‘Return to WordPress’ Ramblings…

Wow, a blog post! Finally! Woo hoo! Yay!

Hi there everyone, I’ve been meaning to get back on here for WEEKS but finally managed to sit my a**e down and do it today. How are you all?

My last post was in August 2016?! I know I said I was going to take a break but even I wasn’t expecting it to be a year long. A bunch of important stuff happened, though. I’ll give you a brief rundown and then get on to cat pictures and Scottish scenery, which, let’s face it, is what everyone would much prefer… 😉

So, as it turned out I didn’t enjoy my new roles within the driver training industry as much as I thought I was going to. As 2016 wore on I was getting more and more unhappy, and wondering what to do about it. Then, I had a wake up call…

In December, hubby’s step-brother died of a sudden heart attack. He was 46 years old, the same age as myself.

I decided life is too short to be stuck doing things that make you unhappy, if there’s any way out of them. After a heartfelt discussion with hubby, I began to make some changes in the New Year. I left The AA, and became an independent driver trainer. I stopped training instructors, and went back to learners and a few qualified drivers. I also went part-time, and acquired another job for three days a week. I am now a Steward for Historic Environment Scotland, based at Inchmahome Priory on the Lake of Menteith. I’ll do a blog post just on this in due course, as there is LOTS to say about it: beautiful scenery, nature, and loads of history, of course!

Although I’m still ironing out a few life niggles (who isn’t?), I’m much happier in my work. It’s a juggling act balancing the two jobs, but I LOVE my Steward’s role. It gets me out of the enclosed environment of the car and into the fresh air, I get to chat Scottish history with lots of people, and – I get to sail a boat! 🙂

The upshot of these positive changes has meant that I actually feel like writing again. So here I am! Also, I need to get back into the way of writing, as I’ve enrolled for my third year with the Open University, continuing with my degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. That starts in October, so I’m getting prepared!

Whew! I think that’s pretty much everything. As promised, here are some photos of what I’ve been up to…

As you can see, the cats are all fine…

Inchmahome Priory

Inchmahome bluebells back in May

Ducks and my little boat in the background

Oh, and the keeping fit has been going pretty well, too. More on that in future. Here’s me looking sweaty after running round the Kelpies. 😀

So, that’s the (abridged) story so far. Hopefully, I’ve found my mojo again and I’ll be back on this blog more often. Tell me what you’ve been up to, readers! Has anyone else made big changes? Or small ones?

Karen xx

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3 Years Of Blogging!

Gosh, it’s 3 years since I published my 1st blog post! I can still remember my finger hovering over that ‘publish’ button, wondering if anyone would be remotely interested in my ramblings. To my astonishment, many of you were, and I found a community where I got encouragement, help, and advice – and made many wonderful friends. Some of you I’ve now met in person! Big thanks to all my readers, across all the social media platforms I pester you on. 😀
For those of you who haven’t known me since the beginning, here’s the story of why I started blogging, and writing ‘seriously’ (whatever that means 😉 ).

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Well I’ve finally done it! Set up this blog, that is. So what will I be writing about? My life, I guess. Trying to be a ‘career woman’ (ugh), a wife, a friend, read a lot, keep fit, go to gigs and shows, travel, and now write as well?! Obviously I’m crazy.

I also write fiction. That will probably appear on here at some point in the future.

I’ve used the words “light and dark and funny and serious” in the tag line for my blog, because I think my writing, like me, will be a mixture of all of these. Be warned, there probably will be funny pictures of my cats. Did I forget to mention I’m also a crazy cat lady? If you can’t handle that, best leave now. But to begin with, I thought I’d explain what led me to set up this blog, and that’s a little bit on the ‘dark’ side of things.

Pretty much exactly one year ago, my elderly father, who has suffered from dementia for a few years, took a fall down the stairs and was in hospital for several months. During this time, my mother went into hospital for a routine procedure which went wrong, and the upshot was that the doctors discovered she had oesophageal cancer. There was already some doubt about whether or not my dad could ever live at home again; this news about my mum was the deciding factor. My dad was admitted to a nursing home in the summer, and in the autumn my mum had surgery to remove her whole oesophagus. She came through the surgery, but is still recovering six months on; it was a major procedure.

Due to my mum’s ill health, it fell to my husband and I to choose a nursing home for my dad, deal with getting him moved there and all the subsequent paperwork (there’s a lot; it’s still ongoing). We also had to deal with my mum undergoing such a huge operation, visit her in hospital and help take care of her afterwards. The hospitals involved, the nursing home, our house and my mum’s house are in completely different towns, so we were run ragged. This inevitably led to a lot of strain between my husband and I, some major arguments, and on one or two occasions, nearly the breakup of our marriage. An awesome summer holiday to visit friends in the USA had to be cancelled, we hardly saw friends or went anywhere as we were either busy, arguing, or knackered. All in all, 2012 was not a good year.

But…it made me realise that I didn’t want to be in the position my mum and dad are in now and think “I wish I’d done that when I had the chance” – the chance is NOW. I’ve always enjoyed writing, I’ve done it for fun, for my company newsletter, that kind of thing, so NOW is my chance to take it a step further. I was also inspired last year by some of my favourite musicians – I know I sound like a teenager, but I found an album where pretty much every track seemed to suggest an idea for a story, or just be about my life at that time. I love music, and l believe that, like a good book, it can help get you through the dark times. So big thanks to…well, more on them later.

Phew, that was a bit heavy, wasn’t it? That’s quite enough of that! Anyway, that’s the story of what led me to start writing again, set up this blog, and in the process, become completely addicted to Twitter. Oh well, I suppose there are worse things I could be addicted to. Many thanks to the authors I’ve met on Twitter who have inspired or encouraged me to do this. Also, many thanks to my husband for all his support (yes, he’s still here, I did say we nearly broke up). I promise my next blog will be more light-hearted. Now, where did I put that picture of my cat upside-down in a saucepan?

Not in a saucepan, but in the clean washing!

Not in a saucepan, but in the clean washing!

Goodbye To 2015

Hi folks! Hope you all survived the festive season, however you chose to celebrate it (or not celebrate it). Mine was quite low key, which suited me (and long-suffering hubby) just fine, as the second half of 2015 was rather manic. We are partying at New Year, though, so I’m gearing up for that, and trying to decide if I can brave the shops to buy a new sparkly top in the sales.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, as I think it’s just a way to put pressure on yourself and then feel extra bad when things don’t go as planned. One thing I’ve realised over the past few years is that life loves to throw curve balls at you, and sometimes you just have to go with the flow. Take 2015. Nothing much happened in the first half, apart from helping my mum move into her new bungalow, and a fun mini break to Liverpool in May. Then: bam! All at once, our plan for major house renovations came together, and we took a holiday to Turkey, including a trip to Istanbul, right in the middle of it all. When we got back, it was full steam ahead to get the renovations finished – and then my mum had a stroke and spent four weeks in hospital. She has made a pretty full recovery and is back in her wee bungalow, but that gave everyone a bit of a fright. No sooner had the house been put back together, than I started my Open University degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. I’d also joined the local Writers’ Circle in September, which I’m very much enjoying. And to cap it off, early in December I heard I’d got a promotion at work, so I’m going to be even busier in 2016. Eek!

Me studying... ;)

Me studying… 😉

I fully admit I’ve struggled a bit to keep up this blog during 2015, simply due to lack of time – and with my OU degree, the Writers’ Circle, and more of the day job in 2016, I’m certainly not going to have any extra time next year! But I DO want to keep blogging – I love the community of readers, writers and all kinds of people I’ve met through doing it. So I’m telling myself here not to mentally beat myself up, and if my blog is a little less regular than weekly or even fortnightly, that’s okay. Some of the stuff I write for the Circle or for my OU course may end up as a blog post as well, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone. 😉

In spite of my lack of time, when I look back I’m pretty pleased with my writing achievements for 2015. I’ve had short stories and articles in two magazines and one newspaper. I’ve featured on a flash fiction podcast. I’ve read some of my work at my Writers’ Circle and I think the latter has improved my skills at reading a story out loud. And I have blogged quite a bit (most of you will have noticed my shameless links to some of my posts in the second paragraph). As well as those, my top posts for 2015 were:

What Is A Kelpie, Anyway?

What Goes On Tour (WARNING: this is naughty!)

Is That Really..? Yes, it is. The Pineapple.

There you go, shameless plugging of own work over. 😀 How about you? What did you achieve in 2015 that you’re proud of? Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? Whatever you’re doing, have a great last few days of 2015 and a super 2016!

Inspiring Rooms, A Writers’ Circle, and the Open University Again

Hi people! Well, after my good intentions to get back to blogging after my holiday, I discovered that it’s very hard to concentrate when your house is a building site. But – the Great Kitchen Renovation is done! Complete! Finito! Thank f*** for that. (Pardon my French.) It looks fantastic, and together it and I have already produced a lavish Scottish-themed dinner for me, hubby, and two German friends who were visiting last week. You should see how much wine food I can fit in my new fridge!

Pic courtesy of blogyourwine.com

Pic courtesy of blogyourwine.com

The ground floor of the house is now resplendent in a colour scheme of reds and creams, although Frodo Cat is trying to add more cream by spreading his fur far and wide. Now that downstairs is back to normal, I have finally been able to tidy the office (which has had half the downstairs furniture in it up until now). This is in readiness for much writing, especially as I have taken on two new ‘things’, as follows:

A few weeks ago I attended my first meeting of the Falkirk Writers’ Circle. I enjoyed it very much and have been going weekly ever since. I received a lovely welcome in week 1, and said so at the end of the meeting. When I turned up for week 2, several members expressed delight, as apparently people often turn up for the first time, enthuse about how much they’ve enjoyed themselves, and then never return. I guess no-one wants to say, ‘Oh dear, I don’t think this is for me after all’, or whatever. Maybe it’s the prospect of reading their own work aloud? Who knows. Anyway, I loved it and I loved week 2, which was indeed a ‘Read Your Own Work’ week. Such a great variety of pieces! Poetry: rhyming, not rhyming, and written in Scots. Chapters of novels. Memoirs. Flash fiction. Short stories. I think I’m going to be in good company, and encouraged to write more and improve my writing, which is great. I’ve already been inspired by two guests, Janet Paisley and Alan Bissett, who spoke about poetry and prose respectively, and gave us writing exercises to do. The Circle has a packed programme of events, so whatever you write there’s something to interest you.

Pic courtesy of falkirkwriters.org.uk

Pic courtesy of falkirkwriters.org.uk

Aaand…I decided a few months ago to bite the bullet and go for my degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University. Some of you may remember I did their Level 2 Creative Writing course last year, and that will count towards the degree. I have to fill in the gap, as it were, of Level 1 courses this year and next. So this week I start a course on The Arts Past and Present, which has literature, but also painting, sculpture, film…I think it will be interesting, and hopefully my studies last year will stand me in good stead, as I already know how the OU website works, how to submit work, and how to take part in online tutorials and chats. Now that my preferred writing and study space is sorted, I’m raring to go!

Of course, there is a tiny spanner in the works: the OU tutorials are on the same evening as the Writers’ Circle! Aargh! They’re not every week though, so I’ll attend the first one, introduce myself, meet my tutor…and then see how many I actually go to. If the Writers’ Circle is doing something particularly good that night, I think they’ll win. 😉

This might be me soon...

This might be me soon…

Phew! That’s all my news, I think. Feel free to bombard me with yours in the comments. I’m bound to have missed some things over the last few weeks.

(Oh, and don’t think you’ve escaped my Istanbul photos. They, and a blog post, will be on their way soon… 😀 )

Winter Warmers

This post was originally written for a blog hop last year, but I thought I’d revisit it for Julie Valerie’s Hump Day Blog Hop. Bloggers – join Julie on the last Wednesday of every month, share a link and read others. Readers – get lots of varied content in one place. Result!

This is a very sad snowman. I shall post a proper one shortly.

This is a very sad snowman. I shall post a proper one shortly.

So for this blog hop, I had to name the following things:

Favourite song with winter in the title or lyrics:

In the Bleak Midwinter sung by any lovely cathedral choir, at a midnight service on Christmas Eve/Day. I’m not a religious person, but I love this.

Favourite book about winter:

I’m going to name three. They’re about Christmas as well, and I always re-read them at this time of year:

The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper – second in a series of five amazing books, filled with adventure and Celtic mythology. Will wakes on his eleventh birthday on Midwinter Day, to discover he is the last of the Old Ones of the Light, tasked with protecting the world from the rising Dark. He must seek out six ancient ‘signs’ to help turn back the Dark. This is the book that started my love of legends and magic.

Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher – a good old-fashioned love saga, perfect for curling up with next to a roaring fire. A group of ill-assorted people of all ages are brought together in an old house for Christmas. Will it be a disaster – or the best Christmas ever? And it’s set in the Scottish Highlands.

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett – the Discworld’s version of Christmas is even better than ours. Featuring Death, and his granddaughter Susan, two of my favourite Pratchett characters. What happens when Death has to stand in for the Hogfather? Can Susan save the Discworld from the machinations of the evil Mr Teatime? If you don’t read Pratchett (why not??) this will sound like gobbledygook, but it’s brilliant.

You can see how battered my copy of Winter Solstice is...

You can see how battered my copy of Winter Solstice is…

Favourite ‘hot’ winter film:

‘Hot’ as in featuring a sexy man? Hmm…

The Holiday as it stars Jude Law. Understated British sexiness. Or Chalet Girl – Bill Nighy can be my sugar daddy any day. 😉

Favourite winter memory:

I’m going to be soppy and say the first Christmas hubby and I spent together. We put so much thought into our presents (even though we had very little money), we got a real tree, and we had a Christmas dinner that could have fed six people (the cat got a lot of it). It was magical, and we’ve tried to make it that way ever since. Aaww!

Favourite winter holiday destination:

You know, I like the crisp coldness of winter in Scotland. Okay, sometimes that’s rainy slushiness instead, but I think winter should be cold and summer should be hot. Don’t mix them up. So if I went somewhere, it would have to be cold and snowy. Vermont? Austria? Anyone want to pay for a holiday for me??

Snowman on Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Pic courtesy of bbc.co.uk

Snowman on Calton Hill, Edinburgh. Pic courtesy of bbc.co.uk

What books will be in your suitcase this winter?

All of the ones listed above. Also: The Christmas Spirit by Susan Buchanan, A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett, and many others! 🙂

Like to party? Hop along the Hump Day Blog Hop on Julie Valerie’s Book Blog. Click here to return to the Hump Day Blog Hop.

How I Like My Vampires – a Guest Post on Jeanie Grey’s Blog

My friend and fellow vamp-o-phile Jeanie Grey kindly asked me to write a guest post, on how I like my vamps and why. In answering this question, I manage to include booze and sex as well, so I reckon that covers the essentials. 😉

Jeanie is an excellent author of ‘extraordinary romance and erotica’. Follow me over to her blog to see what she writes, and while you’re there check out my ramblings.

Meanwhile, I’ll return to my writing desk, and mixing my vampires and my witches. Is that like mixing the grape and the grain? Wait and see…

“How I Like My Vampires” by Karen Soutar, on Jeanie Grey’s Blog

Thanks to Jeanie Grey for making this quote look cool!

Thanks to Jeanie Grey for making this quote look cool!

Holiday/Vacation/Summer Break Begins – See Ya Later!

As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I’m about to disappear for a couple of weeks. I’m very fortunate to be visiting Tunisia, a fascinating country on the continent of Africa. Long-suffering hubby is coming too, of course. 🙂

I intend to:

Read lots of books

Laze about and get a suntan

Visit places of interest

Play in the pool and the sea

Eat local foods, and enjoy a drink or two. 😉

Oh, and shop. I like haggling in markets.

I may pop up on social media from time to time, or I may not…

Be good while I’m away!

Karen xx