Message From Your Past

When we find an old bottle with a message inside on the beach, we get immediately excited and expect at least a romantic love note if not a hint to sunken treasure. I remember as a child I waited for the postman, convinced he would bring a letter from a forgotten uncle in America, telling me I inherited a fortune. Needless to say, it never happened.

I want to talk about the other messages, those that cause heartache and pain for years on end. Messages we carry with us–sometimes from early childhood on–that cause deep scars and can get in the way of a happy, fulfilling life. They are often given through hurtful words and actions or through the absence of caring and nurturing words and behaviours. They are emotionally crippling and can cause gazillions of problems. Continue reading “Message From Your Past”

Love Reading Romance? Become an Advanced Reader

Doesn’t it sound exciting, being an Advanced Reader? Until a few month ago I had no idea what that meant. Advanced Readers are people who get a FREE copy of a soon to be released novel and once they’ve read it, they give a review/feedback to the author.

So here I am looking for about ten people who would like to be part of my Advanced Reader group. If that is an interesting proposition for you,

I’d love you to put your name down HERE

As thanks, I’ll send everyone who puts her or his name down a signed paperback copy of my non-fiction book DELICIOUS MIND BODY AND SOUL, which is a combination of life-wisdom and healthy smoothies.

 

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Bonds of Love: A Summer Read

I like to know how things start. Context for me is like a scaffolding any story is hanging on, whether it’s the story about how I found my new pair of shoes or any other story. In fact, my family accuses me of starting with Adam&Eve every time I tell a story. I’ll never understand their exasperationtGolden Girl Series - High Resolution - A Prequel.

It was only logical to write the Adam&Eve bit for my GOLDEN GIRLS series. After finishing the first two of my Golden Girls books, I NEEDED to know how they became such good friends whose friendship lasted over thirty years. That’s a pretty amazing achievement, don’t you agree?

When readers asked me how it all started, I had the best excuse to go back in time and peak into the student flat of Anna, Thea, Claudia, and Christine.

 So go ahead and get your copy of Bonds of Love: The Prequel of the Golden Girls series. It’ll be FREE to a good home for a while.

You can order it here: https://www.instafreebie.com/free/V28fg

 

 

 

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Is It Too Late For Love?

The other day I heard a story of an elderly couple in their mid-eighties who is having an affair. In their retirement home! The reaction of the surrounding audience was “How cute, how endearing.” As if they were little infants who lie on a lambskin, lifting their heads for the photographer or a couple of pre-schoolers playing Mums ‘n Dads.

It’s never cute to start a new relationship, no matter what age we are. More so as an older person than in younger years. As we enter the sunset years of our lives, finding a new partner and starting a new relationship requires courage and a giant leap of faith. It’s not easy to put one’s history aside and start anew. It’s also an incredibly hopeful act because One is a lonely number and living as One is a hard road to travel.

When people heard the story of the couple from the retirement home, I imagine their mental picture was that of a brittle couple walking the garden paths holding their emaciated hands, planting little kisses on each other’s lips or wrinkly cheeks, and whispering terms of endearment before they forgot what they were talking about.

But NO. Three times NO. It’s not cute. It is not like admiring a couple of rare Panda bears in the zoo or on TV. It simply is the human condition. Throughout our lives, we always need another person to help us regulate our internal state, our level of arousal. A baby couldn’t be calm or go to sleep without the closeness of a calm and soothing mother. It would suffer greatly and might even die without the love and physical comfort of another person, even when fed regularly. Being close to a (caring) person is not just a good idea, it’s a biological necessity for our survival. As we grow older, our dependence on another person decreases, but it will never ever go away completely. We always function better when we are close to another person.  (For more in-depth information about this read A General Theory of Love).

Back to my story. When it transpired that Eva (let’s call my fellow oldies Eva and Adam) talked about yummy sex, people’s eyes clouded over. The Icky-effect kicked in. The idea that Adam would have his eighty-year-old hand sliding up Eva’s trembling thighs and suckle with increasing enjoyment on her nipples, quickly threw the couple out of the ‘cute-corner.’ Because, let’s be serious, Old Folks over the age of 50, are put out to pasture and best used as babysitters, for house sitting, and looking after the animals when the kids are on holiday.

It may be hard to picture our parents as sexually active—I found it hard to picture my own parents as sexually active… until I crossed over to the Old Folks’ side.

Let me tell you, as someone who is closer to my eighties than my fifties, that’s not how it works for those of us on the other side of this magical divide. The skin may wrinkle and the bones may creak, but the (metaphorical) heart and soul are ageless. Besides having accumulated more knowledge over the years and learned from experiences, my thinking has not changed much. Only when I’m invited to join in some physical activities, I have to pass. That’s the only time I ‘feel’ my age.

The need for emotional and physical intimacy, however, doesn’t stop. Erogenous zones don’t disappear with the plumpness of youthful skin. It is still arousing to be touched in those areas. There is no use-by-date of the need for love, after which life becomes a waiting game for the undertaker.

Baby boomers have heralded the sexual revolution together with many changes we take for granted nowadays. Watch this space—they/we will not sit by and allow people to cutesify (don’t adjust your spell check, I just invented the word) our lives. I say that even though knowing the obstacles we face are extraordinary.

I started writing romance novels a few years ago and my heroines are in their late fifties and older… after all, they say write about what you know. Since then I have talked with many women my age and older, and through this scientifically conducted research, I came to the conclusion that we love being held, being kissed, being stroked, being made love to, no matter our age and the number of wrinkles we have.

I have submitted my ideas and manuscripts to several well-known publishers and agents and received the feedback that there is no readership for old heroines like that. Old Heroes, maybe, but certainly not dried up old Heroines. Maybe they are right? I for one am sick and tired reading about twenty and thirty-year-old people, whether they are normal couples or shifting into some other kind of beings. Yes, I too love Sleepless in Seattle and adore Dirty Dancing, but surely there must be more stories out there like Something’s Gotta Give? Yes, yes, I hear you mention the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. A great start, but only one of very few bucking the trend and depicting positive images of older age. There are interesting lives being lived from the age of fifty onwards and they are worth talking about. Recognizing oneself in stories being told might help our generation to feel less isolated and resigned.

What are we doing to ourselves if a quarter of our life is ignored in so many areas of life, including art? I say our on purpose because if you are lucky, you’ll get there as well. Sometimes it feels like we are a burden to society—except for those who own and run retirement homes. They can’t wait for us to flock to their establishments in droves and guarantee them lucrative profits.

Imagine my excitement when two large publishers (in the romance field) put a call out for manuscripts with what they coined ‘Silver Fox Heroes and Heroines’. They defined ‘Silver Foxes’ as people between the ages of thirty-five and forty-five. It took a while for me to stop rolling my eyes. Did they mean those young people who dye their hair gray now because it’s a new fashion trend? The mind boggles. If you are middle-aged and love romantic novels, you might have to search amongst indie publishers for books with real silver foxes and vixens.

Ah well, the fight goes on. Ageism and discrimination of older people aren’t something new and it’ll take much more awareness and talk about these issues for things to change. At least, we have Grace and Frankie on Netflix, starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. When they talk about life and sex I can see the silver lining. Like the Golden Girls of the eighties, they push the boundaries of contemporary thinking about us oldies. YEAH! Go, Girls!

For the reader of romantic suspense, my books A TUSCAN AFFAIR and A CASE FOR LOVE can be found at all major e-book outlets.

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Book Launch Party: A TUSCAN AFFAIR

I’m having a bit of a party to celebrate the launch of my debut novel A TUSCAN AFFAIR. Romance fans who are in Wellington on that day, are welcome to join us for a good time.

 

A TUSCAN AFFAIR, the first of four books in the GOLDEN GIRLS Series. Four long-time friends are faced with life changing decisions. As so often happens, life throws some serious obstacles their way but being strong Kiwi women, they don’t cower in fear. Instead, they meet those challenges head-on.

 

With the help of each other, they answer the age-old question: Do we quietly sit back and grow old or is there still one more adventure waiting for us? One more love?

Each one of the four friends has a book to her name. A TUSCAN AFFAIR is Anna’s story.

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Men And Women React Differently To Stress

There are many areas in life where it can be noticed that men and women respond differently to some situations. Recent research with brain imaging has shown that each gender responds differently to stress.

The main difference seems to be that stress caused changes in men’s right prefrontal cortex and their left orbitofrontal cortex. These areas are usually associated with what is known as the ‘fight-or-flight’ reaction. Thus it can be expected that men deal with problems that cause them stress by going into ‘fight-mode’ that could in some instances involve aggression, or they respond with avoidance and withdrawal.

This is very different for women under stress. For them, changes were noticed in their limbic system, the part of the brain that is mainly involved in relationships, attachments, and emotions.  This indicates that women may respond to stress with changes in mood (depression) and with what is known as the ‘tend-and-befriend’ dynamic by becoming nurturing and seeking connections with others to maximize support.

These two very different coping styles seem to be rooted in the evolutionary past of humans when the division of responsibilities had males hunting, fighting and protecting while females tended to the well-being and functioning of the group or community.

Nowadays the nature of stressors people face has changed and both styles of coping with stress create a distinct set of problems if people unconsciously act as if they are still living in the Stone Age. Most stressors today have to do with people’s relationships or the lack thereof, how they compensate for their insecurities, and how they follow their ambitions.

These modern stressors require strategies that are much more complex than ‘fight-or-flight’ or ‘tend-and-befriend.’ Following the Darwinian insights of evolution, it can be expected that those people will be successful who can adjust to modern stressors with strategies that use both male and female strengths of problem-solving.

This article was inspired by the following research:  University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine (2007, November 20). Brain Imaging Shows How Men And Women Cope Differently Under Stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 1, 2009

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Impact Of Early Childhood Stress

Child AFor psychotherapists working with people who struggle with the
legacies of an abusive and/or traumatic childhood, it is no news that people are affected way past their childhood years. It’s good to see that research is coming to the party and provides scientific evidence for the long-term struggles people have.

“The immune system is not present at birth. The cells are there, but how they will develop and how well they’ll be regulated is very much influenced by your early environment and the type of rearing you have.” We know from trauma research the same to be true for people’s self-capacities involved in distress tolerance and emotion regulation.

Indeed, even if the life circumstances improve people show that early childhood stress has a negative impact on their learning capability, on their behaviours, and on their immune system.  Thus they are disadvantages with regard to their future careers, to how they integrate into society, and with regard to their health status.

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How To Get Over Childhood Stress: The Process Of Getting Hurt

broken heart 2This is the first of two articles about how to get over childhood stress or – how does therapy work – in which I will explain how people get hurt by childhood stress (1st article) and how they can recover from it (2nd article “Healing from Childhood Stress and Abuse: How Therapy works”).  I have included the impact of childhood stress seen through neurobiological eyes because it shows clearly the pathways to how the healing can take place.

I have often been asked by colleagues why I use neurobiological concepts instead of psychological concepts to explain what is going on. My answer to that is: often psychological concepts are way out there and hard to follow by people who are not totally into that side of things: take for example Freud’s or Melanie Klein’s work – very exciting … but you have to bend over backwards and jump through a needle’s eye to follow their line of thinking.
Whereas neurobiological concepts can be ‘seen’ on MRI scans and we become more understanding of how our brain works. I find that exciting.

So why is childhood stress (hardship, abuse, neglect) so damaging? Why can people not follow the often given advice and just ‘GET OVER  IT’? She short answer is: Because the stressful experiences become part of who you are! Let me show you how that works: (Disclaimer: I am not a neuroscientist and don’t claim to be an expert. I’ll give you my ‘lay translation’ of hundreds of research articles and books that I have studied).

Continue reading “How To Get Over Childhood Stress: The Process Of Getting Hurt”

Romance Writer? Seriously?

 

origin_630008218Just the other day a friend asked me what I am doing now, being retired, and having moved to Wellington. When I told her I’m writing romance novels, she said, “Romance Writer? Seriously? You? The Mills & Boons kind of stuff?”

Yip, I suppose, the Mills & Boons kind of stuff, if it means writing stories where it’s pretty obvious on page number two who’ll end up in their own Happy Ever After on page number 289. And even though it’s predictable, I love going for the ride and rejoice with the heroine and fall in love with the hero.

I used to be a psychotherapist—though on second thought, ‘used to be’ may not be quite right. Thirty years of identifying people’s behaviors, actions, thought patterns, language expressions, and body language, don’t stop because I’ve turned sixty-five and received a Gold Card.

My friend’s surprise said loud and clear, in her eyes I sank from the lofty heights of psychology into the mud-filled gutter of rubbish scribblers, who are unable to write real literary pieces worth reading, like Shakespeare or Dostojewski—did I miss one?

I know romance writers are looked down upon in general, and my friend affirmed that for me. But it got me thinking. Why is that? Why is writing about people starving for love, longing for the one person who understands them on a soul-level so frowned upon? I’ve got an idea! Bear with me for a brief psychology rendition. I promise to make it a short one.

I have a Ph.D. in Mental Health and Environmental Sciences. For my thesis design and analysis, I used recognition theory (RT), a critical social theory formulated by Axel Honneth. If you are interested in sociology, go and read up on it. It’s cool!

RT says human beings need recognition to be ‘healthy’ and function adequately in society. We get recognition through LOVE, RIGHTS, and SOLIDARITY. If any of these forms are absent, we struggle. We fight for recognition. Have been in the past, and will in the future. It’s in our nature.

LOVE provided by parents, partners, and other important persons. If we are not affirmed by love that our existence is important, we struggle.

RIGHTS granted through legal systems and structures in society. If legal systems don’t grant us rights to vote, equality, freedom, to name a few, we struggle.

SOLIDARITY through acknowledgment by our peers and community as someone who contributes something valuable. If our lifestyle or our work, are not appreciated, we struggle.

How does that relate to romance writing? Because recognition through Love is the most important one for all human functioning.

We romance writers provide that in spades. Romance stories guarantee a happy ending, the fulfilling of a dream, of a need we all have. The hero and heroines show us the way of overcoming obstacles to the magnificent outcome of everlasting love. We read the last line and know they will make it. It gives us hope – we might make it too, there could be love for us too.

That explains why romance is the most read genre currently. Why do other’s (critics) put it down? Maybe because they can’t do it. It might surprise you, but it’s damn hard to get a contract with Mills&Bohns. You have to be a really good writer!

Are romances realistic? Yes and No.

The latest count from 2016 showed there exist 1810 billionaires in the world. If we take our beloved romance writers by the word, they lurk at every corner. But please, don’t be so harsh and take that literally. It’s not meant to be. IT’S FICTION, PEOPLE!

Even though the stories, characters, and settings are idealized and rarely possible for the average Jill and Joe to reach, we all search for love, recognition, and a warm body to cuddle up to when we go to bed. We might even learn real valuable life skills we can use in our real life relationships. For example, Headboards are for handcuffs! Thank you, E.L. James.

A Tuscan Affair

Book excerpt: A Tuscan Affair

 

Anna froze and held her breath.

One glance at the two men Mackenzie led into her office unsettled her trademark cool composure. How many years had she fantasised that he’d walk through her door? But not after over thirty years! Her knees trembled, and then, like a deep-sea diver who’d been too long under water, she came up for air and took a deep, gasping breath.

Did he recognise her? That would not do. She ignored the flutter in her chest. This was not an occasion for fluttering. As one of Auckland’s leading lawyers, she had enough experience and self-control to deal with the appearance of a mistake from a long time ago. She schooled her face and closed the door behind them.

“Good morning. I’m Anna King. Please, take a seat.” Without a smile of recognition, she kept her voice cool and detached. Not by accident was she known as the Ice Queen, an image that took years to perfect. She motioned the two men to the group of chairs in front of a modern fireplace and picked a seat opposite them.

The older of the two said “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Francesco Falcone and this is my son, Antonio. He came all the way from Tuscany to help me with my divorce.” She could relate to the pride and joy in the father’s voice. “Your colleague Mark Peterson handles my business affairs and said you would be the best lawyer to take on my divorce.” He smiled at Anna. “Your colleague is an ardent admirer of you.”

“That’s very kind of him.” So, Antonio was his name? Call me amore mio, he’d told her thirty-four years ago. That blissful night his soft whisperings were enough for her. She didn’t have a need for a name.

It was he, wasn’t it? Could she be mistaken? She, the lawyer who never made mistakes? Although no longer the sun-tanned young man with the body of a Roman God in red swim shorts, he looked the picture of sophistication in his expensive, tailored suit. His short, black hair showed a titillating dusting of grey at his temples.

There was no doubt. Back in nineteen-eighty-two he swept into her life like a force of nature, and, like the outgoing tide, vanished from her life the following day when she boarded the train to Rome. Now he stood in her office with no signs of recognition! She couldn’t very well ask whether he remembered their night at the beach around the bonfire. It wouldn’t be professional to bring up the past. She took a deep breath and looked up from the folder in her hand, calling herself to order.

“I’m having coffee; may I offer you each a cup as well?” The situation called for a coffee, an extra strong one. She rose and walked over to her desk. Both nodded and Antonio held up two fingers.

“Two espressos, black, each two sugars. Thank you.”

She switched on the intercom and relayed the order to Mackenzie, her assistant. Then it hit her.

Lucca.

It would be a disaster if Lucca came to work this morning. She shuddered and switched on the intercom again. “Please, call my son and tell him, he doesn’t have to come into the office this morning. I’ll meet him at court.”

On the way back to her chair, she caught her image in the antique mirror next to her bookshelves. Her reflection showed no signs of the young careless girl with a backpack and sandals, who danced around bonfires with her gypsy skirt and an infectious zest for life. Though the years have been kind to her, even with the lines around the eyes and her mouth. Not bad for fifty-six. She straightened her shoulders and joined the Falcones again.

Mackenzie entered the office. Balancing three cups on a tray, she passed the coffee to them and asked, “Is that all?”

“Thanks, Mackenzie. I’ll call you if we need anything else.”

They sipped their coffee until Antonio broke the silence. “Pardon me, have we met? I have a strong sense we know each other, but I can’t…” his voice trailed off and he squinted his eyes, scrutinising her.

Acting on impulse never served her well, so she dipped her head to the right and looked at him, as if trying to find a memory to fit him in.

“Not that I recall.”

He came much too close for comfort. Their situation was not like two acquaintances enjoying a reunion after many years. It was much more complex and required a well thought through strategy. She turned to Francesco.

“Would you mind telling me about the circumstances that led to the divorce proceedings? I’ll then be able to devise a strategy for us to go forward.”

Antonio Falcone glanced at her in disbelief. She would bet a month’s salary he usually had women laying at his feet instead of being dismissed with four simple words.

His father folded his hands on the table. “Angelica is a New Zealander. She came to our vineyard as part of an organised tour and bought a few boxes of our best wine. I delivered them to her hotel and the rest is history. We were happy, you know, even though she’s thirty-five years younger than I!” His voice softened, and he swallowed, recalling better times, no doubt.

Francesco’s struggle touched her. He told the story of their marriage like a rehearsed script he had gone over many times to find where things went astray between him and his much younger wife. He fought to control his emotions when his son barged in.

“Angelica is a gold digger. There is no doubt. She told my father she wanted a divorce with no prior indication she was unhappy in their marriage.” He huffed, and his voice turned bitter. “Why would she? She’s lived the life of a princess. I want you to set an investigator onto her and do a thorough background check. I bet there is more to the story. Why file for divorce now?”

His attitude showed all the signs of someone used to command and having people at his beck and call. He’d figured it all out and expected her to jump. She suppressed the urge to grin. He’d soon find out she’s walking to her own sweet drums and nobody else’s.

“You’re welcome to hire a private investigator. Ask him to send a copy of his report to my office.” She hoped she smiled without too much of a smirk.

Francesco cleared his throat. “You’ve to excuse my son. He’s used to commandeering people and doesn’t know when to stop. What he meant to say is, we would love if you would contract one of your trusted investigators to look into Angelica’s circumstances. Her request for a divorce came out of the blue. Nobody can make sense of it.”

“I’d be happy to do that for you. Please forward any correspondence you had so far with your wife or her lawyer regarding the divorce.” She then finished her coffee and collected the notes she made. “This is an excellent beginning and gives me lines of inquiry to pursue. Can you think of anything else we need to discuss?” She checked her calendar. “If not we can meet again Friday this week, at the same time. By then I’ll have a strategy ready for you.”

Anna closed the door behind the men and sank into her chair. Tears welled up. She wrapped her arms around herself. Thirty-four years. Fate had a cruel way of interfering with her life and reminding her of times she’d rather kept buried.

When the first tears pearled down her face, accompanied by little sobs, she bit her fist to stop the scream building inside her.

Mackenzie entered Anna’s office. “Lucca asked me to tell you…Anna! Oh dear!” She stood next to Anna’s chair and put her hand on Anna’s back. With a soft voice, Mackenzie said, “That…was the twin’s father, wasn’t it? They look so much like him.”

Anna pulled herself up, took a deep breath and gazed at her assistant. “Yes, but you can’t breathe a single word about it to anyone.”