Wednesday, 18 May 2016

1 Year in Mallorca - what I've learned so far...

1. Mallorca is the most beautiful place I've ever lived.

2. Which is why over 13 million guiris visit every year. Guiri means foreigner.  More specifically one who look like a lobster after a day in the sun. Mallorca is so full of foreigners people jokingly call it guirilandia.    

3. Mallorcans have a love / hate relationship with their tourism industry. They appreciate tourists are great for the local economy but the loud, messy, drunken tourism, they'd rather do without.  Magaluf is referred to as a British colony, or a jungle. Arenal is the German equivalent. Both places evoke disapproval from the locals.

4. Mallorcans are a rare species who keep themselves to themselves. Out of all the new friends I've made, from a group of thirty who are predominantly Spanish, only 2 are from the island. These 2 think their fellow Mallorcans are a closed bunch.  

5. I once asked a Mallorcan, "How long do I have to live here before I can call myself a Mallorcan?" He answered: "You will never be a Mallorcan." Apparently it takes at least three generations to produce a genuine Mallorcan.

6. People from the rest of Spain also feel foreign here. That said, it already feels like home to me. 

7. Most of the colonising of Mallorca was done by King Jaume. Either I, II, or II. Pretty much every important castle or church was founded on top of a Moorish equivalent.  

8. The only moors left on the island are white people in fancy dress who re enact the epic battles of the Christian Vs Moors. Spoiler alert! The Christians win every year. In every town.

9. Mallorcans love a medieval festival. In fact they love ALL festivals. At any given moment some village somewhere is celebrating something.

10. Everyone I've met here agrees that Mallorca is paradise and realise they're lucky to live here. 

11. Most of these residents aren't very good at picking up their dog poo however, even though their dogs are very small and produce very little poos.

12. The Balearics are more animal-friendly than some other parts of Spain. Bull fighting was banned here in February. Yay.

13. Cycling is huge here. Pro rider Bradley Wiggins described the roads of Mallorca as a 'scalextric set for cyclists'. 

14. In Winter many businesses close for as much as four months at a time, with some shops only opening on Tuesdays when the cruises come in. I thought these quiet months might be rubbish but it was actually wonderful to have the place to ourselves.   

15. Out of all the wonderful months I've enjoyed over this last year, one of my favourite months was October, when I expected it to grow cold but it didn't... and when the last of the tourists were flying home, but I knew I was staying!   

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Stressed? Me? Never! - 1st Experience of Acupuncture

After reading Liane Moriarty's 'The Hypnotist's Love Story', I'm wishing I could do self-hypnosis!

You are not stressed! You are not stressed! You are calm in the face of whatever life throws at you!

Not that I am stressed. I made that clear at my first acupuncture session last week. I thought I'd have a go after trawling through a million blog posts on dealing with amenorrhoea. (There goes all my male readers.) I've had blood tests in hospital too, I'm not a complete hippy. 

It comes down to hormone imbalance, which can be caused by stress.

"But I'm not stressed!" I told the acupuncturist, my emphatic tone possibly undermining my statement.

"Do you get annoyed easily?" she asked.

Me? Not at all. The only thing annoying me is the fact my body is acting like it's in a frickin war zone when I have always eaten healthily, am reasonably fit and take my vitamins.

Okay, occasionally I get a little irritated. The convoluted questions in the (Spanish) driving theory test I'm studying for are ridiculous. Why do I need to know the speed limits of a tractor anyway? Or a horse and cart? I'm not planning on moving to a farm!

And I guess I'm a little anxious about what my agent's verdict is going to be on my new novel. What if she doesn't like it? Do I self publish or change career and move to a farm?

And I get impatient that I can't think of a new novel idea. Should I just give up now, change career and move to a farm?

And frustrated that my Spanish accent isn't smoother and I think I spend my life sounding inarticulate in both languages... should I give up urban living and move to a farm where the cows won't be able to tell the difference?   

"Maybe I do get more annoyed than I thought..." I admitted, during my second session.

She smiled knowingly and got to work with her needles.

Whether acupuncture is scientifically proven to work or not, I don't know. But it feels such a luxury to spend an hour with a person concentrated on caring for your body. I never imagined someone sticking needles in you could be so relaxing...

I am totally utterly relaxed... I am not at all concerned that I may be oversharing on my blog... I am totally relaxed...

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Real Meaning of Introvert. (Phew).

Up until now, my definition of extrovert was FUN. My definition of introvert was BORING. 

Unfortunately, as I'm a bit of an introvert, that effectively meant I was also boring.

When I don't feel like going out partying, my husband teases me and calls me OLD. Presumably, old as in boring. 

Sometimes I'd go out to prove I wasn't dull, and sometimes I'd stay at home, feeling relieved, whilst knowing that I'd absolutely have to go out the next time or I'd be back to being boring.

Last week I heard an interview with Beth Bluelow on The Creative Penn podcast that freed me from that definition.

She said: "An introvert gains energy through solitude, and drains energy during social interaction."

YESSS, I thought. That's it!
She continued: "It doesn’t mean that we can’t do the social interaction or that we don’t enjoy it. But in order to get up the energy to do it, we need ample alone time, quiet time, low stimulation time."
It's not that I don't enjoy seeing my friends or that I'm shy. But I find if I have more than two social obligations in one week I'm filled with a certain dread. A lot of my friends don't think twice about offering their only free evening to meet up, whereas I'm very resistant to going out two evenings in a row, since I know I'm going to feel drained afterwards.  
This weekend I fully embraced my inner introvert and didn't feel a jot of guilt. My husband was away, and I woke up on Saturday, grinning to myself because I was so pleased not to have a single plan for the entire weekend. It didn't seem like a tedious prospect to me, but an exciting one.
Beth Bluelow also said in her interview that it's important not to label ourselves, which I totally agree with too. None of us are 100% introvert or extrovert. To keep thing into perspective, on Friday night I'd been out with new friends to an improv night and stayed out until 3* in the morning. It had been great fun and my sociable side had been fully satiated leaving me with absolutely no desire to see a soul for the next couple of days.
So there you have it. You're not boring if you're excited about being alone. You're only boring if you're bored! 

*(N.B 3am is the equivalent to going out until midnight in Spain!)

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Writing books and riding bikes - April in Palma

Writing Process - Submitting the novel

It's been less than 24 hours since I sent my novel off to my agent. DUN DUN DUN! Let's hope it passes the test. 

It doesn't always. During the 8 long months it took to sell Spray Painted Bananas (published as The Temp), I wrote 70,000 words of a novel set in a storage facility. A few days after submitting it, my agent rung to say, "the thing is... we don't really like it."

That was that. Months of work gone up in smoke. Nothing's wasted though. Like anything, the more you practice, the better you get!

Travel  - Cycling Tour in Palma

While my novel waits to be clicked open in an inbox in London, I've got plenty to do for SeeMallorca magazine. Last week I joined a Palma On Bike Tour. If you're visiting Palma soon, I really recommend it. It takes the pressure off you having to prove your map reading skills. The tour involves a leisurely cycle ride around the historic centre with a friendly guide dishing out interesting facts.  

For instance: Did you know the island of Cabrera is nicknamed Cannibal Island? It's because during the Spanish War of Independence they used it as a prison for over 9,000 French prisoners, and due to storms and arguments, the Spanish didn't send over food for three months... you can guess the rest.  

Any historical horror writers out there looking for an idea? You're welcome! 

You can read my full review of the tour.

Entertainment - Time Travel TV show

I'm currently in love with a Spanish series called El Ministerio del Tiempo. It's about a secret department of the Spanish government whose job is to make sure the past doesn't get altered. There are three main characters from different centuries who go back and forth in time sorting out problems created by agents who make mistakes and by illegal time travelers not following the rules.

In one episode El Cid gets killed 20 years too early, when agents from the 60s distract him while filming him. The silly agents had been tasked with getting footage of the famous Spanish knight fighting, to help Charlton Heston prepare for his role as 'El Cid' the 1961 movie, starring himself and Sophia Loren. 

I love shows that remind me how many different ways you can tell a story and how many thousands of stories there are to be told! I'm getting excited about what my next novel will be about... although I'm afraid I doubt it will involve time travel!

My New Tuesday Blogging Habit

In my blog workshops I've always emphasised the importance of sticking to a theme and writing consistent and valuable content. If you want to grow a blog following, then that's what you've got to go! 

However after a fall out with blogging and a long break, I've decided to simply write what I feel like every Tuesday. Perhaps I should call it Diary of a Writer in Mallorca? I don't know. For now I'm just going to with the flow!

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Mallorca Living: Restoring the Balance

One week back in Mallorca and I'm starting to feel myself again. I might even take back what I said about not wanting to travel. I'd consider flying to Ibiza. Maybe. If you twisted my arm.

To assuage my fury about Carrefour's despicable packaging (four sausages, four styrofoam trays), I went on my first coastal cleanup of the year. It has to be one of my favourite forms of volunteering because I love being outside and walking with a purpose.  

The views along the coast south of Palma are breathtaking. Rugged grey rock contrasted against this mesmerising turquoise sea, with dozens of white yachts dazzling in the sunshine. 

Picking up rubbish doesn't feel much of a hardship with such a backdrop. Added to that, we had a musical duo playing a bagpipe, drum and flute accompanying us. It was very uplifting. 

Less uplifting was finding heavy bottles of cava tucked into bushes so early on in the walk. Celebrate people, by all means, but take your rubbish home with you! Same goes for all those leaving balls of aluminium foil everywhere. You've eaten the weight of your sandwich guys, it's not much to take the wrapper! I wrote a short report for SeeMallorca

I also feel more myself because I've been writing every day. I've completed the 2nd draft of my novel about a hen party that goes missing in Mallorca. At 77,000 words it's still too short, but there will plenty more editing to come. 

I've nicknamed it The Last Straw, after my first three failed attempts to write it. The moment of truth has come. I now have to read it and see if it makes any sense. Fingers crossed!

My Twitter feeds is so busy with tips, quotes and blog posts that sometimes it's hard to see what's good and what's fluff. But the other day this article by writer Jeff Goins popped out at me with its clever title: Why Quitting Your Job and Chasing Your Dreams is a Terrible Idea. It's all about creating good habits and working steadily towards what you want rather than hoping for this miraculous, over-night success. I found it reaffirming so I thought I'd share it in case you do too! 

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Happy New Year in April Packaging

Happy New Year! Yes, it's a little late, or early, what with it being April. However after a stream of rubbish events, I've made an executive decision to right off this year so far and start again from now.

So here we are. A brand new year. What are your hopes and dreams for it?

One of my dreams is that Carrefour changes their ruling on packaging sausages individually like this:

No, they wouldn't put them in one bag and put four stickers on them. They had to house them individually because if you put sausages altogether they start fighting...Yes, that must be it. And then if you get caught up in the fight while you're trying to separate the angry sausages, and one of them lashes out and breaks your nose, then you might sue Carrefour. 

FFS Carrefour, think about the whales!!! And the future generations who won't be swimming with dolphins but with rubbish up to their necks!!!

But I don't want to begin the year with a rant... 

One of the things I am truly excited about this year is that I don't have any trips booked anywhere.

Unlike my usual hopes for the future, I have absolutely no desire to go on any adventures in far off lands or aspire to have any exotic holidays. Those tickets you got me to the Caribbean, you can keep them. The furthest I'd like to travel is my local supermarket*. (*Thankfully my local supermarket isn't Carrefour but somewhere that doesn't feel the need to wrap a carrot in tarpaulin). 

Why do I shudder at the thought of voyaging afar?

Because I've been on 11 flights in 6 weeks and I still feel that parts of my body are in different countries. Only one of those was a long haul so I'm probably not justified in feeling this way. But that's how I feel. Frankly, I think my health has suffered. Enough is enough.

I'm thrilled to be back in Mallorca and relishing the thought of having my working routine again. I want to type so much my fingerprints get wiped off (Ha! That would stop me travelling very far!) 

(Damn it. Now I feel guilty because I'm lucky to be able to travel so extensively with my EU passport!) (Please vote for Britain to stay in the EU!!)

Anyway, whether this new novel I'm writing is any good or not, I can't be sure. But earlier I read a quote from Lionel Shriver which said: Finish it. There is nothing more depressing than an abandoned manuscript.  

So I will.  

I'm also going to be continuing to explore the island for SeeMallorca and learning to drive so I can be a more efficient reporter. Rather frustratingly I'm still studying my theory which is more baffling that everyone promised. Take rules on seat belt wearing for instance. My question for them is: 

If the 'banda abdominal' is dangerous when worn across the 'abdomen', why is it called a banda ABDOMINAL? ... really, at the rate I'm going I'll be retired before I learn to drive.

However, it's a new year, so I'm going to be very positive. Lalalalala. 

As ever, one step at a time...

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

When my world lost its colour...

Back in January I wrote Can't Blog - 10 Reasons Why. Reason No 6 was that a friend was very sick. But the truth is, it wasn't 'a friend', it was my brother, and although I gave only two lines to that excuse, it felt like it should have been in Capitals, Bold and in 72 font.

I have observed Facebook friends sharing news of ill loved ones, but it felt wrong to do that. It wasn't my news to make public. I'm only blogging about this now, because my brother gave me his permission, and because, as a blogger, I feel I won't be able to move on unless I do.

It began months ago, in Summer, with a pain in his testicle. My brother went to see different doctors, some told him it was normal, others admitted they didn't have a clue and to go somewhere else. He was subjected to every type of test and scan, but no one could give him a straight answer. It seemed he had a tumour somewhere blocking the flow of blood. He was young, it was bound to be benign, the doctor said. They gave him a list of possibilities of what it could be and told him not to google them or he would be scared to death. The worst case scenario was Sarcoma. The doctor assured him it couldn't possibly be that.

Early in January, we found out it was the worst case scenario. Not only was it a malign tumour, it was also extremely rare and in a complicated position. When I heard my brother had cancer, the world lost its colour.

The question was: Would they be able to operate on him?

He was made to wait for what seemed an eternity for an answer. Communication with the hospital was awful. They would call him in only to deliver paperwork, like a courier. It was because the original hospital where he'd had all his tests couldn't cope with such a complex operation and he'd had to do them all over again. There are only 4000 cases in America a year of this kind of tumour. Incredibly, my brother managed to carry on as normal, running his business,  continuing to make everyone laugh with his brilliant social media videos. How he got on with his life is a testimony to how resilient my brother is.

The tumour couldn't be treated by chemo or radiotherapy.

If they couldn't operate, then what?

An appointment with the surgeon was finally set. I flew in to Barcelona and went with my Dad and my brother to hear his verdict. To remove the tumour, they would need to remove a kidney, his vena cava and put a prosthetic aorta. It was a very complicated operation, one that was done less than once a year in Spain. They were only suggesting it because he was young.  There wasn't an alternative.

After getting that news, there was no communication from the hospital for ten days. This was because they were busy assembling a team of the best surgeons and deciding how to operate. The wait was excruciating. The fear grew until it was crushing my chest and I couldn't breathe. How he didn't go mad, I don't know. Two weeks later, a date was set for the operation. 

On Thursday my brother underwent 9 hours of surgery. I spent the day with my parents, his girlfriend, and two of his close friends hoping and praying he would make it through. There were four different surgeons working on him. It was an emotional day. My Dad, who doesn't drink much, needed a glass of wine with his breakfast. We all did. When they wheeled him out of the operation theatre, we felt we could start to breathe.  

In the evening, my parents were allowed to see him in the emergency ward. While his girlfriend, Nicola, loyal friend, Joan, and I were able to see him through a window. We didn't expect him to be conscious. His eyes flickered open and he said: Sorry if I don't get up

It was incredible. That's my brother! I thought, making a joke after major surgery! Of course he was drugged up, and after that, there were days when speaking was too painful.

I'm happy to report he is recovering well, and his remaining kidney is working. Now he just needs his digestive system to kick into gear so he can start eating and drinking again.

I left Spain and my brother yesterday, as I needed to be in Colombia. It broke my heart to go, and on my first flight I seriously considered grabbing the arm of the sleeping man beside me and balling into his shoulder. I know he is in brilliant hands. One of the positive things that have come out of this is I've spent lots of time with his new girlfriend, who I feel like I've known forever. My brother is so loved.

I know my brother will get through this. He is strong and determined. The fear of losing him was the worst feeling of my life. Since we were little, I've always looked up to him. He is the funniest guy I know and a brilliant, creative and loving man. I'm so proud to be his sister. Without him, the world really would have lost its sparkle.

All my love Oriol 'Oli' Benet. I love you! Now, hurry up and get better! You have lots of wonderful adventures ahead of you!

Version en Español - gracias a Nuria Perez

Cuando mi mundo perdió su color

En enero escribí “no puedo blogear- las 10 razones porqué”. La razón número 6 es que un tenía un amigo muy enfermo. Pero la verdad es que no se trataba de un amigo, si no se mi hermano, y aunque solo le di dos líneas a esa excusa, sentía que tenía que ponerlo en mayúsculas y letra de 72 en negrita.

He visto a amigos de Facebook compartiendo noticias sobre seres queridos que están enfermos, pero me sabía mal hacer eso. No eran mis noticias que hacer públicas. Solo lo estoy escribiendo ahora porque mi hermano me ha dado permiso, y porque como bloger, no veía que pudiera seguir adelante hasta que no lo hiciera.

Todo empezó meses atrás, en verano, con un dolor en un testículo. Mi hermano fue a ver a diferentes médicos, algunos le dijeron que era normal, otros le dijeron que sencillamente no tenía ni idea, y lo enviaban a otro. Lo sometieron a todo tipo de scans y tests, pero nadie le podía dar una respuesta directa. Parecía que tenía un tumor en algún sitio obstruyendo el riego sanguíneo. Era joven y tenía que ser benigno, dijo el doctor. Le dieron una lista de posibles causas y le dijeron que sobre todo no las buscara en google, porque se podría asustar. El peor de los casos era Sarcoma. Y el doctor le aseguró que no podía ser eso.

A principios de Enero, descubrimos que se trataba del peor de los casos. No solo se trataba de un tumor maligno, además era uno extremadamente raro y en muy mal sitio. Cuando descubrí que mi hermano tenía cáncer, mi mundo perdió su color.

La gran pregunta era: ¿Podrán operarle?

Le hicieron esperar una eternidad para darle una respuesta. La comunicación con el hospital era horrible. Podían llamarle solo para llevar unos papeles, como un mensajero. El motivo es que el hospital donde le hicieron los tests en un principio no podía lidiar con una operación tan compleja, y tuvieron que realizárselos todos otra vez. Solo hay 4000 al año de este tipo de tumor. Increíblemente mi hermano consiguió seguir con su vida normal, llevando su negocio, y continuó haciendo reír a todo el mundo con sus brillantes videos en las redes sociales. Cómo siguió con su vida, solo demuestra lo resistente que es mi hermano.

El tumor no podía ser tratado ni con quimio ni con radioterapia.

Y si no se podía operar, ¿entonces qué?

Por fin se programó una visita con el cirujano. Volé a Barcelona y fui con mi padre y mi hermano a escuchar el veredicto. Para quitar el tumor, tenían que extirpar un riñón, la vena cava y poner una prótesis en la aorta. Era una cirugía muy difícil, una que solo se había hecho una vez en España. Solo lo sugerían porque era joven. No había otra alternativa.

Después de esto, no hubo noticias del hospital durante 10 días. El motivo es que estaban ocupados montando un equipo de los mejores cirujanos y decidiendo como operar. La espera fue horrible. El miedo que crecía en mi interior me comprimía el pecho y no me dejaba respirar. Como no se volvió loco, no lo sé. Dos semanas después marcaron una fecha para la operación.

El jueves mi hermano se sometió a una operación de 9 horas. Pasé el día con mis padres, su novia y dos de sus mejores amigos rezando para que saliera de esta. Había cuatro cirujanos trabajando en él. Fue un día muy emocional. Mi padre, que no bebe nunca, necesitó un vaso de vino para desayunar. Todos lo necesitamos. Cuando lo sacaron en camilla del quirófano, todos sentimos que podíamos volver a respirar.

Por la noche mis padres pudieron entrar a verle en la UCI. Mientras que su novia, Nicola, su amigo, Joan, y yo pudimos verle a través de un cristal. NO esperábamos que estuviera consciente. Sus ojos parpadearon y dijo “disculpadme si no me pongo en pie”.

Era increíble. ¡Ese era mi hermano! Solo pensé ¡Haciendo bromas después de salir de quirófano! Por supuesto que estaba medio drogado, después de eso, había días que hablar era demasiado doloroso.

Estoy contenta de anunciar que se está recuperando bien, y que su riñón está funcionando. Ahora solo necesita que se active su aparato digestivo y podrá empezar a comer y a beber otra vez

Dejé España y a mi hermano ayer, ya que tenía que ir a Colombia. Se me rompió el corazón al irme, y en mi primer vuelo estuve considerando seriamente cogerle el brazo al señor dormido de mi lado y acurrucarme en su hombro. Sé que está en manos fantásticas. Una de las cosas positivas de todo esto, es que he podido pasar tiempo con su nueva novia, a quien siento que conozco desde siempre. Mi hermano es muy querido.

Sé que mi hermano saldrá de esta. Es fuerte y determinado. El miedo de perderle fue el peor sentimiento de mi vida. Desde que era pequeña, siempre lo he admirado. Es el tipo más gracioso, creativo y cariñoso que conozco. Estoy tan orgullosa de ser su hermana. Sin él, el mundo habría perdido su chispa.

Todo mi amor para Oriol “Oli” Benet. ¡Te quiero! Ahora, date prisa y ponte bien, que tienes muchas aventuras por vivir.