Caught in gun fire!

My husband and I travel a lot. We always have, as young backpackers then as a young family, then with work as we grabbed a bunch of fabulous opportunities around the globe. We are somewhat more settled now, having come full circle and literally emigrated in such a way that we circumnavigated the globe, east all the way until we returned home four years ago, back to Johannesburg where it all began.

Our story is long and complicated and beautiful and painful and I’m slowly trying to condense it into something readable, (even though in many ways our journey has only just begun). We have been through all manner of strife of many kinds and feel as though we are well versed and well balanced in so many areas and that we have collected a healthy respect for people of all kinds, and don’t jump to conclusions or judge.

So this week as we flew into Cape Town for a week of work for him and writing for me, we picked up our little hatchback rental and headed out from the airport for the expected hour or so drive out into the country to our destination. But as we neared our turnoff and saw the Friday afternoon traffic jam, my husband made the snap decision as he often does, to keep driving instead and asked me to quickly consult Mr Google and find an alternative route. The new route was only 2 minutes longer and took us off the next exit and asked us to turn right instead of left. The route was fairly simple with few turns and all major roads, but we were starving so dipped into a side street to find the closest KFC. But we didn’t turn slow down fast enough to make the sudden change, so took the next turn only a couple of houses down thinking that we would just go around the block and come back again.

It seemed simple enough, and we could see that we were in what could be described a “dodgy” area, but as we are adventurous, non judgemental (or try to be), I simply said these people are probably as nice as can be. It was mid Friday afternoon and school was out, the sun was shining, and the heat of the day was already subsiding, ….so the streets were full of people, many of whom were children and teenagers and most of the adults were women. There were balls being kicked, dogs and children squabbling and laughing, and while there were many people around, there were very few cars. The streets were single lane each way without the need for a white line down the middle. It was by no means a major thoroughfare, and the tangle of dead ends that we came upon as we tried to get around a single block confirmed that this was nothing more than people’s homes. It was struggling class suburbia at it’s best from what I could see; salt of the earth, rich in culture, survival at it’s best. There was a part of me that would have loved to stay, and to speak to the woman at the door with the baby on her hip who was laughing with her toddler kicking his ball, to have a meal with the family who were unpacking their meagre groceries from their walk to the local corner store. A thousand or more deep rich stories to be told around me.

But we were locked into this rabbit warren for no more than 2 or 3 minutes as my husband turned the car around and we headed out again the way that we had come in. Our wrong turn had been quiet the first time, but now that we were exiting, with the same people on the streets and the same kids playing with a ball, we heard a couple of gun shots behind us. Two shots fired one immediately after the other, and as we couldn’t actually see anything happening, in the second (or less) that it took to process it, we kind of looked at each other, registered that something had gone down, and for some reason assumed that it was over …and that is was a good thing that we were on our way out instead of in.

But in front of us a police siren started just seconds after the gunshots, and a police car came flying around the corner towards us, obviously heading to the gunshots behind us. It all happened so fast that there is no way that anyone cold have called the police that quickly and we suddenly realised as the second, third, fourth and fifth police vehicles came screeching around the corner too, taking up most of the road and blocking our exit, that something huge was going down and that their war and our exit had collided. We were the only car on the road in the 50 yards or so between the good guys in front of us and the bad guys behind us, the guns started up again and we realised that they weren’t in any way small guns… It also took less than a second to realise that at least two of the police vehicles were SWAT teams in cammo, full body armour and bullet proof protection, face masks, and MASSIVE artillery which was aimed in every direction in front of them.

It didn’t occur to me until afterwards that they had no idea who we were or that we were good guys, so my husband had one guy (hanging out the  doorless vehicle like you see those army guys hanging out of doorless helicopters), lock eyes and gun on him as he came flying around that corner! We had to jump the curb to get around them and as the gun shots kept going for some reason we didn’t even look back. We just floored it and left as fast as we could.

We are still processing everything, and in a country where nothing but the worst of the worst makes the papers and news, the likelihood of us finding out what was going on was slim. So last night we googled the area that we were in, and sure enough there were a number of very small articles on what went down. Here is one of them. I’m pleased to hear that the good guys one, and it doesn’t sound like any lives were lots in the process.

I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not to write this. I am enormously protective of this country and I do not want to contribute to it’s negative reputation. But on Friday this was my reality and part of my goal in all my writing is to be honest, congruent, transparent and to keep it all real. For me it was a massive lesson that anything can happen to anyone anywhere, that our two worlds had collided and there was nothing that we had done “wrong” and nothing in that neighbourhood that was inherently “wrong”. I still believe that most of those people are good people and I would love to hear all their stories, have a meal with them, and spend some time there.

I was asked only the week before by another family on the expat circuit whether I would recommend this country as a posting for them and my answer remains unchanged; I can’t guarantee anyone’s safety in any country, but if you are prepared to take the risk on being anywhere on this earth and you have the opportunity to live in this country, then I’d grab it with both hands as we have done …

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The Joan of Arc in me…

img_3986-1As most of you already know or have worked out, I am writing my story of my life and my abandonment and abuse, as well as all the many things that I have learnt and am learning along the way. I see a brilliant doctor at the moment and she is the best Psychologist that I have ever had. We see her together sometimes too, and he sees someone else as well. It sounds complicated but it isn’t really, …. we each grew up in deeply confusing and abusive situations and as a consequence we came together in an extremely cliched way… drawn together in our pain and as bad for each other as it gets… the worst combination. But we didn’t know that, and our love for each other, our faith, a gazillion life altering mistakes and a hell of a lot of hard work means that we are at last now breaking the chains that have bound us all our lives …and we are winning. As individuals and as a couple.

I cannot explain to you how proud I am of each of us in completely different ways. In the next few months we are going to be delving into the hard stuff and I will be writing about much of it. It is painful and it is hard, and all the people who broke me were without fail the exact same people who were supposed to love me and protect me, not break me and abandon me and crush my heart soul and spirit…

So today DrA and I discussed the upcoming topics and she lovingly hit me with one of her doozies; one of those comments that for her are probably par for the course, but for me are life changing in ways that are hard to explain…

Today she told me that we need to be careful with me going ahead, that she is worried about me being hurt by the process, and that we need to keep on top of keeping me safe. She said that over the two years that I have been with her, (that’s nearly 100 sessions alone, wow!!!!) she has come to this conclusion. She told me this:

“Because of what happened to you as a child, because it was such an injustice, the little girl became a warrior. A warrior for righteousness and justice and principals.

….It was the only way that she could find a voice, it meant that she survived.

….She became a very effective warrior and she is very accurate. She speaks truth and she stands up for people and against wrong. She became Joan of Arc. A young woman with a passion and an empathy for the downtrodden. I can’t fault her, Joan was wonderful, an amazing warrior … and you Jenn, you are a great Joan.

….But the problem with warriors is that nobody can see the broken damaged person underneath, and worse than that, …warriors get killed !!!

….Do you want to fight for justice or to be seen and heard? You can’t have both at the same time… “

I am feeling so many mixed emotions. There is something hugely complimentary about being compared to someone like Joan of Arc. But more than that there is also something extremely validating about the things that she described in me… but I’m not quite sure that I’m super excited about being burnt at the stake!

Why Read?

The more I have wanted to write, the more I have wanted to read! I have always loved reading,

….but when I started writing my own abuse story for myself, I stopped reading anything else because I wanted my voice to be only my own. I was scared that I would “accidentally” steal or borrow from someone else, and I wanted to be able to say everything that I needed to say and know that it was from my own heart and soul, even if someone else had a similar experience (which I have no doubt many have). And so I stopped reading altogether for a season.

But then I needed a break. I was having nightmares and really struggling with some of the things that I was writing and so I took some time out to read a book that I found lying around and had no idea what it was about…. it was Alexander Fuller’s “Let’s Not Go to the Dog’s Tonight” and I drank in every word. My story is nothing like hers but having grown up in the same era and in the same corner of the globe there was much that I could relate to.

At the moment I am reading Rachel Thompson’s “Broken Pieces” which is completely different to Fuller’s writings but I am soaking in every word of this book too.

Neither of these are my stories, they are their’s alone, so how and why are they good for me? Because they give me permission. When I started writing my story, I wanted it to be pure and raw and “as is”, but I also knew that I had to fit in to a “standard length” novel, and to write it in a way that people will want to read and understand. Which for me was a certain box that I can’t quite explain. But now that I am reading the works of others that inspire me, they have give me permission to be more of myself and less of that “box”.

Far from restricting my own voice, they are setting it free!

Fuller gave me permission to not have to cram my whole story into one book. To stop my story at a really obvious point, and then to move onto a new book for the next part. Thompson has given me permission to describe feelings even if they didn’t make sense to me then or make sense to everyone else now.

Both writers have given me permission to write my story “as is” without justifying anything or having to explain it so that the reader believes me. Neither of these writers judges anyone, themselves included. They state their experiences and simply leave it at that…

There are many other writers who have put words to my feelings, feelings that have been bottled up for decades but without a voice I had no idea how to describe them or what to do with them. They are still my own, but I needed to isolate them in order to deal with them, and deal with them in order to start healing. Then I could start telling my own story, and use my own words that I learnt to find.

Flooded!

screen-shot-2016-10-10-at-10-46-30-amSo a couple of months ago I came across this amazing young woman doing amazing things. That sounds like an ad, sorry, I didn’t mean it to, but most of you who know me know that I don’t plug anything I don’t believe in and that my thoughts and comments are very much my own. The books that I review I buy, ….and I buy because I choose to.

So back to this young lady, Victoria Griffin is her name, and she is bravely putting together an Anthology about Head Injuries, especially concussion, called Flooded. The story is hers to tell not mine, and next week I will be doing a post all about it, so I will leave it for then. For now I am super excited that her KickStarter launched today!! I have done quite a lot of research into what she is doing, and she appears to really have her head screwed on and know what she is doing.

The Writing Train did a post on her, the Kickstarter that went live today, and what she is doing and why, so if you want to know the details, and can’t wait till next week, then check them out. This is simply to say click on the links, back her if you can and would like to, and watch this space for more info next week (plus an update on how the whole thing is progressing 🙂 )

Book Review: TWO sons TOO many….

img_5783I have just finishing reading this book by Aidan McNally.

Honestly, I have never felt so conflicted about a book in my life! I have absolutely no idea how to rate it, as every number out of 5 stars feels wrong to me. If you are reading this then I assume that you want an honest answer and quite frankly a number is never going to sit right with this book.

If you want an honest, told-as-it-is, frank, raw, redemption story (of sorts) then this deserves full marks. If you want a well written, organised, well edited, flowing story, …then sadly forget it, as it fails completely on every count. Not just below par, but failed completely.

And yet I don’t feel that he earns a fail on this book either. I have no idea who he is or how he wrote this, but it plays out as if he is sitting there with a dictaphone and a beer, and just tells his truth as he knows it. Warts and all, sex scenes and all, blurring truths and mistakes and a few contradictions to make it a true “pub story”.

A middle of the road rating would be totally unfair, it is nothing middle of the road…

At times it is truly gripping, at others I really had to trudge through a bunch of boring repetitive stories which quite frankly, it doesn’t matter exactly where the truth lies. I expected a book about the loss of two sons, and I was truly moved by all the stories of Aidan’s upbringing and background. But in the middle third of the book there are stories that are basically repeats of the same thing over and over.

I know what it is like to make the same mistakes repeatedly, and I know what it is like to stupidly give someone you love a second, third and even hundredth chance when they “don’t deserve it”. But I think that he could have done well to have condensed some of the repetition and concentrated more on the overall picture of some of the stories.

I felt for this man, and somehow he had me hooked enough to speed read through the bad bits and keep going, …so I have to give him a ton of credit for that. I also have to give him a ton of credit for baring his heart and soul so rawly and so openly. And he deserves a medal for going so far out on a limb and making this book happen when he is clearly not a writer at all. If there is any doubting the facts in any of the stories in it, this book backs up his tenacity and “make-it-happen” attitude. At a very basic level the fact that he has written this book and published it and made it happen, in what appears to be only a few weeks (the story ends very soon before the book went live), shows that he is a survivor and a trooper and that he thinks outside the square.

The two main issues for me are firstly the terrible way that it is written, and secondly the focus of the book not being quite what it is presented to be.

Even the most basic sweep of editing would improve this book dramatically, … although having said that, my hesitation comes in the form of not wanting to lose the spirit of this man, the voice behind his story, and so a basic sweep is desperately needed. So is a deeper level of editing but it would take an expert to do that without losing who Aidan MacNally is.

The second problem (for me that is), is that there is way too much focus on some of the truly boring stuff, and no where near enough on the events that hook people into buying the book and hearing his story. I hate spoiling endings for people so I won’t say what happens, but the things that drew me to the book came very late in the story and while deeply moving and tragic, were relatively skimmed over and there are many unanswered questions which he opens up but doesn’t finish.

More importantly however is that at the very end of the book a completely different agenda appears and I felt as though this is more what he is asking his readers to hear. Yet there is no reference to that in the marketing. I felt as though I went into this with one agenda but that it suddenly switched to another at the end… I would have preferred to have a better understanding of what he was trying to do.

To finish, here are some more up sides: I think that the name is very clever, there are some subtle threads through the story which are encouraging and uplifting and remind me that there is still much good in human beings, and lastly there is something that Aidan manages to bring to the table that makes me simply want him to succeed …in life, in his final dilemma, and with his book. I feel that there is much potential here, but he needs a bit of a helping hand to make it great!

*Please note that this is not a sponsored review. As with all my reviews to date, I paid for the book and read it because I chose to 🙂

FAQ: Why no Family & Friends Launch Pad?

IMG_3561I wrote this article a couple of weeks ago on the family and friends launch pad that many of us launch or social media platforms off, and the fact that I don’t have one, which doh, I should have realised would prompt people to ask me why. So here it is:

For all kinds of complicated reasons I have never known my own voice. I thought that I did and that I was good at standing up for myself, but it turns out that just because we can talk loudly, a lot, or boldly, does not mean that we know ourselves and our needs either deeply, or for some of us it turns out, at all. And that was me… I was absolutely gobsmacked when my psychologist worked it out, but in the same space and moment I also knew that they were 100% correct. The scariest thing was that I knew they were right but could not for the life of me find what my voice was saying. It was an extremely traumatic few years and deeply painful as for over a decade I had felt the weight of a thousand stones in my soul and so I knew that they were there and I knew that I was in deep deep pain… I knew that I had things to name and say, but I was so conditioned and practiced at silence that I could not access them AT ALL.

It was extremely frustrating, and deeply exhausting. I honestly thought at times that we would never get there, but as I started to write I started to find a voice that in one sense I never knew was there but in another sense always knew it was. I started to share that voice and those writing some of those around me and I got such a mixture of reactions. Some told me that I have to share it with the world and write my story, but many told me that these were things best kept silent. The more people wanted to silence me the more I knew that I needed to write and to tell and even to speak it out loud (which I can’t quite do yet, but I want to one day)…

Then there were those who didn’t expect me to keep silent but at the same time it evoked things inside themselves that they were trying to keep silent and so they asked me not to speak of my things around them. Others simply didn’t get it and weren’t very interested. And that’s OK too. It has to be OK, I need to let them have their own life journeys. And so a year ago I moved from my private blog that only they could see, and started my public blogs without telling them. The world can see this and I feel more free to speak what I need to than if I had any of them looking over my shoulder. Yes they might find me, but if they do then they have the choice of hopping on board or staying silent. It is up the them rather than me shoving it in their faces and expecting them to come on board.

My parents and family of origin have elected to let me go a very long time ago, so there are no family constraints as far as that goes, and my children are too young to journey with their mother, (and maybe that is not the job of children anyway). And so with only my dear husband cheering me on on the sidelines, I am going this alone, for now anyway. Thank you for coming on this journey with me … I can’t tell you how much it means to me 🙂

 

Guest Interview with Kathryn Bax.

screen-shot-2016-10-05-at-3-48-11-pmToday I have a guest with me that I am super excited about. Kathryn Bax (who writes under the pen name Kathryn McMaster) is Co-founder and Business Development Manager of www.onestopfiction.com (a One Stop place for Readers and Writers). I read her debut book “Who Killed Johnny Gill” a good few months ago, and as I researched the author I found her site as well as an author support group that she runs for Fiction writers. I am a memoirist myself, but reading all about her and everything that she is doing with the site gave me huge insight into the world of writing, publishing, self publishing and marketing for writer and authors, I have learnt so many tips from her that it is hard to remember what I learnt from whom, and in reality a huge chunk of it has come from either her or one of her many followers.

Her site is in it’s infancy but appears to me to be growing from strength to strength very quickly, so I thought that I would ask her to share with us a few things…

Me: Hi Kathryn, Thanks so much for answering my questions today. Can I ask you why you started your web site? Isn’t it just one of many that are similar that can be found all over the internet? … and what gaps are you achieving to fill in the market place today?

Kathryn writes: We all like to read free and discounted books, don’t we? Who doesn’t like a bargain? I co-founded One Stop Fiction for two reasons. The first was to provide readers with quality books at discounted rates, the other was as an author I was frustrated at the lack of places I could be seen, other than my own author Facebook pages and website. How could I make sure that my book was on a permanent website, rubbing shoulders with books from my peers? Along came the idea for the website.

However, 9 months ago, the idea hadn’t even been born yet. I was still frantically trying to finish my first novel. Once I was nearly finished I realised that I needed some ideas on how to market it. There was no point in writing a book that nobody would see.

So I paid a squillion to join a course on book marketing only to be bitterly disappointed. It had not stated on sign up that the course was primarily for non-fiction writers. I took very little away from the course and felt rather disgruntled. I was not the only one. Other fiction authors were very unhappy too.

So, being the rebel that I am, I decided to break away from the group and start my own Facebook group where we could all learn from each other and share marketing ideas. The group soon grew to well over 1000 members. However, after listening to the feedback from the new group, there seemed a need to provide a platform where writers could connect to readers and vice versa.

I had built and run several websites of my own before this. I was no stranger to HTML and website jargon. However, I knew that we needed a site that would be more than a ‘mom and pop’ venture. We needed something slick and professional, easy to use and attractive to look at.

In the previous disgruntled group were two very special people; Shaun Griffiths, a Young Adult author who would become our Content Manager, and Alex Okros; an author of short stories (still unpublished) and the published author of a time-management book.

We fast became Internet friends. One day I said to Alex that I was thinking of starting up a website for authors. He said that he too had had the exact same idea. I said that it was all very well and good to have lofty ideas but website platforms did not come cheap. Who would we get to build it? He started to chuckle and said, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? I am a computer programmer and my girlfriend designs websites.” Sometimes, some things are just meant to be.

The website was released to the public on 8/8/2016 which we hope is an auspicious date – not that we are at all superstitious! Already hundreds of books have been added to the site and we are thrilled to see how many people have entered our monthly competition to win a Kindle eReader Paperwhite worth $119. The competition is open to all, no matter where you live. There is no joining fee, and to say thank you for your subscription you have a choice of 30 free e-books to read.

So please come and join us, have some fun, and be prepared to find some great books!

By Kathryn Bax (Pen name Kathryn McMaster)

Co-founder and Business Development Manager

www.onestopfiction.com

(you can also follow her on Twitter at either @OneStopFiction1 or @TrueCrimeNovels)