Hello Home…

Hello Home…

Here we are in lockdown again with you, dear home. Only allowed to work outside the home if our work is deemed essential. Only allowed to leave the house once a day for local exercise. Not allowed to let anyone else inside our home. These are all sadly familiar rules and in some ways, it feels a little easier this time around. What makes it undoubtedly harder are two, sad, cold facts.

One, the virus has mutated and this new strain spreads faster and easier and is now hitting younger people. The NHS is under incredible strain as the peak threatens to outgrow the last one. Quite simply and horrifically, even more people are going to die.

And two, this time our isolation at home happens in the bleak mid-winter. January – the Monday of all the months.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on January 10, 2021. Image may contain: tree, sky, outdoor and nature.

So, here we are home, back within your safe, warm walls. Me and the children huddle within you, with extra socks and warm jumpers and numerous cups of tea to warm our cold hands. Even without the heating on, even without a fire lit, you still withhold the warmth we have built in you.

Each morning, I leave the house to let the animals out. The grass is covered in thick frost. Every blade and every branch, twig and leaf in the garden is sparkling with a layer of icy frost. It’s beautiful. And freezing. I rush about, from one end of the garden to the other, filling the watering can to provide the hens and ducks with fresh water. Stuffing fresh warm hay and straw into their hutches and houses. I let the rabbits out but keep the guinea pigs indoors until the frost has melted later in the day. I watch my breath form in the air around me. I, in turn, am watched by the horses in the field at the end of the garden. I say hello, but I don’t know their names. Jesse pup skips about with me, keeping me company, while you shelter the children, all now home from school until we-don’t-know-when.

When the early morning jobs are done I rush back inside, grateful for your warmth and stability. House, you are our home and I have been grateful to you since the moment we first stepped inside your gate. I remember I worried that we could not afford to rent you, yet we also knew we were getting an incredible deal. Your garden plot was more than I could have dreamed of and my head filled with pictures of shrubs, trees, flowers, vegetable plots and livestock.

Even now, in the depths of a freezing, frightening winter, I am grateful for this little bit of land, with its fir trees and sycamore, with its buddleia and holly hedges, with its bramble and fruit trees. The largest trees were here when we arrived, the rest I have planted myself over the years, to say thank you.

  • Photo by Chantelle Atkins on November 04, 2020. Image may contain: tree, plant and outdoor.

Your front garden used to be a square of gravel surrounded by holly hedging. It’s now a jungle of shrubs and trees and flowers with a path winding through it. We keep the birds fed so we can watch them from the kitchen windows. I love this garden, I love this house, I love this lane and all the land, the fields, the common, the woodlands and rivers that surround it.

And during lockdowns the road falls silent and all we can hear are the clip clop of horses as they pass up and down the lane, the haunting cry of the buzzard as she hovers above, the chattering of crows roosting in the Oaks, and at night, my favourite, the constant calls of tawny owls. I sleep with my window open because of them and so that I can fall asleep to the sound of the green river rushing by.

Home, we are so lucky to have you. During the first lockdown, I could have cried with love and gratitude. Some people had small houses and gardens, some people had no gardens, some people had no homes. We are so, so lucky to call you home.

Those warm, sunny months, we ran, hid, climbed, hopped and played on every inch of the garden. We set up bases and camps with army style tarps and netting, we dragged branches around to make walls, we gathered fir cones for bombs, we lit tiny fires and roasted marshmallows, we made mud pies and had scavenger hunts. The garden was our PE lesson, with running, jumping, skipping and our favourite The Floor Is Lava!

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on July 17, 2020. Image may contain: one or more people, tree, plant and outdoor.

We planted new things and watched them grow.

We ate nearly all of our meals outside, surrounded by green. And without people bothering it and abusing it, Mother Nature gained ground all around us.

But the human race and the powers that be seem incapable of learning anything…and so we find ourselves locked in and locked down. And I find myself counting my blessings once again. This lockdown is different. We are inside more than out. We have fires and drink hot chocolate. We eat cheese on toast and scrambled eggs to keep warm. We never venture far without a hot drink in our hands.

Darkness falls early and the tawny owls come out to call to each other. I know that Spring is just around the corner and already I see the smallest signs. A camelia in bud. Daffodils poking through the earth. And we are already planting new seeds so that we can watch them grow.

Home, you keep us safe, you keep us warm, you are steady and true. Every day I place my hand on the wooden gate and smile at you. My family is nurtured inside you – despite the coldness and the fear beyond your windows. Staying home keeps us safe and we fill our time with home-schooling and new lockdown projects.

Photo by Chantelle Atkins on March 21, 2020. Image may contain: plant, tree, sky, house, grass, outdoor and nature.

We lose track of days and time is strange, a bit like an extended Christmas. Tensions rise within your walls – the teenagers feel trapped and isolated from their friends – they are missing out. We pull away from each other, desperate for space and time alone, and then we pull back again, needing comfort and laughter. The youngest fills you up with laughter and silly noises – the loudest child that ever lived! He bounces around your rooms, thunders up and down your stairs and races from one end of your garden to the other. I hope in years to come they all look back so very fondly on you, Home.

Guest Post #5 Pandemic Pets – How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Welcome to the last post in my Pandemic Pets feature! I have been welcoming guests to the blog to tell us how the furry friends in their life have made getting through the Covid 19 pandemic that much easier. Today I’d like to extend a warm welcome to my very own big sister, Fran Hemsley. Fran is not a writer or a blogger, but I felt she had an interesting experience during lockdown, so I asked her if she would consider contributing to the blog.

When I found myself furloughed back in April I did what a lot of people in my position did – I started running! Every day I escaped home-schooling and the house full of people for about thirty minutes of ‘me time’; something I have never really indulged in before.

During lockdown I experienced the sudden death of my beloved Weimaraner Beau. I’m not ashamed to say he was the love of my life and my best friend. To cope with this unexpected bereavement I turned to running even more and found it even more beneficial as a means of ‘escape’.

Beau

It was during one such running session that I first came across Mr Fox. Well, I think he was a mister! He was sat as bold as brass in the middle of the road and when I paused to talk to him, he bounded on over and stopped at my feet.

And so an unlikely friendship developed in the midst of the global pandemic and the loss of my best friend.

After that initial hello, Mr Fox started appearing on my drive when I returned from my runs. He quite quickly started to follow me through the gate of our side lean-to. Even when the running stopped and I returned to work, if I left the gate open, he would appear like clockwork at the kitchen door.

After Beau died I was left with some very expensive dog food, so of course this went Mr Fox’s way. As did his wormer and flea treatment.

Mr Fox

Some people don’t like foxes being fed in urban areas, but their opinions don’t bother me. We have taken over their natural environment with the urban sprawl, turning them from hunters to scavengers and with the modern wheelie bins being so tall, it is hard for them to find our leftovers. Every single person I have spoken to about Mr Fox, bar one, does not have a problem with me feeding him. In fact, many neighbours confided in me and said; ‘Well, don’t tell anyone, but I feed the foxes too!’ It seems to be a very well kept secret where I live!

These days it’s too cold to sit in the lean-to and wait for Mr Fox to appear but I leave food for him out the front every night. Our property is kept clean and tidy and he must devour the food quickly, as we do not have a rodent problem in the area.

Brave Mr Fox

Making friends with Mr Fox was totally unexpected and magical and really helped me to get through the lockdown and the loss of my beloved Beau. I really hope to see Mr Fox again in the Spring.

Thank you so much to my sister Fran for sharing this with us and thank you too to the other bloggers and guests who shared their pandemic pet stories!

My 2021 Goals

It’s that time of year again! And the scariest thing is how fast it comes back around…I swear the years are going faster and faster.

Anyway, before I start dwelling too long on my imminent slide into old age and death, here are my goals for 2021! And if you missed my recap of 2020, you can find out here https://chantelleatkins.com/2020/12/10/my-2020-goals-vs-the-reality/ how I got on with the goals I set myself at the end of 2019.

  1. Do even better in the vegetable plot – Improving how much food we grow ourselves was top of my list of goals last year and it is again for 2021. There are so many reasons why this is important to me but I think the main reason is mental health. Gardening absolutely saved my sanity during the first lockdown and home-schooling. It’s addictive. It burns more calories than just about any other exercise and getting dirty is good for you physically and mentally. I could go on and on about how amazing it makes me feel to spend time in the garden, but I think you probably get it. Towards the end of this season I extended the plot and I am still popping in there whenever I can to keep on top of weeds and to add mulch and manure. I cannot wait to start sowing again!
  2. Publish the next two books in the Holds End Trilogy – This should happen. Emily’s Baby and The Search For Summer are both good and ready to go. They need formatting for ebook and paperback, they need their back cover blurbs finalised and they need front covers. All these things are in motion and I hope to release them early next year, possibly February and March.
  3. Revamp and re-release Bird People and Other Stories – This little short story collection needs a makeover. I have already contacted my designer about revamping the front cover and my proofreader is going to go over all the stories after I have. This shouldn’t take long and I hope to re-release it in April.
  4. Finish and release my short story and poetry collection The Old Friend and Other Strange Tales and Poems (working title!!)– This collection just keeps growing and growing but at some point I need to call time on it and get it out there! I will get the same designer to do the cover so that it compliments Bird People and of course there will be several rounds of edits and proofreads before it is ready, so I hope to release it towards the end of the Summer, perhaps July or August.
  5. Start the second draft to my current WIP The Day The Earth Turned- Book One – I am very close to finishing the first draft and really hope to have it done by the end of 2020…so the next step for this one would be a second draft. I was tempted to dive straight into writing book two, but as this is such a complex and challenging book to write (more on that another time!) I now feel going back over Book One would be beneficial before I start Book Two. There are already bits I want to change, for example.
  6. Move things forward with Chasing Driftwood Writing Group – now that I have a creative partner, I am really excited about the CIC changing and growing in 2021. We have some exciting plans in motion which we will talk about very soon. Lots and lots of things in the pipeline – so I really hope that after the disaster of 2020 where thanks to Covid I barely earned a thing, I can finally start to see the hard work pay off in 2021.
  7. Carry on writing the screenplay version of The Boy With The Thorn In His Side – this is a project I recently started and it’s not a priority. It can’t be, with all the other things going on! But if I have a spare moment in the week, I do enjoy getting back to this. It’s really challenging and fun turning a book into a screenplay and of course, it would be my absolute dream come true to see the series turned into a TV series.
  8. Get better at promoting my books! – I have been shockingly bad at this in 2020. Sometimes I go weeks or even months without so much as tweeting a link. I really need to come up with a plan and stick to it. I think I will get a separate notebook just for promotional activities and ideas and make a load of lists to tick off. This should motivate me a bit more and keep me on track.
  9. Keep adding notes to other book ideas… – I was tempted to add ‘finishing some almost ready books’ to this goals list but I think I would be setting myself up to fail. I got over half way through a first draft of the sequel to The Mess Of Me recently but then decided The Day The Earth Turned had waited long enough and I wouldn’t let The Mess Of Us jump the queue….In 2019 I wrote the first draft of a YA novel with the working title We Hate The Cool Kids. I would also love to tackle a second draft of this but again, it will have to wait. And then there is the spin-off book from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series…in the fifth book I introduced two characters called Alfie and Tom. They took on a life of their own and I started to plan a spin-off book for them. I’ve actually written fourteen chapters of it in a very small notebook and they are always in my head! But no, no, no, The Day The Earth Turned series and my two collections will take priority in 2021! I have to draw a line somewhere! I will, however, keep adding notes to these books whenever I think of something. They are all very much alive and crowding my head and their time will come.
  10. Continue to Practice Self-Care – it wasn’t until the perimenopause set in last year, followed by Covid 19, that I realised how bad I am at looking after myself. I’m talking about really small, simple things – the small pleasures that calm you down and make you smile, like long baths with a good book and a drink of wine! I started making more of an effort in 2020 and I will carry this on. I will insist on time for myself in this busy, hectic life and I will make sure I get it.

So, that’s my list of goals set for the year ahead. I do hope 2021 is a better year for everyone. We can only hope! Are you setting yourself any goals for the next year? Please feel free to comment and share!

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

2021 Reading Challenge

Hi everyone,

This is a post to correspond with my Christmas Calendar Countdown. Every day since the 1st December I have been providing a festive treat for my readers and followers, so far including: win an ebook competitions, win a paperback competition, name a character in my current WIP, sneak peek of a new book cover, me reading from my WIP and much more. I hope you have been enjoying them! This post is for Day 13 and behind the door today is a reading challenge for you to get your teeth into throughout 2021. I’ve taken part in a few reading challenges myself and they are really good fun and often force you to try genres and styles and authors you maybe would not have otherwise. I haven’t taken part in one for a few years though, so rather than search the net for a suitable challenge I decided to come up with one of my own. I tried to challenge myself with this, so I hope you like it and if you want to take part, just tag me in any posts you share!

So here is the challenge;

  1. A book where the location is paramount
  2. A book set in a country you have visited
  3. A book set where you live or as close to it as possible
  4. A book with a title at least eight words long
  5. A play
  6. A book whose title is also a song
  7. A book aimed at adults where the protagonist is a child
  8. A fictional book based on real events
  9. A book with a one word title
  10. A book where the protagonist is a different ethnicity than you
  11. A short story collection
  12. A book with a black front cover
  13. A book with a dual narrative written in 1st person
  14. The first book in a series
  15. A book with an illustrated front cover
  16. A book about climate change
  17. A non-fiction book about a serial killer
  18. A post-apocalyptic book
  19. A classic you have always meant to read
  20. A book you wished you had studied at school
  21. A book you have seen the movie adaptation of but have not read the book
  22. A book where the main character is an animal
  23. A book from your least favourite genre
  24. A book from your most favourite genre
  25. A book aimed at children which focuses on nature
  26. A book from an indie author you have never heard of
  27. An award winning book
  28. A book where the main character has your dream job
  29. A book with the most colourful cover you’ve ever seen
  30. A book where the main character has a disability but the story is not about it

I’m quite excited to give this a go! I don’t know what to call it though – any ideas?