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Let me introduce you to Emma. She’s fun to be around, enthusiastic about writing and very talented. These days she has established a writing routine that works for her, and she writes regularly, despite having four young children and a tendency to drop everything to go to music festivals.

emma-cropped

But it wasn’t always like that. Emma’s enthusiasm and talent for writing were always there, but the writing routine was non-existent, and whenever she thought about writing, she felt fed up and blocked.

This was all because of a bad experience she had at a writing class, where she received very unhelpful feedback on her work. Far from highlighting Emma’s achievements and constructively suggesting areas for further development, the tutor for this (somehow) sought-after course, slated Emma’s work. He pulled it apart so thoroughly that her self-esteem – and virtually her will to live – were in tatters.

I might never have met Emma at all. She might have decided to give up on her writing dreams at that point. But a few years later two of her friends told her about my courses, AND she had a link to the enrolment page pop up on her Facebook timeline. Fortunately for me, Emma decided to view this as fate at work, because Emma came along to one of my courses, and she’s a joy to have in a class. Not only is she talented, but she’s so helpful to other group members.

When Emma first told me about her ordeal, and how it had stopped her from writing for several years, I was furious. How dare that tutor treat Emma’s precious writing dreams like that?

Emma explained to me that she was writing science fiction, which was far removed from the literary fiction the tutor had published, but this was no excuse at all, as far as I was concerned. Published writers – no matter how successful – should never forget how vulnerable people can feel when they first start sharing their words. I know I certainly haven’t.

When I first started writing, I was ridiculously sensitive! I remember the first time I read out a story at a writer’s circle, and I described a woman’s face ‘turning a colour somewhere between green and purple’ (with embarrassment and horror). OK, I realise now that it’s not a sentence from a great work of literature, but at the time I was pleased with it, and was quite taken aback when one of the group members stated quite abruptly that it wasn’t possible to have a colour between green and purple, and that I should use the word puce. Puce. I wasn’t even sure what the colour was, and I had to go home and look it up. And it was such a horrid word, sounding as it did, remarkably like…well, sick. My story was light-hearted and fun, with no pretensions to be anything else. Puce just didn’t fit. I felt discouraged, and never returned to the writer’s circle. (I told you I was sensitive in those days!)

As I’ve gained in experience and had many novels published, my self-confidence has grown to the point where I’m able to sift through feedback and make a judgement about whether it’s relevant and helpful or not. (If it’s from an editor, I’ve also learnt to be tactful if I don’t think so!) I always make a point in my writing classes of helping my students to develop the highly useful skill of giving and receiving constructive feedback. It’s such an important part of a writer’s development, because you can learn so much from it.

When I began teaching my creative writing classes, I encountered that vulnerability and that fear of exposure over and over again, and decided that my classes had to include an element of confidence-building in order to be of use to people.

As for Emma, she very kindly took part in the pilot version of my course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway – Self-Confidence For Authors, which opens for enrolment very soon. I asked Emma and other recent students to try it out and to give me feedback, so that I could make it as useful as possible. The power of feedback, see? I’m happy to say that all their suggestions were really helpful – and constructive!

I’m so excited that by creating an online course designed to boost writers’ self-confidence while they’re developing essential writing skills and habits, I’m going to be able to help people I might not otherwise have been able to reach. People who want to take that first step towards realising their writing dreams. Or, if they’re like Emma, people who want to recover from a set-back to move on towards their goal of completing a novel.

I can’t wait!

Enrolling soon!
Enrolling soon!
Sign up for the FREE Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors here.
Sign up for the FREE Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors here.

 

 

 

 

A post that first appeared on author Jane Bye's The Breath of Africa blog.

When I travelled to Cuba in 2001, it was with revenge in mind. Don’t worry, I didn’t smuggle any weaponry into the country in my luggage. I simply chose Cuba as a destination because I’d been learning Spanish with my ex-partner, and I knew that Cuba would be a country he’d love to visit. But he wasn’t here. I was. And after I’d got beyond the unbelievable chaos of the arrivals lounge, it was to be a fortnight of amazing experiences and fun.

It was around six months since my relationship had suddenly ended, and I was still feeling very raw. Fortunately, I palled up quickly with Sharon, a fun-loving Londoner I’m still friendly with today. Together we wondered at the near-empty supermarket shelves, gazed in awe at the crumbling buildings and were chauffeured in classic cars.

Cuban taxis, courtesy of Sarah Morgan
Cuban taxis, courtesy of Sarah Morgan

We visited cigar factories, learned about black magic and the Revolution, and spent a crazy hour making – and wearing – fake Castro beards out of catkin seeds stuck onto double-sided sellotape. We played and we laughed, and we fell in love with Cuba with the ever-present images of Che Guevara looking down on our shenanigans. It was absolutely the best gift I could have given my broken heart.

 

Messing about with fake Castro beards
Messing about with fake Castro beards

Murder Maker - A Story of Revenge

When I returned to the UK, I was to use Cuba as a setting for scenes in two books. First came Murder Maker, a novella for the TEFL market aimed at people learning to speak English. It’s about woman who becomes a serial killer as a result of being cruelly dumped by her partner. Yes, I admit it, it was my therapy book.

 

 

 

Later, I wrote Taming Tom Jones, which was published by Crooked Cat Publishing last year. In Taming Tom Jones, I wanted to move two of my female characters out of their usual environment to throw a spotlight on the nature of their friendship.

 

TTJ Cover

Havana proved to be perfect for this. The rambling, decaying streets of Havana play on your imagination and feel full of mystery and the potential for adventure. Even danger. Just right for the dynamics of a friendship to be exposed. Jen, one of my main characters in Taming Tom Jones, is a bit adrift as a person; carried on the tide of other peoples’ wishes and desires. Her time in Cuba acts as one stepping stone to her taking back control of her life, Just as, I suppose, my time in Cuba did for me.

 

I went on to get over my heartbreak and to build a much more fulfilled and successful life for myself, but I have never forgotten how it felt to be that broken person who flew into Havana hoping for the forgetfulness of adventures. Cuba and the power of writing brought me through it, and it is for this reason that I have just published my first non-fiction book, The Four Seasons of Breakupvia – A Workbook for Recovery from Relationship Break-up at the end of April

3D image of Breakupvia

 

It is a book of activities and writing exercises designed to take people through the grieving and re-building process following a relationship break-up, and it draws not only on my own experience of recovery, but also on research I have done on the subject, and my experience as a creative writing tutor. I’m extremely proud of it, and really hope it does people good, and that through using it, I can help them to discover the incredible power of the written word in dealing with loss. I secretly hope to turn them all into writers too!

A close friend of mine recently spent four days in Havana and was just as enthralled with it as I was all those years ago. From what she says, it’s hardly changed at all, right down to the near-empty supermarket shelves. Which obviously I realise, can hardly be a good experience for its people. They are extremely resourceful people though; you’d have to be to be able to keep all those amazing classic cars on the road year after year.

Faded colour, Cuba, courtesy of Sarah Morgan
Faded colour, Cuba, courtesy of Sarah Morgan

So, I want to finish off by thanking them and their country for what they gave me for those two weeks I visited. I arrived feeling completely vulnerable and depleted, and left with a thousand experiences and memories to bring my characters and stories to vibrant life.

It was a magical time, and I shall never forget it.

 

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write to mend your broken heart

If you're coping with the aftermath of a relationship break up right now, I bet you've had people telling you "I know just what you're going through."

Wrong.

Nobody but you can know exactly what you're going through.

So, I'm not going to tell you that. But I will tell you that I know about sleepless nights. Wanting to pick fights. Feeling so low and so reckless you don't care what happens to you. Or you wouldn't do, if it weren't for your kids, family or friends who want or need you to be OK. To function.

I know about that big feeling of WHY? And all the other questions screaming around your brain as you struggle to comprehend and to accept what's happened to you.

How could he?
What about all our plans and dreams?
The promises and vows we made to each other?

I know about the complete denial that this is really happening to you; that at this stage in your life, you're going to have to make a new start when you thought you were set up for life.  Or maybe, as was the case for me, this isn't the first time you've had to make a new start, and you know how damn hard it can be.  That you can't believe you've got to crank up that amount of energy all over again when you're tired; so tired, your eyes hollow and burning with it, and yet you still can't sleep.

But listen, you will get through this.

Not only that, but maybe you'll be like me and you'll end up in a place when you can actually be grateful this break-up happened. I know that might seem unlikely right now, but honestly it really is true for me. I was so completely in love, I was like a moth hovering around a flame. I gave away all responsibility for my happiness to somebody else; somebody, it turned out, who didn't care enough about me to take care of it.

My recovery took a long time. Yours may do too. There's a definite process to go through, with clear stages to it. You will have to deal with each of these stages before you can move on to the next one, just as I did. But in dealing with them, you'll become a stronger, more grounded, content person than you were before.

I will never walk in someone else's shadow again. Or be dependent on someone else's whims to feel happy. These days I have an underlying strength that comes from the knowledge that I got safely through the most painful time of my life. And because I did, I know I can cope with whatever life throws at me in the future.

Writing played a key role in my recovery, and I'll show you how it can do the same for you as we work steadily, caringly though those crucial stages of recovery together.

Are you ready to make a start?

OK, I know you might not feel ready. Right now you might be feeling as if you'll never be ready. But just pretend you're ready for now, OK? That will be enough, I promise you. Together we'll set off on this healing journey together.

So, I want you to pick up a pen and find a piece of paper or a notebook. Now, write the word HOPE in big letters. There. Now, look at it. You've done your first piece of healing writing. This is what we'll be travelling towards together. Hope.

I know you can do it.  Trust me.

Margaret

write to mend your broken heart

He was the love of my life, and he'd been away from me for a week, on a skiing holiday with his brother - the first time we'd been apart in three years. I'd missed him so much, and now here he was, back again, walking towards me along the platform in the station like a suntanned God.

Handsome and charismatic, without him life was a silent world without colour and light. He was my light, and I flew towards him now like a moth to a flame, flinging myself into his arms. Everything was right with my world again; he was home. I had my man, my passion, and I had my imagined future of the two of us, white-haired, strolling hand-in-hand by the sea together in our old age.

Man and woman holding hands

Two months later, our relationship was over.

I'd been to the supermarket to buy food for his packed lunch the next day. When I entered the house, everything was quiet. Too quiet, because the car was outside, so I knew he was home, and he didn't do quiet. Whenever he was alone, he filled the silence with music, or by making long phone calls to his friends.

I went into the sitting room to find him sitting on the sofa, strangely still, his face filled with tension. Immediately, I went to sit next to him. In the past year, he'd lost a close friend in a cycle accident, and I'd lost my father to cancer. Not unsurprisingly, I feared the worst.

"What is it?" I asked, taking his hand. "What's wrong?"

Absolutely nothing had prepared me for his reply. Since his return from his skiing holiday, life had continued exactly as normal. Shared meals. Doing things with his daughters when they stayed with us. Walking the dog. Going out to social events. And passion. Plenty of passion. As I say, everything absolutely as normal.

He hadn't met my eyes since I'd walked in, but now he looked up.

"I've met someone else," he said.

Time stood still. I swear, it really did. For around 10 seconds, it was as if we were both frozen in time.

I didn't need to ask any questions, because I knew exactly what he meant. I didn't have all the information I would later learn - that he had met this new woman while he was on his skiing holiday, that he had tried to resist her, but the connection between them was too strong. That she had been phoning him at work. That he had lied to me about his whereabouts on several occasions to visit her.

For those ten seconds, none of that mattered. A shaft of light penetrated my brain; a light I knew would all-too-soon be swamped by extreme darkness.

 

shaft of light

 

I can remember my thoughts being really lucid for that short period of time. I knew a tidal wave of indescribable pain was about to hit me. But for those ten frozen seconds, that shaft of light showed me a glimpse of what the future could hold for me - a future without him.

"This is going to hurt so much. It's going to take a long time to get over. But when I have, I won't have to struggle with being a stepmother to his girls any longer. Maybe I'll even be able to have a child of my own."

Readers, I did just that. After I'd dealt with the tidal wave.

So, my challenge to you, if you're dealing with a broken relationship right now, is to use this TEN-SECOND TIME-FREEZE TECHNIQUE yourself.

Find somewhere quiet, where you won't be disturbed. Close your eyes and take a series of deep breaths. Imagine the sky, with the sun breaking out of the clouds and sending down a shaft of light. Let that light connect with you, revealing the best future you can possibly imagine for yourself after you've dealt with the pain of your current situation.

What do you see?

Try to make it just about you. Your deepest dreams and desires. Now, write them down - just a few words will do. And put them somewhere safe. They're your treasures.

Treasure_chest_color