Cyber Bullying and Depression

With the death over the weekend of well-known social media commentator, broadcaster and former model, Charlotte Dawson, in Sydney, there has been much commentary about cyber bullying and depression.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to be bullied on the internet. People say why didn’t she just stop reading her Twitter feed? Is it that easy? If people are talking about you, or to you, there is a strong compulsion to read it. I always marvel at actors or authors who say they ‘don’t read reviews.’ Really?? I love reading what people say about my writing and I learn far more from the criticism than I do from the raves. I have a special place in my heart for the reader who read 100 pages of “The Keeper of Secrets” and then threw it across the room because nothing happened. Dachau starts on page 109. But I DO agree that it is a bit slow to start and I have remedied that in the next book where there is death aplenty from early on.

Still, back to the subject. Social Media is a two-edged sword. Where else could I learn that Thomas Edison proposed to his wife using Morse code? Or read about President Obama’s favourite salted caramel chocolates? My Twitter feed is full of fascinating morsels of information that I didn’t know I needed to hear. And Facebook is a fairly innocuous place for me. People don’t react to what I write, but then it isn’t of an inflammatory nature. But I do read some pretty nasty stuff on other feeds at times. I follow John Key’s Facebook page. He is our Prime Minister and I happen to think he is a fine fellow and is, by and large, doing a very good job. But there are posters who react to everything he says with a barrage of personal insults that have nothing to do with the subject. In my humble opinion the only person who looks like ‘all those adjectives they use’ is themselves. Key is a public figure, as Dawson was, and unfortunately, if you lift your head above the parapet some uneducated idiot will take a shot at it.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE informed, robust political debate. I am a political animal. My favourite TV programmes (by a country mile) are the American political dramas and I love election year. But for goodness sake, debate the issues, use intelligent opinion not expletives which just make you look inarticulate, and stand for something. No-one should waste a second reading the opinions of people who just knock for the sake of knocking. Tell me you have an answer to our problems and I will listen to you all day.

The other subject that Dawson’s death raises is depression. What a massive word that is. What a world of emotion and pain and despair it represents. People who have never battled it, or watched someone they love battle it, have no idea what it means. Seventeen years ago I was diagnosed with a falling oestrogen level and a hormonally induced problem. Instead of being given anti-depressants, I was prescribed Oestrogen tablets. The only thing that caused was fibroids and unbelievable pain and a period that lasted twenty-five days every month. Several months later, at the age of 40, I had a hysterectomy and my life was transformed.

However, I continued to suffer from black ‘clouds.’ They would descend, I could literally feel them coming. There was nothing I could do about them and I would cry quietly and miserably until they lifted. Several times a day I would consider how best to kill myself and yet I had no real desire nor reason to. It was out of my control. For the most part I hid it well and got on with my every day life. Then in 2009 it would stay buried no longer. The tears were almost a constant companion. I would sit and watch TV, often with Mum in the room, and the tears would run out my eyes and into my hair as I lay on the sofa. I actually wrote suicide notes although I knew I could never do that to her.

One day, in desperation, I searched for Sir John Kirwan’s website. For those who don’t know John Kirwan was an All Black. He played rugby for New Zealand. He was a national hero. He also suffered from depression and some years ago he went public and worked with the health authorities to set up a website. There’s a questionnaire and I took it. I answered ‘yes’ to every question and the site told me to go to my GP. So I did and instead of saying, “I’m upset all the time” I could tell him that I had taken the survey on John Kirwan’s depression website. He whipped out a form and made me take it again. Then he looked at me in wonder because I’d never told him this before and he’d been my GP for years. He prescribed a low dose anti-depressant that I take every day. It took a little while to work. The black ‘cloud’ has never been back. If I cry it is because I have a reason to, something has moved me or upset me. I appreciate each day and never consider harming myself. I am a completely different person.

It is not a sign of weakness to seek help, to seek an answer. It takes courage and determination and an urge to make your life better. One visit to this website changed my life. If one person reads this blog and goes to the site as a result and it helps them, then the circle of support is continuing. It’s not a weakness, it’s just an illness.


Olympic sized silly

Today I am in a silly mood…

A: “Are you a pole vaulter?” B: “No, I’m German. But how did you know my name was Walter?”

At the 2010 Winter Olympics, silver luge medallist David Moeller broke a front tooth when asked by a photographer to bite his medal

If one synchronized swimmer gets a cramp and starts to drown, what is the correct response from the rest of the team?

There have been unexpected injuries at the Olympic Beach Volleyball after squirrels started hiding acorns in the venue’s sand

Women’s relay champion of the future gets added training incentive..



West Wing on Twitter

Some days are relatively normal, get up, write, eat, watch TV, go to bed. The highlights are simple ones and, at present, one of my highlights is watching an episode of The West Wing on Soho in the early evening Monday to Friday.

They started at the beginning and we’re now up to series four and fast approaching the kidnap of Zoe Bartlet. I’ve blogged about this before and you know how in love I am with the writing and the acting and the pace at which the programme moves. The relationships between power and those who serve power fascinate me and American politics has always fascinated me. When it was broadcast for the first time I was captured by it and have remained so.

Then other days are like an alternate universe, the boundary between fiction and fact becomes blurred and people inhabit my world who you could call, strange. I follow several of the actors from West Wing on Twitter and they’re witty and interesting, Richard Schiff, Dule Hill, Rob Lowe and Joshua Malina. Last night Twitter suggested I follow Leo McGarry. For those who don’t know, Leo was the Chief of Staff for seven years and he died at the end of series six, the actor, the late great John Spenser, actually died.

So I sent Leo a tweet and asked if his deputy, Josh Lyman, was on Twitter. He was the hottest thing in politics, he was the ‘bad boy’, the bulldog who got things done and, like any fully rounded character, he had an emotional side and a simmering sexual tension with his aide, Donatella Moss. Leo tweeted me back and gave me Josh Lyman’s twitter account. Donna entered into it by tweeting Leo and I and saying “was?” because I’d said that Josh ‘was’ the hottest thing in politics. I had to apologise for using the past tense and asked if they were married yet and she confirmed that they are. Now I’m reading tweets from President Bartlett and Leo McGarry and Josh Lyman…especially as President Obama has come out in favour of gay marriage today, a brave thing to do in election year and very “Bartlett like.”

Do you see how weird this is? And it is also lovely. It shows me that I am not the only one who knew that this series was special, in addition to being the best thing ever in the history of television, it touched people’s lives, it had a social impact.

On one level it entertains, on another it inspires me to write witty, succinct, clever dialogue and reveal the inner conflicts behind the outer strengths of my characters. With one exception they’ve all gone on to other things and left behind the days in the “Oval Office” and yet in many ways they will always be in that moment, connected to the series that proved what television could be when it’s done as well as it possibly can be.

When these months are over on Soho I shall buy the box set and watch it all again, one episode a day and I will continue to read the tweets….it does one no harm at all to connect with brilliance, sheer brilliance.

A dinosaur day

Twitter is a mine of information this morning. Ramin Karimloo tells me he has designed two T-shirts for his upcoming tour of the UK and the USA, creative, talented, gorgeous man.

The Dali Lama tells me that the root of true happiness is to have a concern for others, Rick Bakas tells me to remember to breath, Barak Obama tells me it is the last day to get a free Obama/Biden bumper sticker and Dr Vino tells me that a study has proved that sex-starved fruit flies turn to alcohol.  And I needed to know all that stuff.

I am about to embark on Project Paper Mache. I like having a creative project, I write more freely when I’m doing something artistic at the same time. Some of my long-term readers will remember that last winter I had The Big Blanket Project. I knitted a rather large blanket with over 200 squares of all shapes, sizes and textures and this winter it will be spread over the 3 seater sofa in our lounge.

March 31st is the day Lucas turns six and Gemma (his Mum) and I are giving him a dinosaur birthday party. So this means I have to start now with the paper mache. I am making dinosaur egg goodie bags. You paper mache a half blown-up balloon and when it’s hard you make a slit and put in the party favours and goodies, then you paste up the slit and when it’s dry you paint it and speckle it and you have made dinosaur egg goodie bags.  I have also researched some rather cool dinosaur games and food. How about this? You make up jelly and pour it into ice-cube moulds then when it’s had about 10 minutes in the fridge, you push a gummy dinosaur into each block and then refrigerate fully = dino in a rock. I have some silicone moulds to make dinosaur shaped little cakes and cookie cutters and chocolate moulds already…meat balls will be dinosaur droppings, Cheerios in pastry will be Brontosaurus bones. We’ll play a hatching dinos relay game by sitting on balloons that have little wee dinosaurs in them and will excavate a large paddling pool full of play sand and fossils….ah, yes I know what you’re thinking, who’ll have the most fun? 16 kids or Gemma and I. Well that’s a debatable point, but I shall take a picture of the finished egg goodie bags and I’m sure you’ll agree they’re masterpieces.

After a morning spent writing I shall allow myself to spend the afternoon cutting out dinosaur footprints and painting them with silver claws and painting pictures of dinos to go up on a string to make a banner……not a T-shirt, but not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Creativity is a wonderful thing

Time changing and time saving

Every so often you read something that proves to you yet again how much our society has changed. This morning I read a twitter quote about Ivor Novello, who was one the premiere composers of the 1920s and 1930s, then in WW2 he was caught cheating with his petrol coupons and his reputation was ruined. It never recovered. How would people view his crime now? Perhaps a few cross words and then the next song would be a hit and all would be forgiven. Standards and criteria for what is right and wrong have changed so much. For the better? You decide.

Another quote that tickled me was that Beethoven and Rossini met once and Beethoven was deaf so the whole conversation had to be written down and passed between them. Is this the first example of twitter?

I am corresponding with chocolate companies and foodies and wine people and learning much about the making of chocolates flavoured with wine and other yummy things. All in the name of research. One of the discussions led me to share one of my favourite quick recipes and it was received very well, so today’s blog includes a recipe:

Very Quick Chicken Veronique
One can of condensed chicken soup
One cup of good white wine (the end flavour is influenced by the variety of wine, Sav Blanc will make it sharp, Riesling will make it fruity etc.)
One cooked chicken – either pick up a roasted chicken on the way home or boil one if you want plump chicken meat
One tablespoon of sour cream (can use cream but it makes it very rich)
Handful of green, seedless grapes

Put can of soup and wine onto simmer for five minutes, don’t let it boil hard because the wine flavour will be all but lost, but the alcohol content is gone so it’s fine for teetotalers. Then strain through a sieve to make the sauce smooth. Pull apart the chicken in large pieces and add to sauce. Put into hot oven until bubbling. Just before serving add sour cream and grapes. This is beautiful with rice or short egg pasta or mashed potato. Lovely warming and tasty Winter dish and very good for a short notice dinner party.

It’s a beautiful Autumn day here, not a cloud in the sky and the sun is beaming down. It’s my favourite time of year, weatherwise, cool nights and crisp mornings and evenings and lovely days. Chloe, is stretched out on the window ledge, balanced as only a cat can, soaking up the sun. Some things never change!

Twitter, food and Sweeney Todd

One of the things I love about Twitter is the clever things that clever people say. I know that some will say it’s a waste of time, but for a writer, it can be a storehouse of wonderfully creative imagery and inspiration. It’s all in the people you choose to follow. I follow some witty ones, Joanne Harris, Patricia Cornwell, Josh Grogan, James Corden, Howard Goodall, John Owen Jones, Rebecca Cain…

“Don’t let people over handle you. Wears the powder off your wings and you can’t fly.” Love this tweet from Patricia Cornwall. She answers questions too.
“Christine is the dumbest girl in France. Besides Cosette.” Rebecca Cain, you might have to be a musical theatre nut to appreciate that one. And Howard Goodall tweets about Handel, which is truly cool.

Talking about musical theatre, the previews of Sweeney Todd open in London in about half an hour. They’ve transferred the production from Chichester to the Adelphi Theatre for a six month run. It had five-star reviews across the board in Chichester last year and won an award for best regional production. The leads are the incomparable Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton and I’m sure it will be brilliant, dark, challenging, exhausting for the cast, riveting for the audience. If you live in London and have a chance, don’t miss it.

Trash and Treasure market day today. I take a bag of books that Mother has finished reading and I swap them for more books, crime, historical epics, large print and pretty of action. If I’m feeling naughty I buy a packet of chocolate chip shortbread. Goodness me, we’ve had some lovely flavours recently! I love hot stewed apple with cold vanilla ice-cream, blueberry jelly on toast, pure plum juice diluted with cranberry and a splash of ginger syrup, we had the most amazing Sushi for lunch the other day, including hot salmon poached in a teriyaki sauce on a ball of rice. I turned the stewed plums into plum muffins and plum loaf. They were nice but I put a plum syrup on them when they were hot and it intensified the flavour but also made them a touch too sweet, they need a sharp yoghurt.

O.K., enough food! What do we do in New Zealand in summer? We eat ice-cream.

All the same flavour??

Musical theatre row and tennis

Favourite Twitter quote of the day, “Dude, I watch NCIS, CSI and Criminal Minds, I can make your death look like an accident.” Love it.

Well today is a catching up, bitsy, sort of day. Draft Two is finished and printed off and is awaiting its first ‘read’ by someone other than me. I’m very pleased with it, my gut tells me I’m on the right track. Did I tell you I have changed its format? It won’t be a full length novel, it will be a novella of around 40,000 words and it will be followed quite quickly by a second of around the same length and then a third, a series featuring most of the same characters. So it’s not a long read and it rips along.

Sally came home yesterday to two large bags of ripened plums, an ice-cream container of frozen stewed plums and six jars of THE most delicious plum jam. She’d been camping for a week up north on a glorious, secluded beach and guess what they’d lived on? Fish and plums. She did a very good job of being thrilled to be greeted with so many plummy things.

Something caught my eye on Twitter and it interests me. Lord Lloyd Webber has announced another reality TV series on ITV to find a new musical star to play Jesus Christ in a revamp of Jesus Christ Superstar. Sir Tim Rice (his original collaborator – lyricist) has come out in the papers in the UK and said the idea is tacky, wrong and he might veto any winner. He has a casting veto on any JCS production, apparently. On reflection, I have to say I agree with Rice. It is the one role that carries religious and political connotations. What are they going to say each week? “You could still be Jesus.” It just sounds wrong. Will they have a crucifixion challenge? Teach them to hang on a cross? Besides, there are MANY wonderful young performers who would fill the role brilliantly. Michael Xavier and Lee Mead to name just two. Men with a proven track record and who would bring a fan base to the production. “Gethsemane” is one of the hardest and most taxing songs in all of musical theatre and it needs to be sung brilliantly or the audience feels cheated. I’ve heard Michael Ball sing it live and many times on DvD and he is extraordinary, he gets completely submerged in the role and takes you on that emotional journey. He has had 25 years plus in the musical theatre industry, do you really expect a kid, discovered on TV, to do this role justice?

We’ve been watching tennis on TV. The Australian Open. The Grand Slam where the court side temperature can reach over 50 degrees C in the afternoon. To win you need to win seven five set (or three set for women) matches in 14 days. We’ve seen some spectacular matches and much demonstration of talent and courage and stubbornness that defies belief. I hope Roger Federer wins but he has three very tough matches ahead. It reminds me of a time in my life when I produced tennis for SkyTV. I travelled the world and saw many of the greats of the day play on clay, grass and indoor and outdoor fast courts. Edberg, Sampras, Lendl, Becker, Agassi, Graff, Seles, Hingis…I even saw Borg play three sets at Monte Carlo in 1991, he was beaten easily because he used a wooden racquet and his opponent didn’t. But it was fun. And the nightclub served multilayered cocktails called “Bjorn Again”. (Why do I remember that??)

It is a glorious day here, not a cloud in a deep blue sky and the sun is already beating down and it is 9.30am. A day for oodles of sunscreen if you’re going outside. A nice day for a cool, refreshing swim. Happy Days.

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