A cloak of courage

There are so many lessons to learn in life and sometimes you have to become a different person to learn them.

I love writing about characters who have to cope with extraordinary situations and experience colourful emotions, almost becoming different people and learning about themselves along the way.

When I was a kid there was a programme on UK television called ‘Mr Benn.’ It was about a cartoon character who visited his local fancy dress shop once a week to try on a different costume. Dressed as a spaceman, chef, cowboy or whatever, he got to become that person for a short time, with help from a magic shopkeeper. He saw life through that character’s eyes and discovered that you can learn a lot if you walk in someone else’s shoes.

In my fruitcake imagination it got me pondering…..wouldn’t it be fantastic if there was a costume you could wear that turned you into a braver person?  It could hang in your wardrobe next to your coat and whenever you felt the need, you could pop it on and upgrade your life using your cloak of courage. What could we all achieve if we had one of those?

I used to work in a hospital and I was always amazed by the bravery of the patients, staff and families who were coping with so much. Whether it be a child with a broken arm, a patient recovering from a stroke or someone diagnosed with diabetes who is learning that they have to overcome their fear of needles to inject insulin every day for the rest of their lives. Personally, I know the fear most women feel as they approach childbirth and can understand the bravery in that. You have to ‘man up’ or ‘woman up’ and push yourself to be brave because there’s no choice. Externally we have to become a different person to appear in control, to convince ourselves and others that everything is OK.

But sometimes, I meet people who choose to be brave and do things that challenge them, even when they don’t have to. A friend of mine recently chose to adopt a child, which in my opinion is an extremely brave thing to do. He stepped into the unknown of parenthood and is facing all the challenges that come with it, which has to be applauded. A lifetime’s commitment which will truly help another person.

Whether it is donating blood to help others or telling someone you love them, even when they could laugh in your face, I am always impressed by the bravery involved. Doing anything ‘out of your comfort zone’ is a challenge which should surely be praised.

My dad has always encouraged me by saying, ‘Where’s your sense of adventure Sue?’ So today, once again, I put myself out there by writing this blog. It’s hardly equivalent to donating a kidney, or confronting my fear of large hairy spiders, but for me it’s a good example of me challenging myself and being a teeny-weeny bit brave.




Look before you leap

In my opinion, the world is populated by three kinds of people. People who choose to leap into the unknown with a rush of adventure, people who prefer to hold someone else’s hand to jump and people who prefer to watch others do the leaping. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of these, but I think it’s good to know which type you prefer to be. It is one of my starting points for all my fictional characters. I need to know that about them.

Taking an unknown leap, with a sense of adventure is something that every parent tries to instil in their child while eating lunch.

Parent:                 “Eat the tomato, it’s very nice.”

Five year old:      “No, I don’t like tomatoes.”

Parent:                 “You ate a tomato yesterday on your pizza.”

Five year old:      “That was yesterday. Today I don’t like tomatoes.”

Parent:                 “But tomatoes are lovely. They are very colourful and very good for you.”

Five year old:      “I don’t like them, they’re yucky.”

Parent:                   “How do you know that? You haven’t tried it.”

Five year old:      “I just do.”

When I was younger I used to recklessly leap into the unknown, but as I’ve got older, I’ve noticed that I tend to wait for others to help me more. Life deals out its ups and downs and you can become more risk adverse for entirely sensible reasons. Each time you get hurt or knocked back it has an impact and can affect your courage. When I lost my mum, I regressed into myself and my confidence failed me for a while. I remember walking around the supermarket the week after her death in a daze, but I found the presence of other people reassured me. In a shop full of people it’s logical to assume that there are others alongside you in the vegetable aisle who are also dealing with major emotional issues, such as grief, and that gave me some comfort. I knew that if they could go about their daily lives, then I could too.

I learnt that holding someone else’s hand before stepping into the unknown and leaning on each other for support is necessary for most of us at different times in our lives. But, I still aspire to be a leap into the unknown, with a rush of adventure, kind of person. Life is short after all. I can’t help admiring self-confident, charismatic people and entrepreneurs who will take a chance and go for it. They take risks, choosing to ignore the consequences by focusing on their goal.

With that in mind, this week I have done something different. I have taken a leap….. and finally joined Twitter. I admit that I needed a push from my brother to take the plunge, but I’m now @susannah_hines  I have dangled myself recklessly over the edge and gained the ability to share photographs and comments about my day in 140 character bite-size chunks with the Twittersphere. How will that go? Parachute anyone?

Do you believe in the tooth fairy?

The other day I found myself looking for the perfect location for a fairy door. My five year old insisted that the small pottery door, which she had beautifully painted, should be carefully placed against a wall so that the fairies could get through. How else would the tooth fairy arrive to replace her tooth (which hasn’t fallen out yet) with a coin?

Children are marvellous aren’t they? Seeing the world through their eyes is great, so what happens to our imagination when we grow up?

Each time I practice playing the piano, I am reminded of my age by my helpful tutorial book entitled, ‘It’s never too late to play piano.’

Maybe now I’m in my forties, I have to accept that growing up is inevitable, but that doesn’t mean life always has to be serious. Most of us are governed by alarm clocks, calendars and our responsibilities. As we get older, we have to deal with tricky things like bank loans, bills, relationships and the loss of people we love, but please don’t tell me that I need to grow up entirely and let go of my imagination.

The lyrics of the Enigma song, ‘Return to Innocence’, from 1993 tell us to, ‘Look into your heart my friend; that will be the return to yourself, the return to innocence.’ I think that is sound advice.

We are all in awe of famous actors who do an excellent job pretending to be other people and we also think it’s cute when children turn cardboard boxes into spaceships, so what is wrong with keeping a playful attitude to life?

A friend of mine once reminded me that life isn’t a fairy tale, which is true to some extent, but do we always have to ‘act our age.’

I have always loved Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ which begins; ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple,’ and warns her readers how she wants to grow old disgracefully, by spending her pension on brandy and learning to spit.

Writing is my way of keeping my imagination active and this week I have spent my time in Iceland, battling to get through a cave that had been partly destroyed by a rock fall. Next week, I am looking forward to trying out some difficult mid-air manoeuvres in a helicopter. This may only be among the pages of chapters two and three of my book, but it is still fun.

I choose to stay in make believe a little longer and continue turning toilet rolls into telescopes with my five year old.




Where do ideas come from?

How many creative geniuses can we name who claim to have literally dreamt some of their best work?

Paul McCartney has famously been quoted as saying he woke up in the middle of the night and composed the hit song ‘Yesterday’ after being inspired by a dream. Other musicians, including Keith Richards from the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Sting and John Lennon offer similar stories of having creative ideas while they slept.

Salvador Dali, the surrealist artist suggested that the concept of his wonderful melting clocks paintings came from a dream and the poet, Edgar Allan Poe talked about using his nightmares as inspiration.

I remember when I once had flu, I was in a fog of headache, body aches and sore throat, floating in and out of sleep when I came up with an idea for a story, but it certainly could not compete with the masterpieces listed above. Developing and writing a good story is a tricky business. I’ve had many initial ideas, but there has to be something really special about it to keep going and develop it further.

Sometimes it works to sit quietly, to think up ideas for a section of plot, but often I come up with something better completely spontaneously when I’m doing something else. Inspiration can come from all around, from something simple like a chance conversation, or from travelling the globe and having completely new experiences. Sometimes I am deliberately looking for ideas and sometimes they just pop into my head, gate crashing other thoughts when I’m cleaning my teeth or making my lunch.

The unconscious brain is definitely a wonderful breeding ground for creative thoughts. It holds a lifetime of personal experiences, emotions and feelings which can be mixed together into something unique. That is the world of dreams.

As the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, Carl Gustav Jung said, ‘The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was a conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.’

All this is very good news for someone like me who enjoys her sleep. The next time someone thinks me lazy for sleeping in too long, I will claim that I am in fact, working very hard indeed.

‘To sleep perchance to dream.’

Good night.