face forward each day and to present my 'look' to the world with confidence. My wardrobe doors are now acting as my Style File with various images from celebrities in couture Chanel gowns,  to Hush models wearing items I already own,  to pretty perfume ad prints. It is an inspirational way to get ready in the morning.  It makes me smile each time I open the doors...and when I close them again, no-one knows that I am really a closeted Beauty/Fashion addict! Shh...that's a secret!

Do you have a fashion look book;  a secret style file or vision board? Do you plan to create one for yourself? I'd love to hear what inspires you to look your best each day so leave a comment below or Tweet me.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

HOME SWEET HOME; Spiritual Retreat

I can almost smell the sea and hear the gently lapping waves each time I see this picture!  

Just lately I have been having wistful dreams of going off somewhere wonderful to enjoy a spiritual retreat.  Trouble is my working break in the Highlands isn't until autumn and with the double dip of the recession a second trip right now would be financially irresponsible. That doesn't mean that I have lost the longing to escape though so I got to thinking about the essence of my wistful dream; what was I really yearning for?  After a brain-storming session I came up with a cluster of things I felt a Retreat center would give me such as peace, space from work/family stress, time out from responsibility, mental clarity, pampering and permission to just relax.  I also thought about what a Retreat center has on offer such as yoga, spa experiences, meditation, hypnosis, crystal healing therapies and so on.

I wish my bath was this deep!
This brain-storming exercise proved to be most useful as I quickly realized that I have almost everything I need to recreate a Retreat experience here in my own home. After all, I teach this stuff in my work as a writer so I have all the essentials to hand.  With stay-cations being all the rage I plan to make a Retreat of my house. I have come to the conclusion that it isn't so much an exotic location or a long, tiring journey that appeals to me, but the opportunity to just switch off, log off and tune out the world so I can tune into myself a bit more.

Browsing through my study I  soon put together a pile of spiritual books, guided meditation and hypnosis CD's, yoga and belly-dancing DVD's.  Casting a glance through my magical cabinets I rummaged out crystals, incense, oils and scented candles.  I found a bath spa lingering in the cupboard under the stairs - I knew I had one somewhere! - and I'm going to pick up mud masks, body scrubs, lotions and lots of healthy treats on a late night trip to the local shopping center.  I might not have a sea breeze but then, I won't have to put up with sand in my knickers either!

I am going to take time out by switching off the phones, computer, TV and so on.  To all intents and purposes I am not at home and I am not at work - I am on Retreat; reading, meditating, healing, relaxing, pampering and just generally recharging my super-stressed-out batteries. Cool cocktails, New Age music,  belly-dancing, mud masks and hypnosis will be the order of the day. I'm looking forward to spending the wet and dreary summer at home this year, in my home made Retreat and Spa Center...and unlike a booked holiday, my retreat can take place whenever I want, for a long as I want, and I plan to be on and off Retreat throughout the summer months! What's not to like?  Will you be joining me in turning your home into a glamorous Retreat and taking time out to pamper and ponder?

Saturday, 7 July 2012

WRITER'S DREAM; Six Degrees of Rejection

Rejection is part of the writing life. If you are a very sensitive person and you cannot handle rejection with grace and dignity, then this job is not for you. Yes, rejection is frustrating, upsetting and disappointing but it is part of the job and you must learn to deal with it graciously if you hope to work in the publishing industry as a writer.  You would not expect to work as a teacher and only teach the clever, well behaved kids; in the same way, you should not expect to try your hand at being a writer and expect to avoid rejection.

Most published authors have experienced rejection at some stage in their career.  Of course, it can feel as if you have wasted your time in making the submission, especially as most editors and agents don't like re-submissions or re-queries, so you only get one shot or you will quickly be regarded as a pest, but there is more than one editor/agent in the business so you can always try again somewhere else.  Having said all of that there are different degrees of rejection, which if you are new to the industry, you might not be aware of.  The list below will help you to determine where you are on the slush/rejection pile and which editors are genuinely interested in your work.

  • Ignored;   This one sucks as no-one likes to be ignored.  It is the worst kind of rejection and it effectively means that you still have to get onto the bottom rung of the slush pile ladder!  In this case the editor either didn't have the time to respond with a rejection, they suspect you of being a Piggy-Backer ( see my earlier post on this topic) or it is their editorial policy that after six months of waiting new writers should simply assume rejection.  The good news is that the more successful you become, the less likely you are to be ignored.
  • Rejection Slip;  This is similar to a compliments slip but without the flattery.  It will usually be attached to your returned hard-copy submission and be printed with words along the lines of We have read your work with interest but cannot accept it for publication.  The rejection slip is a polite thanks but no thanks, though in these days of free and easy email subs, it is not so commonplace as it was when I first began my writing career.
  • Form Letter;  A polite letter which is a slightly longer version of the rejection slip.  A form letter is usually PP signed by a representative of the publishing house, say an admin worker, rather than a named editor or the signature is likely to be an illegible squiggle so there is no come-back from a disgruntled writer.
  • Form Letter + Tip Sheet;  As above but with a print out of tips on how to get published, which may include hints on presentation.  While this is still a rejection you should be grateful for the free professional advice; editors don't have to spend the company's money printing and sending out tip sheets.  Read and absorb. Also check to see if any particular tip has been highlighted, as if so the editor is giving you a hint on why you were rejected and how you can improve your work/submissions. Still a rejection though I'm afraid.
  • The Named Letter;  This is where it starts getting interesting!  If the rejection letter is addressed to you personally as Mr/Ms Surname AND it is legibly signed by a named commissioning editor you have got their attention.  Now, how the letter ends is important;  if it goes something like Sadly I am afraid we cannot offer you publication but wish you every success in placing your work elsewhere then they are basically closing the door in your face and telling you not to bother them again....BUT ...
  • Named Letter + Request;  If the above letter ends with wording along the lines of Sadly on this occasion I am afraid that I cannot offer you publication but I would be interested in seeing more of your work  you should be happy dancing! Editors don't make such a request unless they see potential.  Take your time when working on something new; don't rush it. Second chances are very rare in the publishing industry so waste it by being impatient and turning in a half-cooked idea or badly written synopsis. The editor will respect you more if you take the time to make a decent submission. It was a letter of this type which launched my career. Be encouraged if you receive one.
I know that rejection stings - and yes, I have had my fair share of all of the above at various times in my career! - but knowing where you stand with a particular House or editor means that you can submit your work where it is best received.  And when it comes to rejection, it is possible to be in two places at once; you might be ignored by one House and get a tip sheet from another.  Its all swings and roundabouts.

I hope this post has helped those of you who are trying to get published; don't be too disheartened by rejection - we've all been there and lived to write another day. Bon Chance!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Down Days and Pick Me Ups

Everyone has down days; even if you have your dream job and you have a happy home life, some days just seem harder to get through than others.  Lots of things can upset your state of mind; a bad day at work, a disagreement with your partner, problems with your kids or child care issues can all have a negative effect on your mood. Even an exciting new job can leave you feeling low.

When you feel under the weather your body is trying to tell you to take a moment or two to yourself, but usually this subtle hint is ignored and people continue their daily routine until illness forces them to just stop.  A low mood might be teaching you to reevaluate your life so that you can determine what really matters and how you spend your time.  If work is getting you down, perhaps its time to move on and do something else.  If you are not getting along with your partner maybe you need to make your relationship a bigger priority, or accept that its over and end it. Of course some days you can just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, feeling generally out of sorts with the world; down days do not always have a serious issue to support them.

One of the down sides of being a writer is the creative come-down - which happens shortly after completing a project.  Creative come-down is the flip side of the creative high or euphoria an artist feels when the work has been going really well, a long project is finally finished, or something new has just been released and all the events surrounding publication have subsided.  Suddenly, the work has stopped or slowed down and there is more time to wonder 'what next?'   This is when the doubts begin to nag at you and it is usually when a bad flu forces you into submission!  Creative come-down is just a natural part of living the life of an artist...we all have them, even big stars like Kylie who has admitted to experiencing the slump following a great launch,tour or a long stint in the studio.  Its just a part of the creative process.  So if you have been working on a big presentation at work and you are left feeling flat and low, chances are you are in the midst of a creative slump.  

During a period of down days it is important that you activate your self-care and self-nurturing skills.  Act as soon as you start to feel low to ward off more serious emotional slumps at a later stage.  Admit that you are feeling under par at the moment and give yourself the time out you need.  Below are some of the things I do when experiencing a creative come-down to make myself feel better.

  •  I prescribe myself a course of self-help reading, either taking books from my collection, or picking up new ones.  I like Paul McKenna's work a lot; I have several of his books and hypnosis CD's which I find useful.

  • I nurture my inner-child by re-reading old childhood favorites like Enid Blyton school stories, Nancy Drew novels, and old Jackie pony books.  It takes me back to a simpler time in my life.
  • I enjoy fairytales, reading my anthologies of fairytales from around the world, Celtic folklore and so on.  This increases my sense of enchantment and wonder and its hard to be sad when enchanted. For the same reason I watch Disney's classic fairytales, or I might watch one of the modern movie versions such as Red Riding Hood,  Snow White and the Huntsman or Mirror Mirror.  Victoria Frances' Gothic fairytale books are also very lovely.
  • Pondering.  This is easier than a full on meditation and not so disciplined. Pondering is sitting in silence with a cup tea or coffee and allowing the mind to wander and thoughts to drift. No TV, radio, books or writing is involved.  Pondering is simply sitting quietly in the company of your own thoughts. I enjoy it. It makes me listen to my instincts and intuition more closely. Pondering in the garden is good for you as the fresh air clears away the cobwebs.
  • I ask myself the question "What would make me happy right now, in this moment?" and then I act upon the answer. It might be a mug of hot chocolate, a hot bath, an ice-cream, a breath of fresh air, a nice walk in the woods, a new novel, a skating session, horse-riding, or listening to music. Whatever it is, once I act upon the prompt I start to feel better.
  • I write in my journal, putting down everything I am thinking and feeling at the particular time. I write my journal in the mornings so that I have a place to set the tone for my day.  In the evening I write in my diary where I review the events of the day; both journal and diary give me a place to place my thoughts, feelings, worries and concerns. It frees up my mind space so I can get on with other things.
  • I pamper myself with face packs, skin care routine, body scrubs and butters, scented candles and oils, fluffy bed socks and arm warmers, cosy pj's, a hot water bottle and my cat! I get snugly and take a nap or have an early night in bed with a book.
I hope that these tips and tricks will prove useful to you next time you are having a down day or a creative come-down.  Without the lows we would not have the highs and it is just a natural part of the creative process.  If you feel very down for a prolonged period then you should go and have a chat with your GP.
Blessed Be, Marie x