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Ivy and…the Duchess of York

I almost fell off my chair when the Duchess of York’s office emailed to say she would be reading Ivy and the Rock on her YouTube channel. It was a surreal moment for many reasons, not least because we happened to be staying in London right around the corner from Buckingham Palace at the time (alright, I know she doesn’t actually live there, but still).

It was a glorious secret I managed to keep from just about everyone apart from my husband for the next five days, and one which allowed me a little wry smile to myself as we walked down the Mall, past the Palace and through Hyde Park back to the train station the following day.

The Duchess (well her office, I suppose) has been very complimentary about the story of Ivy and it’s given me a massive boost when it comes to helping Big Issues For Little People continue to grow.

Before then it had been a funny (not ha ha) few months, where the predictable post book launch slump had left me with a hefty dose of fatigue when it came to promoting Ivy, and thinking about how to get her next story off the ground.

It was also the run up to me entering a new decade, which this time round somehow felt more monumental than the three times I’d done it before. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why I suppose and, no, it wasn’t half as bad as I thought it was going to be in the end and, yes, I was absolutely spoiled rotten (see aforementioned trip to the big smoke). And then, The Duchess of York read the book I WROTE on the internet to thousands of people.

So, in short, I’ve had worse birthdays – even if it does mean I’m officially in my 40s now.


Pieces of You

I realise I’ve been quiet on here for a while. My heart has maybe been quietened a bit too – not for good, just for now.

I’ve allowed myself to be sad, given myself space and permission not to be voicing my experiences, but simply to experience them instead. It’s been a busy six months without Mum, but it’s only now I’m trying to get used to what that really means.

After losing my Dad, a part of me naively thought I knew what to expect this time around, how to handle it. But I realise now that every time we experience the death of someone close, it will be different to anything we have experienced before.

I understand that grief doesn’t always take you the way you thought it would, because the relationships and the people we are mourning are unique, just as we are and our children too. So for the first time since she left us, just as Ivy does in my book, I’ve been really thinking about what the crater Mum left behind means to me.

This is the poem that came out.

Pieces of You

I put your smile in a plastic bag today, with the crinkles at the corners of your eyes and some of your scarves too.

We sorted through the times we kitchen danced and kept one or two of the best ones, along with a couple of your favourite CDs.

The black bags in the hallway have got all the times you sang my children to sleep and some of the bedtime books you liked to read in them too.

Your home cooking and the meals we shared are in boxes on the draining board, along with your recipe books and 40 years or more of family Christmas dinners.

We found every single one of the Coronation Street episodes that you watched lying underneath your bed, next to the missing remote control.

I’ve kept your favourite lipstick to use until it is gone, and so we had to let your loving kisses go too.

A lady in the village took your linen blouses and expensive shirts for her charity container, and the warmth of your embrace went with them.

A man bought your car for his wife and it wasn’t until he drove it away that I realised, all the times you came when we needed you were still hiding in the boot.

Your wellies are still by the door, but they don’t want to fit anyone else’s feet. The fire is in, but the house is cold. The grass is growing, the roots are not.

The marks that you made have been covered in gloss. The windows have been wiped clean, your fingerprints are gone.

The way that you laughed and the love that you gave. All packed up or thrown away.

We have no choice but to let them go.

Pieces of you.


Living with loss in lockdown, one year on – thank God for daffodils

It is finally March, almost spring, and my life is one giant daffodil right now. The more I discover, the more there is to love. There’s the obvious ones of course (being Welsh and all that) on the St David’s Day outfits, and the giant foam ones on the heads of home-grown rugby fans nationwide.

There’s the roadside ones and the supermarket ones, the window-sill ones and the wild Sunday walk ones. Even my kids can’t escape the glory of those luminescent, banana-coloured beauties swaying in the sunny breeze – which are ‘just so beautiful Mummy’, according to my five-year-old on our recent weekend stroll.

Teary eyed, I swallowed a golf ball and strode on, endlessly thankful that the optimism and promise of new life the spring brings each year remains intact for another generation. This year, of all years, I needed to feel it too – the greys beginning to green, the mercury ever so slowly beginning to rise, the promise of less night and more day.

Because this month, on March 23rd, it will be a whole year since our first lockdown and ‘new life’ phrases, which have so quickly become commonplace, were introduced. 12 months since alien routines we have swiftly became well accustomed to were first brought in.

Self-isolation. Quarantining. Socially distancing. Shielding.

A whole year of missed diagnoses, of medical treatments being waylaid and delayed, of suicides, of ventilators and of PPE. A year of grieving husbands and wives, of children big and small losing parents, of mourners unable to properly mourn. A year where the dying died alone.

And at the end of it all, thank God, came the inevitability of spring and its many, many daffodils. Kerbside, hillside and tillside, try as I might, I cannot escape their optimism or, indeed, their significance.

Through my little obsession with these yellow beauties I have discovered that a modern-day philosopher once said ‘you normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point in daffodils’, which is just bob on the money for spring 2021 isn’t it? And, of course, we already know Wordsworth found that lying on his couch in pensive mood was best remedied by picturing ‘ten thousand’ of them swaying in the breeze.

And the daffodil is also the symbol of Marie Curie, which I have been in conversation with too recently, and which is asking the UK population to commemorate March 23rd as a National Day of Reflection in recognition of the hundreds of thousands who have lost their lives during the pandemic, and all the families who have been bereaved as a result.

The UK end of life charity is calling on everyone to mark the day by reflecting on our collective loss as a nation, supporting those who have been bereaved and, crucially, in hoping for a brighter future.

So I’ll be putting the daffs out again then, of course, for my Mum, for our Ouma, and for the millions of other people who have had to say goodbye to someone they love in the most difficult of circumstances this past year.

This year – this endless, seismic, life-changing year of ‘on and off’ life in lockdown we have all had to, and continue to, endure.

For those who didn’t make it the full 12 months, and whose lives weren’t properly celebrated as a result, certainly the collective recognition of this nation is the least they deserve.


Opening up: So, birthing my first book was a bit like the real thing

Birthing Ivy and the Rock hasn’t been an entirely different experience from the real thing. Until it happened, there was certainly no way I could have been prepared as a first-time parent (author) for what was to come.

The book hit my doormat late morning and that same evening I was on BBC Radio Wales talking about bereavement in the pandemic. The next day – publication – a piece went out on TV with me talking about my reasons for writing Ivy and the Rock. The following day BBC Online also ran the story and over the coming days I would come to feature in a handful of newspapers local to where I grew up near Hay on Wye and to where I live now, near Caerphilly.

The culmination was a piece with Wales Online and, as I write this, I’m looking at a large front-page picture of me on the national newspaper for Wales, the Western Mail.

As labours go, I’d say it was a steady grower with some painful pinch points and a bit of a sprint finish – which means infinitely better than my first, but nowhere near as smooth as my second (elected c-section, so no brainer really). And just like labour, the last few days have been nerve-wracking, exhilarating, but also more painful than I realised it would be.

The effort was worth it, of course. I had anticipated a largely silent entrance into this world for Ivy and the Rock, and I can honestly say what came out was probably twice the size and screamed infinitely louder than I ever thought it would.

And yet, just like when they put that brand new baby in your arms, all the pain and effort has also resulted in the arrival of something I find unquestioningly beautiful but also slightly unnerving, in that now I have the sole responsibility of nurturing it.

Since I knew the book was going to be published, I’ve been so focused on doing the things required of me to make it into print, I didn’t have time to think about what it’s arrival would actually mean – not just to me but to others too. I’ve had messages from fellow survivors of bereavement, of suicide, and of other kinds of loss to say how worthwhile they feel the book is – people I don’t even know. I’ve had contact from child bereavement organisations and even had some of my first meetings with a few of them too.

And I’ve had the most amazing support from those closest to me, urging me to keep going, to keep telling the story, if it’s something I feel I must do – and particularly if it can help others in doing to too.

But now the fuss has died down a bit and I am ‘home again’, the pain of what it took to get my brand-new literary baby out into the world is still niggling at me. I’ve still got to take care of my stitches and make sure they heal the right way, all whilst taking care and making sure my tiny little foundling continues to prosper and ultimately reach its full potential.

I hadn’t talked about the way my dad died for a long time, for example, and bringing it up again so publicly brought back memories which had been nice and neatly filed away, not just by myself but those closest to me too, in the intervening years. Some of the way Mum’s passing was reported affected others who knew and loved her in a way I had never intended or foreseen, bringing with it pain and conflict too.

It shook me a bit mid-launch when, in media terms, everything was going better than I could ever have imagined. It reminded me that as human beings if we are to love then it is inevitable that we must hurt too. It reminded me that if we were without pain then we would be without love too.

It reminded me that we really do owe it to our children to help them understand this and prepare them for it too. It reminded me why I wrote Ivy and the Rock and other titles I’ve developed in the first place. It reminded me that, when it comes to, I really do feel like I have to keep on going.


Big issues for little people indeed

Publishing my first book was always going to be poignant. When I wrote Ivy And The Rock, it was because my two girls had lost both their grandfathers – one before they were born, the other not long after. The text came from a poem I wrote for my dad’s funeral, who took his life in 2006 when I was 24.

Attitudes around suicide have changed, even since then, but there is more to be done. It’s not as often you hear people say, ‘my Mum died of cancer, but she was a lovely, wonderful, intelligent, warm person’. I still feel duty bound to explain what a wonderful, gentle, loving, supportive and lovely man Dad was when I talk about his death.

Incidentally, my mum did also die from cancer, a couple of months previous to me writing this. As I say, publishing my first children’s book was always going to be poignant. I didn’t realise quite how much, but that was 2020 for you.

I celebrated my 39th birthday last June by signing my first publishing contract, thus fulfilling a lifelong ambition. From there, these extraordinary times we continue to live in would make sure the sentiment behind my debut picture book grew ever more pertinent.

Mum lost a courageous, four-year fight with bile duct cancer in November which, until the pandemic, was never going to be cured, but was being managed. Her treatment was stopped amid Covid-19, the fall out chaotic. She spent her final year at home alone or in hospital with no visitors. We broke rules to be together. We fought collectively to bring her home, to stop her going back into hospital, to be with her when she left us, which tragically only one out of three of us siblings managed.

A matter of weeks later, my children’s 94-year-old paternal Great Grandmother also tested positive and then very sadly passed away too.

And how, then, do you explain the loss of people as familiar to your children as the blanket on their bed against an already ever-shifting bedrock of everyday life? I had the idea for Big Issues For Little People a few years back when my eldest daughter, now almost six, started asking questions about my dad and why he wasn’t here.

I wanted to create something which explained not only what it meant for Dad to die, but also how it felt for those of us left behind. I wanted to be up front about life’s most difficult subjects, and maybe in some way prepare them. Because, although it breaks my heart, I knew from experience that one day my girls would have to feel that magnitude of loss too.

I just maybe didn’t realise it would be so soon.

So here we are – I hope you like the site and that you can make good use of the resources on here with your own children if needs be. I hope you will share your stories of love and loss with me over time so that we can all feel better equipped in trying to be open and honest with our children for the sake of their own future selves.

I hope that Ivy And The Rock is the first of a number of books looking at life’s biggest issues in a child friendly way. I hope you are able to tell me about the kind of things you would like to be able to read about with your children yourselves.

And I hope you are still able to be hopeful, and happy even at times, regardless of the love and loss you will have undoubtedly experienced in your own lives too.