Ebony White

Her name was Ebony White. Who could have known how apt her name would be? When she was born her mother took one look at her beautiful daughter – her skin so dark it was as reflective as a still lake on a moonless night – and knew her name was Ebony.

When Ebony was born she had no hair, so it came as something of a surprise to her mother when Ebony’s hair began to grow. As a child Ebony hated her hair. The kids at school would tease her and point their fingers, or whisper behind hands as she walked by. Regularly, Ebony would go home in tears and beg, “Mama, please let me dye my hair! I don’t want everyone to laugh at me anymore!”
And every time she asked, her mother would say in her heavy Ghanaian accent, “Ebony, God gave this hair for a reason. You will learn to love it. Until then, love yourself for who you are, as I do, not for what you look like.”

Now, fifteen years later, here she stood, moments away from her biggest job – the ‘Vogue’ cover. She looked at her reflection and loved all that she saw; her smooth black skin glistening with oil like polished obsidian, her wide mocha eyes highlighted with kohl pencil, her lean but shapely 5’11” frame, and her natural hair, her crowning glory, so blonde it was almost white and picked into the biggest, brightest afro it looked like a halo.

“Thank you, Mama,” Ebony whispered under her breath, as she did before every job. Then Ebony White took her place before the camera.


The Fat Ballerina

Patty was fat.

She’d always been fat, ever since she was a little girl. Her sister used to tease her mercilessly as a child, calling her Dumbo or Miss Piggy at some point throughout the course of each day.

As the sisters grew up and left childhood behind, while her sister was out on yet another date with another boy, Patty would mostly stay home and curl up on the sofa with a bag of iced finger buns and a tub of salted caramel Häagen Dazs. On her way out the door in her skimpy skirts and killer stiletto’s, her sister would call out, “You’ve got the fat bit down, Patty, where’s the jolly?” and off she’d clip, out the door and into Harry’s or Miles’s idling Mercedes without a backward glance.

It was true though. Patty was fat. And she wasn’t jolly. Not even the cakes and the ice creams and the Thornton’s chocolates made her feel better anymore. If anything, she hated herself even more as she sat there eating them, stuffing them in as fast as she could swallow. Eating the evidence, she thought, hating the feel of it sliding down her throat, but needing something, anything, to fill the ever expanding hole she felt consuming her from the inside out.

Now, though, there was one thing that did make her happy, made her feel…light, and the irony of that was not lost her. Perhaps the irony itself was one of the reasons it made her feel that way to begin with. You see, when Patty’s sister would go out on a date or to the pictures with her friends, Patty would push the furniture out of the way, put on Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, or Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, she’d put on her pointe shoes, reverently lacing them around her surprisingly delicate ankles and then she’d dance. She’d start with her positions – first through fifth, then she’d pirouette and plié away the night. Patty would pirouette en pointe, she would arabesque, rond-de-jambe and jeté. She’d imagine she was Margot Fonteyn dancing Giselle with Nureyev – oh! The pas de deux was simply divine!

Her body – the anchor that weighed her down at all other times – suddenly became her tool, her weapon, her artists brush with which she painted pictures, pictures that no one would ever see.

What no one knew was that Patty had been taking ballet lessons online for three years. No one other than her teacher had ever seen her dance but she knew she was good, she could feel it. She would close her eyes and her body would simply flow with the music, leaping and spinning and twirling like a dervish. Patty would swing her arms and point her toes in ways her sister would never believe. She didn’t tell her sister for fear she would tease her as she had her whole life. She just knew that her sister would forever call her “Patty the fat ballerina,” and to Patty her ballet was the only pure joy in her life. She wouldn’t lose it. It was sacred to her.

So imagine Patty’s surprise when, on finishing Stravinsky’s “Dance of the Firebird” one Thursday evening, panting both from exertion and excitement, she opened her eyes to see her sister standing in the doorway to their shared living room, a tremulous hand covering her mouth and a lone tear trailing down her cheek.

I’m Back!

Hi all,

I know it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything, and it’s been even longer since I’ve posted regularly. I’ve missed it, and I’ve missed you guys. Sometimes life gets in the way, sometimes life doesn’t go the way we plan it to. What I can tell you is that I haven’t stopped thinking about and developing my writing skills. I’ve been taking some online courses which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two along the way.

As part of my writing rehabilitation I’ve been writing some short stories, and I must confess that I’ve enjoyed it more than I imagined I would, so much so that I’m going to keep writing them. There is a theme to the short stories I’m currently writing. The theme is clichés with a twist. So keep your eyes out for the first few short stories that I’ll be posting in the very near future.

Until next time, peeps. Happy reading. 

Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Awareness Month

In a break from the norm I’m posting an article that has nothing to do with books or writing. Don’t worry, I’m not changing the focus of my blog to my health. And I’m not in search of sympathy, either. But my health has seriously impacted my ability to write. I’ve been working hard this last year to gain control of my health and you’ll be pleased to know I’m making progress, and I very much hope this will positively impact my writing, as well as many other aspects of my life.

I’m posting this in support of Ehlers Danlos Awareness Month. Many people, including health professionals, have never heard of this condition, much less understand it and how it affects sufferers. For treatment and the understanding of this group of conditions to improve it’s essential that we discuss it more openly. This is my contibution, and thanks in advance for taking the time to read it.

My EDS Story

May is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome Awareness month. My friend Cassandra Campbell, who is also a fellow EDS-er, encouraged me to share my story to help highlight this condition and the impact it has on sufferers lives. I don’t have any qualms talking about my illness but I do struggle when it comes to expressing how it truly affects me in my day to day life and how it makes me feel about myself. I often downplay it or laugh it off, mainly because I feel embarrassed or misunderstood (“But you don’t look/sound disabled!”), or guilty because I’ve missed yet another friends birthday/dinner/night out, or my son has had to help me up off the floor again, or stay home to help with chores instead of going out with his friends.

So here goes. Here’s my story. Today I’m not going to downplay it, but I can’t promise not to laugh it off. Sometimes it’s the only way.

Throughout my teens I was always injuring myself. Sprained ankles, torn ligaments, broken bones, aches in my legs and arms. But I was very sporty and put it down to that. I thought everyone was the same at that age. A combination of growing pains and clumsiness. I was always active, always out. I went back to work after my son started school and enjoyed a full and busy life. I suffered from IBS but was dealing with it reasonably well for a time. But soon I was in constant pain and discomfort. Sitting and walking became very uncomfortable. I had pain from my back and abdomen down my leg. Then in 2009 I was diagnosed with Endometriosis. I had major surgery that year to remove cysts. But I still felt unwell. The following year I lost my mum and my job. The cysts came back. I had keyhole surgery, but I just wasn’t recovering. My whole body hurt, I was constantly fatigued. The cysts came back again so finally, at 35, I decided to have a hysterectomy in 2011. And still I couldn’t recover. My body felt like lead. I was lost, swallowed up by this black hole of pain, fatigue, fear and confusion about what was wrong with me. My GP was no help. He told me I was depressed and accused me of being addicted to painkillers. I probably was depressed but that was not the root of my problems, it was a result of them.

It wasn’t until 2012 that I was finally diagnosed with EDS, by a Benefits doctor of all people. I was then able to get referred to Prof. Rodney Grahame’s hypermobility clinic at UCLH (Prof Grahame has now retired but the clinic is still there). I spent much of the next few years being farmed out to numerous doctors all over London; gastroenterology, uro-neurology, neurology, podiatry, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, dietitian. I had bladder tests, nerve conduction tests and the dreaded Tilt-Table Test. It all confirmed that I had EDS, POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) which is a form of dysautonomia, and secondary Fibromyalgia. And I learned that my IBS was connected to the EDS.

I suffer nerve compression in my elbows and sciatic area. I’m starting to get nerve pain in my fingers and toes. I have bladder urgency and frequency. I get up 4-6 times at night to go to the loo. My joints feel loose and are constantly slipping, or subluxating (partially dislocating) with occasional dislocations. I subluxated my shoulder 18 months ago walking my Yorkie Russell when she was a pup. I ended up tearing part of my rotator cuff which still hasn’t healed properly. My fingers, wrists and elbows pop out almost daily, sometimes just from combing my hair or brushing my teeth.

I find the POTS very hard to deal with, maybe more so than the pain from the EDS. In fact, this was one of the main reasons I got rid of my car. My body doesn’t cope well in the vertical position. My temperature doesn’t regulate well. I have poor balance, constantly stumble. I get very dizzy, experience visual and auditory distortions. Sometimes I black out. My heartbeat palpitates and races (90-120 bpm), blood pressure crashes (90/45) or spikes (170/135). My hands and face go numb and spasm. I have blacked out in public places several times so I now wear medical badges around my neck when I go out. Or sometimes I feel Potsy and have to lie on the floor before I collapse. Mostly, I just tend to not go out very often, especially alone. It’s scary and embarrassing for me and for the people around me.

If I want to go out I have to make sure I have 2-3 free days before and after so I have time to rest and recover. I can’t really do multiple things in a week as one outing can wipe me out for days, sometimes weeks. If I do go out I have to plan strategically who’s coming with me, how I’m getting there, how far I may have to walk, how long I have to be upright for, where are the toilets, will I have to negotiate stairs. And as I have stairs at home, I frequently sleep on my sofa instead of going up to bed. But the toilet is upstairs so I have to use a commode in my living room. I struggle getting in and out of the bath for a shower so I mostly wash in a bowl downstairs. All these little indignities add up so it’s really important to have a thick skin and a sense of humour.

I don’t sleep well, usually 2-4 hours of broken sleep at night if I’m lucky. Sometimes I sleep all day. I have to be vary aware of my pacing or I have massive crashes or flare ups that can last for weeks. When I’m having a flare up I tend to hide away from everyone because I worry they’ll get fed up with me bailing on them or not having the energy to talk. Sometimes I go too far the other way and try to emotionally support everyone all the time because I feel it is the only thing left that I can do for the people I love, and then I have nothing left for me.

I’m constantly struggling to find where my line is. I’m learning. It’s important to push, but only up to the line, not over it. After spending 3 weeks in Stanmore Hospital’s Pain Rehab I think that maybe, sometimes, I’m even winning. I learnt so much, and met some amazing people there that have become very important to me, a little network of people who I don’t have to explain to, or make excuses to or feel guilty around. It helps so much. I met others who have it much worse than I do and yet still laugh, still smile, still live their lives to the fullest of their abilities. I’m now exercising (very carefully) and getting stronger. I’m pacing better. I’m planning nice things to do with my friends and family. And, God knows, I’m blessed to have friends and family that support me, even if they don’t completely get it. To those of you who have been by my side every step of the way, I give you my thanks. I wouldn’t have remained intact without you. You have my deepest love and appreciation. My son, Akira, is my biggest source of support and he never complains. He works, goes to college and helps me out at home. He comes with me to my hospital appointments. We plan fun days out at least every couple of months so we have nice things to look forward to. We make memories. And we laugh. A lot. I hope he knows how much I love him and value him, and how proud of him I am.

That’s really why I decided to share my story. Perhaps I’ve been too scared of being pitied or embarrassed by my limitations to really explain to the people I care about exactly how this condition affects me. Perhaps I’ve stepped away from people out of fear they’ll step away from me. That’s something I’m working on. Let me say right now, I neither want nor need your pity. Or sympathy. Just understanding and compassion, your friendship. Some of you I don’t see much of anymore, and that’s largely on me. I miss you. Please don’t be afraid to come over or invite me places, and please understand if I have to say no that it’s not because I don’t care. And though I may not be able to do all of the things I used to do there are other things I can do. Maybe you could come have a cuppa with me and laugh when I fall over and then help me up off the floor. Maybe you could come with me when I take the dog out on my scooter instead of meeting for a drink, or do a workout session instead of going dancing.

And maybe sometimes we EDS-ers just need time and patience and an arm around the shoulder while we grieve for the person we were, and accept, adjust and embrace the new version of who we are now. Don’t give up on us. We’re still us, just a bit different. And who says different is less?

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly, Book Review

Goodreads Blurb 

The year is 1546.

Europe lives in fear of the powerful Islamic empire to the East. Under its charismatic Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, it is an empire on the rise. It has defeated Christian fleets. It has conquered Christian cities.

Then the Sultan sends out an invitation to every king in Europe: send forth your champion to compete in a tournament unlike any other.

We follow the English delegation, selected by King Henry VIII himself, to the glittering city of Constantinople, where the most amazing tournament ever staged will take place.

But when the stakes are this high, not everyone plays fair, and for our team of plucky English heroes, winning may not be the primary goal. As a series of barbaric murders take place, a more immediate goal might simply be staying alive

My Review

Rating: 3.75*

For many years Matthew Reilly has been my favourite action story writer. I’ve happily jumped on board both the Scarecrow and Jack West Jnr trains, and thoroughly enjoyed every crazy ride. Say what you will about the plausibility of his stories, but you cannot deny they are fun. That’s why I read them.

Which is why I’m still unsure how I feel about The Tournament. Mr Reilly has certainly been expanding his repertoire over recent years with books such as Hover Car Racer—which has children as the main protagonists—and The Great Zoo of China—fronted by a female lead—which digress somewhat from his usual fare. But both of these books still pack a punch on the action front, even if the packaging is vastly different. The Tournament, however, is uncategorically historical fiction, centred around a very young Elizabeth I and her tutor Roger Ascham. I will admit that history is not my strongest suit, but the older I get the more I love it, and it was fascinating to learn that Roger Ascham was a real person and really did tutor the young Elizabeth. Mr Reilly seamlessly weaves fact and fiction, and really captures a sense of the era.

The story is set in Constantinople and centres around a chess tournament arranged by the Sultan himself. Both the Roman Catholic Church and Islam feature in this story, not especially from a religious point of view, more from how intrinsic they were to the time and place the story was set, and I liked that. I liked how they were part of the story and yet not the focal point of the story, and I liked how the conflict was about the people and not their religious orientation or beliefs. The writing was clean, the research thorough and the dialogue felt authentic to the time, but I found the story itself to be a little weak. Perhaps this was because I’m so used to Mr Reilly’s usual fare of relentless edge-of-your-seat action, perhaps it was in part because The Tournament has a bit of an identity issue. The story, I felt, would have been better suited to a younger audience, but the sexual content rules it out of that genre. It leaves the book rather betwixt and between.

Which pretty much sums up my feelings about it. All told, a good one time read but I’m not sure who I’d recommend this too. I’d rather have had another helping of Scarecrow. That being said, I’m very interested to see where Mr Reilly goes next…

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking #1) by Patrick Ness, Book Review

Goodreads Blurb 

Prentisstown isn’t like other towns. Everyone can hear everyone else’s thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise. Just a month away from the birthday that will make him a man, Todd and his dog, Manchee — whose thoughts Todd can hear too, whether he wants to or not — stumble upon an area of complete silence. They find that in a town where privacy is impossible, something terrible has been hidden — a secret so awful that Todd and Manchee must run for their lives.

But how do you escape when your pursuers can hear your every thought?

My Review 

Rating: 4.5*

I’m not quite sure where to start with this book as I have some conflicting opinions on it, but before I dive into my review this book certainly wins the award for Best Opening Line:

“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.”

There may be spoilers if you haven’t read it yet.

What I didn’t like was the incessant nature of the violence and the running of the main charcters, Todd and Viola. I actually found it exhausting. Some moments to pause and catch your breath as a reader may have made the action more shocking. I’m the kind of reader that will stay up all night reading a book if I’m enjoying it, but this book required frequent breaks.

I did, however, like the main characters. Their relationship developed nicely and didn’t feel contrived. My favourite was Manchee the dog and (SPOILER ALERT!!!) I’m not sure if I’ve forgiven Patrick Ness for killing him off. I was genuinely distressed at his demise (SPOILER OVER!!!)I also liked how the world the author created was three dimensional, if at times a little hard to picture due to the amount of detail he provided.

Also, I must applaude the author for not patronising his younger audience. He did not shy away from the horror on account of protecting young minds. I think if he had done that the book would not be what it is, which is a fantastic read, thought provoking, and lingers in the mind long after you’ve reached the end.

All told, a must read book.

Mark of The Demon by Diana Rowland, Book Review

Goodreads Blurb 

Cop and conjurer of demons, she’s a woman in danger of losing control to a power that could kill….

Why me? Why now? That’s what Beaulac, Louisiana, detective Kara Gillian was asking herself when an angelic creature named Rhyzkahl unexpectedly appeared during a routine summoning. Kara was hoping to use her occult skills to catch a serial killer, but never had she conjured anything like this unearthly beautiful and unspeakably powerful being whose very touch set off exquisite new dimensions of pleasure. But can she enlist his aid in helping her stop a killer who’s already claimed the lives’and souls’of thirteen people? And should she? The Symbol Man is a nightmare that the city thought had ended three years ago. Now he’s back for an encore and leaving every indication on the flesh of his victims that he, too, is well versed in demonic lore.

Kara may be the only cop on Beaulac’s small force able to stop the killer, but it is her first homicide case. Yet with Rhyzkahl haunting her dreams, and a handsome yet disapproving FBI agent dogging her waking footsteps, she may be in way over her head…

My Review

Rating: 4*

So this was an interesting one for me as it was a little outside of my usual fare. It was a real combination of police-procedural and urban fantasy, with a healthy dose of humour and just a dash of eroticism. I think Ms Rowland did a seamless job of blending all those elements together and the one constant throughout was Kara. She was a great lead character as she was imperfect, flawed and ordinary except for when she was extraordinary. I like her vulnerability, it makes her extremely human in sometimes inhuman situations.

I must confess to taking an immediate and very shallow liking to Rhyzkahl. Ryan, on the other hand, was a slow burner, intentionally so I think. The two male leads really make you question the concept of good and evil, reminding me a little of Anne Rice’s Memnoch the Devil.

All told, an enjoyable read and I look forward to finding out what happens to the trio in the next one.