Reunited, and It Feels So Good…

Over the years I’ve met countless people. Some have come and gone, others have remained a part of my life from the day we met. There are those I thought would be friends forever but have ended up drifting away over time. There are others I barely noticed, or who barely noticed me, to begin with, but our paths crossed at a later date and we’ve now become firm friends.

As I’ve grown older, friendship has become increasingly important to me. I didn’t enjoy school at all, and on leaving I couldn’t wait to disassociate myself with the place. I did leave with one particular friend, but took her friendship for granted as my social circle grew and being ‘popular’ became the be all and end all for me. How naïve I was, and how telling that my school friend is the only person from those days with whom I still have contact today. Throughout the years I was in full time employment my confidence grew along with my social life, and decisions I’d thought were right for me suddenly came into question quite starkly. I’ve made some horrendous mistakes along the way – who hasn’t? However, not everyone has to take two attempts at matrimony before they finally decide that the whole ‘Mr and Mrs’ thing doesn’t suit them. Like most people, I’ve learnt from my mistakes and they’ve helped shape the person I am today. They’ve also helped me realise how important friends are – true friends, I mean, not the hangers-on I once considered to be my whole world, but whom I haven’t seen for 30 years now. There’s nothing like a time of adversity to find out which friends are true, and throughout the messes I’ve made in the past my friends have come through with flying colours.

Before I start getting over sentimental, I’ll rein myself in and get to the point. Two years ago, as I’ve probably mentioned before, I was made redundant from a job I’d been in for over twenty years. That hit me hard, even though it did give me the opportunity to go on to make a living doing something I love. Leaving my job hurt mostly because I had been lucky enough to work with some of the nicest people I’m ever likely to meet, and working with them had been amazing fun. There were days I’d get home from work having laughed all day, and I felt like the luckiest person ever, getting paid to spend time with my friends. It could never last. We parted company at the end of March 2012, promising faithfully to keep in touch and get together, ooh, at least once every other month.

Last night, two years on, we finally managed that get together to celebrate a 60th birthday. The birthday ‘boy’ is one of those rarities in life: the kind of person EVERYONE likes, and so we gathered en masse for his surprise party. It was like we’d never been parted as we circulated and chatted, reminiscing about the glory days at work when we were all youngsters, and catching up on each other’s news now we’re all – ahem – a little older! It was great. It was a fabulous evening, a timely reminder of the importance of friends from the past, and we won’t be leaving it another two years before we meet up again.

Team Gooden on Hi Racker

Posing with my workmates on a hi-racker at work, many Christmas Eves ago. Love those hi-vis jackets!

Coincidentally, during the course of the evening I enjoyed another mini reunion as someone I haven’t seen since my schooldays also happened to be in the pub. We spent ages chatting, swapped numbers and, now she’s living in Cambridge again, we’re going to have a proper catch up soon. Funnily enough, she hated school too.

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Alison’s Advent Calendar Day Twelve – Don’t Stop Believing.

I used to love working on Christmas Eve. As Christmas approached each year, my boss used to miraculously transform into a human being, and he’d co-ordinat the work so we hardly had anything left to do by the time Christmas Eve came around. Consequently, we’d spend most of the day eating sweets and laughing, everyone feeling high spirited and very festive. I remember one particular Christmas Eve, I was riding round on a forklift truck making a nuisance of myself while my colleagues packed the final orders of the day and anticipated the imminent exodus to the pub. ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ by Journey came on the radio, and as one the thirty or so people in the book distribution warehouse beamed their approval and sang along. There wasn’t a shrinking violet anywhere; everyone belted the song out with gusto, sweet wrappers flying around like confetti, and air guitars being played with breath-taking skill. It was hilarious, it was jubilant, and it was a moment in time that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

We had no idea on that Christmas Eve that our book distribution haven wasn’t going to last forever. Our employer decided that our jobs could be done just as well, and a lot more cheaply, elsewhere. On our last day, my colleagues (many of them friends) and I attended our final staff briefing, and were treated to a ‘rousing’ farewell and thank you speech. I can remember feeling a mixture of emotions: sadness (I’d done the same job for 23 years, and it was hard to say goodbye); anticipation (Dory’s Avengers was already taking shape in my mind); apprehension (what if my writing career didn’t take off?); excitement (it WILL). Looking round at my friends’ faces, I guessed they were all wondering what their futures would hold too. It was an emotionally charged moment, and as the management team wound up their speeches and wished us all the very best of luck there may have been tears – had the highly appropriate ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ not sounded forth from the radio at that very moment. Emotions put on hold, air guitars dusted down, and we ended the book distribution chapter of our lives on a high.

Although it’s unashamedly corny, ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ always puts me in a positive frame of mind; not just because of the lyrics, but also because of the memories I’ve shared today. My first book is now published, and bit by bit I’m edging towards the writing success I crave. Sometimes it’s daunting, but I’m not going to give up on something I love so very much. I’m working on my second novel at the moment, polishing and fine tuning the first part, and turning my thoughts to how the story will continue. The rush of pure pleasure that only comes from writing my own work is back with a vengeance; I’m so excited about my work in progress. Whatever happens, I won’t stop believing.

Today’s tune? Go on, guess!

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Advent Calendar 004Today’ advent calendar picture – a mouse and a lantern.

Best Day EVER!

Part One.

Two weeks have passed since Thursday 29 August, also known as the best day of my life – so far. As you probably know by now (I think I may have mentioned it once or twice), my debut novel Dory’s Avengers was officially released on that day, and my lifelong dream to see my work published became a reality.

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The ‘New Books’ window display – including Dory’s Avengers!

That was two weeks ago, and – shock horror – it’s taken me until now to blog about the magnificent book signing event in the Cambridge Waterstones, the event that launched Dory’s Avengers into the literary World. It’s probably taken me so long because I’ve since journeyed from a massive high to a bit of a low (‘is that it now?’), visited confusion (‘what next?’) and finally arrived at efficiency (book clubs, shops and other potential signing venues contacted, eagerly awaiting positive replies).

Thursday 29 August 2013 found me rather more excited than the cool and composed author writing this blog post. The day dawned bright and sunny; following an inauspicious start the UK has enjoyed one of the best summers I can remember, and my book launch fell in the middle of yet another heat wave.

For once in my life, I was very organised leading up to the launch of Dory’s Avengers. Having attended a hugely enjoyable wedding earlier in August, a perfect day thanks to the organisational skills of the bride Babs, I had done some watching and learning. Therefore, by 29 August my speech was written and rehearsed, the food and wine were ordered, the hairdresser booked, and I even had time to enjoy a delicious steak baguette for lunch in the Ancient Shepherds.

Then, everything started to unravel. 1.30 came and went, no sign of hairdresser. Then, ping! In came a message from him saying he’d been held up and would be with me at 2pm.

That’s fine. Relax! There’s still plenty of time before we have to leave at 3.30.

2pm came and went. No sign of hairdresser. No sign of my friends Charles and Doug, who were due to stop on their way into town and pick up some books to take to Waterstones. No sign of anyone! I’m sure there would have been a huge tumbleweed rolling on by, but for the fact that’s not something you often see in a quintessentially English village.

My hairdresser never did turn up. He was doing dreadlocks fifteen miles away, the muppet. It’s a good job we’re friends! Luckily my hair had dried into rather cute curls rather than the tangled mess it usually favours, so disaster number one was averted.

In the grand old tradition of meticulously laid plans, they fell to pieces and instead everything happened at once. Charles and Doug drew up outside my house to collect the books at exactly the same time as my partner Andy got home from work, and my sister Sue arrived from Nottingham armed with overnight gear and a tub of tomatoes. After a short consultation, we decided it made sense for Andy to transport everyone and everything into the centre of Cambridge in his eight seater taxi, and half an hour later that’s exactly what he did.

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The author signing desk

Talk about precision timing; we arrived at Cambridge Waterstones at exactly the same time as the Majestic Wine delivery man. It took a few trips to transport seven people, five cases of wine, three boxes of books, my posh frock and a multitude of snacks up to the third floor in the tiny customer lift, which must have presented quite an unusual spectacle for the people browsing around the ground floor. As is the custom with Cambridge folk, no one took a blind bit of notice! At least the wine delivery man caught on to our excitement, and left with a promise to buy Dory’s Avengers when it’s translated into Polish – hint hint, Book Guild

Rosie, the Waterstones events manager and enthusiastic supporter of my book launch, met us on the third floor where, despite being understaffed, the lovely Waterstones people had managed to clear my area of the usual bargain books. This left us with nothing to do other than plate up (and sample) the snacks, open (and sample) some of the wine, and, in my case at least, scurry around getting ludicrously excited – which was fully to be expected. After all, it’s not every day that one’s dream comes true.

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Alison Jack – Published Author, and ‘Silly Face of the Year’ winner 2013.

Best Day EVER Part Two – Coming soon.

Something Silly for Saturday

This isn’t exactly a writing related piece. In fact, it’s not writing related at all; it is, as the title suggests, a light hearted post for the weekend.

One murky February night, back in the halcyon days of gainful employment, I was out for a few beers with friends Tom, Mark and Pete. Having beaten a hasty retreat from our pub of choice when the ugliest bloke ever decided that me commenting on the afternoon’s football match counted as an attempt to chat him up, we set off for the relative safety of Tom’s local.

There were two routes to Tom’s local pub: well lit paths, or spooky graveyard. Guess which route we chose!

Bravado is a wonderful thing, especially when fortified by copious amounts of alcohol. As we picked our way respectfully between the graves, mist rising around our ankles and trees reduced to skeletal silhouettes, three of us were handling the situation with admirable confidence.

Pete, however, was whimpering like a baby.

‘I’m scared of ghosts!’ he declared eventually.

Trying not to laugh, we coaxed him on towards the pub with promises of more beer and a bar snack of his choice. All he had to do was keep walking. Don’t look right, don’t look left, don’t worry about that strange cackling noise. Nobody here but we four; nobody alive, that is…

Then, without warning, Mark disappeared. The only sober one of the group, gone! In an instant. That was enough for Pete, who was last seen running, screaming, towards the reassuring lights of Tom’s local, leaving Tom and me to search the horror movie scene for our missing friend. Expecting a cloaked and fanged Christopher Lee to appear from the mist any moment, we croaked out a few calls of ‘Mark?’ before being shocked into silence. Terrified, we were frozen to the spot as an unearthly light rose from the ground. A spectre, it must be, getting closer and closer…

‘Tripped over a headstone,’ said Mark apologetically, switching off his phone light. ‘Did I scare Pete?’