The Lane of a Thousand Stories

It’s not just a lane. To those who don’t know. But then nothing is ever just something. Everything is much, much more than that. To us, the lane is alive with a thousand stories. Millions of lives. Endless possibilities.

For me and you, hand in hand, it’s not just a lane, is it? It’s an adventure waiting to happen. It’s Doctor Who and Clara. It’s sticks turned into sonic screwdrivers. It’s the Tardis waiting for us back home. It’s mud monsters that will drag you down. It’s Cybermen and Daleks and Zygons. It’s a stretch of concrete that twists and turns, and it’s me watching your little legs running down it as fast as you can, yelling over your shoulder to run from the monsters. It’s me, forever tensed that a car will round the corner too fast.

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They are not just puddles in the lane. They are wonders to explore with stones and sticks and welly boots that never quite manage to keep the water out. They are covered with ice to crack and slip on. They are deep with mud to squelch and squerch through. We’re going on a bear hunt, we’re going on a bear hunt. They are not just puddles. They are portals to another world. Many worlds. Worlds with trees and telephone lines inside them. Worlds with a mystery face staring right back at yours.

They are not just bushes! Not just a hedgerow to hurl rubbish into. They are blackberries in the summer. Your little hands reaching in to pluck juicy berries from between the thorns. Your sleeve getting snagged on brambles. Your face smeared with red. They are alive, teeming with small unseen lives that run adjacent to ours, unknown. They are buzzing with bees and birds and butterflies, who go about their private lives without fuss or blunder. Who live never to question or worry. Me and you know they are there. And there is not a bush we don’t walk by without knowing or thinking.

Hello Mr Robin. Mr Blackbird. Mrs Blackbird. The shy Heron who takes off should you get too close. The noisy geese. The silent swans. The otters we have never seen. The rabbits in the fields and the buzzards on the telephone poles. The woodpecker drumming. Swifts and starlings and magpies and our favourite, the mighty crow. The crow rules the world, or so we secretly believe. With his knowing caaw and his murder of companions, they could take us all on, should they want to.

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It’s not just a bridge, is it? It’s poo sticks and science. It’s sygnets and ducklings. It’s where we collect conkers in the Autumn. And it’s not just a river, it’s a ford, a fork, an expanse of water fit for paddling. Your favourite place. Your tree dragon and the swing and sitting on the fallen tree, trying to catch tiddlers in a jar. Mucky feet and cold toes. Snacks in the pushchair. Summer. Shady spot, dragonflies and damselflies. Kicking the water. Us and the dogs and me lost in time, caught between now and us, this life and an old one. Me and my sister, stood in the river, captured in a moment that has lasted forever, the sunlight perfect, illuminating our small lives, fishing nets in hand, shadows dancing. At the river, I am full of a thousand memories and with you, I am making a thousand more.

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The lane seems so long when you walk so slow. It’s me saying hurry up, walk faster, come on, come on then, can you at least walk in the right direction? It’s you, picking up stones and sticks and conkers and leaves, staring at bugs, helping them cross the road, saying ‘that’s sad’ when you spot something dead because the lane is not just full of life, it’s full of death and we see it daily. Creatures too slow for the cars. It’s me in a hurry. Urging you on. Rolling my eyes. Come on, come on I’ve got stuff to do. Hurry up and I’ll get you a hot chocolate when we get in.

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It’s not just a lane. It’s songs and silliness and passing the time. It’s make-believe and storytelling and laughter and tears. Death and life and why? Why Mum? Why?

It’s not just a lane. It’s Nature, who was here first with the blackberries and the hawthorn and the Oaks and the Hazel and the dandelions, bluebells and daisies. It’s all the things that exist despite us and will go on after us. But for now, for a moment, it is our lane. Not just a lane, but our world and a thousand stories and lives.

Nothing is ever just something.

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The Many Wonderful Worlds of a 3 year-old

I realised today that you don’t live in the same world as the rest of us. And why should you?

Yours are so much better.

It does me good to let go of my own adulthood, of the chains of washing up and preparing meals and sweeping up dust and driving from here to there and back again. It does me good to give in to you completely.

Sometimes I view being with you as a chore. Sometimes I think, how much easier it would be to get things done alone, without a little voice chattering at my side. But that’s the adult me. That’s the tired Mum me. That’s the 39-year-old woman who wonders when she will ever stop feeling tired. That’s the woman who has been up since half five this morning and craves the odd snatched five minutes of coffee drinking and Facebook scrolling in the kitchen, out of sight…

But I need to shrug her off. I need to push her away and free myself from those weighted thoughts of shopping, and finances, and to-do lists and never enough time in the world. I need to be in the moment, in the here and the now, existing purely with you. I need to be more like you and enter your magnificent worlds more often.

Days like today remind me. Days when I give in purely and completely to you. Days when I become as you are and see the world as you do. Because you don’t just live in this world because this world, do you? You live in so many others, and there is no strain or drudgery in any of yours. One moment you are a ‘little puppy’. The next you are a burger flipping character named ‘Cooker.’ We never know who or what you will be next. My mind is fascinated by yours. What goes on in there? You are so tiny yet stuffed tight with so many stories!

Today you wanted to use bricks to make car-parks for your cars. You say ‘please, you be this one. Please, you build more par-parks.’ And I’m thinking, with a sigh, but we’ve got to take the dogs out, because we’ve already been to toddler group and had lunch, and it’s not fair to make them wait any longer. You don’t want to go, but I tempt you with a biscuit and in seconds you have your coat and shoes on and we are off.

When we get there, you want to choose the ways. You want to go the ways I don’t want to go. I slip into the usual habits. Grumbling, muttering under my breath, pulling at the dogs, snapping at them to behave, and you just want to climb on the big boulders and jump in the puddles. You want to show me a tree and ask why it has a knobbly bit on it, and it’s there and then that I swallow the exasperation and the impatience and just give in. I feel the fight and the stress seep right out of me.

Because I realise that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if you choose ways that I wouldn’t or if you want to climb on rocks and through brambles. It doesn’t matter if the walk takes longer than I intended. None of it matters!

So I let you take charge. And you show me your world.

‘Don’t step on the black bits! They suck you under!’

‘This is my house. This is my fire.’

‘This is my hitting stick.’

‘This is my party.’

At this point, my heart melts entirely. Since you could string the words together, you have referred to a cluster of tree stumps as a ‘party.’ I have no idea where this comes from, but the sight of tree stumps makes you think of parties. So you show me your party, and jump from the tree stumps, then you say we have to go because everything is on fire.

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We run to the next one, further up the hill. A few weeks ago this place was a haze of purple, the heather in full bloom. Now everything is turning orange and brown. Leaves are falling and the earth is dark and wet. One of the dogs runs off and you yell;

‘That’s my dog! Where my dog going?’

So we chase after her and find another party. You make another fire. You show me your bed on the lime green moss of the forest floor. You are totally and utterly inside this world. You slip between worlds so effortlessly, so naturally. You tell me to watch out for the tripping up steps (tree roots) and we abandon the party to march further up the hill.

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I let you choose the way, and we go left, out across the flat of the hill, walking along narrow flattened paths between burnt orange heather and ferns.

‘Don’t walk on that path! Walk on this one!’

‘That one a river!’

‘That boat with tiny people on it.’

‘That tree is my house.’

‘Here you have to do a dance like this…’

‘Here, you have to do a funny walk like this.’

‘I’m the Doctor. I’m Doctor Dad. You’re Amy.’

And just like that, you create another world and invite me inside with you. You’ve got the Tardis key around your neck and your sonic screwdriver in your hand. You stomp your tiny way through ferns taller than you are. You crouch down to bypass needle sharp gorse and tell me we have to find the Tardis because the aliens are coming.

We circle around and down the hill. You pretend to die by going all stiff and then tell me you are another Doctor.

Which one? A girl or a boy?

‘A boy Doctor.’

Are you old or young?

‘I’m an old man Doctor. But if I get hurt, I be another Doctor.’

We walk on, and you never stop talking, never stop imagining. There is no such thing to you as just a tree, or just a fir-cone, or just a stick. Everything has infinite possibilities. Everything becomes a story.

We walk home, we make it back to the Tardis and your key lets us in, and then you see your bricks and cars, and instantly you are back in that game. A small part of me longs a coffee in the kitchen, checking my phone, taking a breather. But I shove that small part away briskly and firmly.

You want me. You ask for me. You require me in your games and in your many, wonderful worlds. I am honoured to be asked, and needed. For I know you won’t always want me there. And when the places you take me are so magical, they make me forget I am a grown up, they make me forget about unpaid bills and unanswered emails, how, why would I ever say no?

It’s Ok To Ask For Help

I’ve never been very good at asking for help, and I blame my parents for this. With the best of intentions, they brought us kids up to be polite, and not ask for things. It was one of the most repeated mantras of my childhood. ‘Don’t ask for anything! Wait until you are offered!’ I can see why they drummed this into us. They didn’t want their children to be brattish or demanding. They thought children who marched into someone’s house and asked for an ice lolly were rude. I can clearly remember playing in the garden at my Nan and Grandad’s house on various hot summer days. We knew the ice creams were kept in the chest freezer in the cellar. We knew our doting Nan would give us one if we asked, but we didn’t dare. We kept egging each other on, urging one of us to go and ask for an ice cream. I expect we worked up the nerve eventually, but it definitely took some time!

Not asking for things in sweet shops and toy shops was the norm. My mum would have given us ‘the look’ if we had ever dared. She always said it was much nicer to give a child something they had not been expecting. But the trouble is, not asking for treats becomes translated by a child into not asking for anything, including help. Take me in the classroom, all the way through my education, too scared to put my hand up for any reason, including going to the toilet!

I’ve had a problem with asking for help my entire life. I hate asking anyone for anything. If I have any kind of problem, I will do everything I can to try to solve it on my own, before I give in and reach out for a helping hand. It really is quite ridiculous. I can’t help assuming that asking for help annoys the person you are asking, puts them out, or means they will begrudge you.

This has also made things harder as an indie writer. Indie writers cannot do it all alone. They just can’t. But in the beginning, this was how I approached things. I struggled with so many aspects of indie publishing, from formatting, to cover design, to marketing, to gaining reviews, and I was absolutely rubbish at asking for help! I truly didn’t want to bother people.

Fast forward four years and six books later and I am beginning to change my mindset. For my sixth book, The Tree Of Rebels, I actually had a book launch.  I wasn’t quite brave enough to do a real life one, so I opted for a Facebook one and thoroughly enjoyed it. I was amazed by the response and the positive results of sales, reviews and follows. I’ve also started asking for help more by sending out ARC’s for the first time ever. I would never have done this before, but now I am trying to live with the mantra; ‘if you don’t ask, you don’t get!’ Out of the 45 people I asked, 31 responded positively, and I have received 18 reviews on Amazon UK and 6 on Amazon US. This has without a doubt given this sixth book a far bigger kick into orbit than the others have, and I will learn from this and do an even bigger and better book launch next time!

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Learning to ask for help is not easy when it has been indoctrinated into us to be polite. Last week was a really hectic one for me work-wise. I had all the normal bits to do and a rather big dog walking/sitting job as well. I love my day-job as a dog walker and sitter, but I’ve only gone back to it fairly recently as it was too tricky to combine with my youngest when he was first born. Last week I was so busy walking back and forth, that my blog post didn’t get written or posted and I only managed to scrape in an hour or two of editing Elliot Pie each day. There was one day in particular when I had a lot of walking to do, washing to hang out, a parcel to post that had been sitting there for weeks, washing up to do and God knows what else. Instead of trying to do everything myself and then getting grumpy, I reached out to the kids and got them to help. Two took the parcel to the post office and one hung out the washing, and wow, what a difference it made just having those two jobs crossed off the list! I felt I could breathe again and calm down and it made me realise how rubbish I am at asking for help at home too.

I do what my mum used to do. I do everything myself get worn out, feel unappreciated and then moan about it! I must stop doing this! I have four children and the oldest three are more than capable of helping out. If it involves the animals, they jump at the chance anyway, so why the hell am I trying to do it all by myself? Again, I think the reluctance to delegate chores goes back to being told not to ask for things as a child.

I don’t want my children to grow up unable to ask for help, so I am trying to set them a good example now. I’ve told them all about the amazing response I had when asking for help to launch the latest book. I want them to see that asking for help doesn’t make you weak, or needy, or annoying. Yes, you should strive to be independent and proactive, but when you genuinely need help from others, you should not feel ashamed to ask for it. And it makes such a huge difference!

Have you ever found it hard to ask for help? How did you overcome this? I would love to hear from you! Please feel free to comment and share.

Character Interview; Aunt Mary from A Jar Full Of Angel Feathers by Susan Russell

Hello and welcome to another character interview! This time we have the pleasure of chatting to Aunt Mary, one of the main characters in the beautiful A Jar Full Of Angel Feathers  by Susan Russell

1 ) Tell us what your positive character traits are

I s’pose I’d best be described as a steady sort of person. I’m reliable and no-nonsense, but I’ve got a soft side once you get to know me. Positive too – I’ve seen tragedy aplenty, but I don’t see any point in letting the bad things rattle around your head for years dragging you down. Better let it all out at the time, I say, and then get on with things

2)What would you say are your negative character traits?

I said I tend to get on with things, but I must admit I do eat a bit more than I should if I’m honest. So I’m a bit plumper than I should be, but where’s the harm? All good home baking, and it keeps me busy. Now I think about it, I s’pose I don’t let myself feel too much. When your heart’s been battered it wants to protect itself, doesn’t it? Mind you, the young’un, Alex, managed to thaw me out good and proper, bless him.

3) What are your current ambitions or dreams?

Now that the young’un’s gone back up to London, Mallow Cottage feels a bit empty. I reckon I’ll wait a bit, while he settles back in with his dad, and then I’ll get the train up there to see them. I could have him back down for the holidays maybe. That ‘gift’ him and Flora left tucked away between the photos for me to find, that was some shock I can tell you. I came over all faint when I opened it! Don’t tell anyone, but I talk to Flora now. Alex would understand, but I mustn’t let Arthur, Mr Godolphin, catch me or he’ll think I’ve lost my marbles. Kind man, Arthur, he’s been coming round more often lately

4) What are your fears?

Fears? Me? I lost my first husband to the war, then my sister and niece to illness. Once I got over that I don’t reckon I’ve been afraid of anything much – can’t see the point. If something bad’s going to happen, then it’s going to happen. No point in worrying about something you can’t change, you have to pick up the pieces and carry on. Mind you, when the young’un first arrived I was fearful for him. I don’t think I showed it, but seeing all that pain locked up inside of him…well, I did worry that we wouldn’t get past it.

5) Do you have any enemies?

Not that I knows of!

6) Tell us about your best friend

Old Hilda. Been friends for years, though she’s quite a bit older than me. Both lost our other halves in the war, both not blessed with children, both ‘get on with it’ types… I first started goin’ up to her place on the moors when she needed help with the farm. ‘Course, that’s all gone now and she’s just got her cottage left. It’s a poky little place, but she’s determined to stay up there ‘til she’s taken out feet first,’ as she says. Bit too much for me to walk up there nowadays, what with being a bit rounder than I used to be, but I get a lift up with the weekly grocery van. We have a right old natter, and all the while she’ll be busy with her crochet. Her place is strewn with crocheted throws of all sorts. I doubt she’d admit to it, but I reckon she does it to stop herself being lonely. No doubt she talks to herself when no-one’s there, seeing as she never stops when someone is!

7) What’s your biggest secret?

When my sister and my niece died, and then all those other little’uns in the village succumbed as well, I went a bit mad for a bit. I was numb at first, and then a couple of weeks after the last burial I got up one night and headed towards Tappers Wood. It were a full moon, good and bright, and I went by the lanes because a day or two earlier I’d seen a big coil of rope left by one of the field gates. It was still there. I remember the feel of it: cold, rough, and heavy, wet with the mists rolling off the fields. Don’t know how long I stood there, holding that rope and looking all the while at the trees up ahead – sussing out the ones with the strong branches, the ones I might be able to climb up to. I’d got one in mind–worked out how to get up there with that rope, where to tie it, how much drop would do the job–when a fox strolled out, bold as you please, and just sat there looking at me. So beautiful in that moonlight… Well I came to my senses, threw that rope back where I’d found it and went home.

8) Do you have any regrets?

Regrets is pointless.

9) Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

Five years time I’ll still be here, baking my bread and traipsing down to the village when I needs to. Maybe it won’t be just me in Mallow Cottage though, maybe Arthur’ll be joining me there! Young’un would like that as well, I reckon.

10) How do you hope people remember you?

As someone who could see to ‘the heart’ of things, the calm in the eye of the storm.

Thanks so much to Susan and Aunt Mary for joining us today! If you’d like to find out more about Susan, just click on the links below!

Website: http://www.susanrussell.eu Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Susan-Russell-author-745681398937235/

Twitter: Susan Russell @contact_susan Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jar-Full-Angel-Feathers/dp/0995600651/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1504115967&sr=1-1&keywords=a+jar+full+of+angel+feathers

Bio: Born in Norwich, many of Susan’s earliest memories are of writing, drawing, and ploughing through piles of books from the library. She began her working life as a nurse, and after two years as Staff Nurse she moved to Sidcup to work in a residential home for handicapped young adults. Meeting her future husband resulted in a move down to West Dorset, where a busy life included opening a kitchenware shop, raising three sons, and qualifying in the natural health care fields of massage, the Bowen Technique, and Medical Herbalism.