Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Tuesday Talk Time - Being Vulnerable

Pink Heart Society regular, Kate Hardy, is talking about the hearing troubles that have made her feel very vulnerable.

I’ve always thought of myself as a really strong person who just gets on with whatever life hands out. (Y’know, if life gives you lemons, then go make lemon cake – that sort of thing. And, yes, I know it’s meant to be lemonade, but this is me. I prefer baking!)

But last week gave me a glimpse of what it might be like to be very old and vulnerable. And it was a truly horrible experience.

The whole thing goes back to my childhood. My parents could call me when I was reading and I wouldn’t hear them – they’d have to come and take the book out of my hands to get my attention. Everyone thought it was just because I was so deep into bookworld (let’s just say my career choice was obvious from the age of three!). Nobody had a clue that there might be a problem.

As a teen, I found myself leaning with one elbow on the desk and my hand cupped behind my ear in class, so I could hear better. (I just assumed my teachers had quiet voices.)

At work, my boss had a word with me: he’d noticed that if he spoke to me when I wasn’t facing him, I ignored him. He thought I might be deaf. So I had a hearing test. ‘Yes, your hearing is poor, but there’s nothing we can do.’ OK. I could live with that.

Doing jury service, I had to ask the court clerk if I could use their headset to amplify sounds because I couldn’t hear the witnesses speak. When the judge poured a glass of water, it sounded like a waterfall. When a barrister turned over a page, it sounded like someone shaking a newspaper very violently. The hard bits of the headset in my ears were really uncomfortable.

If this was what having a hearing aid would be like, then I didn’t want one.

I gave up playing acoustic guitar, because I could only hear if my jaw was resting on the body of the guitar. (Anyone who’s read my book ‘The Children’s Doctor’s Special Proposal’ – yup, that’s where the cello scene comes from!)

And then, when I was PTA chair at my children’s first school, the headmistress had a quiet word with me. She’d noticed I was lipreading and thought that although I handled the business stuff very well, I was missing out on all the fun stuff in between. She said that things had moved on since my last test – she had pupils who needed hearing aids and it made a real difference to their lives – so she persuaded me to go back to the audiology specialist.

Result: I’m officially deaf (caused by a mixture of two childhood accidents and mumps at the age of ten) and the hospital gave me a digital hearing aid. They make moulds of your ears so you can’t feel them when they’re in place. And it was a revelation. I heard birdsong for the first time in years. The music I loved so much and had had to give up sounded different – there were all these little extra bits I’d never noticed before or had forgotten about because I hadn’t heard them for so long. It was a JOY. And I think you only realise how precious something is when you’ve lost it and got it back again.

Four years later, my hearing had dulled again, so I went back for another test. Result: two hearing aids. Brilliant. Everything was loud and unfamiliar for three days, but then my brain filtered out the excess sound and it was fine. I can only use a phone on loudspeaker (so it’s difficult in the city, where it’s noisy) but I can live with that.

Last week: fitting for new aids following another dip in my hearing. Now, the audiology test hadn’t been great – the audiologist came across to me as very young and inexperienced. (As in, if I explain to you that I cannot hear a normal conversation without hearing aids and have to lipread, it’s very stupid of you to take the aids out to do the earmould fitting and then persist in talking to me when I can’t see your face. Because it’s very obviously that I will not be able to pick up what you’re saying. And if it’s your job… um, should you not be aware of this?) When I had the aids fitted on Monday morning, I knew it wasn’t right. It was too quiet. ‘Oh, all hearing aids are different and you’ll get used to it.’ But I can’t hear anything behind me. ‘Well, you’ll just have to accept that there will be some gaps in your hearing.’

Stupidly – because those gaps hadn’t been there half an hour before! – I said I’d give it a go and went home. And that was when I realised the scale of the problem. The car stereo – which I’d had on volume 6 on the way in – had to go up to 10 to hear it at the same volume. (That would’ve hurt before.) I couldn’t use a phone, even on speaker. I picked the kids up from school and I couldn’t hear their voices. So I rang the hospital to see if they could fix me. ‘We can’t see you until June.’ You’ve taken away 50% of my hearing. I can’t function at this level, and you’re going to leave me like this for six weeks? ‘I just book the appointments.’ Can’t I go to hearing aid repairs for them to reprogramme it? ‘No.’ Well, there’s no point in talking to someone who clearly doesn’t want to help you. So I had six weeks of not being able to hear – and basically feeling disabled and vulnerable – to look forward to.

I didn’t want to go anywhere on my own, knowing that I wouldn’t be aware if a car came up behind me in a car park, or if someone was walking behind me in a supermarket (so I might step back and knock into them). I wanted someone with me to keep me safe and warn me if there was a danger I was unaware of because I couldn’t hear it. It made me feel weak and stupid and hopeless and scared. And I hated every second. That isn’t who I am. At all.

I had very little sleep well that night. (LOL. The Fitbit computer record has little clumps of sleep and big gaps.) And, the next morning, I went back to the hospital straight after the school run (braving the car park!), intending to do a sit-in at the department until someone would speak to me and fix what they’d broken. 

The receptionist was brilliant (and offered me tissues and a glass of water – yes, I did cry my eyes out because I was tired and vulnerable and scared). She came with me to the waiting area and spoke to the audiologist on my behalf. This new audiologist was wonderful. She listened. She read my notes. She discovered why I couldn’t hear – the one who hadn’t listened to me at the test also hadn’t read my notes properly and hadn’t ticked the box saying that I had conductive deafness. Meaning that I’d been given the wrong programme.

The audiologist wasn’t able to fix me completely – that’ll be next month – but we have a workaround which I can live with. It’s like having two-dimensional hearing (and I notice the gaps in music – harmonies that I know are there are ‘missing’ right now)

But that day of feeling vulnerable and having to rely on other people to keep me safe has stayed with me. It’ll probably end up brewing a book (as I say, make lemon cake), but it threw me way too far out of my comfort zone. And all because someone was too arrogant to listen to me and do her job properly. (Yes, I have made a complaint – I don’t want the first audiologist to lose her job, but I do want her to manager to take this as a learning opportunity to improve her performance for the future. I also mentioned the two people who were fantastic and asked that they would be given an official thank you from their manager on my behalf.)

Have you ever experienced feeling as vulnerable as that? How did you deal with it?

Kate’s latest releases are It Started at a Wedding... from Harlequin Mills & Boon (the follow-up to Plague Squirrels), and Bachelor at Her Bidding, her first book for Tule Publishing. 
You can find out more about the books, and Kate Hardy, on her website and her blog - or find her on Facebook!

Monday, May 04, 2015

Male on Monday: For the love of….politicians?

The Pink Heart Society are delighted to welcome back Harmony Evans as she talks politicians...

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. - Henry Kissinger

Early last year, I was right in the middle of a job search. There was a position in Ithaca, New York and while I was doing research on the town, I happened upon an article about their mayor: Svante Myrick.

Svante Myrick - Mayor: Ithaca, New York
Currently serving a second term, this guy at age 27 is one of the youngest mayors in U.S. history and one of the youngest African-Americans elected in history.

The man has quite the resume, plus he’s a cutie too.  Definitely hero-inspiring!

And it got me thinking:  Can politicians be sexy?

And furthermore: Could I ever fall in love with a politician?

The answer to the latter is riddled with “maybes”.  I’m really not “in” to politics, but if there are gorgeous men involved, maybe I should be! J

But to the former question, can politicians be sexy (in spite of their politics)? I believe the answer is a resounding yes!

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character,
give him power. - Abraham Lincoln

Many politicians get a bad rap, but they can’t all be power-hungry people who don’t care about their constituents. Can they?

I’m going to play Devil’s advocate here. I’m willing to bet they are just trying to stay the course and figure life out…just the rest of us! They are normal, intelligent people under extraordinary pressure who are (for the most part) trying to make a difference in a world that is often resistant to change.

So…put your political views aside for a moment, and feast your eyes on these guys!  

Have a great week!

Barack Obama: President, United States of America

Eduardo Leite - Mayor of Pelotas (a city in Brazil)

Enrique Nieto - President of Mexico

Tony Blair - Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom
How about you? Is there a politician that you can see as a romantic hero? Join the discussion in the comments!

Harmony Evans writes sexy, emotional contemporary love stories. 

Her latest release is WINNING HER LOVE, a Harlequin Kimani Romance. She won "Debut Author of the Year" for the Romance Slam Jam 2013 Emma Awards and was a double finalist for the 2012 Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Awards.  She lives in New York City. 

To learn more, visit www.harmonyevans.com or like her on Facebook.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Writer's Workspace - Kate James

The Pink Heart Society is delighted to welcome Kate James as she talks us through her different writing workspaces...

The topic of this post is a writer’s workspace. I am frequently asked where I do most of my writing. The answer is simple. Where my laptop is! But to say that would not make for a very interesting post, and would be 496 words short of the length that was suggested for this piece. So, let me explain.

First of all, where I write is partially weather dependent. 

I love the outdoors, thus if Mother Nature is cooperating, I will take my laptop outside.  Whether it’s at our house or our cottage, my husband and I are fortunate to have some truly stunning views. One of my favorite spots to write is the gazebo in the backyard of our house. You can probably appreciate why this view would be inspiring. 

Often my “critique team,” black Labs Harley and Logan, join me, as they did when this picture was taken.

Another favorite spot is a guest room at our cottage. One of my yet unpublished books, Everything to Gain, provides a perfect example of what I refer to as fictionalizing facts. 

In Everything to Gain, after a personal tragedy, communications executive Blake Meadows retreats to a lakefront cabin in the Adirondacks and decides to see if she can fulfill her lifelong dream of writing a novel.   

She sets up her “writing room” in a guest suite overlooking her lake.  

Blake’s writing room is based on the guest suite at our cottage. I wrote most of my debut novel, Silver Linings, in this room. 

Finally, when winter weather hits, I like to write in my office at home. Especially when the snow is falling, I love to curl up in a comfortable recliner facing the fireplace with my laptop actually on my lap. As you can see in this picture, my trusted critique team is again close by, even if they are less engaged! Although not an outside view, this is still one of my all-time favorites.

To conclude, I can write just about anywhere and anytime. I love to write almost as much as I love to read. 

What is it about writing that I love, and enough so to have left a job I truly enjoyed? 

It is knowing that there are people who chose to spend their limited and valuable leisure time reading my work. It means a great deal to me when a reader reaches out to me to let me know they enjoyed what I wrote. Sincere thanks to all my readers for enabling me to fulfill my dream!  

Now I have a question for you. Where do you feel most creative? One person leaving a comment will be selected at random to win a copy of my latest release, The Truth About Hope. Thank you for visiting The Pink Heart Society blog, and happy reading!

Kate’s The Truth About Hope, has just been released and is available in print and e-book formats:

Who is Hope Wilson? 

Is she the girl her former hometown thinks she is? Or the girl Luke Carter once loved—and maybe still does? 

When Hope returns to Canyon Creek, Texas, to honor her father's last wishes, there's only one person on her mind: her high school sweetheart, Luke. The boy she lied to when she had to leave Canyon Creek as a teen, finding it easier to hide what she really felt than deal with the grief of loss. Her father's fortune could make a big difference to Canyon Creek—but Hope finds that the townspeople have a long memory when it comes to his misdeeds. With a plan to make amends on his behalf, Hope learns the truth about herself. And the truth about love.

Learn more about Kate and her books on her website, her Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Weekend Wildcard - Back to Basics

This weekend at The Pink Heart Society, founder Trish Wylie talks to us about how going back to basics helped her break through the wall which had been stifling her creativity, making every word painful to write...

Sometimes we all need to take a step back. It could be from a difficult situation or a relationship which isn’t working or revision notes before an exam or when life is simply getting on top of us and we’re finding it hard to cope.

We’ve all had stressful times and it’s not always possible to take a break from them, sometimes we simply have to trudge through until there’s light at the end of the tunnel. But when the opportunity comes along or you hit a point when something’s gotta give, I’ve discovered going back to basics can make a huge difference.

It’s no secret I’ve had difficulty with my writing for the last few years. Family troubles didn’t help, nor did my battle with depression. But as I found ways to deal with those things, it made me think about what I could do to get back on track with my writing.

The first thing I did was read. Sounds simple, right? All writers are readers before they write their first book. But when you’re buried under deadlines and trying to find a balance between work and family, the teetering TBR pile in the corner of a room can start to gather dust. I also had a tendency to read work related books – books on craft and career - instead of reading purely for pleasure.

So, step one was to pick up books I wanted to read for fun. I started with one a week, then two. If I found a series I loved, I often read the next book in a series from cover to cover in a couple of days. And the really good ones reminded me what I love most about reading:  The Story.

Then it hit me. While trying to hit word counts and themes and fitting my stories into the parameters of a particular line, I seemed to have forgotten the story comes first.

The next step was removing as many distractions as possible. I got myself into a routine; did dishes and laundry and made sure all those little chores which can seem terribly important when you’re stuck in your current WIP, were out of the way. I thought about the best time of the day for writing. 

Mine used to be at night; I would work in the dark and sleep for most of the day. But the lack of sunlight wasn’t helping my depression, so I had to adjust my body clock. I knew animals had to be fed by a certain time, neighbourhood kids would come to do pony things after school, my friends were more likely to visit in the late afternoon/evening; so it made sense that the morning became my writing time. And I made sure EVERYONE knew that.

Then came the big one: The Internet.

I know it’s a tad ironic to be talking about unplugging from the Internet in a Blog. But as many writers have discovered, it can suck hours out of your day. Switch it on first thing in the morning while you have your coffee and after checking emails, Twitter, Facebook, updating your blog and commenting on your friends posts, you can suddenly discover it’s lunchtime. And how many words have you written in your WIP by then? Yuh-huh...

Keeping in mind my writing time was now the morning, I became strict about what I could do on the Internet. Check emails for anything urgent was fine. It takes ten minutes, tops. Anything else can wait until after my daily word-count is done.
What I discovered next, was unexpected.

I’ve known for a several years, every time I sat down at the keyboard and opened the Word file for my WIP, there was a ‘block’. I’d re-read everything over and over and over again. I’d over-edit, for hours. The solution came to me courtesy of a power cut. No electricity = no computer (and as an added bonus it also = no Internet). I killed my laptop a few years ago and due to the lack of writing progress, have been unable to afford a new one. But it wasn’t going to stop me writing. I had a pen and paper! And my friends, now it’s the only way I’ll EVER write a first draft.

I don’t know if it’s because there’s only so much room on a page to edit or because removing all the distractions allows me to focus or because after all the reading I’ve done, I’ve regained my love for story-telling. It could be a combination of all the above. But what matters is I’m writing at least ten pages a day and I’m LOVING IT. 

What’s more, I can write anywhere. I don’t need to worry about how much battery I have left or where I’ll find the nearest power outlet. Have pen and paper, have flask for coffee, can travel. On good weather days I can go outside, sit somewhere remote and beautiful and focus on the story. On bad weather days, I can sit in cafes or libraries or pubs or in front of a warm, cosy fire with a blankie over my lap and focus on the story. I don’t have to worry about people reading over my shoulder – in fact, if they can read my scrawling handwriting on the days the scenes are flying out of my head, bravo to them! Sometimes I’ll listen to music on my IPod, sometimes I’m write in silence, but what matters is #amwriting. 

And my output in the last four months has been greater than it was in the last four YEARS.

That’s not to say I don’t still have a few problems to overcome. While typing up my finished first draft, I’ve discovered I still have a bit of a problem with over-editing at the keyboard. But I’m working my way through it, it is getting better and I can’t complain. After all, at least now I have finished first drafts to work on, right?

I’m a great believer in everyone finding what works best for them. We simply have to make the decision to look for it and be open to trying new things. For me, it was more about old things, going back to basics and remembering what I love most about story-telling. Now, as summer approaches and with my head full of stories I want to tell, I plan on spending a lot of time outdoors. So, if you’re in Ireland this summer and you see a woman writing the old fashioned way in a forest, by a river, at the beach or sitting at a table outside a cafe, there’s a pretty good chance it could be me!

Have you suffered with writer’s block, found a solution that works for you or had your writing/reading life transformed when you unplugged from the Internet? Does getting back to basics sound like something which could work for you? What about getting back to nature – will you be outdoors this weekend? If so, let us know in the comments!

Trish is thrilled to be preparing for the release of her first Indie book later this month. Only Oscar will be available from all the usual EBook outlets and as a treat for all her friends at The Pink Heart Society, she’s giving us a sneak peek at the back-blurb and cover.

Can the first boy she fell for be the man she needs?

Callie Morris has a plan to make dating simple. She doesn’t think finding Mr. Right has to be complicated. But before she can get started, her girlfriends insist she take a good, long look at her BFF, Oscar Levinson,  to eliminate him from the running.
The last thing she expects to find is a spark of attraction. What’s more, it appears to be mutual!  

Turns out, there’s more to Oscar than meets the eye. He’s been keeping secrets - hiding who he is and what he does. When the truth is revealed will Callie discover what she needs was standing in front of her all along, or will her worst fears be realized as his new life begins to tear them apart?

To keep up with the latest news and more info on Trish’s new series you can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.