Friday, 18 November 2011

Busy, busy, busy

It's been a hectic couple of months, but well worth it. I've finished and sold the stage version of "Barabbas", and that will be published in 2012 by Eldridge Publishing (

The pantomime, "Ahmed and his Mummy" is to be performed in Crowborough in January 2012 and rehearsals are underway. I stand in awe of the talent on display, and am really gratified at the fun and laughter that comes out of the rehearsal room each week.

The pantomime "Sinbad the Sailor" is half done and has been put on hold so I can finish the screenplay version of "Barabbas". I find I can't work on two things at once, and of the two, "Barabbas" was the more pressing. Sinbad will be finished soon.

On top of all this, life goes on. My son, who has recently lost a staggering 170 pounds in weight, is taking part in his first ever football tournament on Sunday, so guess where I will be, wrapped in scarves and woolly hats and cheering for him? The same way I frequently stand and cheer my grandsons at their matches.

Then I am working to advertise the World In Need "Alternative Christmas Gifts", whereby you buy a gift for someone in the developing world, in the name of someone you love here. This is work I am passionate about, so I always make time for it.

Plus, Christmas is coming, pressies need wrapping, cards need writing, shopping needs doing, and time is a marching on. How come 25th December always sneaks up and finds me unawares?

Today, though, I took time out of my schedule, to speak to the children in Year 6 at St Mary's Catholic School in Crowborough. They wanted to know about writing, and I was honoured to tell them about my writing day and routine. I hope they got as much out of it as I did.

This afternoon, after the school trip and then a walk on the forest with the dog (anything to procrastinate), I wrote the crucifixion scenes in "Barabbas". Now I am exhausted and need a lie down.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Goes to show you never can tell.

Last year, I was ill. I took several months to get myself on the road to recovery and it affected my output somewhat. I did write a few things whilst I was "under the weather", but I was definitely slower than before, not so prolific. I was also dreadfully unsure of the standard I was achieving.

I managed to write a couple of things, but each word was wrung from me, and there were tears shed over my lost ability. I was convinced each scene was rubbish, so much so that I was almost embarrassed to show anyone.

I managed to write three major things during my illness. The first was a Pantomime, "Ahmed and the Mummy". Basically, I told myself I was going to write it, and I forced myself to do so. Every joke was, to my mind, unfunny. Every line of dialogue sounded stilted. Every situation was cliched and lacking in humour. Friends told me it was funny, but they could not convince me.

At their instigation, I sent the pantomime to the British publisher Lazy Bee ( He'd already published 7 of my plays and pantos, so he'd give it the time of day. He would also reject something not up to scratch. There's no old pals act with MY publishers.

Imagine my surprise when he told me it was funny and original and agreed to publish it. That showed me I was not the best judge of my own work!

This lesson was reinforced when I was asked to write a modern day Nativity for a local junior drama group. The result was "Power Play". Again I was not convinced of its merits, but it fulfilled the brief, and they liked it. I went to see it. The audience raved about it. I was speechless.

It's to be done again this Christmas, by a different group, which is quite gratifying.

Finally, I wrote a community drama, "Barabbas". I did it because I'd been saying I would and it seemed a good idea to follow through, rather than be known as someone who talked and never did.

Barabbas was one of the hardest things I ever wrote. Every scene was agony. Every line was written several times. Oh, the days when I would put in nine hours solid, have several pages, only to delete the lot the next day and start again. I would go to sleep each night working out the kinks, and wake up every morning ready to take notes. I thought about it over lunch, when I should have been listening to the sermon in church, when I was in the dentist's waiting room. I spoke into my dictaphone while I drove or walked the dog, or did the housework.

It took some months, but Barabbas was finally finished. I sent it to a publisher where four other of my plays have found a home: Eldridge Publishing ( They have rejected as many of my works as they have accepted, and I was fully prepared to have this play thrown back at me.

It was accepted. The editor called it "A fascinating exploration of the last days of Christ", and said it had "richly nuanced characters which makes us really care what happens to them." She went on, "From the opening, bracing violence, to Barabbas' final line, "Because he died for me", we found the play utterly absorbing, compelling, and ultimately uplifting." 

Needless to say, the letter made my day, my week, my month. It buoyed me up and made me feel that maybe I COULD still do this. It showed me that I shouldn't judge my own work when I am in a low frame of mind, and it taught me to keep the faith.

I'm writing again. I'm feeling confident in my abilities again. And it feels good.

Monday, 15 August 2011

A time to write, a time to read...

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

In the last few months, my writing time has been seriously depleted. Family commitments, fighting for my son's funding, ill health, church, charity and work commitments, all have taken their toll on my writing until not writing had become a habit that was very difficult to break. I want to write. I have ideas ready to turn into pieces of writing. I'm just not doing it.

So, time for some drastic action, methinks.

So, for the next few days I am taking myself out of circulation and into a writing retreat of my own making. I'm shutting down my internet connection, turning off both my landline and mobile phones, and hunkering down. I'm not available to meet with friends, to work, to attend events. I am, in short, off the grid.

I intend to spend the next few days doing nothing but writing. All day, every day. I have my work ready to begin, I've got the books I need for research, and I'm going for it. I hope to come back to civilisation about 10,000 words better off, and with the habit of not writing firmly broken.

Because if I don't take myself in hand and get on with it, who else will make me?

And in the evenings, instead of sitting in front of the TV, or answering non essential emails, I shall read. I aim to get through at least two of the books on my to be read pile.

See you all the other side!

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

At long last!

It took some time, about a year. But finally, the powers that be have decided to let my son know where his future lies. (See post 14th April). As of this week, both Continuing Health Care and Social Services have agreed to fund his place at his residential home.

This means he can stay where he is happy and well looked after, and both of us can look forward to a more settled future. I no longer have to temper each decision with "If Steve comes/doesn't come home". I can plan for things more long term than next week.

I am thrilled he has his funding, and relieved he will stay in the place that is best for him. I am, however, very aggrieved that it took a year of wrangling and horse trading, appeals and counter appeals, meetings which were abandoned because the correct staff members didn't turn up, other meetings that were cancelled because the information wasn't in place, decisions that couldn't be made because someone was on annual leave (What? They only have one person who can deal with a case? What if, God forbid, something dire happened to that person?).

I made my position clear from the start. I wanted Steve to stay where he was, but I was well aware of the financial position and realised that we can't always get what we want. Therefore, I would accept the decision if it went against us, all be it with a heavy heart. I just wanted the situation resolved. I just wanted to know where we stood. Is that so much to ask?

The basic problem seems to be that the disabled and their carers are not classified by the authorities as people. We are counters on their snakes and ladders board, and as such we can be moved up and down at will, never quite reaching the end, and never quite mattering.

Steve and I deserve an apology for the stress, uncertainty and sheer bad manners that we have been subjected to. We won't get one. Alas, nor will we have the satisfaction of knowing that no other family will have to put up with similar treatment.

It's a disgrace.

Calling all actors in Crowborough area

As a teenager I joined an amateur dramatics group. It was a wonderful way to indulge my passion for theatre, meet people and boost my confidence.

Over the years I moved offstage and left the performance to those younger, prettier and more able.  I worked backstage as prompt and props mistress, or front of house selling programmes, tickets and drinks.

I write plays and have been lucky enough to see my work published and performed throughout the world, but local drama still has the greatest pull on my heart. I frequently travel to nearby towns to see a show. Uckfield, Framfield, Rotherfield, I’ve enjoyed them all.

Which is why it saddens me so little drama is being performed in Crowborough.

Oh, there are drama groups. Crowborough Players has existed for as long as I’ve lived here, and Mark One Drama was formed in 2006. Both groups have entertained us in the past, though neither produced a pantomime last winter – disappointing for a town this size.

For those who enjoy Christian drama, there’s also Rainbow, based at All Saints Church, but they too have been quiet of late.

One reason for all this silence is a lack of members. People moved away or grew older and less able and no new members took their places, so numbers dwindled. Actors are precious, directors like gold dust.

But drama groups are wonderful builders of community. Drama is, after all, teamwork. Being involved with a production is exciting, rewarding and satisfying. Soon, there'll be a brand new performance hall in the town, and it would be a shame if there was no vibrant drama group ready and waiting to move into it.

So here’s a challenge. I have a pantomime script, available to Crowborough, free of charge. We have a tentative yes from a director. Now we need actors, dancers, musicians and back stage crew.

If you'd like to be part of this year's panto, drop me a line on, or at my twitter account: @hilarymackelden 

Together, we can build drama in Crowborough. 

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Gentleman in waiting.

For the next week, my son and I are in limbo. This is not a new state of affairs, we have been in limbo for some months now. So long, in fact, that it has begun to feel normal, which can't be a good thing. Can it?

It isn't something we can control, and that has been the hardest thing to come to terms with. I for one, like to know what's going on, where I am heading. I make plans, basing them on what I expect to be doing in a month, six months, a year. They might change, be amended. But they form a basis for my life, and give me a sense of security.

Well, it's true what they say. God laughs at the person with plans.

The cloud of uncertainty hanging over our lives is courtesy of three things: Social Services, (SS) the National Health Service (NHS), and the British economy. All of them move very slowly, and take no account of the turmoil their inability to hurry may cause in the lives of us mere mortals. And there's nothing we can do to make them move faster. Nothing at all. Believe me, I have tried.

The problem is that my son needs constant care. He has Prader Willi syndrome, a genetic abnormality that has left him mentally and emotionally handicapped, slightly physically disabled and with an addiction to eating that means, if left unsupervised, he would, quite literally eat himself to death. He is also one of the nicest and most wonderful people I know, and he deserves the very best that life can offer.

Three years ago, he went into a residential home for people with PWS. At the time, he was 26 stone + (That's about 360 pounds) and was morbidly obese, so the NHS paid the home fees, which are very expensive. In the home, access to food is restricted, the diet is strict, the exercise regime exacting and in three years, my son has lost half his body weight.

Yup. He's lost 13 stone (180 pounds). And when you consider his addiction to eating is accompanied by a very low metabolism that makes weight loss even harder than it is for most of us, this is an accomplishment above and beyond. I am so proud of him.

Unfortunately, he is now a victim of his own success. NHS, you see, do not pay for preventive care. When he was morbidly obese, he had a health problem that needed treating, so they paid to treat it. Now, he no longer has that health problem (his food addiction is not counted) and so they will not pay the fees of the home.

They passed the problem on to SS. They don't want it, thank you very much. They passed it back, and for the last few months it has been going back and forth like a ping pong ball, each trying to force the other to pay for the care my son needs. All the time they argue, he stays where he is, which is a good thing, but his future is in a state of flux, which is not so good.

We can plan nothing. Should he sign up for a college course for next term? Will he still be in the home and able to access that course by then? Should he buy things for his bedroom in the home, or is he liable to be packing them up soon?

And for me, things are no less uncertain. Like many writers, I could do with an improved income but it isn't easy looking for a job when one has to say, "Well, yes, I am available for work at the moment, but in three weeks I may be caring full time." I can't plan to go to a seminar or an exhibition because I don't know whether I'll be able to take my place.

Six months ago, thinking I was living alone now, I considered moving from my family home to a smaller place. But if he DOES come home, we'll need the room this house offers. So I don't move. If I am to stay permanently, I will decorate, and landscape the garden. But what if I do that and then he doesn't come home and I am to move?

It really isn't good enough. I appreciate they are making sure everything is done properly, but it shouldn't take several months - nearly a year now. When people's lives are on hold, decisions should be made at a greater pace than this.

At long last, after many false starts, they've agreed to meet next week and decide his future. They may not decide what we would have them decide, but at least they will decide something. And finally, we'll feel as if we've reached terra firma once more.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Brave New World

Last night, I attended a talk given by David Taylor of 2010Media, a company that specialises in helping people, companies and organisations improve their communications in the age of social media. It was a fascinating talk, and I learned a lot. Talking with other attendees, I wasn't the only one.

Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, Youtube and all the others have completely changed the world. I already knew that. But I don't think I had realised how that change affected ME. For years, I plodded on, ignoring the inane comments on Facebook ("Had rice Krispies for dinner, lol) and the indecipherable text speak sentences on Twitter: ("R u coming 2 c me L8er 2nite?") I couldn't figure out Linked In, or My Space, and hadn't a clue about Youtube. It was for kids who'd left the age of the mobile phone behind, right?


A few months ago, I realised that if I was ever going to achieve my dream of making a living as a writer, I had to do all I could to raise my profile. Gone were the days of writing a book/script/article and shyly handing it to the publisher/director/editor before scuttling away to anonymity to write some more. Behind us are the times when the publisher's promotion team does all the PR work and leaves you to your art. A writer today has to be prepared to market their work, create interest in it, pitch it.

I worked on the basis of one simple truth: the more your name appears in public, the more people will have heard of you, and if the name is familiar, they're more likely to give you time and space to make that pitch. They're more likely to take you seriously.

So, I started trying to use social media sites more effectively. I increased the amount of traffic I generated, and I tried to make sure that traffic was interesting, entertaining and informative so that readers would enjoy it and come back for more. I tried to make sure the writing was good quality - even within the 140 characters of Twitter. No point telling everyone you're a writer and then leaving a badly written sentence where the world and his wife can trip over it. That'd be like telling everyone you were a chef and then serving up burnt shepherd's pie.

I've made many new friends and contacts through social media. Some of them are people who enjoy my posts, which is gratifying and boosts my confidence. Some of them share my passion for writing, which eases the loneliness of the work. And some of them have been in positions to help me, giving me tips to improve my chances of success, helping make the work better, advising me of markets and competitions that will do me good, introducing me to people who may be interested in working with me.

None of them are people I would have met in the street of my town. Most would never have opened a letter from me, or even an email. Yet, social media has made them accessible.

The world is shrinking. Opportunities are growing. All we have to do is keep up with the traffic.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

When you can't reach the end...

You've been working on your latest project for some time. You've researched, written, plotted and planned, found the weak points and chiselled them out, filled the holes and made it make sense. You're a few thousand words from the end.

And it grinds to a halt.

You know how it ends. You know what you want to say. You even have the wording for the very last line absolutely perfect. But you just can't seem to get there.

If you're not deleting more than you're adding in, and not convincing yourself that every word so far is utter rubbish, then you'll be taking a degree course in procrastination. There is a sudden urgency to bath the dog and clear out the attic, or go back to the beginning and check for weak words like just and very and nice. Anything, ANYTHING, but write those final words.

Something I've found helps is to have another work lined up and waiting to be started. A few tantalising notes in a loose leaf book, a couple of lines about a character, a dialogue quote. What ifs and whys and wheres scribbled, or cryptic sentences spoken into a dictaphone. Pretty soon, a new project is taking shape and demanding to be written, and I am champing at the bit to get to it.

Suddenly, procrastination doesn't seem so enticing. I want to finish this work so I can get started on my new piece, a piece that is going to be the best thing I ever wrote, my great masterpiece, the ONE. At which point, I knuckle down and write those last few pages, and write those immortal words:

The End.

If you have trouble finishing, try it. It can't hurt. And it might just work.