"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.


Friday, 26 December 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Boxing Day Snow!

"Shrouded in snow's silent bliss, I've fallen down to the frozen earth"
Lyrics from Song of the Snow Queen on Moonchants album.


It is early evening on Boxing Day and the first snow of the winter is falling here in Yorkshire. The landscape is now appropriately festive in her gown of icy aqua white. 
The Snow Queen is flying in circles around my house, fluttering her magic to the ground as she goes. As the pretty flakes fall they are illuminated by twinkling outdoor fairy-lights, creating a stunning spectacle of shimmering, glimmering colour and light. It is a collaboration between mankind and mother nature. 

The snow has turned each tree and shrub into a Christmas tree, giving each one a festive makeover. My garden has become a beautiful winter forest scene, silver white and full of enchantment.  It is a place where Herne the Hunter could be hiding, his antlers sparkling with winter magic; where frost fairies dance in swirling glee upon snow-flakes; where a portal to the silver world of winter lingers for a brief moment in time, to be lost later with the thaw.   It is a place to cast ice spells, where the winter witch comes into her own element.  It is cold, yet still I walk a few sharp steps, barefoot in the snow, to greet the winter and welcome the Snow Queen to my home.  This beautiful snowy night is an extra special Yuletide gift from the winter goddess. I plan to give thanks and enjoy it.  Blessed Be. 


 


Wednesday, 24 December 2014

WRITER'S DREAM; Festive Inspiration


It is 7.30pm on Christmas Eve. I'm sitting at the writer's bureau in my sitting room, the tree is twinkling in the corner and the fireplace is lit up with fairy-lights and dancing flames.  I have a cup of  Irish Cream hot chocolate beside me and the steam is warm and fragrant.  The stockings are hung by the fire with care...the cat is curled up on the chaise lounge...candles are flickering.

I am feeling very festive, inspired and nostalgic.  This time of year is so full of memories and the picture above reminds me of the year Father Christmas brought my brother and I matching typewriters when we were young - Petite 990's to be exact. I wonder if he knew we would both grow up to become successful published authors?  There were always new books beneath the tree too, so I'm guessing he had an inkling!

The peacefulness of Christmastide has always been a very productive time for me as a writer. Everyone is so busy with crazy kids that it is easy for the child-free author to hibernate and get some creative work done. It is something I have done for years, initially from necessity as the update for The Witch's Almanac always had to be written over the Yuletide period with an early January deadline, so I had no choice but to work right through the festive season.  Now it has formed into a comforting habit and  something I look forward to about December, when I'm writing at the bureau with the tree lights and fire casting a cosy glow, rather than up in my study, which is where I usually write.  

I always like to burn Frankincense oils and incense for these festive writing stints as it is said to bring inspiration and creativity.  It is a warm, comforting fragrance that fills the room as I write this post.  It is also true that the things I write at Christmas time stay with me in my mind, year after year - The Witch's Almanac updates (ten years worth!), Magical Beasts (my grandmother had just died on December 21st and writing was a great escape for me then), Angels home-study courses (way back when I was a very new writer in the 1990's) and in-House synopsis for Magical Home, The Witch's Almanac (which began as a seed of an idea I had before a crackling hotel fireside on my very first visit to Strathpeffer in 2001) and The Wiccan Temptress. These are the magical memories of a writer at Christmas. 

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you will know that a couple of days ago I spent time cleaning up the files on my laptop; sifting, sorting, saving and deleting.  I have to do this every year just to keep my computer clean and organized - digital files can be even more of a mess than piles of hard copy. It is a good way for me to review the working patterns of the past year, to see what has worked well, where I've placed the most freelance features and what ideas I still need to develop.  My laptop is like a virtual office space - I run my business as an author from here so I cannot allow it to be weighed down and cluttered up with tat. So I clear the decks and make a clean sweep of it as much as I can.  This makes space for a whole new year of writing projects, creative ventures, columns, features, snippets, articles and so on.  On a psychological level it also makes space for a fresh burst of optimism and motivation to move in too. I like to feel that I have made room for my career and business to grow, to develop and to perhaps branch out if it wants to.  

A writing life is one that is alive, vibrant and dynamic.  It moves at its own pace, sometimes slowly, sometimes at such a rate of knots you can barely keep up.  It pays no mind to bank holidays. So when the whole of society is busy with Christmas festivities,  I try to incorporate some writing time into my own celebrations.  I enjoy it. It makes me smile in gratitude that I am published and a consistently working writer, that I can make my living and buy Christmas gifts with the money I make doing what I love to do. As soon as this post has gone up I plan to get a head start on the new year by writing for one of my columns.  Then I'm going to settle down by the hearth and watch The Northern Ballet dance A Christmas Carol.  On this wet and windswept Christmas Eve I am feeling happy, content and productive and I wish every one of you a very joyful festive season.
Blessed Be
Marie x 


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

BOOK NOOK; Top 3 Yuletide Books


There is something lovely and old fashioned about giving books as Yuletide gifts, especially if they have a seasonal theme.  Although e-books are a more convenient purchase, you can't beat the feel of a real book, beautifully wrapped and waiting beneath the tree.  Here are my favourite Christmas books from my library, which would make lovely treats to yourself now all the gift buying is done and dusted.

Miss Read's Christmas Book is a charming compilation of  festive anecdotes and literary extracts from famous novels.  It is a beautifully illustrated picture book, the art design being reminiscent of the works of Beatrix Potter.  Chapters include The Nativity, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Twelfth Night.  This is the very first Christmas book I ever purchased, shortly after I left home at the age of 20.  I wanted to recreate the magic of my childhood and also find inspiration for creating my own personal festive traditions.  It has been a treasured tome ever since.



I am a fan of the Edwardian writer and artist Edith Holden and I own a copy of her Country Diary. Some years ago I stumbled across this tribute to her work and the festive season combined. The Country Diary Christmas Book has all the charm of the original Country Diary.  It features Edith Holden's water-colour illustrations and extracts from the nature notes she is most famous for.  In addition it includes country lore, folklore, seasonal rhymes, carol lyrics, craft projects and the history of our Christmas traditions.  This book was invaluable to me when I set about writing The Witches Almanac over a decade ago and I wanted a similar feel to my seasonal writing as Edith Holden gave to her Country Diary. For that reason it holds a special place in my heart. The blurb promises that it is "As rich and satisfying as a plum pudding..." and I agree.

I saved the best for last - Penhaligon's Scented Christmas Treasury of Verse and Prose by Sheila Pickles is the latest in my collection of Yuletide books.  Penhaligons are a famous British perfumers and their fragrances are reputedly worn by Her Majesty the Queen. They have collaborated with the publisher to create a series of stunning scented poetry books.  Each anthology has a different theme and is scented to match.  They come in their own individual slip case to prolong the fragrance and they are lavishly illustrated.   I have been collecting them for years but was never able to track down the final Christmas book until earlier this year.  I am delighted to have it as not only does it complete my Penhaligon Collection, it is a gorgeous book to help get into the festive spirit, being fragranced with the scent of Winter Garden. Full of seasonal poems and prose extracts from famous classic novels and authors, it is a rare treat.  All the great authors are represented including Sir Walter Scott, Thomas Hardy, Virgina Wolfe, Christina Rossetti, Walter de la Mare and of course Charles Dickens.  

All of these books are up on Amazon UK, but you will probably need to buy them used as I think they might be currently out of print.  Still, it's always nice to find an older book that someone has treasured and these titles are perfect for curling up by a twinkling tree for some fireside festive reading. Happy Holidays! 






Friday, 28 November 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Once Upon A Dream...

"Touch the spindle...touch it I say!"

Once Upon A Dream is my favourite Disney song, largely because it is featured in the Disney version of my favourite fairytale Sleeping Beauty.   I have a personal tradition of watching Sleeping Beauty every year on my birthday and I've been singing the song for years and years. It has a very special meaning to me.  It has been the inspiration behind a poem I wrote of the same title, published in one of my books and it is also the tag title of many of my blog posts, where I write about all things magical and enchanting.

If you have ever tried to sing along to the original you will know that it is ludicrously high.  This new version of the song by Lana Del Rey takes it down a notch, but it is just as beautiful - and much easier to sing.  It is from the film Maleficent which I got for my birthday last week...the dark tale of how innocence and trust betrayed can freeze a heart and make it cold.  I love this fresh take on a classic Disney villain. Angelina Joli is insanely beautiful - even with horns! So now I have two versions of the fairytale to watch on my birthday each year.

The song itself reminds me of old loves and fresh hope, so I wanted to share it here on my blog.  It is something bewitching to listen to on a dark, damp November afternoon and it could even thaw a frozen heart...you never know.  Enjoy. 

Thursday, 6 November 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; I'm now on Facebook

Merry meet...
Just to let you all know that I am now on Facebook and you can find me there as Marie Bruce.

My plan is to keep most of Facebook private, just for my everyday friends and colleagues but I've added a Follow button so that my readers can view my public posts, just like on Twitter. 

Unless I know you personally I won't accept friend requests, but feel free to Follow my page to keep up to date, or follow me on Twitter.

If you do know me, but we haven't seen one another for a while, make sure you message me along with you friend request so I know to accept your request and not dismiss you as some random loony!  You can also use the new Contact Form in the right hand side bar of this blog to contact me directly and privately by email.

Looking forward to greeting old friends and new followers over on my Facebook page.

Blessed Be 
Marie x

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Brave Memories...

Merida from Disney's Brave

Memories hide in the strangest places and can be triggered by the simplest of things...
I can't wait to make a few more of them! 

Monday, 13 October 2014

MUSICAL DOLL; My Immortal Inspiration



My Immortal by Evanescence is one of my favourite songs for this spooky time of year. It fits the season of Samhain perfectly.  When I was the anchor vocalist in my step-father's bar I would sing this song as a hush fell over the customers. The melody is instantly recognizable and the lyrics are quite tear-jerking.  It wasn't my singing that captivated people, but the powerful beauty of this song.

It is two years since my step-father passed away after losing his battle against cancer and as we pass this sorrowful anniversary, my thoughts have gone back to that time, when he was the life and soul of the party, and I was his little songbird.  My mind has been playing this song all weekend. I just haven't been able to let  it go.  I like to think he is reaching out to me through music, as he did love to hear me sing this rock ballad, though I felt that I could never do the song true justice to be honest. 

For me, Amy Lee, lead vocalist of Evanescence, is the undisputed queen of darkly beautiful lyrics and haunting piano melodies.  In this music video to accompany the song she takes on the role of the ghost of a suicide - this is apparent by the bandages at her wrists and ankles.  The Gothic genre is full of symbolism and here Amy is seen laying on various surfaces above the ground, suspended between life and death, as a suicide victim is believed to be lost in limbo, between this world and the next.  The autumn leaves are falling around her - autumn being the season of darkness, death and decay.  It is just such an evocative all-round piece with melody, lyrics and imagery all working together to create a unique and haunting, atmospheric soundscape. 

Listening to this song over the weekend has made me long to sing again.  I haven't kept up with my singing or piano practice anywhere near as much as I should have over the past couple of years.  Perhaps this song stuck in my head for the last few days is a special message that I need to get back into it - to leave the shadows behind and remember the good times - to raise a glass and a torch-song to my step-dad, who was nothing if not the instigator of a good knees-up! 
So cheers and a happy, healthy and long life to you all...
BB Marie x

Thursday, 9 October 2014

WRITER'S DREAM; A Writer's Education

Guided by a higher force...

In a swirl of lashing rain, thunder, lightening and gusty winds, autumn finally arrived in Yorkshire yesterday. Up until then it had been unseasonably warm, which my cat Pyewackett has been loving - we celebrated his Sweet 16th on Monday and he was sun bathing!  I am ready to enjoy the cooler weather.  Miserable weather is great for writers; it lends an atmosphere of retreat to a long day at the desk.  With the heating on, candles flickering and a cup of chai tea latte beside me I can sit quite happily, writing away for hours, lulled into a dreamscape by the patter of rain against the study window.

I am into the next level of my psychotherapy course and while I'm still finding the pretentiousness of academia a bit much to take on board without rolling my eyes, I'm enjoying the course for the most part.  It has already enriched my writing career - literally! The single sale of a feature on empathy has earned back the money I spent in course fees this time last year, so I can clearly see that my plan is working and both the course and my writing career will soon be feeding off one another quite effectively. More features have been placed since that one and I am surprised at how easy it has been to incorporate my new learning into an already established writing career.

It is notoriously difficult for an author to re-brand themselves and switch genres, which is why pen-names come in handy.  I think psychotherapy sits on the edge of my writing sphere anyway, so it hasn't been too much of a risk for editors to run these new type of features from me as a core contributor - if anything it has simply added a fresh slant, which is what keeps magazines alive and dynamic. 

It is also good for me to have a fresh focus and a whole new back-up plan, which this course has offered me.  The recent recession has been a tough time for anyone who works in the creative fields.  I am quite lucky in that I have several publishers, but when a long-standing magazine I contributed to regularly, folded and went under, I must confess it left me somewhat rattled.  Seemingly overnight, I had lost a source of income, with no warning.  This is the reality of being a freelance writer.  While I have other publishing contracts and contacts  to keep my business ticking over nicely, there is no doubt that commissions slowed for a time and  have only just begun to pick up again. Editors are working to very tight budgets to keep their magazines and houses in business.

It seemed like as good a time as any to work on a back-up plan; one that would easily co-exist with my writing career and enrich my work.  So far the plan is working like a charm; there is a sense of faith that this is something I am meant to do, and that it will keep my writing vibrant as I go.  Last night when I got in from class I spent the entire night tucked away in my study studying, falling into bed at 6am.  It was fun and I enjoyed the sense of accomplishment I had as I drifted off to sleep.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, the course is really just a stepping-stone for me, to get me closer to where I want to be.  I have achieved almost all of my life goals, with only three major goals left to go...but I have a sense of certainty that I will achieve these too, now I have this new string to my bow.  For the first time, these three major goals are on the horizon of my life, not yet within my reach, but I can see them and I feel now that I can make them my reality.  If there is destiny at work then I feel grateful for the helping hand, and they do say that life begins at 40, so perhaps I've just been saving the best goals for last!



Friday, 19 September 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; For my Scots Boys

Dear Boys, 

Whichever way you voted yesterday know that I am proud of you all.  I'm sorry Scotland has been torn in half by the Referendum but I'm sure it will pull together again soon enough.  Stay indoors this weekend and don't get caught up in any drunken scrapping!  Tensions and emotions will be running high. I expect my boys to remain calm and centered.  I'll be back to see you next month. Look out for me then.  Meantime, here is a pic of me at Bannockburn to make you smile;


with love to you all, my little pride of lions

Maz 
xoxo

Thursday, 11 September 2014

BOOK NOOK; Gravitas by Caroline Goyder

www.gravitasmethod.com
Caroline Goyder is fast becoming one of my favourite self-help authors.  I fell in love with her first book The Star Qualities some time ago and reviewed it here  on my blog.  Her new book is called Gravitas and it has been on my to-read list for a while. As I am back in night classes once more studying a psychotherapy course, now seemed like a good time to read it.  It was just what I needed!

Caroline has a very gentle authorial voice; she isn't pushy with her readers, commanding them to 'just do it'. Instead she comes across like a big sister, sharing her knowledge and pointing out the pitfalls to watch out for.  She is a kindly mentor. As public speaking is one of my fears and presentations are a compulsory element of the course I'm on, I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place, but on reading Gravitas, I now have a vital box of tools to help me through the trauma of it all.

Gravitas sounds like a big word, a big deal. It sounds quite intimidating and I probably wouldn't have bought this book if I wasn't already familiar with the author's previous work.  I have found The Star Qualities to be so useful over the years and I'm sure Gravitas will become my anchor in a sea of uncertainty.

We communicate everyday, on so many different levels, yet rarely are we taught how to do it effectively.If you have ever struggled to be heard in a meeting, or missed out on a promotion due to shyness, or you just need to speak with more authority over the phone then Gravitas is what you need.

I especially enjoyed the section where Caroline talks about 'the gremlins' - those people who try to undermine your confidence, sabotage you at work, nit-pick at everything or just drain you to the point of exhaustion with their garrulous conversation.  Gremlins are the people who feed your anxieties and make your head spin so that you cannot think clearly and they can then hold the floor and work to their own agenda.  Not only does this book teach you how to spot the gremlins in your life, it also tells you how to deal with them and neutralize their negative impact. I found this part of the book very reassuring - it's not just me being mean - these kind of people do exist and I have, in the past, invited them into my life.  Thankfully I now know what to watch out for.

I have enjoyed reading Gravitas and I am eager to see what Ms Goyder comes up with for her next book.
Check out the link above to find out more about Caroline's work.  You can also follow us both on Twitter;

@carolinegoyder
@marie_bruce



Friday, 29 August 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Autumn in the Highlands

Watch out for me boys...I'm coming back!

It seems as if the brief summer is now over as there is a chill in the air and the distinct feel of autumn approaching.   The nights are drawing in earlier and it's now dark for 9 pm.  It is the time of year to think about making the house cosy with rugs, throws and faux furs to snuggle into;  to turn towards comforting dishes of lasagna and Shepard's pie, baked potatoes, and apple and blackberry crumble, drenched in custard.  I've taken to lighting candles in the evenings again and I've put away my summer oils, replacing them with autumnal fragrances for my oil burner instead.

As the seasons start to shift my thoughts are turning back to Scotland.  Last year I went to Oban, a place I'd never visited before. I had a great time, made friends with a lone piper, and walked by the sea everyday.

This year I will be returning to my old haunt of Strathpeffer.  I've taken the advice of the hotel manager there and decided to go a little later in the autumn than I usually do, so I can enjoy the golden colours of the Highlands. It will be the height of the rutting season, so I'm hoping to see some wild stags - I usually do see stags in Strathpeffer, but the rut might mean that they are too busy scrapping in the glen to come and see me, so I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed. I'm looking forward to being in Scotland again...my soul sings when I am in the Highlands and I feel the magic of the place reaching out to me with every step...
It won't be long now...just a few weeks to wait.

In the meantime I plan to enjoy the return of the darker nights with spicy scented candles, cable knit slipper socks, chai tea latte, dark chocolate covered ginger biscuits and a pile of  Country Living and Country Homes autumnal back issue magazines, to get me into the spirit of the new season.  It's time to still the soul with a bit of self-nurturing and the fine art of staying in. 

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Love Letters

Seal it with a kiss and let the postman be your messenger of love

"We write letters because they last, even when the love that inspired them has gone..."
Quotation from How to Write Love Letters by Michelle Lovric

In a technological age it would seem that we have lost the art of writing love letters.  These days we rush off an email, a text or post a message to someone on Facebook or Twitter, but the romantic gesture of actually writing and posting a love letter is all but forgotten.

For me love letters are the best possible approach from a new suitor; less fattening than chocolates, more lasting than flowers, the humble billet doux will always get my attention.  Maybe it's because I'm a writer and so a written message captures my interest.  If it's written down, I simply have to read it. I cannot ignore it, like I can dismiss a pick-up approach in public.

There is something rather special about a letter, or even a cheeky Hallmark card that says just the right thing, coming unexpectedly through the letterbox.  It is a small act of genuine regard that has the power to make someone's day.  It can make the difference between a romance blossoming or falling flat before it's even got off the ground.  It can pave the way for a new love to be made welcome in a woman's life.

There is much to be said for this type of 'softly-softly'  approach.  A love letter isn't a demand for a woman's time and attention; it isn't an unexpected and inconvenient knock on the door when she's in the bath.  It is a gentle whisper that says 'When you have a moment, read this'  A love letter is a non-threatening approach, so perfect for the gun-shy girl, wounded by love in the past.  It is an invitation to consider the possibility of something more.  It is a private moment when she can experience a man's regard for her, without being expected to give anything in return.  There is a purity to the love letter - the gentle caress of the wordsmith leading a woman to make a reply; it gives her permission to speak the truth of her heart without fear of embarrassment because distance creates a protective shield. 

The billet doux can quite respectfully be taken to bed long before the suitor; it can be read, over and over, while the moonlight filters into the bedroom and the candles flicker.  The kisses written in a love letter are just as treasured as the real thing, and they last forever.  If lovers are forced to spend time apart, a love letter can be the best way to ensure he is the last one to wish her goodnight and sweet dreams, as she peruses his  words before she goes to sleep at night.  It can be the bridge that brings them together in the end and the hope for a brighter future together.

"Mine own sweetheart, these shall be to advertise to you of the great aloneness that I find here since your departing"
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn

Monday, 14 July 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Beware the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing


Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing...don't stray from the path...be careful who you trust...never let your guard down etc etc.  Little girls are taught from a young age to be careful of the people they trust for they may not be all that they seem.  Little Red Riding Hood is a parable designed to teach this early on, yet as we grow up, it's often the 'wolves' that get our attention first.

I have a tendency to see the best in people and while this sounds like a great virtue, over the years I have come to realize that it is actually my biggest flaw.  It means that I sometimes trust the wrong people, those who would manipulate others to serve their own agenda.  It means that I have been deceived in the past and I have failed to recognize when I am under the influence of what psychologists call truth bias and traumatic bonding. 

Put simply truth bias is when the facts are staring you in the face but you just don't allow yourself to believe it, so you believe the word of a liar instead, because you love the person who is being dishonest.  In that moment it is easier to accept a lie than it is to deal with the reality of the truth.  Truth bias is a twisted form of self-preservation...believe the lie and kiss and make up; believe the lie and go on as before; believe the lie and avoid change. Because change seems more painful than deception.

Traumatic bonding is when you find yourself in a relationship that is not really of your choosing, but which just seems to develop during a stressful time in your life.  If you are dealing with illness or bereavement, it can be difficult to see when you are being manipulated and drawn into a relationship against your better judgment.   There are some people who would take advantage of any situation, even funerals and serious illnesses, in order to compromise you and take advantage.  They are wolves in sheep's clothing - they look like good guys, they act like good guys - they might even be in a profession which garners automatic trust such as doctors or the police - yet they are acting from their own selfish agenda and you have inadvertently become their latest little tidbit.  

Traumatic bonding and truth bias frequently go hand in hand, meaning that you become blind to the situation you are in, partly because no-one likes to admit that they can have been so easily manipulated, taken advantage of and fooled in every way.  So you just carry on as you were.   Eventually though, you become so broken by disappointment and let down that you stop caring about anything at all...and this is the turning point.

At this stage, an influence far older, wiser and deeper than either truth bias or traumatic bonding steps in and takes over - in short, your survival instinct kicks in, rips the blinkers from your eyes and gives you the strength you need to move on.   You can acknowledge, to yourself at least, that yes, someone DID try to take advantage of you; that yes, they DID offer silver-tongued empty promises to be there for you, to catch you when you fell, to care for you...and then promptly left you to drop and fend for yourself because you failed to meet their demands and you ceased to be convenient to them.  Someone DID try to reel you in at a traumatic time, not because they had any genuine care or compassion for you, but because they viewed you as an easy target.  When you begin to see the truth, then you can deal with it.

Just because someone claims to have your best interests at heart, does not mean that they do.  Ask yourself "Is this a treat or a threat?"  "Is this a show of support or a strategic seduction?" "Is this a friend, or a fiend?"   At the end of the day, you will be stronger for surviving the disappointment and you will have learnt to look beyond that which is being presented to you, to see the deeper truth lurking beneath.

And while you will always be wary, the wolves in sheep's clothing should also beware...for they'll never know when or if the loose cannon they left behind might go off with an almighty bang.


Wednesday, 18 June 2014

WRITER'S DREAM; Be Self-Supporting


" I'm writing a book and I don't know if it's any good or not...would you read it and tell me what you think?"

If only I was given a pound every time I was asked this question!  What the aspiring author is actually requesting is a professional critique.  My refusal is always polite but firm.  From a purely business point of view, why would I spend several hours reading and critiquing someone else's work, for free, when I could spend that time writing my own work for my current publishers and get paid for it?   It just wouldn't be a productive or lucrative use of my time.  The only exceptions would be if I knew the aspiring writer as a personal friend - then I would be very interested and excited to read their work because I would want to see how their personality carries across the page.

There are plenty of agents, publishers and editors who offer a professional critique service for budding writers.  While there is usually a fee to cover their time and expertise, following through on their feedback can be the difference between rejection and publication of your MS.  They know their job and what is likely to place in the market.  Such services can be found in literary press and The Writer's and Artists Yearbook.

It can be difficult for new writers to get any  really useful feedback in the beginning.  Writer's circles and such like frequently advise their members to let as many people as possible read early drafts - this is so that you can craft as you go.  The problem is that so many people are unlikely to agree on how the work can be polished.  It could well be a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.  Family and friends are likely to be either too gushing in praise of what a wonderful writer you are, or they might be utterly dismissive of your work and ambitions.  Either way, it's not that useful to you, the writer.

My personal feeling is that you should be wary of who you share your work with, particularly in its early stages. I know from personal experience that not everyone with whom I shared my work and ideas had my best interests at heart, though I felt at the time that they were being very supportive and they encouraged that belief.  The wrong attitude from a 'reader' can seriously damage your creative confidence and could be enough to shoot the project down in flames completely.  Sharing your work with the wrong person could prove to be disastrous.  

I once was foolish enough to let someone read the first few pages of a novel I'd started, only to have him spend the next 4 hours slating it.  Four hours!! I know - why the hell didn't I just get up and leave, taking my MS with me? Why did I allow myself to sit through this kind of verbal abuse?  In hindsight I should have known better than to show him the draft in the first place.  This is a man who's greatest and only talent is finding fault with everything and everyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. In fact, he prides himself on his nit-picking abilities and his 'suggestions' which he expects to be carried out as military commands.  But because I mistakenly believed him to be a friend, I let him read my work when he asked to see it.  It was a big mistake.  I didn't pick up that manuscript again for years and have only recently returned to it, having ended all association with the nit-picker several years ago.  I can see now what his problem was - the draft isn't half bad! In fact, it's quite good and the potential is clearly there.  It must have made for very difficult reading for such a negative, ambition-less individual. 

Beware those readers too, who secretly share your ambitions.  Their intentions may not be a pure as you presume. I've blogged before about my piggy-backing 'friend' and it is important to reiterate that someone you trust could well be trying to stealthily set themselves up as your direct competition, in an underhand manner.  This is not too detrimental if your career is already established as mine was when it happened, but if you are just starting out, be careful of who you discuss your ideas and prospective markets with, as they might start making some surreptitious submissions of their own! There are limits to friendship - career sabotage is one of them and definitely a deal breaker. 

The bottom line is that any creative writing venture requires nurturing.  A project needs time, space and love if it is to grow.  You wouldn't leave your child or your pet with just anyone, so don't do it with your writing.  
I firmly believe that an attitude of self-support and privacy is the best way to go.  If you keep your work to yourself, no-one can slate it in spitefulness or steal it in jealousy.  You need to nurture the project and yourself the writer.  Go back to a state of childlike innocence and play 'let's pretend to be an author for the next hour'.  Take the pressure off by putting the fun into your work. Make your writing your personal, private escape.  It is just yours.  It isn't for sharing just yet, and when you are ready to share it, choose only those people who are affiliated in some way with the publishing industry.  They may not sugar-coat it, but they have no reason to sabotage you either. 

BB Marie x

Sunday, 15 June 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Brew Me a Cup...



A Night Cap

Brew me a cup for a winter's night
For the wind howls loud and the furies fight

Spice it with love and stir it with care
And I'll toast to your bright eyes, my sweetheart fair

By Minna Thomas Antrim
1902

Just came across this wonderful poem and wanted to share it with you all.  It makes me dream of winter and snow and snuggly blankets and all the things I miss during the warm months of summer...ah well, soon be summer solstice, when the dark season makes its most welcome return.

Friday, 30 May 2014

POET'S CORNER; The Chieftain and His Lady

The Meeting on the Turret Stair 

The Chieftain and His Lady

Come live with me across the Glen
I'm chieftain of a thousand men
Marry me and be my wife
And I will love you all my life

I cannot marry you Chief so brave
I must wed a lord and not a knave
And though my heart is yours forever
My hand is promised to another

Who is this rich and mighty lord?!
I'll fight for you at point of sword
Tell me where he lies this night
I'll duel with him come morning light!

A lady must not her duty shirk;
Pray, put away your Chieftain's dirk
My word was given long ago
To your offer of marriage, I must say no

Gentle lady, sweet lassie so fair
You gave to me a lock of hair
And now you say you are not free
To pledge your hand unto me?

I gave my hair, that is true
It was wrong of me and this I knew
Pray, keep it as a token
Of three words once softly spoken

Come flee with me across the Glen
You'll be protected by a thousand men!
Our marriage bed shall be the heather
From this day forth we'll be together!

I cannot run; I dare not flee
I dare not run away with thee
There is nowhere safe for us to go...
Though I truly wish it were not so

You love me then, that much is true
You love me then as I love you
You're my lassie, can't you see
That I would give my life for thee?

I love you, yes, with all my heart
But still you know we have to part
Even now I quake with fear
That my father may yet find you here

Then come with me! We'll go tonight
By cover of darkness we'll both take flight
We'll leave your clothes by Loch Ness-side
They'll think you swept beneath the tide

He held his hand out to his love;
She grabbed her bonnet, cloak and gloves
Then fast across the Glen they rode
Eloping to true love's abode.

By Marie Bruce

I wrote this poem many years ago, inspired by a handsome Scots soldier.  Although circumstances meant that we couldn't be together at the time, I used poetry to give us the chance we never had.  I like to think that in another time and space, we are living out our own happy ever after.  For now, it's enough that our liaison is captured forever in poetry. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Tea and Roses


"This picnic I see
By the river, at night...
...I long to sit there,
Sip tea from delicate porcelain"

From the book Gothic Fall by Suzanne Gildert

It is a lovely warm day as I write.  The windows are thrown open to the fresh summer breeze and the wind chimes are tinkling away, making the rooms seem alive with movement and sound.  I'm burning a favorite oil in my burner - Apple and Elder-flower from M&S, which makes my home smell like a summer meadow. I'm relaxing in my study, sipping tea from a delicate china tea-cup, painted with pink roses - a recent gift from my mother when we were in Whitby last week.

There is something about this early summer season that makes me think of tea-parties out on the lawns of big stately homes and in the gardens of cosy sea-side cottages. Ever since reading the novel Entwined  I imagine that tea-sets just might be enchanted - you never know!  I love my new tea-cup; it's so pretty and tea always tastes better from real china. It is one of those everyday luxuries that makes life elegant.

Since the At Home photo-shoot I did with Spirit&Destiny magazine I've been feeling a little out of sorts with my home.  I enjoyed sharing my space with readers and letting you get to know me a bit better and it was fun to see the final pictorial spread in the May issue, but now I feel that I want to makes a few changes to my space.  These won't be big changes, as I love the magical environment that I have created, so I won't be changing the furniture, but I do feel that I need just a few things that haven't appeared in a magazine - some little treasures that are just for me, that no-one else has ever seen in my house.

It's a strange consequence of the shoot that I had half anticipated - the feeling of exposure and of having nothing personal and private left for myself.  My four-poster bed wasn't featured in the shoot because I felt it should remain a private space and I know that this will have disappointed some readers but now I'm glad that I stuck to my guns on that one.  Of course, it's always nice to see around someone's home and it's lovely that you have all seen my magical space, I just need to buy a few new bits and pieces to make it feel like a private retreat once more.

So I've done some shopping over the last few weeks and I have new curtains and blinds ready to go up; new bedding to go on and some fabulous Waterhouse cushions in the bedroom and study. These cushions are very beautiful as the images seem to glow in sunshine and lamplight.  I still can't believe my luck in stumbling across them.  

I've also bought a couple of fine art pictures and sparkling chandeliers to freshen up the place and give it a new lift. Everything I've purchased is soft and romantic, pastel and feminine.  I'm on the look-out for a pretty glass tiered cake-stand which I want to fill with beautiful sea-shells and crystals to use as a new table centerpiece.  I'd also like a vintage style birdcage designed to hold tea-lights. 

As the prospect of a bank holiday weekend seems to bring out the nesting instinct in all of us, I plan to potter around my little house, putting out the new items I've bought and making sure each room has something new - some new treasure that it just perfect.

I will of course, be sipping tea from delicate china throughout. 

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

POET'S CORNER; A Storm in Summer



A Storm in Summer


When nights are their shortest and days are their longest
When the rays of the sun burn at their strongest
When we listen with glee to the bumble bee's hum
And in a riot of colour the butterflies come
Then does the sky lower its brows
Then does the rain darken the clouds
A gathering breeze chases sunlight away
And we know as we watch that a storm's on the way...


When birds flutter off and take to the trees
Singing their protest from the shelter of leaves
As the raindrops start falling, pitter-pat, pitter-pat
And the thunder starts calling, scaring the cat
Then does the lightening rip through the sky
Drawing our gaze up ever so high
And some little children tremble in fear
Hiding away, for the storm is now here!


As raindrops on roses sparkle and glisten
As rumbles of thunder lessen and lessen
As the sky-snake of lightening slithers away
And shy beams of sunlight come out to play
We watch as the rain falls lighter and lighter
And the sun creeps out, brighter and brighter
And the twitter of birds seems now to say
That the Sun God has won for the Storm's passed away.

By Marie Bruce

Saturday, 3 May 2014

BOOK NOOK; Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie

Step  into Guinevere's enchanting world of Camelot

For the past week or so I have been totally absorbed in Queen of Camelot by Nancy McKenzie.  It is a fantastic novel, with lots of attention to detail and plenty of atmospheric world building.  When reading this book I really felt as if I were living in Camelot; a silent observer watching all the comings and goings, eavesdropping behind the arras!  The novel tells the tale of Guinevere, beginning when she is a child in Wales and following all her adventures - her first love, her first meeting with Lancelot when she is already betrothed to the High King Arthur and her subsequent  life in the beautiful palace of Camelot.

The descriptive passages are so rich, it is easy to image the royal palace, from the gardens and battlements, to the council chamber with the great Round Table, to the king's library with its roaring log fire and hunting dogs warming themselves by the hearth.  Guinevere's chambers are rich and resplendent, her ladies in waiting are respectfully courted by the Kings Companions and the legendary fellowship of Camelot is beautifully retold.

This novel is one of the best interpretations of the Arthurian sagas that I have ever read.  The author somehow manages to seamlessly draw together many different versions of the popular mythology and make them into something altogether new.  This Guinevere is no shrinking violet; she is a feisty female lead, who gallops bareback on war horses, raises Excalibur herself and goes hunting with hawks, as well as stitching tapestry and reading quietly by the fireside in the evenings.  In short, she is a woman after my own heart.

All the well known characters are portrayed here; Elaine the jealous rival, Gawain the hot-headed young knight eager for glory, Lancelot the faithful Champion, Merlin the sorcerer and so on.  What I liked most about this novel is that Mordred is not portrayed as evil - in fact it's difficult to know exactly who's side he is on, but he is by no means the villain of the piece.  All the characters are complex and well developed.  King Arthur is generous to a fault and the misunderstanding at the end of the novel makes for a tragic end to his story which put tears in my eyes.

Queen of Camelot is a door-stopper of  a book at 867 pages, making it a tome to sink into for hours at a time.  I have been having dreams about this book, the scenes are so vivid.  It's a great read for when you have some time off work and can really give yourself up to the enchanted realm of Camelot. If you enjoy Arthurian legend you will no doubt love this novel for its fantastic escapism.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

IVORY TOWER; Waterhouse Home Furnishings

The latest print to grace my bedroom wall
Those of you who have read previous blog posts will be aware that I have a fondness for the artwork of John William Waterhouse.  I have lots of prints featuring his work in the main bedroom.  I love that he was inspired by the Arthurian legends, which is another one of my own interests, and that many of his paintings were based around aspects of this British branch of mythology.    

The image above is one of his versions of The Lady of Shalott and it depicts the moment when the Lady Elaine first sees Lancelot through the window of her chamber and her life is changed forever.  I like the way Waterhouse has painted Elaine so that she is staring right out of the canvas, beyond the observer, to the knight only she can see.  She is utterly dazzled by the sight of him and falls instantly in love.  This pictorial moment in her story is when the curse against her is activated, which leads to her dying of a broken heart. Laid in a boat, she floats down to Camelot, where Lancelot finds her body. 

It is one of the most poignant tales of the Arthurian sagas, which might be why Waterhouse revisited it time and again as the subject for his art, and why Tennyson wrote his moving poem The Lady of Shalott.

The tragic boat scene

I've had the print at the top of this post for some time, rolled up in a poster tube to keep it safe and with the arrival of spring I decided to dig it out and use it to give my bedroom a bit of a fresh spring lift.  I plan to get it framed and hung this week. In addition, it was with great delight that I recently came across a small range of Waterhouse themed home ware and I bought some cushion covers; the boat scene cushion is sat in my leather executive chair in my study, while the Destiny one sits on the chaise lounge in the bedroom.  I have also got a Lady of Shalott locket,  which again depicts Waterhouse's famous boat scene and which has an antique finish.  I love it and it feels like such a lovely find.

Destiny
Waterhouse was a prolific artist and there are lots of prints out there.  He had a fondness for romanticism which is probably why I appreciate his work so much.  I have been a fan since my late teens and I have gradually collected prints of all my favourite Waterhouse images.  My bedroom is like a small art gallery! These recent additions will brighten my home, make me smile and are sure to become talking points. 
Sometimes you just stumble across something that is so perfect for your house, you simply have to have it - this small shopping spree was just such a moment for me. It was a very lucky find.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Friend or Foe?

Poisonous Envy
www.victoriafrances.es

Friend or foe? The fact is that it isn't always easy to tell the difference.  They say that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but what about when your friend turns foe or you realize that they've been your enemy all along? It's a tricky situation to navigate which is why I wrote a Spirit&Destiny column about this type of difficulty, so do look out for the May issue coming up.

Like most of my writing projects, my column with Spirit&Destiny is inspired by my own life and things that I am experiencing on a personal level.  I think that this frequently makes the best kind of writing because it comes direct from the heart and has integrity.  Writing from personal experience makes authors more accessible, so that readers can identify and relate to the piece more easily.  As we all share the human experience, certain common  issues are things we each will face at some point or another.

Not too long ago I discovered that I had been betrayed repeatedly by someone close to me and that this kind of back-stabbing had been going on for years.  Not only had they been trying to piggy-back on my career, approaching all my editors; waiting until I was away on holiday so that they could approach my music producer, dropping my name like breadcrumbs along the way, but I also found out this person had allegedly messed around with my ex-fiance while we were still engaged and living together.

This is someone I considered to be a friend. But once I'd stacked up all the betrayals I came to the conclusion that this person had never had my best interests at heart and was in it only for what they could get from me. In short, it was a false friendship and to be honest I can do without it. I might have been her friend, but she had certainly never been mine!  Friends don't mess around with your partner, do they?

So it was with a heavy heart that I cut myself off from this inner circle.  It just felt like the right thing to do, even though it was hard.  Self-preservation kicks in when you need it most, helping you to make tough decisions, so even though there have been attempts to reel me back in, I have been strong and held my ground.  I simply don't have the time or space for traitors in my life.  The only way to put a stop to it has been to put a stop to the relationship. In ending the friendship I have cut off the flow of information about my life, which in turn cuts off the prospects of deception and betrayal in the future. 
I now recognize that the traitor is always someone close, but never a true friend. 

Since then I have moved on considerably. Over the past couple of years I have made a new bunch of friends from my college course; I work with new editors in post at all the publishers I write for and I have new projects and goals to concentrate on. I am much more careful who I trust and who I might introduce to a new boyfriend! I am more reserved and less likely to chat about my publishing career and editorial contacts.

I consider the whole episode  to be a long lesson learned!  Just because someone pays lip-service to friendship is no guarantee that they are a true friend; they might be motivated by envy, not friendship. 

Being Wiccan I trust in karma and the three-fold law to deal with traitors, so I am free to just get on with my own life and relationships, leaving false friends far behind to reap as they have sown. Enough said. 

Is it a friend or an envious foe in disguise?



Monday, 31 March 2014

FINISHING SCHOOL; Penmanship

The art of self-study can be mastered by anyone

I have my final lecture in college coming up, until the new academic year begins in September.  As I reach the end of my course thus far, I have been thinking about how I can prepare for next term.  One aspect of my Psychotherapy training is that of Personal Development - students are asked to become more analytically aware of their strengths, limits and shortfalls.  With this in mind I have decided that my handwriting and note-taking could use some improvement, particularly as we must keep a scholar's journal as part of the course.  I am a naturally tidy person and my handwriting has never been messy but it could benefit from being a touch neater. It hasn't changed much at all since my school days, so I need to put a greater level of maturity into my script. 

I am intrigued by the practice of Graphology where experts can analyse someones handwriting and divine their personality traits. It makes me wonder what my handwriting is saying about me. Does it portray a flattering image? I would hate to think that anyone is disappointed by my penmanship, or that they struggle to make it out. I want my writing to be in keeping with who I am, not a jarring contradiction. My main problem is that I think much faster than I write, which can lead to the lazy formation of letters. When I am in a rush to take something down, I do tend to scribble and I cannot for the life of me, write in a straight line on an unlined page.  The overall effect is that of immature presentation - Scribbling School Girl is not the image I want to put across!

When I think of elegance in handwriting, I think of thick sheets of notepaper covered in a flowing, cursive script. I think of Jane Austen heroines writing love notes and diaries at a writing slope.  I think of the great poet Robert Browning falling in love with Elizabeth Barrett's penmanship, long before he had actually met her in person.  Alas, as it stands, I am doubtful that anyone would fall in love with me due to my penmanship alone!

So, in true finishing school style, I have decided to work on developing a more sophisticated penmanship.  I like the idea of Calligraphy and italic lettering and I have gone through all my pens and notebooks to find suitable tools to use in the practice of refining my handwriting, so that I can incorporate a few elegant touches and flourishes where appropriate.  It will take some time to get out of bad writing habits, but practice makes perfect and Calligraphy is such a beautiful art form in its own right, that it will be a pleasure to learn more about it.  Of course I don't plan on writing class notes in italics, but a refined formation of lettering and a flowing script should make note-taking much faster and still legible. That's the plan anyway.
By the time the next academic years starts I am hoping to have developed an elegant, sophisticated cursive hand instead of a neat, but rather naive print.  There is always room for improvement. 

  

Saturday, 22 March 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Kylie Tickets!!!

I'm going to see Kylie! 

It has been a very Kylie-ish week.  On Tuesday I bought her new album which is fantastic.  I've been listening to it all week.  It's very upbeat, sexy and cheerful.  Then on Thursday I was thrilled that I managed to get tickets to see Kylie live, when her Kiss Me Once Tour comes to my home town this autumn!

I'm so excited and I know I'll be fizzing over by the time the concert is in town. I'm going with my mum and we have seen Kylie before so we know we're in for a great night.  In 2002 we went to see her Fever Tour and in 1991 I went to see her Let's Get To It Tour for my 18th birthday.  It goes without saying that I have been a huge Kylie fan for years and years, ever since I was a school girl and Kylie and Jason were the super couple of the moment.

I feel very lucky that I have seen my idol just once, let alone three times!  This is one of the things I love about living on the edge of a large city, with an arena - I get to see some fantastic shows and it's not just Kylie; I've seen A-HA Ending On A High Note and Britney Spears Femme Fatale too.  I would love to see Evanescence at some point in the future.

I'm still trying to contain my excitement over scoring the concert tickets but I'm trying not to count down the weeks as I have a lovely short break in Strathpeffer in the Scottish Highlands to look forward to as well.  It's going to be a busy and exciting autumn for me.

If you are planning to see Kylie on tour this year I hope you enjoy it as much as I know I am going to!
BB Marie 

Friday, 14 March 2014

ONCE UPON A DREAM; Scholar Edit

In my study; a quiet retreat, away from the world...

It is a dull and foggy evening as I settle into my study to write this post.  The daylight is giving way to dusk and I can hear the wind whistling down the chimney, mournful and melancholy.  For the past few weeks I've been lost in my writing and studying.  The psychotherapy course I am doing has gathered pace and as we head towards the end of another term, I am working hard to put together an interesting and informative Presentation, which I have to deliver to fellow students in a couple of weeks.

It is a nerve-wracking time.  Public speaking is far outside my comfort zone so it is not something that I am looking forward to -  I'm much better with book work.  I tell myself that I should be able to do this quite easily - I've done lots of media interviews and gone live on the BBC, so a night school presentation really shouldn't be a big deal. But the shy-girl nerves rattle me nonetheless.  I have approached this task as I would a journalistic assignment, so there has been lots of research and note-taking involved.  I have also conducted an interview with a leading therapy organisation, which I really enjoyed.  As an author it made a nice change for me to be the one asking the questions rather than answering them! Now all I have to do is write up the piece and practice my public speaking, ready for the presentation. 

Also it is a long time since I had to write academically, so I am a little nervous about that too.  I am a commercially published author, which means that my work is meant to be accessible.  Academic writing is meant to be far less accessible because it reinforces the aloof clique of the Educated, separating  them from the masses.   It involves the use of lots of jargon and lingo, which I do remember from my previous University days, but which I have always found to be rather pretentious and I hate that kind of snobbery so I am trying to strike a balance in my course assignments between being true to my writer-self and meeting the academic criteria.   

I wouldn't say that the course so far has been mentally taxing though...it's more my own unwillingness to conform to the ranks. I'm a Bruce, so I want to do things my way, but it doesn't really work like that and I have to abide by the rules, making myself sound like a super-smart-snob when I am anything but! I can see where people get the idea that certain professions facilitate a superiority complex - it is due to the jargon those professionals have been trained to use as normal language. I have to say though, that my vocabulary is being improved and that can only be good for my writing career!

When I haven't been writing for publishers, doing home-work or putting together the presentation I have been trying to enjoy some quiet me-time to help me relax and that's what I'm doing right now.  I have a lovely Glade Honey&Chocolate candle burning, with a Yankee Honey&Spice tart simmering away. My house smells warm, cosy and a bit like a chocolate shop! As soon as this post is up I'm going to make a cup of tea and curl up with a novel and my cat, Pyewackett, for a snug night in.

Whatever you are doing tonight I wish you a great weekend!
BB Marie