Pandemic Pets; How Our Furry Friends Saved Our Sanity

Like everyone else in the country, I sat in a kind of shocked stupor when it was first announced that we would be going into lockdown. I think the biggest shock for most of us was the school closures and onset of home learning. As I write this, England is in another lockdown, though a far less strict one this time around. Mostly, life appears to be going on as normal. Of course by ‘normal’ I mean the ‘new normal’ of social distancing, bubbles, hand sanitising and face mask wearing. Isn’t it weird how quickly we all get used to things like this?

We all live such day-to-day lives now, don’t we? We really can’t plan too far ahead. Especially when it comes to things like weddings, birthdays and Christmas. We all just shrug helplessly and say; ‘we’ll see what happens.’ And that’s a weird and unsettling way to live your life, not being able to plan much, not knowing anything for sure. Young children are good at living like that; they tend to live in the moment, not looking too far ahead. Animals are the same; they have little concept of time or future and so don’t worry about it like we do.

During the first national lockdown, there was a growing and slightly worrying trend of people purchasing ‘lockdown puppies’. For anyone who already had a dog, or had been planning to get one, this was probably a sensible idea, as long as social distancing rules were adhered to etc. But for anyone who bought a puppy on a whim because they were bored, not so good, and I fully expect to see a lot of these lockdown puppies end up in rescue before long.

Having said that, I truly believe that owning pets is massively beneficial to your mental and physical health, and perhaps that was what drove some of this. As well as puppies and kittens, there was also a huge increase in people chicken-keeping for the first time too.

I’ve been an animal lover my entire life. I grew up surrounded by a much loved menagerie of dogs, cats, guinea pigs, gerbils and rabbits and I’m just the same in my adult life. We have dogs, rabbits, guinea pigs and ducks and chickens and until recently pet rats and hamsters too.

Often, I prefer animals to people, or at least I prefer their company and find them generally a lot less stressful to be around. During the first strict lockdown, in the messy middle of home-schooling and juggling work, I found myself turning to my animals even more. I spent as much time as I could outside, and we were so lucky that the majority of the lockdown weather was absolutely glorious. I felt so blessed to be sat in the sun in my large garden, with the cockerel crowing and the ducks quacking.

We were one of the families who got a lockdown puppy, though ours was planned before lockdown happened. In February, a month after I lost my beloved lurcher Skipper, I came across an ad from a lady whose beautiful lurcher was due to have puppies in March. We made contact, spoke on the phone and after she had carefully vetted me, I was put on the list. The day before the puppies were born, we went into lockdown and it became very uncertain as to whether we would get one or not.

As luck would have it, the travel restrictions were lifted just as the pups turned 8 weeks old and we were able to pick our beautiful boy Jesse up mid-May. He certainly entered our lives at the perfect time. We were starting to lag…starting to get on each other’s nerves, starting to get itchy feet. It was getting hard. But having Jesse and integrating him into our family was the perfect distraction and gave us all something positive to focus on. I will always be grateful to him for that. He is now 7 months old and a truly beautiful boy with the sweetest soul. I’ve never had such a loving loyal dog before, he is just adorable in every way, and so smart too!

Jesse at 8 weeks

But even before he arrived, I was so grateful to have my pets in my life. At the start of home schooling me and the kids fell into a routine, where we would start the day with PE, do a few lessons and then take our older lurcher Tinks for a long walk before lunch. We really looked forward to these walks, and it was lovely to have the kids with me and Tinks, when usually they would be at school. We integrated some of our learning into the walks, sometimes had picnics, played in streams, ran down hills and played hide and seek. I’m not sure we would have done all those things daily if we had not had a dog to walk.

Beautiful Tinks

My dogs are my best friends. They are my family. I love them so much I cannot bear being away from them. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t have a dog or who doesn’t like dogs…quite what they give you in return for a warm bed, some yummy food and long walks. What we give them is small in comparison. My dogs welcome me home with wagging tails, warm kisses and the absolutely adorable ‘lurcher lean’! They watch me, listen to me, follow me, and love me for me. They don’t expect or demand anything of me, other than the above mentioned food bed and walk! They make me laugh every day with their antics and loopy smiles. They challenge me – to keep going, to get out, to talk to people, to socialise, to train them, to get better, to be better. I would be far, far less without my dogs and I hate to imagine what lockdown would have been like without them.

As for now, as we navigate through another lockdown and balance precariously between old normal and new normal, between hope and fear, between fragile mental health and steely resilience, I turn to them more and more because they are steady, they are sure, they are always there, just being them. Just being dogs. Living in the moment, not worrying about what tomorrow might bring. I hope that anyone who got a lockdown puppy, kitten or flock of chickens is feeling the same right now, because to have pets in your life during tumultuous times is truly a wonderful gift.

Home schooling with chickens in tow

How about you? Did you get a pet during lockdown? How is it working out? If you already had pets, tell me about them and how they have helped you during the pandemic. I’m starting this as a new guest feature so get in touch if you and your furry friends have a story to share. It can be a non-fiction piece or a story or a poem!

Guest Post #11 Dreaming of Another World

Welcome to another guest post for my regular feature Dreaming of Another World. This feature was originally inspired by a post I wrote about how lockdown made me imagine and long for another kind of world, another way of doing things. So, I invited other creative people on to The Glorious Outsiders to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here is a thought provoking short story from author Val Portelli. At the end of the post you can find Val’s author bio and links to her work.

The Grass is Always Greener

‘Shush, I want to watch the news.’

‘I don’t know why. It’s the same thing every night. Who would have believed six months ago.…’

‘Quiet. It’s starting.’

‘Good evening,’ the dulcet tones of the presenter began the broadcast. ‘The Leader announced today that with the devastation of our planet showing little signs of receding, further emergency measures will need to be put in place. These will include the temporary reduction in food allocation and have a knock-on effect on travel. Those who have already received a confirmation of their bookings will take priority, and the committee are working flat out to accommodate others a soon as possible. Please join us tomorrow for further updates.’

Marcia switched off the appliance and sighed.

‘I knew we should have booked while we had the chance, but you insisted we wait for a better deal,’ she said to her husband. ‘Have we left it too late?’

Dane tensed, hating that Marcia was upset but not knowing what to do about it. They had discussed the trip endlessly, weighing up the pros and cons and saving every spare penny so their dream would be everything they envisaged.

‘I’m sorry, love. The discount for going out of season was too good to ignore. Another four weeks and we would have been on our way. Who would have guessed this would happen? The whole universe has gone crazy, but don’t give up. I’ll sort it out somehow.’

‘No, it’s not your fault,’ Marcia said, going over to give him a hug. ‘No one could have predicted this would happen. When we made our plans, life was normal and we assumed it would carry on that way. I should have told you I wanted a crystal ball for my birthday, then I could have said “Told you so.” As it is, we’ve got to take our chances with everyone else who’s in the same boat. We’ve got the advantage we’re prepared. Tomorrow we’ll register and the first space that comes up we’ll take it. Agreed?’

‘Agreed,’ Dane said, determined to spend as much time online as necessary to make sure they got away as soon as possible. Although he tried to stay positive it wasn’t easy as daily life became more of a challenge. No longer able to work as further restrictions came into force, they were forced to exist on half the income they had enjoyed previously. At times they were

tempted to dip into their savings, but that would mean they would be unable to afford their dream, so they made do, and tried to stay positive.

The increasing heat made them feel lethargic, and concentration difficult. Usually they were happy in each other’s company, but being confined 24/7 they were both snappy and unreasonable. Weeks passed until one day it all got too much and Marcia took out her frustrations on Dane, blaming him for everything going wrong. He retaliated and soon they were in the middle of a full-blown row. In temper, she threw two plates in the sink which promptly smashed, he shouted at her for being unappreciative and destroying the crockery set he had worked so hard to buy. All their pent-up anger and bitterness spewed out and he spent the night sleeping in the spare room.

The next morning the atmosphere was quiet and tense. They spoke to each other only when necessary, both too stubborn to make the first move and apologise. That evening Marcia felt tears welling up as she was cutting their last remaining vegetables for a meagre meal. Unable to see clearly, the knife slipped and blood spurted out from the gash in her finger.

‘Darling are you alright?’ Dane asked as he rushed to her side.

‘They were all we had left,’ Marcia sobbed. ‘Now I can’t even feed you properly.’

‘Hush, it’ll be fine. I needed to lose some weight anyway,’ Dane joked as he took her in his arms and comforted her, until with a final hic-cup she managed a weak smile.

‘If we had any other ingredients I could make a black pudding,’ she said, ‘or perhaps we could turn into vampires and not have to worry about food.’

‘That’s my girl. You can bite me any time you like, but first we should clean up that cut. It looks nasty,’ Dane responded as he went to fetch some antiseptic and a plaster.

With harmony restored between them, he salvaged what he could for their meal, and on impulse brought out their last bottle of wine.

‘I know we were saving it for a celebration,’ he said, ‘but I think we need it tonight. Perhaps it will bring us luck. Sorry sweetheart, I shouldn’t have taken my temper out on you. Cheers.’

‘It was my fault. I’m sorry. Whatever happens, we’ve still got our dream. Cheers to a brighter future.’

Once they had cleared up, he logged on as usual, prepared for another disappointment. To his amazement a vacancy appeared, two seats available, leaving in three days’ time. He was shaking so much his finger could hardly press the “book” button. Half excited, half gearing himself up for disappointment he sat biting his nails until the confirmation with full details appeared, when he let out a loud whoop of delight.

‘What’s happened? Tell me,’ Marcia said as she came rushing in to ask what all the commotion was about.

‘We’re going, we’re going,’ Dane shouted as he picked her up and twirled her round the room. ‘In three days’ time we’ll be leaving this hell-hole planet for good, and on our way to earth. No more 40 degrees heat, no more confined to the house, no more food restrictions, no more rulers dictating what we can and can’t do. We’ll be free to wander about and enjoy life the way it used to be.’

Neither of them truly believed it would happen until they received their immigration papers, medical confirmation for a clean bill of health, and were seated in the space craft ready for take-off to a new world. Life on earth was their dream finally coming true.

It was only as they exited the craft and joined the queue for new arrivals, they were able to learn of the restrictions affecting their new planet. Global warming meant average temperatures were similar to home, the virus meant food shortages and confinement, with additional regulations affecting their every move.

The grass is not always greener.

A huge thanks to Val for sharing this story with us! You can find out more about Val and her work below. If you have a blog post, short story or poem on the theme Dreaming of Another World, then please get in touch!

Author Bio

Despite receiving her first rejection letter when she was nine, from some lovely people at a well-known Women’s magazine, Val continued writing intermittently until a freak accident left her housebound and going stir crazy. The completion and publication of her first full length novel helped save her sanity during those difficult times.

Six books and various anthologies later, she is currently working on her long neglected 100,000 word plus manuscript, in between writing follow ups to two of her earlier novels with the intention of making them into a series. She writes in a variety of genres, although the weekly short stories she posts on her Facebook author page tend to include her trademark ‘Quirky’ twist.

Val lives on the outskirts of London, where she provides a free restaurant service to various generations of foxes who have obtained squatters’ rights since her dogs passed over the rainbow bridge. She is always delighted to receive reviews, as they encourage sales, and help to pay the exorbitant supermarket chicken bill to keep her visitors fed.

In her spare time she studies how to market her work to a wider audience, before resorting to procrastinating on social media, and seeking advice from the unicorns she breeds in the shed at the bottom of the garden.

Links

Amazon author page https://author.to/ValPortelli

Voinks blog and Val Portelli web site. http://www.Voinks.wordpress.com

Quirky Unicorn web site. http://www.quirkyunicornbooks.wordpress.com

Goodreads http://www.goodreads.com/wwwgoodreadscomVal_Portelli

Twitter https://twitter.com/ValPortelli

Indie Author of the Month – Sim Alec Sansford

It’s time to celebrate another indie author and this month I am welcoming Sim Alec Sansford to The Glorious Outsiders. Sim was one of the masterminds behind last years very first Blandford Literary Festival – a fantastic literary event I was honoured to be a part of. Sim has also just released his debut novel, Welcome To Denver Falls. Here, Sim tells us how it feels to finally be a published writer, how music is a massive inspiration and how supportive and welcoming he has found the writing community to be.

  1. Tell us about your latest release. What is it about and who is it aimed at?

My latest release is my debut novel, Welcome to Denver Falls.

The story follows photography student, Harper Andrews, who leaves the comfort of her college campus behind, and ventures to the mysterious town of Denver Falls. Plagued by haunting dreams and unsettling visions, Harper faces a race against time to unlock secrets of the past in order to save her future.

There is a lot of suspense and a little romance, but it is really a tale about friendship and self-belief. That’s the message I hope resonates the most with readers.

2. Tell us about your publishing journey so far.

My first experience with publishing was in November 2019, when I published my first short story, The Storm, online. Growing up, as a young writer, I found it difficult to know where to turn for support. This prevented me from sharing my work. In early 2019, I heard about a local writing group in my town and decided to put my fears and anxieties aside. I took my short story along with me, and the reaction from the other writers was an incredible confidence boost. I was fortunate to make some great friends who ultimately talked me through the process of publishing my work online. It was a mountain to overcome the fear of sharing my work but, it is most definitely the best thing I have ever done.

3. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

To be completely honest, I can’t remember a time that I didn’t want to write. There was something about books that I found absolutely magical and I knew right away that I wanted to be part of that magic. Whether I was writing, editing or even publishing, I knew someday, somehow, I was going to be part of that world… and I guess now I am, and that’s a really amazing feeling.

4. What is your typical writing day like?

To sum it up in one word: emotional.

I don’t think I have experienced anything else in my life so far that can cause such a whirlwind of emotions. For the most part, my writing days are pretty exciting. I love nothing more than escaping into the mind of my characters and quite often they will end up surprising me by taking things in a different direction than intended. Then there come the nagging thoughts… that sentence doesn’t sit right… But if that character does that it will change this?… Does that sound like something they would say?… How would a reader respond to this?… And so on. On a good day, I can just sit for hours typing away on the keys and before I know it the story has written itself. The trick is to not sweat the small things, just write. The rest comes later in editing.

5. What is your writing process? (how do you plot a book, come up with characters, find motivation etc)

Usually, it starts with an image. Just a quick snap shot or a short scene played out in my head. Quite often triggered by music which is something I rely on quite heavily when I need to set the tone for a story or a character. My latest release began as a small scene in a daydream; a young girl in a forest alone, then a man appeared and asked her if she was lost. It was only a small image, but from that I found myself asking a hundred questions… Who is this person? What is she doing in the forest? Is she good, evil, both? Where is the forest? Who is the man? What are his intentions?…

From there I slowly map out a plot in my head and create a playlist of songs that help capture the mood of the story. These songs then help me add new scenes, be it by interpretation of the lyrics or the way they make me feel. I tend to map most things out in my head starting with a beginning, middle and end. For the rest of the story, my way of expanding plot is just to write. I see where the story takes me and slowly over time new ideas and characters are added.

6. What has been the most positive thing about your publishing journey so far?

Definitely the connections I have made with other writers, readers and creatives. I have met some incredibly talented people that I am proud to call my friends. Their knowledge and experience have been invaluable to me and I am able to provide them with new perspectives that perhaps they have never considered. It really is a fantastic community to be part of.

7. What has been the most negative thing about your publishing journey so far?

Being self-published comes with a lot of challenges, mostly financial. Without the push of a major print, it can be expensive to promote your work, and it is often disheartening if you spend a lot of time and money on an ad campaign that returns few results. The important thing to remember is one new reader is one more than you had before. You have to stay positive and stick at it.

8. Who is your favourite character from your own books and why?

Of course, I love all of my characters, but I have to say that Abigail Millar is my favourite. She first appeared in my book, The Willow, where her story serves as a prequel to Welcome to Denver Falls. It was actually only after I had written the book that I realised just how much I had in common with her. While I have not ever made three wishes on a creepy willow tree in the middle of the woods, she really resonates with me. She’s strong and determined, and I love that.

9. Where do your ideas come from?

Most of my ideas come from music. I am a big fan of reimagined songs and love the new (often creepy) twists that the artist put on them. Bands like Until the Ribbon Breaks, and Denmark + Winter do this particularly well.

10. What can we expect from you next?

Currently, I am continuing the story of Denver Falls in the form of a second book, and a weekly series on my blog titled Welcome to Denver Falls: Soul Mate.

Though I do have a few old projects that I would love to bring to life. Particularly a supernatural dystopian romance I have been working on since my teen years. I have an eclectic group of characters in that story, and I’m positive readers will love them as much as I do. However, for now, my focus is on Denver Falls.

11. Tell us three facts about you.

I would be completely lost without music.

I’m a little bit psychic.

I value friendship over everything.

12. What is the best advice you could give to aspiring writers?

JUST. DO. IT.

I waited far too long to put my work out there for fear of the reaction… Are my stories any good? My characters compelling? Will people steal my ideas? Do I need to stick to a word count? What if I never get published? The truth is, the only person standing in your way is you.

Pick up the pen. Grab your phone or computer. Whatever you have to do, but just start writing. Don’t worry about the end goal too much, just enjoy the journey.

Writing, like life, is all about growing and changing. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. It is your world and you’re in control.

Thank you so much to Sim for joining us on the blog today as our Indie Author of The Month. If you would like to find out more about Sim and his work his bio and links are below!

Born and raised in the county town of Dorchester, Dorset, Sim began scribbling away stories on scraps of paper since before he can remember. He spent a lot of his childhood on adventures walking the dogs in the woodland surrounding Thomas Hardy’s cottage with his family. Something about the cottage and ‘the man what wrote stuff’ who had lived there sparked a fire inside him, it was from there he began to focus on writing more seriously. 
In 2012, Sim signed up to Open University to study Creative Writing alongside working full time. He isn’t quite sure how he made it out alive, but he graduated with honours and began using the skills he had acquired to edit and redraft old work. 

http://www.simalecsansford.com
Twitter.com/simsansford 
Instagram.com/simeon_alec
Facebook.com/SimAlecSansford

Guest Post #7 Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of Another World is a new feature on my blog where I welcome a fellow writer or blogger on to talk about their hopes for the future, post Covid-19. During lockdown, I wondered whether other creatives felt like me – like another world was possible and could just be glimpsed once we were forced to stay still. I’ve had a great response and each week I will be publishing a post written by a guest – sharing their thoughts, feelings, experiences and hopes during this strange time. How have they coped during lockdown and has it changed their lives in any way or made them yearn for a different kind of world? Today please welcome author Misha Herwin, where she talks about how working on her children’s fantasy series The Adventures of Letty Parker, helped her escape into another world while this one ground to a halt.

Dreaming Another World – my thoughts and feelings re lockdown

Initially it seemed like no big deal. Three weeks, or maybe more, of having to stay at home had a certain appeal. I would miss seeing family and friends, but it wouldn’t be for long and think how much writing I could do. My brain whirled with plans to finish one book, then revisit a series I’d begun but never completed. Added to which there would be the “Dragonfire” books to reissue. I could hardly wait to get started.

Euphoria lasted maybe a week, maybe less. The first blow was not being able to visit Mum on Mothering Sunday. This was followed by a creeping sense of anxiety and unease that grew stronger as time passed, government directives became increasingly confusing and the death toll rose daily. Suddenly everything I had taken for granted was freighted with peril. The days passed in a miasma of getting little done yet feeling exhausted.

What saved my sanity was transporting myself into another world. An alternative time and place, an England where Queen Victoria is still on the throne and Bristol is a city of secrets.

Letty Parker is, at thirteen years old, an enterprising business woman who runs a detective agency, “Letty Parker and Associates; Mysteries solved and the Missing found.” Her associates include, Jebediah Hill the leader of a gang of pickpockets, Mango, Jeb’s sidekick, Hepzibah Harrington, who comes from a very respectable merchant family and Gabriel. Gabriel is half-human, half Nephilim. When Letty was a baby he saved her from drowning and being eaten by Barbary eels and now acts partly as a guardian angel, but one who is never sure of his role in life and is constantly trying to find where he belongs.

The city these disparate characters inhabit is based on a real place, but has many fantasy elements and it is these that transported me from the grim reality of lockdown to a place where I could wander the narrow twisted streets of old Bristol, peep through the window of a dusty apothecary’s shop, where skulls grin from the shelves and drying herbs hang from the ceiling, or wander down to the dockside and watch the sailing ships come in from the Indies with their cargoes of sugar, tobacco and slaves.

(c) Royal West of England Academy; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

For not everything is right with Letty’s world. The evil trade is still practised, two rival gangs rule the streets and the Dark Ones have seized power in the city. The Dark Ones are ancient beings, the Nephilim, who living for centuries view humankind as having as little individual value as ants. Long term they want progress. Gabriel’s Aunt Venetia lights her house with electricity and has installed a telephone. His father the Count believes that science will ultimately prove to be of benefit to mankind and is prepared to go ahead with his plans for the city whatever the cost.

Letty in contrast believes in fairness and friendship. She risks her life to save the street children who were kidnapped by Mother Jenkins and to rescue Hepzibah from the clutches of the Dark Ones.

She is also prepared to face down the mysteries Bear. Half man, half beast, leader of one of the street gangs, he and his followers live in an underground cavern. To reach his lair, Letty has to use the iron cage that descends from the Downs through the cliffs at Hotwells.

Using real locations like the cliff railway, I can see exactly where my characters are, smell the river mud, and hear the gulls wheeling over the masts of the ships docked at tobacco wharf, taste the suppers of steak pie and rumbulin at the Llandogandcrow Inn, where Jeb and Mango meet.

Layers of story overlie reality and when I was free to visit, I would find myself in company with Letty and friends as I walked along the river, or the bus went past the Christmas Steps.

The world expanded with the third book, “Island of Fear” when Letty inadvertently finds herself setting sail for Jamaica. This story was inspired by the time we lived in Kingston at the end of the nineties and the tales told by Mrs Winn an old Maroon story teller. On a grey day I love being back on a hot tropical island, where hummingbirds flit among the bougainvillea, owls call in the rain forest, the sea is blue, the sand white and the nights are dark and mysterious.

I might not have to deal with pirates, cursed jewels, evil plantation managers, duppies and dark magic, like Letty does, but it takes me out of the present situation and reminds me of the time when I was living a life that was like nothing I could have imagined.

Building Letty’s world and inhabiting it has given me an escape route. It’s also been a challenge, as all writing is. There has been the research, although it’s a fantasy world it has to be grounded in time and place, especially as some of the characters actually exsisted. Brunel and his suspension bridge make an appearance as does Sarah Guppy one of my favourite Victorian inventors.

Then there is the editing and the days when the writing isn’t going well and I have to find ways to get back into the flow. This has happened less frequently as the months have gone by and my need to be back in a world where I am more or less in control has grown.

None of us can foresee what is going to happen next and looking back into the past is not always the healthiest option, so this is my way of staying sane.

Thank you so much to Misha joining the blog today and sharing her thoughts on lockdown. If you would like to know more about Misha and her books you can find her author bio and links below!

Misha Herwin was born in England of Polish parents. English was not her first language but once she learned to speak it, she has never stopped. At twelve she wrote and staged her first play in a theatre made from a cardboard box. Since then things have improved and her plays have been both performed in England and Jamaica, where she lived for a while. As Misha M Herwin she has written two novels “Picking up the Pieces” and “House of Shadows”, both published by Penkull Press. “Dragonfire” “Juggler of Shapes” and “Master of Trades” are her fantasy trilogy for kids. “City of Secrets” is her most recent book and is the first in a fantasy adventure series for children. Her stories for adult readers have appeared in a number of anthologies including “A Fairy’s Story,” in “Bitch Lit”, and “The Satan Stones” in “Ancient Wonders,” by Alchemy Press. Her latest “The Loop Line” is in “The Darkest Midnight in December”. Her children are grown up and she lives in Staffordshire England with her husband in a house with a dragon in the garden.

https://mishaherwin.wordpress.com//

@MishaHerwin

The Adventures of Letty Parker are available of Amazon, Apple and other outlets, including bookshops.

City of Secrets: Book One in the series “The Adventures of Letty Parker.” https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=city+of+Secrets+Misha+Herwin&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

Bridge of Lies: Book Two https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Bridge+of+Lies+Misha+Herwin&i=stripbooks&ref=nb_sb_noss

Island of Fear: Book Three https://www.amazon.co.uk/Island-Fear-Adventures-Letty-Parker/dp/1916437389/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Island+of+Fear+Misha+Herwin&qid=1595000707&s=books&sr=1-1