Friday, 28 August 2009

Welcome to new and old readers of my ‘Shared Experiences Blog’

I have some really excellent news, as yesterday the publishers sent me the final version. The layout is superb and anyone who has interest in upper limb deficiency will find it very reader friendly. The ‘layout designer’ has used pink and turquoise to alternate each chapter. So it will be very easy to flick through and find the chapters you are most interested in. It is purely fluke that these are my favourite colours!

So put a note in your diary that Shared Experiences will be available from the first week in November. However to pre-order please send an email to;

So don’t delay, place your order today!

‘Shared Experiences’ has been a truly collaborative process. It would not have been possible without contributions from parents of children with upper limb deficiencies and the support of Reach Not to mention our amazing publishers, my highly efficient and very personable editor Alexa Tewkesbury, my husband Gary and friends like Angela Boulter, Zoe & Peter Downey who have put a lot of energy into helping sell copies as well as throwing themselves into fundraising activities.

And friends and associates with their own websites like Joan Henshaw and Peter Billington for adding to their websites.

So big thanks to all those helping promote and sell Shared Experiences and enormous thanks to those of you who are buying a copy/copies. As Gertrude Stein said ‘Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.’ Gertrude certainly knew her onions, so I hope my message of gratitude is loud and clear. THANK YOU EVERYBODY.

To read reviews and for more information please scroll down and down and down!

STOP PRESS….And keep on reading because in the near future I will be creating two more blogs on whacky fund raising called

• ‘The boys are going to Banjul’ an epic adventure of three men, a rusty old car and a spare tyre.
• ‘Pete n Nick are Nutz’ see to read how stupid they are even think abut cycling around Iceland and to donate. No donation is too small because we need to reward their efforts, as they’re not that good at map reading.

Monday, 3 August 2009

When life gives you lemons - make lemonade!

I have been thinking about how to attract ‘media attention’ to boost sales of ‘Shared Experiences’. Leaving a ‘post it’ note underneath the windscreen wiper, of Rupert Murdoch’s limo is one option, but I’m actually going to leave all the big PR stuff to our sponsors and stick with my blog. However I did test the water, by sending an email to two local newspapers. A subsequent interview with one reporter, Justin, proved to be quite challenging. I had prepared myself to talk about Reach and the content of Shared Experiences’ but he was more interested in why I wrote it. I tried side swerving his questions several times, before giving in under closer cross examination!

We ended up talking about motivation, adversity and what drives us to take on certain challenges. I reflected on this after he left and I concluded it would been very handy for the sake of brevity, to come up with one single word, or ‘all encompassing’ snappy, media friendly, phrase, but nothing came to mind! Getting to a point where I was ready to write ‘Shared Experiences’ was more of a gradual process, because I had reached a stage in my life, where I was happy enough, with who I am, to be able to do it.

Being OK with yourself - is very important! You have to tell yourself. In fact you have to say it, repeat it often and then believe it. Unfortunately a ‘positive attitude’ towards life doesn’t come in a jar. It would be nice to buy a big jar, open the lid, and let positive mental attitude waft all over you, but it doesn’t work like that. However, if you are open to the possibility and take real ownership of your life; and your thoughts and feelings then you’ve started the journey. Life throws all type of brown sticky stuff at us all. None of us are immune from heartache, worry, anxiety, frustrations, emotional upset. And sometimes low self esteem, poor body image lack of confidence in our abilities, feelings of low self worth can be quite overwhelming. Life can be tough and unforgiving and just as we deal with one crisis another appears on the horizon. Developing a better positive attitude means that we start to recognise negative thoughts and feelings and deal them quicker and in a way that serves us well. Now I’m not an expert, I just know what works for me so that makes me, an expert in me.

Growing up with an obvious limb deficiency is like having the ‘mother of all spots’ on the end of your nose! Now if you have ever had a horrible big, angry, pus filled spot, shining like a beacon on the end of your conk, you will know that you can’t even contemplate leaving the house, until drastic action has been taken. You have one choice either you lance it and cover it with every medicated lotion ever produced (including domestic cleaning products) or you stay in.

Well I can’t do the equivalent of lancing my spot, so I reached a point where I had to learn to live with it and eventually like me, for me. I’m not saying it was easy and others with more obvious deficiencies might see my missing hand as just a spot, but when you’re young, you don’t see other people’s stuff – you just see your own bag of troubles. Starting work for me and mixing with adults was a big turning point and slowly the clouds started to rise. I was a very different person at fifteen, to who I am now, so I feel compelled to share what has helped and inspired me tp take on a challenge like writing Shared Experiences’.

Firstly I’m a great believer in being optimistic. There is a saying that ‘Whether you are an optimist or a pessimist the outcome is the same, but the optimist has a better time’. That’s not to say I’m blindingly optimistic and have a permanent day pass to ‘La La Land' but negative thoughts just breed more negative thoughts. The best advice I was ever given is ‘If you can’t change a situation - change the way you think about it’. So make 'being positive' a lifestyle choice.

We have one life and this is it, right here, right now. Life is fragile and can be so stupidly short and we have a responsibility to ourselves to make the best and most of it. Sometimes just seeing how others live their lives can spur us on. I watched most of the 2008 Paralympics feeling humbled, inspired and also very thankful for everything I have in life. Choose your role models carefully. Pay special attention to those who leads their lives simply, but purposefully. Stay away from anyone who wants to drain your emotionally batteries and take you down, to where they are.

We are at our best when we do things together. Sharing our thoughts, our feelings, our time. Reaching out to our friends our families, our colleagues our communities is where we start to feel that real sense of belonging and it stops us living in bubbles. It stops us from only seeing our own troubles and becoming self obsessed. Dale Carnegie said ‘Let's forget our own unhappiness by trying to create a little happiness for others - when you are good to others, you are best to yourself.’ Last year I did my first sponsored walk (only 6.5miles) but it was a 05.00 start, in the rain, but it felt purposeful and I knew I was doing it for a worthy cause. I would say to anyone who wants to lift their mood or develop more of a positive attitude do things for other people and not just you! Do a sponsored walk, grow a moustache for charity or cut an elderly neighbour’s lawn. Whether it’s a small act of kindness or big sponsored event do something that benefits someone else. Start with small things like phoning an elderly relative, sharing your knowledge by helping a colleague prepare for an interview, giving emotional support and maybe being there for someone when they fall. Be that person.

Stop being angry. There is nothing is more corrosive and damaging to you than being angry with someone else or a situation you can’t change. It draws you down and drags you in. And the longer you carry it around, the more it eats away at your very soul. Forgiveness is never easy, but once you found a way to let go of anger you start to feel better and more positive about your own life. Disposing of a ‘victim’ mentality is very empowering. Let things be. Bringing up 'old battles' keeps you rooted in the past and stops you living today. Stop asking why did this happen to me? Stop believing you were selected for bad things to happen to or were in some way worthy of it. Life is random; good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.

Forgiveness. Try and forgive others for what you think they have done to you and also learn to forgive yourself. None of us are perfect. We all screw up, make mistakes, say and do the wrong thing. That is part of the human condition. The important thing is to learn from those incidents and move on. Most of us don’t deliberately set out to hurt another human being, but relationships can become messy and complicated, so learn to apologise sincerely for your part and again move on. Keep in mind that we choose how we behave. We might not think that behaving well or badly is a conscious choice, but it is. Become more choice aware.

Acceptance. Accepting that there are some things that we just can’t change is so fundamental to our very being. Acceptance is so important and accepting that some things are outside of our control is an importance concept to grasp. We can’t change the way others think and we can’t make others like us. We just have to accept that some things just are. Although perversely when we stop trying to influence a situation, or bring someone round to our way of thinking, it often makes it possible for change to happen. For example we might throw ourselves at repairing a damaged relationship, but both sides must want to change. We can’t make people change because we want them to, but neither should we assume they never will. Acceptance of how things are in ‘the here and now’ keeps us living in the present and making the most of today.

Making the most of what we have. There is always someone who seems to have more than you or having better time of it, or so you think. But life is simpler if we learn to do the best we can, with the resources we have. There is a saying that 'When life gives you lemons - make lemonade '. It’s a quote you hear every now and again, when someone is talking about developing a positive mental attitude and especially when faced with adversity. It happens to be one of my favourite quotes and has evolved from Dale Carnegie’s original quote ‘When fate hands you a lemon, make lemonade.’ Whether you like the modern version or the original, both boil down to the same wisdom of trying to make the best of what you're given and playing the cards you're dealt etc.

I am now the result of every good piece of advice I have ever read, every fridge magnet that has ever inspired me, but most of all many years of careful soul searching and growing. I still have to remind myself constantly of all of the above and I have much, much more to learn. I’ve learnt that you are enriched by the people you meet on the journey, the experiences you share and recognizing that you can transform lemons if you want to. My next book is going to be entitled 'How to make lemonade'! Good luck.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Harriet Sergeant's review

Charlotte Fielder wrote this book for all parents who go for that first scan, or at the birth, find their new baby is missing a limb. It is a shattering experience. This excellent book offers them support, reassurance, moving and funny stories. It also offers something even more important. It offers the experience of Charlotte herself. For Charlotte was born without a left hand.

The first time I met Charlotte, it was at a Christmas party. She was entrancing a circle of people – mostly high ranking police officers and politicians. She was doing this by being entirely herself. She is funny, original and a very hardworking government employee. Everyone wanted to hear what she had to say. As she talked, she waved both her one beautifully manicured and beringed hand together with Fred, the name she gives her stump, with equal animation and confidence. Fred is never tucked away. He is out there as much a part of Charlotte as her kindness, style and humour.

This confidence appears to come to Charlotte as easily as breathing. In fact it was hard won as her determination to write this book shows. She was bullied at school and left at 16. She knows the humiliation of being a bright, attractive but one handed teenager. When she talks, you listen. But you do not despair. For Charlotte’s unique personality permeates every page. The ultimate message of this book to the new parent is one of hope. They will learn many things but the most important is that nothing need stop their child growing up to be like Charlotte – an amazing human being.

Harriet Sergeant is author of five widely aclaimed Think Tank reports on immigration, the NHS, the Police and the Care System. She has also written three books on South Africa, Shanghai and Japan. She has written for numerous newspapers and magazines in Britain and abroad and frequently appears on radio and television.