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Celebrating Strong Female Characters

Friday 8th March is International Women’s Day, which is both an annual celebration of women’s achievements and a call for greater gender equality. As the mother of a son, I am very aware of the fact that he is growing up in a world which still treats men and women differently, and that his voice is crucial in helping to change that. Feminism isn’t just for women, and I am determined to help him understand that we all have a part to play in creating a better world. One way I can do this is by sharing books with him which have strong female characters, and I’d love to share some of these with you today.

Girl sitting on the floor reading a book

why strong female characters?

I’ve always been an avid reader, and during my teen years I could be found with my nose in a book most days. I’d read whilst having breakfast, during the lunch break at school, and in the evenings too. I loved immersing myself in other worlds, and literature was one of my strongest skills at school. There is just something magical about reading a book in which the characters become real, and in which you feel like you are right there with them. But even more exciting is when you find a character with whom you can relate, or who inspires you in some way.

When I was around the age of maybe 14 or 15, I randomly picked up a book from my sister’s bookcase called “Wild Magic“. The title really caught my attention, and I was hooked from the very first page. The protagonist, a teenage girl called Daine, was such a fascinating character to me. She had survived the loss of her family, gone through a time when it felt like she had lost her entire identity, and then through sheer stubbornness and willpower she found a new home.

The book was the first in a quartet (The Immortals series), and throughout the series Daine finds herself in the company of so many other strong female characters. There’s Onua, the Horse Mistress, who first gives her work. And there’s Alanna, the first female knight for centuries, who became the King’s Champion. And there’s the Queen herself, who set up The Queen’s Riders, who defend the land and go into battle just as frequently as the King’s Own guard. As an incredibly timid teenage girl, these characters were fascinating to me, and I longed to have their courage and strength, as well as their humour.

introducing tamora pierce, my favourite author

The Immortals series was my first discovery of Tamora Pierce‘s work, but I have since read several other works by her, all of which have strong female characters (and almost always as the main protagonist). Her first series, The Song of the Lionness, follows Alanna as she swaps places with her twin brother and pretends to be Alan, in order to complete knight training.

One of the most intriguing parts of this series, for me, was how many male characters supported her, once they found out the truth. First there was Corum, her manservant, who was in on it from the start. Then there was George, the King of the Thieves. And finally there were Prince Jonathan and his cousin Gary. Whilst Alanna was more the capable of completing the knight training (even though physically it was harder for her in many ways), the support of others made a massive difference. There’s even a brilliant scene in which she has her first period and panics as she has no idea what is going on. She sneaks into the city to ask George’s mother what she should do, and it’s really sweet to see her find a maternal ally in such a male-oriented world.

strong female characters in a man’s world

Alanna and Daine are not the only strong female characters Tamora Pierce has written, either. There’s Beka Cooper, an ancestor of George, who joins The Provost’s Guard in order to uphold the law. The work is dangerous, but the combination of her tenacity and intelligence help her to crack the toughest cases. And in Trickster’s Choice (and Trickster’s Queen) there’s Aly Cooper, daughter of Alanna and George, desperate to prove herself a capable spy. She ends up being abducted and sold into slavery, and yet still manages to earn trust, create a spy pack of her own, and uncover a threat.

But the one I found most intriguing was Kel, who in The Protector of The Small, becomes the first female to enter knight training since Alanna’s gender became known. In many ways she finds it harder than Alanna did, because knowing she is a girl from the start means that people are just waiting for her to fail. Alanna isn’t allowed to support her, in case people think Kel only succeeds because of additional support. And some of Kel’s teachers consistently choose not to see how talented she really is. She has some supporters along the way, but it isn’t until she is left in charge of what is thought of as a “safe space” away from the fighting, that people truly accept her importance. Because when that “safe space” becomes a key target, Kel keeps everyone safe.

What I love most about Tamora Pierce’s female characters is that they are all living in what it very much a “man’s world”. Over time they begin to change perceptions, but there is always resistance from some people, and even when the law is changed to create more equality (e.g. in allowing girls to train as knights), equality is still a long way off. This is true in our world today, but exploring it through a different lens somehow makes it seem clearer in many ways. It’s so easy to become accustomed to “the way things are” in our everyday lives, so seeing these themes in fiction always reminds me to look again.

the importance of strong female characters in children’s and young adult literature

As I mentioned before, I first came across the idea of strong female characters as a teenager. My childhood reading had consisted mostly of Enid Blyton books, and as lovely as they are they don’t have the most modern concept of what it means to be a woman, do they? So it really helped me to find these amazing characters during my teen years, when I was first discovering who I was as a girl, and who I wanted to be as a woman.

But as important as it is for girls to have these strong female characters they can relate to in the books they read, it is just as important for boys to see them too. As I mentioned at the start of this post, feminism isn’t just for women, it’s for men as well. We all have a part to play in creating a better world, in which men and women are equally valued. In fact, this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Balance for Better, focusing on this very idea that we all need to work together on this.

Which is why I love the fact that there are some brilliantly written female characters in a wide range of books these days. I asked some friends and family if they could share with me their favourite female characters, and here’s who they came up with.

Hermione Granger (from Harry Potter by JK Rowling)

I’m pretty sure that most people know who Hermione Granger is, thanks to the popularity of both the Harry Potter books and the movie adaptions. She is a beautifully written female character. My friend Jen says, “Hermione Granger reminds me of Jane [Eyre]. Intelligent – almost to a fault, because books have become her comfort. You can always depend on books! A big heart she tries to pretend she doesn’t have because the structure of logic is ‘safe’. The courage to stand up for and fight for what she believes in.”

The thing I am always struck by when thinking about Hermione is that, whilst she is a supporting character rather than the main protagonist, she is as crucial to the success of defeating Voldemort as Harry himself. If it weren’t for Hermione’s intelligence and ability to stay calm in a crisis, Harry and Ron would probably have been killed long before the series ended, possibly many times over! It’s no wonder she has become a feminist literary icon over the past couple of decades.

Tiffany Aching (from Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett)

I asked my husband, Tim, if he could share any strong female characters he’s come across, and this was the first one that came to mind. Tiffany Aching is a young witch, who is befriended by the Nac Mac Feegle, who are a right rowdy bunch of tiny, blue men, who help her to go into Fairyland to save her little brother. She fights off the Queen of the Elves with a frying pan, of all things, and gains the approval of Granny Weatherwax, which is quite the accomplishment!

It’s interesting that the Tiffany Aching books were also the ones he recommended I read when first exploring Terry Pratchett’s Discworld – he obviously knows how much I love a good female character.

Princess/Doctor Pearl (from Zog by Julia Donaldson)

When I asked in a blogging group for recommendations of strong female characters, Jules from Pondering Parenthood reminded me of how much I love Princess Pearl from the Zog books. Here is a feisty female, who refuses to accept her role as a princess, and instead befriends a dragon and chooses to be a doctor instead.

“Don’t rescue me. I won’t go back to being a princess and prancing around the palace in a silly, frilly dress. I want to be a doctor and travel here and there, listening to people’s chests and giving them my care”. – Princess Pearl

I was delighted to discover the sequel, “Zog and the Flying Doctors,” and how even when forced back into her role as a princess, she still refuses to submit to what others think she should do. What a fantastic role model to find in a book aimed at the youngest of children. It’s never too young to start showing children that they don’t have to conform to outdated gender roles.

Jane Eyre (by CHarlotee Brontë)

My friend Amanda told me that her favourite female character is Jane Eyre. I have to admit that I’ve never read this book, because I tend not to enjoy more classical literature. So I looked it up on Goodreads, and discovered that Jane is a character who has an indomitable spirit, in a time when women were generally expected to simply accept their role in life.

Amanda says that Jane is her favourite character because, “she’s forgiving, and kind hearted but strong enough that she doesn’t give up on her beliefs or morals for a man, even the one she loves.” Now if that isn’t a role model for what it means to be a strong woman, then I don’t know what is!

jo march (from Little Women by Louisa M Alcott)

My sister-in-law, Amy, shared that her favourite female character is Jo from Little Women. This is another one of those books I’ve never read (see, I’m getting as much value from researching this blog post as anyone). But at least I know a little bit about Jo, because she’s one of those characters that people seem to really remember from their childhood!

Amy tells me that Jo is, “defiant and bold. She challenged expectations and was fiercely loyal.” These are all traits which inspire us to be uniquely ourselves, especially in a world which often demands that we stay within pre-defined expectations. And they also remind us that it is more than possible to be fierce and bold, without losing our love, compassion, and loyalty to others.

katniss Everdeen (from the hunger games by suzanne collins)

Another one from my friend Jen, who describes Katniss as, “similar to Jo March – fiercely loyal to her family, willing to do the things she is afraid of doing to protect them, and clever enough to take on any challenge.” I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read the Hunger Games either (I know, I have a lot of reading to catch up on, hey?) But having read the synopsis, I can see why she is considered a strong female character.

She volunteers to replace her sister in a televised fight to the death, only to then team up with another contender to defy attempts to make them kill each other. Who doesn’t love a character who finds a way to turn a potential enemy into an ally, and in doing so takes on the establishment which is the real enemy?

what about female characters who stick with us, even if not necessarily “strong”?

One of the more interesting conversations that came out of my request for favourite female characters, was that our favourite characters might not always appear to be “strong” in the conventional sense of the word. And yet, there is something about them which sticks with us. My friend Cheryl reminded me of this, when she chose Fuschia Groan from The Gormenghast Trilogy as her favourite female character.

I’ve not read the books (or see the TV adaption), so had no idea about the character, or her background. I did a little research, and it sounds as if she was terribly neglected as a child and, as a result, struggled with the relationships in her life. In many ways, this makes her more compelling, because often fictional characters overcome odds which many of us would struggle to deal with. Perhaps characters like Fuschia Groan remind us to question what “strength” looks like, to see it even within those who may appear at first glance to be quite weak?

As Cheryl writes, “I’m not really sure whether I’d describe her as strong or not, it’s just not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about her. Peake describes her as strong in a physical sense several times, but I think emotionally she’s quite vulnerable. She’s a very lonely person with depressive tendencies, who has been chronically neglected. I like that she doesn’t really fit in to any conventional female archetype. She’s very eccentric, passionate, loving, sometimes bratty though she grows up quite a bit. She lives in her own head a lot of the time. She’s not smart, but has more common sense and emotional intuition than the damn TV show gave her credit for.”

creating my own strong female character(s)

All of this has me thinking about how the characters I have loved have inspired the characters that I create myself. When I first started writing The Brethren (way back in 2010, before pregnancy and then the early years of parenting put it all on hold), I knew that I wanted to create a story with a strong female character as the protagonist. I particularly wanted it to be a strong teenage character, because that was what I found most influential in my own teen years.

When I read through that first draft, I can see that I had begun to develop a good lead character, but she still needed some work. She was a little too patient and, whilst she had moments of annoyance, she was far too forgiving of those around her. She was a bit of a pushover, to be honest. So as I work through each chapter, making edits, I am rewriting her with a bit more strength of character. And in some ways I think this reflects how I have personally grown over the past few years.

Back in 2010, I was still living a reasonably privileged life. I hadn’t experienced the financial insecurity and poverty that austerity would throw upon us. I hadn’t known what it was like to become so debilitated by health issues that I had to learn to find strength in my weakness. And I hadn’t experienced what it was like to lose friends over standing up for a cause that many would like to ignore. I was at best naive and at worst ignorant of the challenges faced by many in society, and seeing some of these first hand has made me all the more determined to explore them in real depth.

the importance of strong supporting characters

Which also means that some of the supporting characters in my novel are getting rewrites too. The female friend who has health issues, is being rewritten to show strength in weakness. The male friend who refuses to follow in his family’s military footsteps is getting a more fully-formed backstory. The military friend is becoming an unexpected ally. And the bad guy is being rewritten into the story in a charming and unexpected way. Because, at the end of the day, life is made up of so many different interesting characters, and nobody is simply a supporting character without a distinct story of their own.

I’m reminded of the supporting characters in the stories I love so much, and how it is they who help the strong female characters to grow into who they are meant to be. Often it is the friendships formed between characters which are the most compelling parts of the story. Just as it is the support that we give each other in life, which makes the world a better and more balanced place to live.

crossed legs on the floor, wearing red sneakers, with an open book on top

Create – My Word of The Year for 2018

Every year, around this time, I think about what I want to focus on over the next 12 months and choose a “Word of The Year” that encompasses what it is I am hoping for. This practise has served me so well over the past few years: in 2015 my word was “Surrender”, which came in handy when I lost my job and relocated; in 2016 it was “Healing”, which was hard to remember when I spent most the year battling with increasing health issues – but it was still an important reminder than even the smallest step can have a healing effect; and in 2017 my word was “Courage“.

Word of the year 2017 – how did I do?

Well, first it’s important to explain how these past 12 months have been some of the hardest, most challenging, and often soul destroying ones I have ever faced. I couldn’t have picked a better word of the year, as courage was something I needed in absolute abundance. And, do you know what? I found it, I truly did.

Despite an awful year, which saw both myself and my husband unable to continue in regular employment (due to health issues), and in which my Nan died, my Grandma ended up in ICU, and 4 other members of my extended family were diagnosed with cancer, we’ve somehow survived. The stress for us in our own personal circumstances (health and financial insecurity) has been met with anxiety and concern for those around us who have been fighting their own unimaginable battles. I feel like the most highly strung person ever right now.

And yet, despite all of this, I’ve managed to go completely freelance (and work with 6 different clients this year), which I could never have imagined this time last year. So successful has this been, I have decided to focus on bringing that same entrepreneurial spirit to my blog by setting specific goals for the coming year (more on this later).

I also stepped out of my comfort zone and created a whole video series for Advent, which was incredibly daunting for someone with as little money and energy as I have. But more than anything, I feel like I have finally found the courage to be myself, to share my work with the world, and to know my worth. I’m choosing things which set my heart alight with passion, rather than trying to “fit in” with what I think the world expects of me. And in doing so, I have rediscovered the power of creating for the sheer joy of it.

Which leads me beautifully to my chosen word of the year for 2018 – Create!

Create – my word of the year for 2018 – what does that mean?

When I first chose this word for 2018, I initially thought it would simply relate to my writing. Back in October, when I first decided to close down Spirit Kid Network (another courageous decision!) and bring everything here to The Family Patch, I wasn’t quite sure how to package everything under one roof (so to speak). It wasn’t until Tim suggested the tagline, “Feeding the Creative Spirit” that it truly clicked for me. That’s what I am – I am a creator.

I use the word creator (as opposed to creative) for a specific reason. When I think of a creative, it brings to my mind writers, artists, crafters, people who create works of art in their own field. And that is something I do – I can create whole worlds with my words, and I love it. But I also create a world around me by the choices I make and the things that I do – in essence, I create the life that I live and experience. We all do.

This year has taught me that more than anything else – when we’re hit with challenges in life, we all experience them in different ways based on who we are and what we do in response to such challenges. We even create different experiences for ourselves based on the unique circumstances we face – for instance, my health is really poor right now because I can’t do the things that I used to do to protect myself from burn out (e.g. getting plenty of sleep, taking time off at the weekends etc). Those simply aren’t options for me at the moment, and until I learn to create new ways of protecting my health, it will suffer. But I have hope that by creating new experiences, I can begin to heal. I’ll never be “cured” of my health issues, but I know I can live well with them, because I’ve done it before. And that’s why I want to focus on creating this year.

18 Ways to CREATE more Health, Happiness, and Better Income in 2018

18 ways i want to create a new experience for myself in 2018

Because it can be very easy to fall into the trap of keeping things very vague with a word of the year, I decided to write out a list of 18 ways I can create a new experience for myself in 2018. I’ve split them into 2 categories – blog/business (work) and lifestyle (home), because we all need a bit of work/life balance!


1. Write 50 Blog Posts

I know that this sounds like a lot – but actually it’s just short of one post per week, which is nothing compared to what many bloggers create. I know I can do this, as The Family Patch is will have been going for 8 years in April and I’ve got 369 posts on here (that’s an average of just over 46 posts per year). So why set it as a goal, then? Well, in the past year 26 of the 45 posts published were added as part of my Advent series – so that means I wrote fewer than 20 posts during the first 11 months of the year! So regular content is a big goal for me this year!

2. Focus on Seasonal Content

Not only do I want to write more posts, I want to make sure that they are more seasonally appropriate. I have loved creating an Advent series, and I want to make sure that throughout 2018 I look ahead to holidays and awareness days and take part in them by both creating my own content and helping to share the content of others.

3. Produce 12 Videos for YouTube

Again, I loved creating videos for my Advent series (as exhausting as it was to do a series of 26 videos!) and so I would love to create some more video content through the year. 12 videos works out as one per month, and will work beautifully with my desire to create more seasonal content.

4. Publish 10 Chapters for The Brethren

I already have original drafts of more than 10 chapters of my Young Adult novel, but to be honest they all need a lot of reworking. I really want to make some headway with this during 2018 and would love to write far more than 10 chapters. But I’m also very aware that goals need to be both specific and achievable, and 10 chapters feels like it is both of those things.

5. Launch 1 Saleable Item

As my hope for this year is to begin turning my blog into a business, I need to start thinking of how I can make that work. One way would be producing an eBook that I could sell via the blog. At present I have a couple of ideas, and shall explore both of them over the coming weeks to work out which is more achievable, and will work on that. Not only will I be creating content with this goal, I’ll also be starting to create more income. So this is a 2-for-1 type goal!

6. Work with 5 Brands

So this is the big one for me – I would love to be able to create some income by working with brands here at The Family Patch. I’ve done the odd review in return for products in the past, but have never made any money through my blog itself (that has always been achieved via freelance copywriting or VA work elsewhere). The idea has always terrified me somewhat, but having worked with clients this past year I suddenly realised I was underselling myself and what I can offer here at The Family Patch too. So I’m going to try and build up working relationships with PRs and Brands this year, in the hope of working on 5 campaigns through the year.

7. Improve My SEO

I am aware that the best way to increase my chances of working with PRs and Brands is to have a decent sized, well-engaged audience. I have the engaged part pretty well sorted out – my audience may be small, but it is a wonderful one. However it is very small compared to a lot of other bloggers, and some of that could be rectified by sorting out the SEO on my site, to help others who are interested in what I share here at The Family Patch find us via search engines.

The Family Patch has been going since 2010 – that’s a lot of posts with very little SEO (which I knew nothing about until recent years). Even my latest posts need a bit of a tune up. So that is a big goal for me this year.

8. Develop a Pinterest Strategy

Another way to increase interested traffic is to use Pinterest, which works like a search engine. I have known this for many years, and yet my Pinterest account still looks like a personal pin board. So another very practical aim for this year is to create and implement a proper strategy for Pinterest.

9. Leave More Blog Comments

Finally, as I am wanting to get back to the heart of blogging by producing more content, I want to make sure I am reading lots of content too. I have found that in recent years I have lost so much time to social media and, in turn, missed out on some amazing posts by some brilliant bloggers. One of the things I want to focus on this year is the blog content, rather than the social media updates. So I shall be adding lots of blogs to my Feedly and reading and commenting on as many posts as I can throughout the year.


10. Read 10 Books

There are some people who do an amazing 52 Books in a Year Challenge, which I am in awe of. Honestly, even at the height of my reading days (when I was a teenager) I don’t think I read quite that many books in a year! But just because I can’t read 52 books, doesn’t mean I don’t want to challenge myself to read more than I have this year… and this year has been shocking! So I’ve set myself the goal of reading at least 10 books this year. I received almost that many from my parents for Christmas, so I have a good stash to work through….

11. Work Through The New Testament Together

Another thing I want to make time for, is reading the Bible regularly. I go through phases of reading some each day followed by phases of not reading it at all. I have a Daily Bible* which I tried to use to get through the Old Testament this year, but honestly I got lost in the middle of it and kinda gave up! This year, Tim and I would really like to work our way through the New Testament together, not just so that we can finally read the bits we’ve always seemed to skip over, but also so that we can discuss how we feel about it and how it relates to our lives now in a way that makes faith feel more a part of our everyday lives again.

12. Practise Yoga 3 Times Per Week

Both Tim and I would love to be more active, but our health makes things so difficult at times. However doing some yoga 3 times per week feels manageable. There are some amazing yoga videos on YouTube, some aimed specifically at people like ourselves with limited energy and flexibility. So we’re going to work through some gentle, regular practise in the hope that it really begins to make a difference.

13. Make Time For The Cosmic Kids Yoga Course

Following on nicely from this is the Cosmic Kids Yoga course I signed up for earlier this year. I am so excited about this, as Little Man loves the Cosmic Kids adventures and I want to be able to understand more about why they work and how I can integrate that into our yoga practice at home. Little Man often asks if he can join in with my yoga practice, but he finds the videos I watch too boring. I, on the other hand, find the Cosmic Kids ones too energetic to join in with some days. So I’m hoping to learn enough to merge the two together somehow, so Little Man can join in our weekly practice too.

14. Go Swimming Once Per Month

Swimming is another activity that Tim and I both know would be good for us. And yet, we haven’t managed to make it swimming yet, despite saying we’d do so for at least 3 months now! So starting in January we want to make sure we go at least once per month.

15. Use Duolingo Daily

Over the past few weeks I have really fallen in love with the DuoLingo app for language practise. I am a linguist at heart (my degree is in German and Russian) and I am amazed at just how many amazing apps there are these days to help you learn and master languages in a far more immersive way than flashcards and grammar books! Already I feel my confident growing and I feel like daily practise throughout 2018 will help me explore worlds I have long forgotten, worlds which inspire and encourage me. Words are my friends, remember, so languages are as much a part of my creative spirit as anything else!

16. Spend More Time With Family and Friends

This is something we have really struggled with over the past year or so, as health issues have taken a real toll. I cannot count the number of times we have had to cancel plans (or even avoid making them in the first place) due to being too poorly to do things. This year I want to try and change that, by inviting family round for dinner, visiting friends who we don’t get to see on a regular basis, or even simply writing to or calling those we cannot see in person.

17. Have a Major Declutter

This one is all about creating space and order within our home. I am so fed up of clutter that I simply don’t know what to do with. A dear friend recently helped me sort out my kitchen cupboards, and it was so cathartic. I also spent a few days before Christmas tidying our bedrooms, and it made me realise that the only way to truly create space and order in our lives is to have a major declutter. I am reminded of how my Lent practise of giving away an item of clothing each day helped to really focus my mind on what I actually needed and what was surplus to my needs. As challenging as it was to give away 40 items of clothing (which made up almost half my wardrobe) it was actually truly uplifting to simplify my wardrobe. So I want to do the same thing throughout our house.

We’re actually hoping to move into a smaller place this year as well, so this has a very practical goal too – we cannot possibly take all of the clutter we have with us to another home. So instead of rushing to have a clear out when we move, I want to slowly do it over a few weeks or months.

18. Attend Young Spirits

My friend set up this wonderful pre-church group, which allows children and those new to the faith to explore that week’s readings in a fun and informative way before the service begins. We have yet to make a single session, as health issues have kept us at home, but I really want to try and make it to some of the sessions during 2018. It will be a wonderful way of exploring our faith from a slightly different perspective, creating new experiences for us to share together.

Phew – that’s quite a list, isn’t it? And yet, I feel like it is all perfect for me as I head into 2018. you may have read through that list and wonder how it all relates to my word of the year… but every single one of them is helping me to create a better life for myself. Some, like those in the blog/business section are more self-explanatory than others. But even swimming and yoga help me to create better health, and spending time with family and friends helps me to create more community and happiness. After several years of feeling like my life was spiralling out of control, I am so excited to have so many ways in which I can create little bits of change that will hopefully have a big impact on my life.

I’d love to know whether you choose a word for the year or set goals for yourself. If you do, please feel free to share them in the comments 🙂

*Please Note: the link to the NRSV Daily Bible is an affiliate link. If you use that link and then purchase an item from Amazon, I will receive a small referral fee. This helps me to keep running The Family Patch. For more information on how I use affiliate links, please read my disclosure policy.

I have joined in with both the #ShareYourYear and My Blogging Goals linkies with this post, to find out how other bloggers are reflecting on 2017 and preparing for 2018. Do go and check them out if you’re looking for a bit of inspiration!

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The Brethren Chapter One

The Brethren – Chapter One

Year 1598 of the New Calendar

Chapter One

It was shortly after nine when the coach slowed to a halt. Bethia looked at Brother Howell, who was sitting opposite, and asked, “Are we there?”

“Not quite,” he replied with a smile, “we haven’t even made it through the city gates yet.”

“Then why have we stopped?” Bethia asked, leaning across her father to try and see out of the window.

“There’s always a queue to get into the city on Midsummer’s Eve,” the elderly lady sitting next to Brother Howell said. “I take it this is your first time?”

“Mm-hmm” Bethia replied, her head and shoulders now leaning precariously out of the window. “We’re never going to get there on time!” she exclaimed, as she counted the coaches ahead of them.

“Bethia, please,” her father said, pulling her back to her seat. “Patience never was one of her virtues,” he added, causing Brother Howell to guffaw with laughter.

“And I’m sure her Guardian will have some interesting times trying to instil it in her,” he said, with a chuckle.

“Oh, you’re here to join the Brethren, are you?” the lady asked. “How lovely.” She smiled at Bethia. “My son is in the King’s Guard, they welcome new recruits today too.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Brother Howell asked.

“Yes, it’s one of the few times I get to see my son these days,” she said sadly. “His unit patrols the highlands, and you know how much conflict there has been there in recent years. I worry about him so much.”

“I’m sure you do,” Brother Howell said, resting his hand gently on the lady’s arm. “We all miss our family when they are away from us, but especially when they are in Service of some kind.”

“I’m going to miss this one, more than I can say,” Bethia’s father said, squeezing her tightly.

“Oh, but she’ll be living here in the City for at least the next three years,” the lady said, looking confused. “You’ll be able to visit her from time to time, won’t you?”

Bethia felt her dad’s arm around her stiffen momentarily, and she knew that it had hit a raw nerve.

“Actually,” Brother Howell began, sensing the same discomfort, “we are from a small village near the Western Pass. It has taken us three days to get here, and will take us another three days to return. That kind of journey simply isn’t possible other than for major occasions such as Bethia’s Dedication.”

“Oh I see,” the lady said, her eyes flitting between Bethia and her father. “I am sorry, that must be very hard.”

“We had hoped that she may be offered a place at one of the smaller Abbeys closer to Terran,” her father said quietly. “But it was not to be.”

“Entrants are allocated places based upon their natural skills and interests,” Brother Howell explained, “and it was agreed that Straith Abbey would provide Bethia with the best opportunities to reach her potential. Even though that means being far from home.” He smiled at Bethia. “And whilst I am sure Bethia will find it a challenge, she has never been one to be easily defeated.”

This time it was her father’s turn to laugh. “Now that is an understatement,” he said, causing Bethia to feign offense by crossing her arms and glaring at them both. The effect, however, just seemed to deepen their point and made them laugh even more.

“Morning, Deaglan. You just heading to the market, are you?” Bethia leapt up and poked her head out the window to see what was going on. To her surprise, they had already reached the city gates, and a member of the King’s Guard was talking to the coach driver.

“Not today, Captain. I’ve also got three for the Abbey and one for the Guard too.”

“Right, in that case I suggest you head to the Abbey first.” A couple of the other passengers groaned at the news, and Bethia heard one of the mutter under his breath about ‘the bloody Brethren’.

“Hush now,” the elderly lady rebuked him. “You’ll get to the market just as quickly this way as if we took the Main Road – that route will be backed up for hours.”

The other man grumbled again under his breath, this time about interfering old ladies, but said no more.

“Some people just like to complain,” the lady said, smiling at Bethia. “Don’t you worry, my dear. We’ll be at the Abbey in no time now.”

“You might like to switch places with your pa so you can look out the window,” Brother Howell said, motioning for her to look out of the window. “We won’t see much of the city, but you’ll never forget that first glimpse of the Abbey.”

Bethia didn’t need telling twice. She’d always known she wanted to join the Brethren, and now that the day had finally arrived she didn’t want to miss a thing.

She realised Brother Howell was right; the coach had turned onto a smaller road, lined with trees. The buildings had changed from the shops and inns she had spotted upon first entering the city, and were now clearly places of residence. Not that they looked like the homes she was used to. In Terran, most people lived in small buildings with just a couple of rooms; these buildings looked large enough to house half the village each. Most of them were at least two storeys high, and had large windows and balconies that spanned the whole of each floor. And some of them bore shields in colours so bold you could hardly ignore them. Confused, Bethia turned back to look at Brother Howell.

“What do the colours on the houses mean?”

“They are the crests of the oldest and most important families in the city. Some are relatives of the King and his family; those always bear the gold crown and sceptre somewhere within the crest to signal this royal lineage. Others bear the purple of the King’s Guard, whilst those painted red are the homes of the King’s Advisors.”

Bethia looked back out of the window and noted the different colours he had mentioned, trying to imagine who the men and women were that lived in such houses. How very different their lives must be to those of her family and friends back home. Then she noticed a house that bore a crest painted blue.

“What does the colour blue stand for?”

“Some of the sailors and merchants in the city disliked the distinction that the crests made between themselves and the richer families. They chose to create their own crests; blue for sailors, and yellow for merchants.”

“Aye, we’re just as important as the Higher Families,” one of the other passengers said.

“And it makes them seethe,” said another, causing a round of laughter.

“Anything to stop them thinking too highly of themselves, eh Kellen?” the first cheered, clapping his mate around the shoulders.

“Seems like things aren’t all that different here, after all,” Bethia’s father whispered in her ear. “They sound just like Old Marcan back home.”

Bethia smiled as she thought of the old stalwart of Terran. The villagers often travelled to surrounding Market Towns to trade surplus crops for supplies they could not make or grow themselves. Some of the citizens thought themselves above the villagers, believing that town life gave them a certain advantage over those who lived and worked the land. Most of the villagers simply let them believe it, but Old Marcan believed in bringing them down a peg or two once in a while.

“Will we have much contact with the higher families?” Bethia asked, suddenly aware that comparing Marcan to the passengers in the coach was like comparing a stone with a boulder. If the citizens of the small Market Towns had looked down on the villagers, what would these Higher Families, that felt superior to merchants and sailors, think of a girl from Terran?

“Not to begin with,” Brother Howell explained. “They dislike the disruption and uncertainty that can come with the initial period in which newer members of the Brethren get used to their power. Their financial contributions to the running of the Abbey ensure that the most powerful healers, teachers and carers are sent to serve them.”

“But why should money make any difference,” she asked, “I thought the Brethren treated all people equally?”

“They do. But you must remember that the Brethren cannot survive on power and goodwill alone. We need money as much as anyone else so that we can travel to those in need and serve those who cannot afford our care. By agreeing to always send our best to those who expect it, we can ensure that we have enough funding to help those further afield too.”

He looked at her fondly, “I know this all very different for you, Bethia, and there is a lot for you to get used to. But trust me, you’ll come to understand how it all works just as much as those who have lived their entire lives in larger towns and cities, I promise.”

She turned to look back out of the window, unsure of what to say, and realised that the coach had turned onto a smaller road and that the houses were becoming sparser as they headed towards what looked like a wooded area. Intrigued, she watched as the brick buildings were replaced with more familiar surroundings: oak, beech and yew trees. She let out a little sigh, knowing that if there were places like this to escape to she’d be able to face anything.

“Ah, these are the grounds of the Abbey”, Brother Howell said. “The Abbey makes up approximately a fifth of the city, with extensive grounds occupying a large part of the western quarter. The only place larger is the Palace to the North.”

“What about the rest of the city?” Bethia asked

“Well, the Kings Guard live in Barracks next to the Palace, and then there is a large port to the East. The centre of the city is occupied by a large marketplace, where people come to trade from throughout Inness and the neighbouring lands. And, as you’ve just seen, many of the richer families live to the West, where it is less crowded.”

“What about…” Bethia began.

“Ah, no more questions,” Brother Howell interrupted her, “we are approaching the Abbey and you really don’t want to miss it.”

Bethia turned to look out of the window once more and saw a large stone building as the coach turned a bend in the road. She could only see a small corner of the building, as the rest was obscured by the trees surrounding it, but it was still an impressive sight. Huge sand-coloured bricks formed walls that stood higher than the tops of the largest oak trees, broken only by the large windows. These were filled with coloured glass that no doubt created beautiful images when the sun shone through but were impossible to decipher from the outside.

“It’s massive”, she breathed.

“It’s not all quite so large and impressive”, Brother Howell reassured her. “This is the chapel, built to honour the gifts we are given by the Gods. You’ll find your own quarters much smaller and plainer in comparison”.

“I don’t mind,” Bethia said, distracted by the sheer size and magnificence of this part of the Abbey. The village church at home had always seemed large and impressive, with an open hall where the entire village could congregate at once. But compared to this, it seemed tiny and very plain indeed.

The coach continued past the chapel and followed the building around several bends before stopping in front of a large wooden door. Brother Howell stood up and opened the coach door, stepped down onto the path and turned to regard Bethia.

“Welcome to Straith Abbey.”

Keep up to date with future chapters

Healing Journey - Steps Into The Soul

Solstice Musings

Today marks The Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year and the point at which the light begins to return to the world once more. This time last year I wrote a post called Solstice Reflections and reading back over it I am reminded of both major similarities and differences between this time last year and where I am today (it’s like a spiral dance).

spiral stone

Like last year, I have been very sick lately, pushing myself further and further until breaking point at the beginning of December. What is it about me and refusing to stop until something (usually my body) forces me to? But unlike last year, I am in a much better place both mentally and spiritually, if not necessarily physically.

I remember writing about how 2014 had been a year so tough that I felt like my soul had shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. Whilst that sounds horrendous, and it was in many ways, it was also a total blessing in disguise. It led me to choosing “Surrender” as my word for 2015 and surrender I have.

These past 12 months I lost my job, moved home, watched a loved one suffer greatly, found two new jobs, supported my husband in a new job as well, helped Little Man adjust to a new home and nursery, and begun to really find my feet with blogging again (two major highlights of which were reading this poem as part of the BritMums Live Bloggers’ Keynote and my recent post on the BritMums Blog about Endometriosis).

I could never have coped with all of these changes without first surrendering to the natural flow of life, which has taught me that no matter how dark things may seem, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time in my life, I learnt to accept what is and go with the flow rather than fighting a losing battle. And it has been great.

Going with the flow - water

But I still have a long way to go – this journey is far from over! Whilst I have moved with the flow, this year has moved at such great speed (how can it be December already?!) that my heart, body and soul all need time to adjust. Physically I am beat, and despite my best efforts, pushing onwards regardless has left me very weak. Which leads me to only one conclusion – my focus for 2016 needs to be that of Healing.

If you follow me on instagram, you may have seen that recently I started reading a fascinating book called The Healing Power of The Sacred Woman by Christine Page. Within its pages I have discovered the need to really embrace that which fills me with joy, making time to express myself creatively rather than stifling that great spring of inspiration whilst putting everything and everyone else first. As the author states, it’s often those who are “too nice” who get ill… I feel very much like this is a message I needed to hear (from someone other than my mother – sorry, mum, I know you’ve been telling me this for a long time now!)

Whilst it feels totally against my nature to do so, I have decided it is crucial that I do it. Putting myself first doesn’t mean that I no longer care about others, but rather that I am beginning to understand that only through self nurture can I have the strength needed to truly nurture others (without burning myself out entirely).

So, how am I going to do that?

Do more of what makes you happy
The cover of the binder which currently holds my novel…


Well, my thinking is this – I need to take a serious amount of time “out” to focus on the healing power within me, which for me comes very much through the time and space to create and write. I am a writer, it’s what I do. My teachers knew it at school. My friends and family have known it for years. My blog readers have often commented on it, and so have colleagues from time to time. And when I think about it, I realise that I know it too and always have – writing brings me complete joy (regardless of the subject) and when I write I tap into a powerful force of nature, that flows through me, easing my soul.

Looking back over the year I can see that I have started to do this, sharing poems such as Yet Still We Stand and How Long Must We Wait this year, but would you believe there was a time, around 10 years ago, when I wrote something new almost every day? And that year I was happier and healthier than I think I have ever been!

So, for the next few months I want to focus specifically on this – finding time to write and be inspired by the world around me. There is a novel I wrote a first draft of in 2010 which I am longing to rework and expand, and there are opportunities to write stories and poems that reflect all that is happening in our lives. There is also Spirit Kid Network to begin building, a process which I hope to turn into a creative rather than business one. Already I know the way to release the blocks I created through trying to make it “fit” rather than allowing it to be what it is meant to be.

And in order to do this, I need to really make the time and space for it. In recent months I have chosen to sit in bed and read, rather than staying up late watching TV, but I still struggle for time. There are things I have to do – work, cook, clean, look after Little Man etc – but equally there are things I can cut back on. And social media is one of these things.

Finding the Gifts Within
Finding the Gifts Within


For years now I have been saying I need to step away, but it seems so much like “social suicide” to do so, especially as a blogger. But you know what, blogging began long before the likes of Facebook and Twitter, and I do think a break from those will do me good. I spend so much time scrolling through them, time which could be spent creating something or actually reading someone else’s blog posts and commenting on them! So that’s what I’m going to do – I’m going to focus on the reading and writing and less on the sharing and tweeting, at least for a while. I want to find the “gifts within”, rather than relying on the outside world to feed my soul!

I’ve decided I want to be as symbolic as possible with this – today is 21st December and the Winter Solstice, in 3 months’ time we’ll reach 21st March and the Spring Equinox, or first day of Spring. That feels like a beautiful metaphor for this journey I wish to take – a hibernation of sorts, through the dark winter months, turning inward to find the source of my spark ready to burst forth with life once the Spring appears.

Let the Healing begin 🙂

Healing Journey - Steps Into The Soul

Why I write (and a tribute to my cousin).

I know that a lot of you already know this news because you are either part of my family, in my group or friends, or have seen it on facebook, twitter or iVillage UK. But for those of you who just pop by the blog once in a while or who have only just stumbled across the Patch, I need to tell you something before this post will make any sense.

On Sunday 14th August I received a phonecall telling me that my 24 year old cousin had died overnight. The cause of death has since been given as "Sudden Adult Death Syndrome".

This is my cousin (furthest on the right)


I wish I had a more recent photo than the ones taken at our wedding last October, but I cannot seem to find any right now. 

My cousin was well loved and well respected by so many people and it has shocked the entire family and so many of the people we know. I've spent most of the past week talking to family about what has happened and trying to get my head around the fact that this is real. 

And so, when I wrote my weekly article for iVillageUK on pregnancy this week I knew that I had to write about this loss and how it affects us. You can read the article here, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would take the time to check it out and pass on the link to others, as you never know who might be facing the loss of a loved one during an emotionally heightened time such as pregnancy. 

As with most of the articles I write, the words came tumbling out once I started writing because I had already been thinking it through in my head for several days before I sat down at the computer to write it. I knew I wanted to share all the thoughts and feelings that I was experiencing that are perhaps unique to losing someone whilst expecting a new life, but I also knew that it was crucial to do justice to the range of emotions that anybody who loses a loved one goes through. And even more than that, I wanted to ensure that I made it clear just how much my cousin will be missed.

Since submitting the article for publication on the site, I have had several people mention how beautifully written it was and several more who have thanked me for finding the strength to write such an article. And it is these comments that made me want to write this post about why I write.

You see, writing is very natural to me. I write the way I think and obviously the way I think makes a lot of sense to other people otherwise I wouldn't get such sweet comments. And I decided a long time ago that I wanted to use the skill I had been given to draw attention to those aspects of life that are so often hard to discuss. It started with writing about my Endometriosis, developed on to writing about trying to conceive and then the dark side of pregnancy, and has taken me to a place I didn't think I'd be going so soon, that of a death in the family.

I'm an honest person and find it very difficult not to wear my heart on my sleeve and show just how I am feeling. But even that doesn't explain just why I write and why however much appreciated the comments about my writing are, they sometimes give me credit for something I haven't even thought of. You see, for me, writing is like a kind of therapy. It allows me to pull all my thoughts and feelings together and to then set them free. And this stops me from stewing too long and hard on something and actually helps me heal from whatever issues I may be facing.

Knowing that what I write helps and inspires others is a wonderful gift that I shall be forever grateful for, but in all honesty it is a happy coincidence that comes from doing what I need to do. Writing the article about my cousin's death helped me to come to terms with what I was feeling. It helped me to get my head around all the various issues it brought up and by admitting how I felt it made those that were less-than-positive feel more acceptable. I didn't have to hide how I felt and that was incredibly soothing.

And that is why I write. Because I can. And because it helps me. And in this instance it gave me the best possible chance of honouring the life of someone I loved and wish I had more time to get to know even better. 

Thank you for letting me share my heart with you all. It means a lot. 

Writing in the Sand

As I mentioned yesterday, Tim and I spent a day by the sea last week. I haven’t been to the sea for years, which is shocking really to say how close we are and that I spent many, many weekends by the sea as a child, thanks to my Grandparents’ caravan. In fact, I’ve never been to the sea with Tim and was determined to take him to my old stomping ground, and reminisce about all the fun times I’d had there. There’s really nothing better than sharing your old memories with a loved one, is there?

Anyway, as this was our first time to the sea together, I was determined to mark the occasion by writing our names in the sand. But, of course, it was so much fun I decided to keep going with the sand-writing, much to Tim’s annoyance (in his words, “watching someone write in the sand for hours is not all that fun!”) But it was fun for me to create all these different things and order him to take photos of them all – oh, he’s a good one to put up with me!


Not that he didn’t have a part to play in the creative process… he was the one who decided to add the seaweed “hair” to my Angel. And he was the one who went crazy writing Reiki symbols in the sand. Trust me when I tell you how much space his symbols took up! Of course, it didn’t matter that we were taking up lots of space because the beach was practically deserted. It was a mid-week, rather windy day in May and so we were two of the only ones crazy enough to walk for miles along the sand (and consequently, Tim was probably the only person to get “wind-burned” that day). As the saying goes… Skegness is so bracing.


But that didn’t stop us. Wrapped up in all our thick winter gear, we carried on regardless. And very soon we had littered the beach with a multitude of inspirational sayings…


all inspired by how we were feeling, and what we ourselves needed to remember.

I loved writing in the sand because there are two possible outcomes, both as exciting and magical as the other…

  1. someone will walk by, perhaps taking their dog for a walk or having a breath of fresh air themselves, and come across our little messages and wonder who wrote them and why, and their minds will become filled with all sorts of possibilities
  2. the tide will turn and the sea will wash the words away forever – no trace of our words, but they will be a secret held between us and the sea

How can you argue with that?