“Letting go of the outcome” for writers

My earlier books were published in the traditional way. My own role was limited to writing the text and checking the proofs. I knew nothing about marketing, and was content to wait for the royalty cheques to arrive once or twice a year. Those early books sold well anyway, because they had a ready-made market in medical circles.

How different things are today, when the ease of independent publishing has resulted in a vast number of new books. Even traditional publishing firms now expect authors to promote their own work. While some books still achieve high sales, the majority sell only a few copies. Self-published writers are bombarded with advice on marketing and many spend huge time and effort, and sometimes a great deal of money, practising the recommended strategies with only modest success. They often become frustrated; feeling uncomfortable with the concept of self-promotion, resenting the time and energy spent on marketing instead of actual writing, unable to resist obsessionally checking their sales figures online.

Maybe it would be better to follow the advice of the spiritual gurus and self-help experts who teach about the Law of Attraction. These principles, of course, apply in all aspects of life besides writing. In summary: Do what you love, focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want, visualise the desired results, and cultivate the positive emotions you would feel if they had already materialised. Take practical steps when required, but don’t struggle to achieve your goals. If you intuitively feel you are on the right path don’t be diverted by outside criticism, by your need for approval, or by your hope of financial reward. Instead of trying to control the exact nature and timing of the outcome by conscious effort, do your own part as best you can, and then hand the process over to the wisdom of the unseen forces which you may choose to call Spirit, the Universe, Fate, or God.

These powers work in mysterious ways. Many times in my own life, I have found that the result of actions I have taken is different from what I had expected or hoped for – and even if disappointing in the short term, it has often turned out for the best later on. Having the publishing contract for Persons not Diseases fall through at the last minute was the temporary setback which gave me the stimulus to explore the new world of  indie publishing. Conversely, sometimes the desired outcome does materialise but in unexpected ways. Last week I sold several books not as a result of deliberate marketing, but through chatting to some people at a party, and through writing a blog post about cats.

As regards timing, we may want and expect quick results, but with modern publishing technology – ebooks, and print on demand paperbacks – books can easily be updated and need never go out of print. Some of those which did not do well after their first release will go on to become late bloomers. But even those which never sell many copies will have been worthwhile if their authors benefited from the process of writing them, and just a few people benefited from reading them. After all, with rare exceptions, authors never hear from the readers whose lives have been touched by their books.

Trust in the Law of Attraction needs to be balanced with practical action. I have recently set up a Mailchimp newsletter which will come out just two or three times a year with details of any new books I have written, or any special offers. If you would like to sign up to receive it, please click on the link http://eepurl.com/325yj or paste it into your browser.


Bach flowers in bereavement

My dear cat Felix died last month. On the blog which I created in his memory there is a post about ways of coping with the loss of a pet, which includes a brief mention of the Bach flower remedies. The remedies are equally relevant to human bereavement, and I thought I would expand on the subject here.

The process of grief does not conform to a particular timescale or sequence of stages, but is different for each individual, depending on many factors: the circumstances of the death, the bereaved person’s attitudes and emotions, the quality of their relationship with the deceased, and whether they believe in an afterlife. There can be a complex and apparently conflicting mixture of feelings, for example sadness over the death might be combined with relief that the strain of a long illness is over, which in turn might be a source of self-reproach.

As always with Bach flower treatment, it is best to choose flowers according to the emotions which are uppermost at the present time, without trying to analyse them too deeply. But one flower which might almost always be suitable is Star of Bethlehem. In the words of Dr Bach:

For those in great distress under conditions which for a time produce great unhappiness. The shock of serious news, the loss of someone dear, the fright following an accident, and suchlike. For those who for a time refuse to be consoled, this remedy brings comfort.

Many other flowers might also be relevant. Here are some examples, which are listed alphabetically because they do not belong in any particular sequence.

Agrimony: when grief is denied or suppressed, perhaps with the aid of drugs or alcohol

Gorse: when everything seems hopeless

Holly: for negative feelings towards others

Honeysuckle: for holding on to memories from the past

Olive: for mental or physical exhaustion

Pine: for feelings of guilt or self-blame

Sweet Chestnut: for unbearable anguish and despair

Some of these remedies are also relevant in cases of “anticipatory grief” when a loved one has a terminal illness but has not yet died. Other flowers to consider in this situation could include Red Chestnut for anxiety on behalf of the sick person, and Mimulus for fear about how the survivor is going to cope with the death when it does occur. Lastly, there is Rescue Remedy for use in acute situations such as news of a sudden death.

Nothing can take away the pain of losing a beloved person or pet, but the Bach flowers are among the remedies which can bring some comfort, especially when grief seems unduly severe, complicated or prolonged.


Feline personalities

All my cats have had different personalities. Some anxious and easily frightened, others unflappable. Some fond of interacting with people, others solitary and reserved. Some keen on hunting birds and rodents, others not interested. Some playful, others lazy. Different kittens in the same litter can display unique personality traits from birth.

Feline personality, like human personality, is determined partly by genetics and partly by environment. On the genetic side there are sex-specific traits, such as the male cat’s tendency to mark out a large territory and fight hard to defend it, though these and other differences are much reduced by desexing. Each pedigree breed is said to show characteristic features of personality, for example the Cat Fanciers’ Association describes the Russian Blue as “graceful, playful and quiet” and the Rag Doll as “docile, placid and affectionate”.  For domestic cats, there are possible links between personality and coat colour. Ginger cats have the reputation of being friendly and affectionate, black ones unlucky and mysterious, white ones aloof and enigmatic. There are many exceptions, and these associations may be based on myth and opinion rather than systematic research.

Felix was mainly black, with white on the paws, belly, chest, throat and face. He was therefore a good example of the “tuxedo” cat, sometimes called the “Jellicle” cat (Jellicle cats are black and white: T S Eliot). It is said that Newton, Shakespeare and Beethoven all kept cats of this type, and that they are highly intelligent, confident, sweet and affectionate, vocal, and rather lazy.

Felix’s personality did not fit this stereotype. He was an introverted cat, and not particularly intelligent, affectionate or vocal, but there was something very appealing about him. Unlike any other cats I have had, he was indifferent to most human beings but formed an exclusive bond with me. He pined when I went away on holiday, and could apparently be hard to handle on those occasions when I had to leave him in the veterinary hospital; one of the nurses told me “He’s a different cat when you’re here.”

I think the unusually strong attachment between us developed because he had come to me as a tiny kitten, after being separated from his mother far too soon. This shows that the feline personality is shaped by life experience as well as genetics. It can also change over time in response to circumstances. Few things are more rewarding than to see a cat (or any other animal) which has been neglected or abused, but then rescued and well cared for, being slowly transformed from a fearful or aggressive creature into one which is confident, loving and content.


Do cats go to heaven?

The Rainbow Bridge is the name of an anonymous poem, probably written in the 1980s but based on a much older myth. It describes a beautiful meadow for pets whose earthly life is over, where they play happily until their owners come to join them and they cross the bridge into heaven together. I don’t think I had read this poem when I had a dream about one of my other cats, Floella, a few years ago. In my dream she was flying over a deep valley before coming to rest in a beautiful meadow full of flowers, sitting upright and looking content. Remembering this was a great comfort when she died a few months later.

The following story was told to me by a trusted friend, so I can vouch that it is genuine. Here is a shortened version of the letter she sent me:

My cat was snow white, aristocratic, a prince among cats, fairly haughty. You had to deserve his respect and he was never cuddly. I loved his independence and obvious self-esteem. The only time he jumped into my lap and put his paws on my shoulders was when I was sitting in my kitchen, being deeply unhappy and at a loss what to do. He sensed it. At other times he didn’t allow anybody to pick him up.

Unfortunately he suffered from a genetic weakness which snow white cats sometimes have – he developed a terrible eczema all over his back. Our local vet was a saintly animal lover who did all he could to help, but nothing worked and my cat obviously suffered. Eventually it got so bad that the vet suggested euthanasia. I felt terrible, having to play God, but eventually, with enormous heartache, I agreed.

I then cried for a week. A friend suggested that I visit a deeply spiritual clairvoyant, to find some solace. So I went to see this lady and as I entered her beautiful drawing room, she said “Hello – that’s a beautiful white cat that came in with you!”

 So I cried some more. Yet at the same time I also felt comforted.

Companion animals sometimes feature in the personal accounts from survivors of near death experiences which can be found on the internet.

I continually picture Felix still around: patrolling the garden, sunning himself on the grass, curled up on a chair, purring when I pick him up. I think these images are wishful products of my own mind rather than of spiritual origin, but who can tell the difference? I do believe in metaphysical forces, and perhaps it is not a coincidence that, of the several hundred songs in my iTunes library, the first two which came up on the Shuffle function while I was thinking about Felix were Don’t Fear the Reaper and Time to Say Goodbye.

Coping with the loss of a cat

For animal lovers, grief over the loss of a much loved pet can be just as severe as that which follows a bereavement in their human families. I know this not only from my personal experience, but from what I have heard from friends and clients who are mourning the death of feline or canine companions. It is also backed up by published research. However, the death of a companion animal is not always recognised as the major trauma which it is often perceived to be. What can bereaved pet owners themselves, and those around them, do to ease the pain? This post outlines some things which I have found helpful since Felix died.

The support of family, friends and veterinary staff: I have been greatly comforted by all those who have sent a sympathetic email or card, brought flowers for his grave, or offered healing therapies. I expect there are some who cannot quite understand the depth of my sadness, but everyone has been kind, and noone has trivialised my loss with comments like “it was only a cat” or “you can always get another”.

A funeral ceremony and a marked grave: It felt right to hold a small ceremony for him, and to bury his body in a secluded part of the garden which I can visit every day – although, as one perceptive friend said “You’ll never be able to move house now.”

Expressing feelings through talking and writing: Many bereaved pet owners benefit from talking with an understanding person, whether in a formal counselling setting or in everyday life, and I have a number of friends with whom I have been able to talk about Felix. For me, writing is the best medium for self-expression. I initially created this blog just as a private site where I could store photographs of Felix, but writing about a few cat-related topics has proved quite therapeutic, and drawn a few messages of support from strangers round the world.

Happy memories: I remember many happy times with Felix. There were also some worrying ones, because he suffered several episodes of serious illness during his life, but I can honestly say that I always looked after him in the best way I could.

Other cats: I am glad there are other feline presences on our property. Our female cat, Daisy, seems quite pleased that Felix is no longer around and Homer, a male cat who officially belongs to me but decided to move next door, has been making more return visits here. It would be impossible to “replace” Felix and I have no wish to try, though maybe I will fall in love with another black-and-white kitten at the SPCA one day.

Bach flower remedies: I took Star of Bethlehem, which is the main remedy to be considered for shock or grief. Other remedies could be suitable in certain cases, for example Pine for owners who feel a sense of guilt or self-blame, or Sweet Chestnut for those in deep despair. Remedies from the Bach series can also be useful for treating emotional distress in animals themselves.

The passage of time: Life goes on, and though I will never forget Felix and always miss him, it is getting easier as the weeks go by.

A story about the long shadow of war

I’m pleased to announce that the ebook version of my second novella Blue Moon for Bombers was published today. Set in England 2007, with flashbacks to the 1940s, the story explores the psychological aftermath of World War Two interwoven with a modern romance.

The ebook is available from Smashwords, Amazon Kindle and various online stores. Amazon also carries a paperback version, which readers outside America can probably buy more cheaply through other websites, for example Fishpond and The Book Depository for those of us here in New Zealand.


Here is a short excerpt from the opening chapter:



Chapter 1: Multiple pathology

“I killed him!”

“Please be quiet, you’re disturbing the other patients,” said Phyllida. She reached out to give her father a soothing pat on the hand, but with a violent jerk he moved his hand away, and shouted louder than ever “I killed him!”

“What are you talking about? Who have you killed?”

“Leo. Leo.”

“Who’s Leo?”

“I killed him!”

Phyllida did not know what to do or say. She rang the bell above the bed and while waiting for it to be answered she turned away to look through out the window at the rain steadily falling onto the sodden flowerbed outside the ward. She was greatly relieved when a nurse, a young woman with a bright and confident manner, came in and asked her to wait outside the room while they gave her father an injection.

The drug was obviously fast-acting, for when Phyllida went back in she found that the old man had stopped shouting, though he continued to mutter and groan as he tossed his head from side to side on the pillow. He did not seem aware of Phyllida’s presence, and she thought that perhaps it would be alright to go home.

On her way out of the ward she was waylaid by the nurse, whose name badge read SALLY. “Can you pop into the office for a minute?”

It was more like a command than a request and Phyllida obeyed, though with reluctance. She felt afraid that she might be held to blame for her father being such a difficult patient and making so much noise. She was also worried about driving home in the wet weather, about being late with preparing dinner for her husband Barney, and about the guests coming for the weekend, not to mention the fear that the somewhat forward young woman might mention genetic testing.

“I’m your Dad’s named nurse today, and I’ve been reading up on his case,” said Sally.

Phyllida winced on hearing her father referred to as “Dad”, for she never used that familiar term. She called him by his first name, Desmond, when she had to call him anything at all. Sally went on “It must be hard for you, seeing him so distressed. What’s it all about, do you know?”

“No, I’ve no idea,” said Phyllida.

“From what the night staff heard him saying we wondered if he served in the war at all?”

“Yes. He was in the Air Force.”

“What, a Spitfire pilot or something like that?”

“I’m not sure exactly,” said Phyllida.

“My boyfriend’s making a model Spitfire,” Sally told her.

Although Phyllida realised that the girl was only trying to put her at ease, she considered this remark somewhat unprofessional.“Really,” she said.

“Well, whatever,” said Sally. “There’s obviously some stuff from the war which is playing on your Dad’s mind. He’s been too confused to tell us what’s troubling him but I’d say he’s got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“Well, I’m afraid I don’t know really anything about his war service,” said Phyllida. “He never talked about that aspect of his past.”

If you enjoyed reading this, please help my marketing campaign by sharing this post with your contacts. Here again are the links to the Amazon and Smashwords sites.