Friday, 1 January 2021

Five Questions I'm Asking This New Year

I decided a while ago that I wouldn't do the usual New Year post. It's been such an odd time that I thought some reflection was needed so I came up with five questions I've been asking myself as 2021 approached.

1. What can I take from 2020?

There's no denying that 2020 was a very trying year. Many people had a very hard time and many people are suffering as a result of the pandemic. It's strange to think back to the beginning of 2020 and all the plans or resolutions we made. I was looking forward to a writing retreat to re-connect with friends and get some writing done in a beautiful country house. Of course that didn't happen and there's no knowing when we will be able to meet up again. Several friends had big holidays planned, long haul destinations that would be a holiday of a lifetime trip. All cancelled. 

On a more serious note, many people lost someone they loved. My aunt died last year, not related to Covid as so many were. But because of the pandemic and travelling I was unable to attend her funeral. So many had to mourn via webcam, unable to hug the bereaved. It's heartbreaking to think how much we've all missed a hug, a hand on the arm, the comfort of human contact.

So there is much to mourn about 2020. However I am able to take some positives from it too. It gave us all the chance to slow down, to step off the crazy whirlwind of 21st century life and look around. Some people took the time to re-connect with hobbies they had long abandoned, others took time to enjoy nature. For me it was a time to think about what is really important in life, to stop worrying about how others see me, to realise the value of just being me.

2. What will I use going into 2021?

The dawning of a new year is a traditional place to re-set, to re-evaluate our lives and make changes. The tradition of the New Year Resolution which I always buy into only to forget by the end of January. So this year I'm just looking for tiny things I can do that will move my life forward, make me happier. So no pronouncements about losing weight or finishing my novel. This year I will be kind to myself, stop doing the things that I know harm me and increase the good stuff in my life. I hope that I do finish my novel but this time I'm just going to be content with the writing I get done rather than stressing about the writing I didn't do. I enjoyed sharing my protagonist on this blog during December so I may do more of that this year. I will stop putting things off until some mythical day in the future and enjoy the here and now. If 2020 taught us anything it's that life can be changed in an instant so we should enjoy the time we have without regret.

3. How can I end 2021 feeling fulfilled?

This is a tricky one. It's rather a big question after all. But I think it bears asking in light of what we've all experienced last year. I am trying to look forward with hope. There are good signs that by summer I may have had a vaccination and have immunity from Covid. That means I can stop worrying about it all the time, stop letting it hold me back, stop feeling fearful. By the end of the year I hope many people have been vaccinated and we can begin to re-build our lives and catch up with all the things we have missed.

I want to end 2021 with a sense of accomplishment on a personal level. I want to feel happy about where my writing is, whether that's in terms of publication or not. Perhaps another lesson from 2020 is that I don't need the validation of publication. It would be wonderful if it happens but I can find satisfaction in other forms. I was lucky enough to have a story published the anthology Heartache and Hope. It was lovely to see my name in print, to know others would read my words. It even got read out on a Youtube channel! All very wonderful and good for the soul. I'd like more of that in 2021 so I will need to write, polish and submit. 

4. What is important to me?

I have been fortunate during the pandemic. I didn't lose anyone to the virus and my family and friends remain healthy although some of them did have Covid. As a retired person I didn't have to make any major alterations to my daily routine, apart from setting the home office up for my husband to work from. I am grateful for the security of my home, many don't have a comfortable home of their own and 2020 was bleak for them. I also have a garden and although I'm not much of a gardener it's nice to have somewhere to sit in the fresh air or potter about pulling up weeds. I hope to make more effort to enjoy it this year.

The importance of family and friends was really brought home to me in 2020. I don't have a busy social life as a rule but I have missed being able to meet up with my sister for wine and gossip, to see friends for coffee and a chat. I've missed live theatre, the open-air Shakespeare we enjoy every summer in Oxford. I've missed the spontaneity of deciding in the morning to pop out for the day. Everything has had to be planned with military precision!  

5. What do I hope for in 2021?

There are big hopes and small hopes. I hope that the various vaccines are available to everyone, that they mean we can all live lives free from fear. I hope that the wealthy nations make sure the poor are not left behind in the vaccination programme. I hope that we remember that there is much inequality in society and remember how we all came together to make a difference. I hope we remember how precious our NHS is and demand that it is properly funded in the future.

The small hopes? I hope I can remember how lonely it can be not connecting with friends. I hope I can grasp every opportunity that comes my way. I hope I can look back on 2021 as a year well-lived.

And I hope all my friends have successful 2021 too. Happy New Year!

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Madge's Musings 24th Day of Advent

 'The Winter festival is nearly upon us and the Guardian had a meeting outside the Citadel to remind us of the rules this year. No magic was top of the list but he managed to bang on about everyone taking responsibility. Not sure what for mind you, some folk haven't got an idea what it means, some don't care and the rest of us is getting on as best as we can.

I hovered around the fringes, keeping me eye open for them as wanted my services. I sold a few potions and got a few orders so not a wasted day. Myra Button wanted me to look at her grandson. Scrawny thing he is. They've always had trouble birthing boys. The girls arrive pink and plump and bawling, the boys never seem to thrive. I gave her a couple of politices to slap on his chest and muttered a few reviving words over him. Bugger this 'no magic' thing, that little mite needed some help. He may rally, who knows.

I'm off for a few beers in the local tavern tonight. Some singing too if we're lucky. There are some fine minstrels in Lunecaster this year and I hope to hear them. We don't have much music round my way but the festival usually brings out the best entertainment. 

I hope we see some fireworks tomorrow, even if they'll miss the usual magical touch. Although I may throw in a spell under my breath. No promises mind, I'm a law abiding old woman.' 

Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Madge's Musings 22nd Day of Advent

 'After much less beer and much more sleep I think I may have sorted out what Cecile's story is.

The Strigid were some of the first dwellers in Grimwise Forest. Unlike others they didn't live in cottages or caverns dug into the earth. They lived in the trees themselves, in the canopy or within the trunks of the older trees. They shared the wood using gentle spells, the sort that leaves the living being unharmed. It's some of the most ancient magic and some of the hardest to do. Always easier to bend someone or something to your will by force rather than consent. But the Strigid women are very good at ancient magic so they were able to make a home in community with the forest. 

This made them very popular with the trees but less so with some of the other inhabitants of the forest. Folk always seem to fear what they don't understand. Like the way the Guardian has banned magic, coz he don't understand it see. Never will properly, being a man and all. Anyway, the Strigid were viewed as strange or other and left alone mostly. Only trouble was the stories that folk told about them made them out to be dangerous. So whenever something bad happened in Grimwise the Strigid were likely to be blamed. Superstitious nonsense but often powerful nonsense.

Recently the new Dark Lord, him what rules over Grimwise, started rumours that the Strigid were plotting against everyone in the forest, stirring up nature against them. How daft. But sometimes folk will believe any old rubbish if they're scared enough. Cecile told me that there is a lot of fear in Grimwise since the rise of Warin. He's the new Dark Lord. She said he's cruel, rules through fear. All the gentle folk are scared that he'll turn on them. They are withdrawing, hiding in the darkest parts of the forest and staying out of Warin's way. Easier said than done in my experience. If the powers that be want to find you they usually have ways of doing so.

So Cecile was tending one of the trees, the one her family lived in. They need gentle words and spells regularly. And they need special herbs watered onto their roots. Cecile was watering when some of Warin's men came. She didn't hear them, so engrossed in her work. They started to mock her, teasing at first. Nothing she hadn't heard before. Then it got darker, threatening and she was scared. She tried to make her way round the tree so she could slip through the secret door but the men followed, circling round the tree and stopping her escape. She managed to slip away but they began to chase her. She crashed through the trees, hearing them moan as she did so. This hurt her. Not physically but in her heart. The Strigid women have a deep bond with the trees and Cecile was saddened by the damage she did to them.

She managed to find the edge of the forest, ran out into the light and fled across the Great Plain. She ran towards the walls of Lunecaster, slipping past a dozing guard. And the first person she bumped into was Sassy who gathered her up and then she ended up at my place. She saw something in me which told her I might be the person to turn to. The attraction of magic I guess. So we've formed a little bond of our own and I need to decide what we should do next. I'm worried that what's going on in Grimwise might be more serious than just tormenting some gentle souls.'

Monday, 21 December 2020

Madge's Musings 21st Day of Advent

 'We saw in the Solstice sitting on Granny's tartan blanket in the shadow of the city walls. I packed a picnic, lots of cake, beer and cordial and we watched as the watery sun rose and then vanished behind a cloud. Standard Solstice stuff really. Before the rain started Cecile told me a bit about herself and how she came to be hunted.

Turns out she's a Strigid. No, me neither. But she explained that her people lived in Grimwise Forest before the new Dark Lord arrived. They were some of the original forest dwellers, living in the trunks of trees and digging in the soft earth. For thousands of years they lived in harmony with the other forest folk and ... well I confess I dropped off at that stage so I missed the whole history of the Strigid. But it turns out that some people thought the Strigid brought bad omens. They wanted to drive them out of the forest but the Strigid were strong and cunning. Now the new Dark Lord had revived the old superstitions and Cecile had been seen too close to some dwelling and was chased.

I'm not explaining this very well, am I? Turns out the Strigid take longer to tell a tale than the Vikings. I got the gist of it, which is that Cecile's people are considered unlucky and if anyone catches sight of one of them they raise the alarm. So she was hunted out of Grimwise and is now hiding with me. Not sure what that makes me but I bet it ain't good.

We returned just before the heavens opened and Cecile went upstairs for a lie down. I headed for the workshop to consult Mother's notebooks. She knew a lot about the people of Astara so there may be something about the Strigid. Cecile might need an advocate when she talks to the Guardian about staying.'