Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Happy In Between Christmas and New Year

Okay, so this isn't exactly a Christmasy image, but we are betwixt and between now, and one of the over-riding images of Christmas this year for me was settling down on Christmas Eve with my boys and watching the Snow Chic documentary.  It was a fascinating insight into the life of penguins without being too highbrow.  My youngest son adores penguins, so this made it even more enjoyable.

The other image of Christmas for me was my 14 year old son sitting on the end of my bed on Christmas morning, opening the presents from his stocking.  My mind kept floating back to when they were little and although he showed as much enthusiasm as in years gone by, there was rather a lot less room left in the bed for us.  Its nice that he still has that youthful exuberance though, I wonder if it will still be there next year, or whether I will have to drag him out of bed!

I hope you have all had a lovely Christmas and have survived the food, the drink, the excess and the water!  My heart goes out to all those people who have been flooded out of their homes this year, I can only imagine what that must feel like.

It's been a difficult year for our family this year and perhaps because of that I was counting my blessings this Christmas.  I've blogged about my difficulties at work, but now I'm in a new job and am enjoying it so much more - what a difference nice people make - although it's been a challenge to get my head around it all, which has left very little time for writing.  Towards the end of this year too, I have also encountered some family problems which, although not resolved, I feel at least we are coming to terms with now.

My main thought just before Christmas was that I would be glad to see the back of this year,  but then came a little ray of sunshine in the form of editor, Alison Cook, from The People's Friend.  Alison is such a lovely person, even when she's rejecting my stories, but this wasn't a rejection but an acceptance!

My story had been with them with September which proves that you should never give up hope, and it's just about the only story I have out for submission at the moment, so you can imagine my delight.  It gave me that extra boost I needed to believe in my writing and really made my Christmas.

I had decided that I wasn't going to make any New Year resolutions this year but this has made me determined to put more effort into my writing, and get more stories written and out there - after all you've got to be in it to win it.  

I'm getting myself organised in the lull between Christmas and New Year, and now that I'm more settled in my job, I hope that I can get into a better writing routine on the days when I'm not in work, and have a bit more enthusiasm to continue writing after work on the days that I am.

I'm also aiming to be a better blogger this year - but I say that every year!

Happy belated Christmas everyone.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Where's There's Hope

The House at the End of Hope Street - Menna Van Praag

A friend of mine bought me this book because she knew I had been feeling down recently and she thought it would cheer me up.  And she was right. This is a wonderful book and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

The House at the End of Hope Street is a mystical sanctuary for women. It can only be seen by people at times when they need it. 

The main occupant of the house is an elderly lady called Peggy who has inherited the house from a long line of women who have magical powers.

On the walls of the house are portraits of past residents – women like Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, Agatha Christie and many more.  The women were all residents in the house at a time when they were experiencing difficulties in their lives. The house helped them solve their problems and their portraits have the ability to talk to the current residents to help them solve their problems.

Three women are the current residents – they are all very different but during their stay they develop a bond of friendship and gradually the house shows them how they can achieve what they really want out of life.

It sounds a bit whacky I know, but I found such a realism in the characters that I was able to suspend my disbelief regarding the more magical elements. Not only was this book a wonderful read but it inspired me to reach out and question what I really want out of my own life. It also made me value my friendships –particularly the person who bought me this book! 

I've never heard of this author before but I will definitely be looking out for more of her books.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Last week I went to see Suffragette at the cinema.I don't often get a chance to go to the cinema but I was determined to watch this film on a large screen.

I do love history particularly women's social history, so I thought I was pretty well versed on the suffrage movement.  

But nothing prepared me for this film which I have to say was absolutely brilliant.

The characters' story arcs really brought the plight of women in the early 19th century to life.  

One of the things that came across to me in the film is that social status made no difference to the fact that women were treated as the property of their husbands, fathers and even brothers. Women simply had no control over their own lives.

One of the main characters, Maud, is brought into the movement almost by accident but life events cause her to become heavily involved with her fellow Suffragettes.  She literally fights for her life as she believes that women have a right to be counted and not, as has happened to her and her fellow work colleagues, be treated by men, and particularly employers as objects which can be used however the men decide - taking much more than labour from the women.

Although Maud at the start of the film is in a loving relationship and is a mother, she risks losing everything to make the world a better place and the fact that she is prepared to do this makes this film particularly poignant.  The scenes in the prison also highlight how brave and courageous these women were to bring to us women today rights that we often take for granted.

The Suffragettes were ostracised from society, not just by the powers that be and men but sadly also by other women, who were sometimes their harshest critics.

Whilst some might argue that women still haven't reached true equality today, we owe so much to the sacrifices that were made in the past and that is something we should never forget.

If its too late to go and watch this film at the cinema I would definitely recommend that you watch it when it comes out on DVD.

And as far as the younger generation are concerned, I really think that this film should become part of the national curriculum - it will certainly make both girls and boys think about the struggles and sacrifices which were made in the past to allow us to live the lives we do today.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

All Change

I haven't blogged here recently because life has been more than a little hectic.  

First of all I handed my notice in at the horrible job. I've been wanting to leave for ages but didn't want to leave until I had another job to go to. In the end the atmosphere had become so toxic that I felt physically sick each day before I had to go in and near to tears most of the time that I was there.  Eventually I decided that life was just too short.

It saddens me that an organisation whose aim is to empower women made me feel so belittled and diminished.  From the moment I handed in my notice until the day I left the trustees didn't even have the courtesy to speak to me or even respond to work related emails. After nearly two years of dedicated hard work I found their attitude positively insulting.  I can only take heart that their behaviour reflects badly only on them.  I know I behaved with professionalism and dignity until the end.  I am just so pleased that I don't have to have anything to do with them any more.

Because I didn't have another job to go to (although I didn't tell them that), I spent my notice period applying for jobs and trying to make more freelance contacts.

I left work the day that half term started and was hoping to have a quiet week spending some quality time with my boys.  But it wasn't to be as two lots of last minute work came in which kept me tied to my keyboard for most of the week.

The following week I was offered a job, working three days a week.  Its with another charity - this time working with the elderly, but because of my recent experience I was a first hesitant to take another job in the voluntary sector.

As the expense of Christmas is around the corner though, I took the plunge.  I completed my first three days this week and thankfully they seem like a really friendly bunch and it has felt good to be in an environment where the staff are respected.

There is just so much to take in though that each day my head has been near to explosion point by the time I get home.

Its going to be a challenge fitting my increased freelance work, home and family around all this and over the last few weeks my writing has definitely taken a back seat.

I'm sure things will settle down soon but in the meantime I'm setting myself small writing takes each day so that at least I'll feel as though I'm achieving something, rather than having so little time and head space that larger projects seem too daunting.

There is one thing I'm grateful for though, and that is that I didn't sign up to NaNoWriMo this month.  I think that might just have sent me over the edge.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Woman's Weekly

This morning two fat envelopes appeared on my doormat, and recognising the labels, I knew without opening them that they were rejections.

The sad thing was that they were both from Woman's Weekly.

It doesn't matter how hard I study the magazines and scrutinise the guidelines, I've never managed to get it right for this magazine, even when I think I've written the perfect story from them.  What's even more frustrating is receiving a standard rejection telling me to read their guidelines.  Sometimes I wish I had a bit of mystic ability and could interpret a crystal ball.

Never mind, you have to take it on the chin and my stories will be reassessed and sent somewhere else.  You never know, one man's meat is another man's poison or so they say.

So now its back to the drawing board to create the perfect story for Woman's Weekly, because now its personal and I'm determined to crack this market one day, even if that day is a long way in the future.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

I'm In Prima Magazine!

I was absolutely delighted last week to see my story appear in Prima Magazine.  It’s been my first success for a while, so it was almost as exciting as seeing my first ever story in print.  My experience with the team from Prima has been fantastic.

Firstly I received a telehphone call to say that my story had been accepted, followed by quite a lengthy conversation about me and my writing habits.  This was a bit weird and made me feel like a “proper writer”.  

Right from the beginning I was told what edition the story would be in and when it would come out in the shops, and have also had correspondence regarding updates on payment.  All in all a lovely and efficient team.

I was also really impressed by the illustration which accompanies the story which shows that the illustrator has really read the story and tried to include as many details of the story as possible.

Prima ask for 800 words and pay £100 - not bad.  This was the first time I had submitted to Prima so was even more delighted to be published.  My story had a twist in it which do seem to be popular.  The only downside is that Prima classes the publication as choosing a winner, so I would imagine that this is a one off opportunity, although if anyone knows differently, please do let me know as I would love to submit to them again.

If you haven’t tried submitting to Prima before I would definitely suggest giving it a go.  Their email address is: yourwinningstory@hearst.co.uk.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

Time Travel

Those of you who are regulars to my blog post will know that I love novels which are written with a dual timeline. So here are a few I have read recently:

A Week In Paris - Rachel Hore

I'm a big fan on Rachel Hore so was delighted to download this one onto my Kindle.

As the name indicates this is set in Paris.  The timelines are 1961 and in the run up and during World War II.

In 1961 Faye is visiting Paris as a violinist in a concert tour.  Fay’s mother, Kitty is in a home and Fay is at first reluctant to leave her mother, if only for a week, but is assured that her mother is well enough for her to leave her. Another reason for her to visit Paris is that she has found an ancient rucksack with an address in Paris in a trunk in her mother’s home.

Intrigued Fay decides to investigate and this introduces the timeline of a young woman living in Paris in the run up to war and in a country which is being overrun by the enemy.

If I’m honest I’d say that I enjoyed the story set in the war more than that of the early 1960’s and could have quite happily read that story alone but I still enjoyed the novel greatly and was genuinely afraid for a woman living in occupied France.  Rachel Hore certainly brought this period of history to life in this book.

The Dandelion Years - Erica James

Another of my favourite authors is Erica James.  I love the way she examines the relationships between her characters – you can’t help fall in love with most of the characters she writes about and that, for me, gives her books real page turning quality.

I also love the fact that she sets most of her books around the area where I grew up, which often gives her books an extra likeability for me.

The Dandelion Years is a bit different as it is set both in Suffolk and in the famous Bletchley Park.  It also switches between the present day and 1943/44.

In the present we see Saskia living in a beautiful house called Ashcombe, with her father and two grandfathers.  Saskia and her family have had to overcome a dramatic trauma and over the years it has led them to band together for support, to the extent that they live rather insular existences.

Saskia’s father is a bookseller and Saskia restores old books.  It is through this that she finds an old notebook in a family bible.  The diary tells the story of Jacob a Russian Jewish immigrant working at Bletchley during the war and the woman he falls in love with, Kitty, who is from an aristocratic British family.

Weaved in between this story of the past is the relationship which develops between Saskia and Matthew – a young man who has inherited a mausoleum of a house from a man for whom his mother used to keep house.

Sometimes within dual timelines like this you find yourself becoming more involved with one or the other story, but both stories here were fascinating and worked really well together.

There are tragedies in both but each party learns from them.  A truly satisfying read.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Life On The Cobbles

One of my guilty passions is – Coronation Street.  I was brought up on Corrie, and the opening soundtrack to each episode evokes such a sense of pleasure, I fear that I have turned into one of Pavlov’s dogs. 

OK, as it’s a soap, I have to admit that it can be a bit far-fetched – I mean, just how unlucky can some characters be?  But it also brings some massive issues into the forefront of people’s minds – ie how men can be the victims of domestic abuse (Tyrone), euthanasia (Hayley), depression (Steve), alcoholism (probably several characters here – I mean, how can you drink in the pub at lunchtime and then go back to the factory and sew knickers or mend cars in Kevin’s garage?) and one of the current storylines of an adult being abused by her teenage step-son. As the mother on one teenage son and one soon to be teenage son, this is particularly scary.

But sometimes the smaller stories can also resonate.  The developing relationship between Roy and Cathy is one that springs to mind.  Both of them have recently lost their spouses and both are trying to move on with their lives but are struggling in different ways.  They have feelings for each other but both feel guilty about still being alive when their partners can’t be with them anymore.

Cathy is a hoarder, her house has become her own death-trap and Roy has been trying to persuade her to clear the clutter.  Cathy has admitted that the amount of possessions she has are diminishing her, but they also provide her with a comfort blanket.

In response to her admission, Roy replied with something that I found particularly profound.  He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that he liked to anchor his life in predictability but that the one predictable thing in life is that it has to change.  As I heard him say these words I felt something really connect.  My husband tells me that “it’s not real you know”, but hey, I write fiction and good fiction is about making a connection. 

Perhaps it’s because my own life is about to go through a period of change that this touched a nerve, who knows?  But one thing it did for me was to encourage me to embrace that change.

My children are growing up and need me less (unless they want a lift or money) and although a period in my life has passed, I’m looking for the positives.

Perhaps that has been behind my current need to declutter.  Now, I’m nowhere near the hoarder that Cathy is, but I’m ashamed to say that I have found a stack of magazines which are older than my marriage and therefore older than my teenage son, need I say more?  However, I haven’t been able to throw them out without reading them once more, after all, something in them might be a trigger for a new story.

So, I’m slowly working my way through them and yes, I have to admit, there are things in there that have triggered some writing ideas. And now that I have harvested them, I simply must recycle!!!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


You may have noticed that I've been having a play around with the look of my blog recently as I thought it needed a bit of sprucing up.  Still not sure if I'm happy with it but I think it's better than it was.

I also decided to add a photo of myself, cringe, but the photo has come out rather large and - pun alert - a bit in your face.

Does anyone know how I can make this smaller? I hate photos of myself at the best of times and this one is far too much.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Read, Read, Read

Advice given to aspiring writers is to read, read, read and for most writers that is not as problem as a love of writing tends to follow on from an initial love of reading.

I've been reading quite a bit over the summer, and although its too late for recommending summer reading, the nights are drawing in and so what better excuse that to sit by a fire with a good book.

So here are a couple of books I have read recently starting with some thriller / suspense novels.

This is a book which I first heard about on the Richard and Judy book club and was intrigued enough to download it onto my Kindle. 

The story centers on Yvonne; a geneticist in her early 50’s who is asked to give evidence at a parliamentary Select Committee in the House of Commons.  There she meets a man who is about to have a dramatic impact upon her life.  The novel starts with a prologue where Yvonne is standing in the dock at the Old Bailey as an accessory to murder and the novel charts the path from being at the height of her career to this.

This novel is explicit in some scenes of sexual content but it is all written within the context of the story and is not gratuitous.  At times I found it difficult to correlate how such an intelligent scientist could behave in such an erratic way, with a man whose character I found quite unlikeable.  Perhaps she’s having a mid-life crisis l but I think in Yvonne’s case she was driven to behave so completely irresponsibly because in her life she has always had to be the sensible one.  However, taking something entirely for herself led to dramatic consequences and it made me grateful for the relative safety of my own life. 

This was certainly an intriguing read even if I wasn’t always entirely comfortable with it and couldn’t really understand why Yvonne was behaving as she did.

I’ve read Cally Taylor’s two previous novels and thoroughly enjoyed them, but this one steps away from the romance in her earlier works and tackles the gritty subjects of both domestic abuse and how much parents really know of their teenagers lives.

At the beginning of the novel 15 year old Charlotte is in a coma.  It looks as though she has deliberately stepped under a bus.  Susan, her mother, can’t believe she would do this and begins a quest to find out what really happened to her daughter.  She finds her daughter’s diary but this actually throws up more questions than it answers.  Susan begins to question her daughter’s friends and becomes obsessed with trying to find out the truth – so much so that those around her begin to question her sanity.

But Susan has every reason to be worried with the answer to her daughter’s behaviour finally being revealed in a dramatic climax.

I must admit I did find elements of this story unbelievable but like Susan I was gripped to find out what had happened.  A page turning read.

I read Close My Eyes and reviewed it in September 2013 and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to reading this one.

When Julia finds her friend Liv dead in her flat she cannot believe she has taken her own life even though the police seem to be perfectly satisfied that this is what happened.

Julia sets out to uncover the truth and in doing so discovers that she didn’t know her friend as well as she thought.  She begins to wonder who she can trust.  Her husband had an affair several years ago and although on the surface she has forgiven him, this betrayal has never been far from her mind and now it looks as though he has started up the affair gain.

Unable to confide in him Julia searches for the murderer of her friend alone and in doing so jeopardises both her own safety and that of her family.

I did enjoy this book and was keen to find out what had happened but some elements of the plot just didn’t ring true for me and that did affect my enjoyment of it.  There were some good twists and turns though and it kept me guessing.

I didn’t enjoy this novel as much as Close My Eyes but it did keep me reading.

Well that's it for now, I will review some more of the books I have read recently throughout September.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Back To School

Well the end of the summer holidays is nigh and I for one will breathe a sigh of relief, despite the fact that cold winter days and dark nights are imminent. 

But I’m coming to the end of two weeks off work, and I’m certainly not looking forward to going back.  Event through is only part-time, recently my job has become unbearable and I’m desperately looking for something else so that I can finally move on.  I’ve got a few days left before I go back though, so I’m trying not to think of it and enjoy the time left with my boys. 

We haven’t been away this holiday but during my time off I’ve been trying to organise my life and my house, before the start of the new academic year.

As well as decluttering my house, I’m trying to declutter my hard drive – a necessary evil – and I’ve been revamping and editing stories which have been lying dormant.  Some of them are first drafts and some which need new life breathing into them.  Since my acceptance, I have sent out four more stories, and in September I’m determined to get my writing head back on. 

I’ve always seen September as a fresh start, sometimes more so than New Year, and so now is the time to reassess my goals for the rest of the year and start to make sure that I achieve them.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015


Over a month since my last post - I'm ashamed!  

But we are now half way through the summer holidays which is always a period of juggling!  

I've been trying to fit in  the odd bursts of writing whenever I get a few spare minutes - usually in Sainsbury's cafe when I'm between taxi journeys - not the cheapest way to write.

I've also been looking for a new job, but despite getting the interviews the job always seems to be just out of my grasp.

But after a long period of rejection, I'm delighted to say that today I received a phonecall from a lovely lady at Prima magazine, to tell me that they are going to publish a story I sent them recently. 

It really made my day and gave me a real boost when I needed it most.  Thank you Prima!

They accept 800 word stories, so the wordcount is pretty tight, but with the ever decreasing outlets for Womag stories, its definitely worth a try.

Now I'm going to have a very large glass of wine to celebrate!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

7th July 2005 - A Fictional Tribute

I'm so glad that so may tributes were made today, for all those who were affected by the London bombings.  I'd like to add mine for what it's worth. I hope you enjoy reading.

I clatter down the steps to the tube in my impossibly high black Nicole Farhi shoes.  They’re not the kind of footwear any girl should be running in but today I need every ounce of confidence I can muster and these certainly give me that.  I just wish I wasn’t so late.  Not when I’m about to meet my new boss who, rumour has it, eats recruitment consultants like me as a light snack before he even contemplates breakfast. Apparently he’s a stickler for punctuality.  I look at my watch – eight thirty five, I’m going to be really pushing it to get to the office before nine.   Let’s just hope the trains are running smoothly.
To my dismay the foyer of the station looks like Selfridges on the first day of the January sales. My tube pass in hand and with the skill of a seasoned commuter, I make a concerted attempt to get to the ticket barrier, weaving my way around the ditherers and the women with pushchairs. Couldn’t they at least wait until the rush hour is over? 
I push through the ticket barrier and dash towards the escalator.  The slim heels of my shoes catch between the ridges of the steps and my progress is slow.  Behind me I feel the bulk of a businessman trying to speed down in his shiny flat shoes, his toes catching at my ankles but I refuse to move aside.  And then we’re brought to a halt by a woman standing in the way.  Doesn’t she know the unwritten rule of the underground escalators? 
“Excuse me.” I say as I come to a halt, the man behind me almost bumping into me.  I flinch involuntarily away from this bulk.
‘Sorry?’ the woman turns to face me.
‘You need to keep moving on this side,’ I try to explain. ‘If you want to stand still you need to be on the right.’
She shakes her head as though I’m a creature from another planet but does not move.  The man tuts behind me, it’s like a pressure pot in here but as we near the bottom of the escalator I give up. What difference will a few seconds make now?
Once more on level ground I weave in front of her and head for the next escalator, continuing my journey into the bowels of the earth.
The smell of dust mingling with iron filings hits the back of my throat as I reach the platform just in time to see the doors closing as they swallow up a mass of commuters.
“Damn!” those few seconds could have made a world of difference after all. I really hate the tube, hate the stale fetid air which flows through the tunnels, constantly recycled but never refreshed.  The thought of carbon dioxide expelled from unwashed bodies disgusts me. If there was any other way I could get to work I would use it but the tube is fast and efficient and free from the congestion on the roads.
Although a train has just left, the platform is still jam packed. The monitor announces the arrival of next train in two minutes but underground minutes are unlike any other.  They can bend and stretch to suit themselves and are really no indication of the actual passage of time.   
I glance again at my watch – eight forty – I might still make it if I’m really lucky although I will have to make a dash for it at the other end.  I’m already feeling sticky and sweaty in my suit and the cloying air is just making me sweat even more.
Commuters are merging onto the platform at an alarming rate, and I try to breathe slowly and deeply; I’ve never been any good in crowds.  Normally I prefer to travel in a centre carriage.  It’s a ritual I have, a kind of safety net, but there are too many people standing in the middle of the platform so I elbow my way down to where the crowds thin slightly. I morph myself into the smallest space possible so that when the train does arrive I will be in a position to squeeze through the doors at the front of the queue.
The swell of sweating bodies around me makes me feel ill. The monitor above chalks off another minute and I can literally feel people tense as they prepare themselves for the surge forward when the tube arrives; those at the back panicking that they won’t manage to squeeze on.
A rush of even hotter air announces the imminent arrival of the train and I clutch my handbag closer to me to ensure that we do not get separated in the push forward, as we go over the top!
Today I’m lucky, I’ve judged the position just right and am standing right where the doors open.  I don’t think I would‘ve made it onto the train if I had ended up standing in the middle of the carriage, away from the doors.  I take a deep breath and allow myself to be pushed forward into the train.  I’ve learnt over time that the only thing you can do when it’s this busy is to go with the flow.  Once on the train I’m pushed three quarters of the way down the middle of the carriage.  Standing in between the seated I reach up to hold onto the thing that looks like an upside down Zebedee.  They’re supposed to help you keep your balance but they are so bendy that you just end up swaying all over the place with your armpit in someone else’s face.  There’s not much chance of movement today though as we’re all packed into the train like sardines in a tin.  As the doors attempt to close there’s one last surge as people panic that they won’t get on. The doors bounce back and then finally close.   
If it was hot on the platform it's hotter inside the train. I have the misfortune to be standing next to a man who smells like he needs an introduction to soap and water and I’m so close to the woman on the other side of me that I can’t move away from him. I grit my teeth and wonder if I can hold my breath all the way to Covent Garden. 
Surreptitiously I take a look around the carriage being very careful not make eye contact.
               A man two seats down is reading his book – lucky thing – at least he has something to take his mind off the heat.  I try to take a peek at the cover to see what he’s reading but he’s holding it at an angle and I can’t make it out.
The headlines from the smattering of newspapers I can see scream Olympic success.  I smile ruefully, my hangover this morning is a direct result of that victory. What a brilliant night! Six of us, all friends since uni, celebrating the winning bid for the 2012 Olympics. Dan, one of our friends, works on the bid committee and our joy was as much for him and all his hard work as it was for the city itself.  What a huge boost for London, especially pipping the smug French to the post.   I only hope that we can pull it off. How wonderful it would be to have a good sporting name across the world, rather than be known for losing at the last minute or for hooliganism.  It's a shame really because most of us are proud of being British and our strong heritage. 
               Despite my moans about the tube I love living in London and quite honestly at the moment I love my life.  In two months time I’m going to be married to the most wonderful man in the world and I can’t wait.  Phil really is the man of my dreams, the other half of my jigsaw piece.  We met at the Fresher’s fair at university before we had even begun our courses, him law, me business studies, and for me it was love at first sight.  He says he was pretty bowled over by me too – instantly taken with my dark curly hair and green eyes.   His nickname for me is catty, not, he says as a reflection on my temperament but because of the colour of my eyes. 
               After I had done the rounds of the fair, joining up for a few of the sporty clubs, I headed to the student union bar and there he was again, waiting to be served.  Deciding to seize the moment I squeezed in next to him.
               “Hello again,” I said softly
               He smiled at me; that smile lighting up his face and reaching his dark brown eyes.
It was definitely a pleased to see you type of hello.
“Can I get you a drink?” he asked, and with those words we sealed our fate. 
We’ve been together ever since, even when he decided to go to York after uni to take his post-graduate course.  Life wasn’t easy but we survived the separation and soon he was back down in London and we were sharing a flat in Finsbury Park. When he asked me to marry him I didn’t have a moment’s hesitation. I’ll never find anyone like Phil and wouldn’t want to. On 25 September 2005 we’re going to tie the knot in my village church and I just can’t wait. Then it's off on honeymoon to Mauritius for two weeks of sun, sand, romance and whatever else you’re supposed to do on honeymoon. Despite the discomfort in the carriage I smile.  Phil seems to be anticipating our honeymoon with exuberance at the moment; he can’t seem to keep his hands off me, not that I’m complaining.  I’m not usually one for early morning frolics but today, despite a slight thumping hangover and a revolting taste in my mouth I couldn’t resist him when he reached of for me in our waking moments. I know I should be feeling remorseful because I knew it would make me late but in that moment all rational thoughts left my head. I’m paying for it now though and will do so even more, I’m sure, when I get to the office.
I love the hustle and bustle of London, the endless opportunities for entertainment and culture.  There are so many places to visit, restaurants to eat at, cinemas, theatres and clubs to dance the night away in.  I love the wide pavements and streets and the tall buildings; the architecture and the sense of history. Right now, my life is just about perfect.  
               Tonight, Phil and I are having a rare night in tonight on our own.  We’ve been out so much really or had friends round to us, that I am quite looking forward to a cosy night in.   We had a new dining room tables and chairs delivered last week and I’m going to dress the table with candles, and cook us a romantic meal. I bought some huge king prawns yesterday which I’m going to sizzle in garlic and chilli and eat with huge chunks of garlic bread.  Then I’m planning to cook steaks with pepper sauce, roasted Mediterranean vegetables and new potatoes. And for desert, well, I think we might make that up as we go along.
The tube stops at Kings Cross and the pack of sardines wriggles as commuters squeeze their way off before a new surge of passengers squash themselves back in. In the mêlée I manage to bag myself a seat and plonk myself down triumphant.  It's not very far to my destination but at least the air smells a bit better down here. 
The doors squeeze shut once more and the tube hauls itself away from the platform. I close my eyes and picture my wedding dress.  I can’t wait to go for a fitting on Saturday, one more glimpse at the most beautiful dress I could ever imagine wearing.  It has a gorgeous cream bodice which fits like a second skin, and is covered in tiny pearls which have been individually sewn on. The back is all laced up with satin laces and it fits so snugly I even look like I have a cleavage. The skirt flares out in the most delightful river of satin into a huge train at the back. 
               I have to confess that I am usually a trousers kind of girl and don’t possess that many dresses.  And although I have a bit of a penchant for shoes, I’m more of a tom boy that a girly girl but if you can’t be girly on your wedding day when can you be?
I’m planning on wearing my hair up and with selected curls framing my face in an exotic gypsy style. I aim to be tanned and even though I can’t afford a holiday this summer I’m planning on spending as much of my spare time on sunny days sunbathing in Hyde Park.

An enormous bang rips me from my day-dreaming and throws me out of my seat. Oh my God what the hell is going on? My eyes are open wide but I can’t see a thing – it’s pitch black and for a moment I think I’ve gone blind. I can’t hear anything either.  Am I deaf?  Am I dead?  Is this what being dead feels like? I don’t feel dead. I don’t think I do anyway. There are bodies all around me, someone actually lying across me.  I start to choke, and for a brief moment I’m reassured that I’m not dead.  But the relief is fleeting as I can’t stop coughing.  There’s smoke everywhere, and I can’t breathe.  My lungs are burning. Panic rips through me. Is the carriage on fire?  Am I going to die here anyway?  A barbequed sardine burnt to a crisp. Kings Cross. A fire at King’s Cross. Oh please God! Not again. Phil! I’ll never see Phil again.  Nooooo!!!!!!!
               Calm down, clam down.  Think.  I need a mask. Something to put over my face.  Tissues? Don’t know where my bag is. Gone. I reach down. My trousers are torn.  Can I rip a piece off and hold it over my face, stop the worst of the smoke from getting into my lungs.  Will I suffocate anyway doing that? It's hot. So bloody hot down here. No air.  Got to have air. It's like being underwater. A strange weird treading water type of atmosphere.
               The emergency lights click on and it's not pitch black anymore. I’m not blind. I can make out shapes in the eerie gloom but little else. My hearing is shot. It sounds like there’s water rushing through my ears and everything is distorted, speed has slowed right down like the batteries are running out. But I can hear screaming and anguished cries. The person who was lying across me shuffles up, fishes for their mobile phone and it lights up silhouetting them. Scary. A sane thinking person rips a fire extinguisher off the wall and smashes open the window.  A rush of air floods in and Thank God we can all breathe a little easier!
               ‘What the hell happened?’ comes the question. ‘Did we crash?’
               ‘Does anyone know we’re down here?’
               ‘How long will it take to rescue us?’
There are more questions than answers and although now we don’t appear to be in any real danger I realise we could still die down here.  Slowly and painfully because nobody knows where we are.
               There’s a faint humming in the distance and someone shushing us halts the questions.
               ‘What’s that noise?’
Straining to hear. Straining to understand. And then the realisation. Oh my God it's another train.
               Quickly I curl back up again, my head in my hands, bracing myself for the crash as the other train hits us, my face pressed into the dust and the dirt on the floor. A flood of relief as the train seems to pass by. Thank God it’s on another line.   
               ‘They don’t know we’re here,’ a voice declares and I wonder what’s going on in the outside world.  Is everything going on as normal up there while in a moment our whole world has changed?
               As my hearing starts to improve the screams become louder.  My God how many people have been injured? I begin to feel a dull throb in my leg where my trousers have been ripped and tentatively I feel for the damage.  I wince as my hand presses on my leg.  It’s sticky. With blood? I hold my hand up to my face but all I can see is a black ooze.
               ‘Are you hurt?’ It’s the man who was lying on top of me.  The man with the phone.
               ‘I think so, my leg.’ I say and now that I’m aware of my injury the pain intensifies. Around me people are beginning to move to assess their injuries.  There’s a woman a few bodies down from me who has started to scream and I wonder how badly hurt she is.
               ‘Everyone keep calm.’ A voice seems to take control. ‘Anyone who can, stand up, then we’ll know who has been injured the most.’
I try to haul myself up against the carriage seat but although my brain is telling my leg to move the instruction is just not reaching it.  
               ‘Hold still.’ The man next to me says again, ‘Let me have a look at you.’ 
His hand touches my leg and the pain surges through me like an electric shock.  I bite my teeth together refusing to scream. I must not panic.  
               ‘You’re loosing a lot of blood.’
And as he says it I wonder for one brief moment whether I’m going to loose my leg. Panic judders up again but I force it back down again. 
‘Here.’  He takes his tie off and wraps it around my thigh tightening it in a tourniquet. ‘This should help with the blood loss.’
‘Thank you.’ I say and my words woefully inadequate. ‘Thank you so much.  Are you hurt?’
‘Not so much I don’t think.  A bump on the head, my face is sore.  But I’m fine. I’m Simon by the way.’
“Ali,” I reply thinking that if I am going to die at least I won’t be alone.
               ‘First aid we need first aid,’ a voice shouts and the reply comes:
               ‘On the wall. There are first aid boxes on the walls. By the end of the carriage.’ 
               ‘It’s here. But it’s locked!’
               ‘Bloody typical of London Transport.  No bloody contingency plans for an emergency.’
               ‘Shush, I think I can hear something. I think it’s the driver. I can’t hear what he is saying. Everyone. Quiet please.’
               Even the whimpers of those badly injured die down as we all strain to hear what’s going on.  Perhaps, if the driver is alive, then just maybe he’ll be able to get us out of here, if not in one piece then at least alive.  I’ve never been big on religion but silently now I start to pray. Please God let us get out I don’t want this heap of metal to become my coffin. 
               ‘Right. I could just about make him out,’ says a man at the end of the carriage. ‘The driver is alive and he thinks if he can move the train just a little then he can get us out of here.  We’ll have to walk down the tracks and they may be live but he thinks it’s going to be OK.  We have to wait until he can see if he can move. We need to let the other carriages know so pass the message down and eventually it’ll get to the end.  Tell them not to worry if the train starts to move.’
               As the message is passed down the carriage I hope that this is not a case of Chinese whispers which ends up with a completely distorted message at the end. I hope those people all down the track, if there is anyone alive that is, finds out that there’s still hope.
               There’s a buzz of excitement in the carriage now.  Perhaps the driver will be able to radio a message to the outside world. Perhaps we will be able to escape down the tracks.  No one seems to care how difficult that might be, or how dangerous, because anything is better than this and everyone is clinging onto the one faint hope of survival.
               But I’m worried.  What if I can’t walk?  What if I can’t manage to make my escape with the others? What if they leave me here to die with those who too are dying or are already dead?  No, that’s not going to happen. I don’t care how bloody difficult or painful it’s going to be, I’m going to get off this train with everyone else.
               Now that we have something to hope for the waiting seems endless, each minute drags out like an hour.  In the meantime I decide to try and hoist myself into one of the seats. At least then I’ll have a fighting chance.
               ‘What are you doing?  You need to keep still. Keep that leg flat.’
               ‘I need to get off this train. I’m getting ready to go when the rest of you do.  There’s no way I’m staying here.’
               ‘But that’s mad. You’ll never make it.  Stay here.  We can alert the emergency services they’ll be here soon.’
‘I’m not staying down here.’ My mother always said I had a stubborn streak and the thought of staying down here, alone but for the dead or the dying terrifies me. I can’t just give up.
The train jolts slightly and then slowly the doors open.  The driver directs everyone down a wooden ladder and onto the track. Unlike this morning’s dash down the escalator there’s no panic and no mad dash to get out first.  We are British people in a crisis and we’re doing things in a polite manner; banding together to help our fellow man.  Or woman.
‘After you, Madam,’
‘No after you, Sir.’
It could only happen here. 
Despite excruciating pain I’ve hauled myself onto the seat.  It has set the blood pumping but as long as I don’t bleed to death before I get to the end of the track I know I’ll be alright.  The now familiar voice is at my ear.
‘Are you sure you want to go through with this?’
               ‘No question.’
               ‘Right then, we’d better get you on your feet. Let’s see if you can make it to the end of the carriage. That’ll be a start.’
               He’s given me a lifeline.  He’s given me his faith.  And no matter what happens to us on the outside, right now this stranger is the most important person in my life.    
               ‘Thank you.’
               Again the words seem balefully inadequate. I take a deep breath and lever myself onto my feet.  Hot stabbing coals pierce my leg and judder into my spine and I wonder how the hell I’m going manage all the way down the tracks? Would I be best to stay here after all? My instinct is to sag back down onto the seat and let him walk past me to freedom.  But I’ve made a song and dance about getting off this train and I’ve never been a quitter.
               ‘You OK?’
               ‘Yes,’ I almost cry out in pain.
               ‘Think you can make it?’
               ‘Yes,’ I lie.
               ‘Lean on me then.’
               And I do. Another thing my mother has always said about me is that I’m independent.  Far too independent by half used to be her curse when I wouldn’t do what she wanted me to.  I hate depending on anyone to help me through anything.  But right now I know I don’t have a choice and I’m just grateful that although I began this journey on my own, there is someone here who will help me finish it. 
               We do a weird crab like shuffle across the carriage and it takes like about a week.  People are waiting patiently behind me. 
               ‘Let the others get off the train first,’ I say. ‘I don’t want to hold them up.’
               ‘I’m staying with you,’ Simon says.  And I’ve never been so pleased in my life.  If he’d said he was going to go it alone I’d have let him save his own skin.  But I know I’m not going to make it without him and I’m sure he knows it too.
               ‘You sure?’
               ‘Let’s go then.’
               My saviour heads halfway down the ladder before reaching up to help me down.  The track is eerily lit by the emergency lights but is never-ending. 
               ‘This is the long walk to freedom,’ I hear someone say jokily, obviously trying to mask his own fear. He’s not far wrong there.
               ‘Let me carry you,’ Simon says when I’ve made my excruciating way to the bottom of the ladder. 
               ‘No way.  It's too far. Go in front on me and let me lean on you. You can be my crutch.’ And so we begin our own long walk.
With each step I feel like I’m about to pass out. Around me I can hear people jokingly trying to encourage each other on, boost the spirits but I tune it out in my effort to concentrate.  We walk between the lines of the track because we still don’t know if they’re live and I’m so afraid that my legs are about to give out on me. Frying tonight. The phrase keeps coming into my head.  Oh God please let me get out of here.
               The longer we walk the less able I feel that I can continue. I’m mad to even attempt this. I shouldn’t have been so stubborn. I should have waited for the paramedics to come and get me.
               ‘You OK?’  Simon asks when I nearly stumble for the second time in as many minutes.
               ‘Yeah. I’m fine.’  I grit my teeth determined to find the strength to carry on.  Each step is a step nearer to freedom.
               And then I hear it.  The talking gets louder and in the distance I can make out the silhouettes of my fellow travellers being lifted onto the platform by other dark shapes.
               ‘Look!’ I whisper unable to believe my eyes – am I hallucinating?
               ‘No, I can see it too.  Just a little while longer and we’ll have made it.  Can’t wait to get a breath of fresh air. My lungs feel like they are clogged up with smoke.’
               ‘Mine too.’
               In front of us the pace quickens and with a last final surge of energy we finally reach the platform and are lifted up the tracks.  The strong arms of someone hauling me on to the platform is the last thing I remember before finally passing out.