Helping Others

Imagine not being able to move any part of your body except your head. You’re completely immobile, but not unaware. You have 20/20 vision. Your hearing is perfectly in tune. Your mind is alert. You can speak. You have very little sensation on your skin below your shoulders, but you can feel external pressure and internal pain. You have needs – thirst, hunger, warmth, comfort, company, stimulation and entertainment, but you’re unable to help yourself and you’re stuck alone with your thoughts. Emotions overwhelm you, but there is nothing… nothing you can do. You can’t wipe away your tears or rub the itch on your cheeks.

To be in a motionless state, trapped inside a paralysed body with nothing to do is hell on earth. No company. No radio, television, books, telephone or computer. Nothing, just you, staring into space.  It’s how I imagine solitary confinement to be, but worse, because you’re not guilty of any horrific crime against humanity, so the punishment almost seems unjustified.

Phumla was given that life sentence, but she was only fourteen years old. Her life had barely begun, yet she’d already faced more challenges than most people do in a lifetime.

Phumla Innocententia Charles was born on 28 March, 1996 with a hole in her heart. She spent a great deal of her childhood in and out of hospitals. In 2010, she was in an ambulance, between Mbombela and Pretoria en route to see her specialist. The ambulance driver fell asleep at the wheel and smashed into the back of a truck. Phumla was left paralysed from the neck down, like me, and robbed of the best years of her life.

I only just met Phumla recently through her dedicated occupational therapist, Mariaan Teubes, who’d come seeking advice from me on the specific needs of quadriplegics. When I heard Phumla’s story and how she dreams of finishing school, I knew that I needed to get involved. Since my accident in 1998, the rapid advancement of technology had saved my sanity by restoring a small part of my independence. Therefore I had a clear understanding of the difference it could make in Phumla’s life.

At the beginning of this year, Phumla took a giant leap to do grade 10 via correspondence which is no easy commitment, not even for an able-bodied student. She relied on others to turn the pages of her books and scribes to write her assignments and exams. Her big, beautiful eyes and shy smile, despite her severe circumstances, immediately touched my heart and I knew that this young lady was special. So I posted an appeal on Facebook, hoping to find a willing Earth Angel to help us get Phumla a laptop, powerful enough to run the specialised voice activated software, Dragon NaturallySpeaking. This will enable her to, once again, do what most people take for granted – read, write and learn on her own without help.

Some very special Earth Angels answered my call.

Miles Crisp from the Tarsus Technology Group offered to donate a laptop. He set his Johannesburg team in motion, and before long the Nelspruit branch manager, Jacques Robinson delivered a brand-new, state-of-the-art laptop. Going the extra mile, Jacques has committed to walking (rolling) this journey with me to get Phumla set up with everything she may require from an IT point of view to follow her dream of getting her matric. He is also working on getting her quality broadband connectivity at home, which will grant her the privilege of being able to do her own research for future school projects. She’ll also be able to navigate social media and thus engage with others who live with similar physical circumstances and find much-needed emotional support. She’ll be able to cultivate personal and intimate relationships and not feel so isolated. In time she will be able to work and contribute meaningfully to society and, once again, truly live.

Computer whiz, fourteen-year-old Ernst van der Merwe gave up some of his holiday to help me teach Phumla to use her new voice programme. He also loaded the WhatsApp web version onto her laptop. The smile on her face when she sent her very first message on her own was priceless.

Some of my amazing Facebook friends also made generous donations to fulfil some of Phumla’s other needs because they don’t stop at a laptop.

There aren’t enough words to express gratitude to the Earth Angels who give of themselves, physically, emotionally and financially to make a difference.

Look out world, Phumla Charles is on her way.

Jacques Robinson handing over the new laptop to Phumla.

Jacques Robinson handing over the new laptop to Phumla.

Ernst van der Merwe setting everything up.

Ernst van der Merwe setting everything up.

And away she goes.…

And away she goes.…

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Monday Motivation: At the heart of story, a wretched conundrum

Wow! I feature in a Monday Motivation for writers. Honoured.


​​​​Image courtesy ​​World of Good

Paul Smith was a business owner who devoted 80 hours a week to keeping the business afloat. (That is, as you will see, an apt metaphor.) The work was so demanding, and the Great Recession so crippling, that he found himself managing a bankrupt business, and presiding over a dysfunctional marriage.

When things were falling apart, he sought work as the groundsman on a large canal marina, and took up residence, sans wife and family, on a venerable and clapped out narrowboat called James.

He had no money, he had no resources, he had no partner to shoulder the burden of failure.

Slowly he started putting his life together once again…

Tracy had everything going for her. A husband she adored. A baby she would have given her life for. A vital, energetic and beautiful woman, she lived with her family on an…

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The secrets behind the practice of good writing: 16

Guilty, as charged. I love how writing teaches you more about yourself and life.


16 SecretsThe Secret of the Tic’ing Clock

Anything becomes a tic if you use it more than a couple of times. It’s a funny thing about writing. A reader might happily notice an action taken once, twice, even three times. But after that, it begins to irritate.

It’s not that the action itself is wrong, or even that it might not happen that many times in real life. This became abundantly clear when reading the completed manuscript of one of our mentoring participants.

She wrote a memoir – a deeply moving and uplifting memoir of her superhuman effort in overcoming extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Believe me, you and I would have cried many, many more times than she mentioned in her manuscript.

When reading her monthly submissions, I didn’t even notice the tears, because there was so much strength in her other actions. It was only when we read the full manuscript…

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Dark Torment by Tracy Todd

My first interview as an “author.”

I can’t help feeling proud that my short story was selected to be published in the book 36 Hours. It’s only a baby step, I know, but all part of my dream of having my memoir published which is currently in the hands of a publisher who has yet to decide whether they will publish it or not.

Keep holding thumbs.


We asked the authors who jointly contributed to the 36 Hours anthology a number of questions about their writing. Here are Tracy Todd’s responses:

Tracy Todd (2)

Is your short story fact or fiction – or a mix of the two? My story is fact.

What was the inspiration behind your story? Frustration. You’ll have to read the story to understand why.

Have you written many short stories? Is this your genre? No. Never. I’ve only ever written blog posts and a few magazine articles, reflecting on life as a quadriplegic.

Any novels? That is on my ‘to do’ list.

What do you prefer to read – short stories or novels? Or what do you love about each one? Why? Both. Depending on what mood I’m in. Short stories are lovely to read when you want something to read, just before bedtime to take your mind off your own troubles. Novels are great for long…

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36 Hours, 20 Writers, 4 Countries, 1 Anthology

I’m very proud that my short story made it into this book.


36 HoursThirty-six hours… Twenty writers… One anthology. On a mid-winter weekend last year, Allaboutwriting enticed a group of writers to a Magaliesberg retreat to write. Their challenge was to write a short story in under two days, from initial inspiration to The End. We spliced in stories by writers who participated online – plus the winners of a competition we ran later in the year.

We’re excited to launch 36 Hours which includes not only all the short stories but also advice on how to write a short story – advice given to our authors at the start of their mid-winter marathon.

To celebrate the publication of 36 Hours we thought we’d give you a taste of each short story – the first lines. We hope they whet your appetite.

You can buy a hard copy of 36 Hours from us at the Indie Book Fair, tomorrow Friday 20 March (we’ll…

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Advantages of Being a Quadriplegic

It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong in your life and most people would think that it’s inconceivable to find anything positive about being a quadriplegic. But when I started writing a list of advantages of being paralysed from the neck down, I was surprised by how much I could come up with. Please feel free to add to this list in the comments section.

  • Time is a gift to us all. Most people prefer to use it up doing menial tasks. I’ll sit with you for hours without getting up to do the dishes, not even once. Just bring along some stimulating conversation and don’t forget the wine.
  • My manicures last, because I don’t have to do the dishes. Ever.
  • The best thing about ordering prawns in a restaurant is that I don’t have to peel them, and if we eat them at home, I’m not the one responsible for cleaning them.
  • I can be a stay-at-home mom and housewife without guilt because nobody will employ me.
  • Waxing or epilating body hair is not for sissies. Clearly, I’m not one. I don’t feel a thing.
  • I get away with being bossy by giving it a fancy name: verbal independence. Without me telling you what to do, how will you know what I want, when I want it or how I want it?
  • Living life at butt-height can get very interesting, depending on whose butt I’m following. If my jaw is unhinged and my face is flushed, you’ll know that the butt cheeks are hot, hot, hot. Crotches can be scary though, especially if the zipper has been left open or they are wearing cookie cutters.
  • When I’m having a bad day, I have a good excuse to feel sorry for myself because that is what people expect from people living with a disability.
  • A drop dead gorgeous man will make my knees weak, but since I’m already seated, it won’t be obvious that I’m making a fool of myself.
  • It’s easy to fake calmness in any situation because my body will not react any other way.
  • Being short means that I don’t have far to fall. I like doing all my own stunts.
  • Not being able to do my own hair and make-up gives me a good enough reason to have it done professionally often.
  • I’ll be the last to leave any cocktail party when everybody’s legs are aching from standing all evening.
  • No matter where I go, I’m always waited on like a princess.
  • I never have to remember to load a chair in the back of my van.
  • I can’t get drunk on my own, so I always need someone to share the bubbles and laughter.
  • My butt looks big because I have a wheelchair stuck to it. What’s your excuse?
  • I can’t feel the pain and discomfort of ingrown toenails and shingles that often occur in my body.
  • As long as the mosquitoes follow my directions and bite me below my shoulders, I don’t feel the itch.
  • When I was little I wanted to be a model. Now I’ll always be a ‘roll’ model.
  • I can shop for hours without complaining about aching legs.
  • I can wear stiletto heels without complaining about aching feet.
  • There is always a reserved parking spot for me, although I wish they wouldn’t put it at the front of a building because lazy idiots tend to steal it.
  • I don’t have to stand up during those long hymns and prayers in church.
  • Disability shows up your strengths and weaknesses very quickly, so I know myself well.
  • I can run at 15 km/h without ever getting tired.
  • I can’t squeeze pimples, which means they heal a lot faster and they don’t leave ugly scars. Yes, I still get them. What’s up with that at forty-five?
  • Paralysis has taught me many life lessons – patience, acceptance, courage, compassion… And the list goes on. I’ve also learnt to accept the things I cannot change and focus on the things I can.
  • I can bump into somebody and they are always the one to feel bad and apologise.
  • My shoes never wear out. In my case, they should come with a lifetime guarantee.
  • I have a medical excuse for a fat tummy. It’s called quad gut. Being paralysed means I don’t have to worry about pulling in my tummy. What’s your excuse?
  • Injections don’t hurt. But, to be honest, they still terrify me.
  • I often get pushed to the front of the queue.
  • I can never be forced to give a standing ovation at a performance that sucked.
  • I never have to deal with a cold toilet seat.
  • People think I’m deaf, so I get to hear a lot more than I should.
  • I can be carried to bed every night. Thank God for my Sexy Legs.
  • I always stick out in a crowd. There’s no need to wave to get anybody’s attention.
  • I can wangle neck massages from anyone by just tipping my head and saying, “Ouch!”
  • I’m a cheap date because I get to drink everything through a straw. No more than two drinks and I’ll be plastered. Guaranteed.
  • I get to have dogs without the responsibility of picking up their turds. But if I don’t get somebody to do it, it backfires on me by getting stuck in my wheels.
  • My date has to feed me, which is awesome foreplay.
  • My ears are like little pleasure buttons in an erotic zone. Fortunately my ENT is attractive. It makes going to the doctor so much more worthwhile.
  • I can pee lying down. If I use an indwelling catheter at night time, I don’t ever have to worry about having wet dreams. That means I can play with fire too.
  • I can write without lifting a finger.
  • People love to take my photograph. It must be my smile.
  • I never have to pack and unpack my luggage when going away.
  • I don’t have to do the ironing. I hate ironing. And cooking.


It’s no wonder some people fake being paralysed because my life is not so bad after all.

I’m looking forward to your contributions.

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A New Love

I haven’t written in this space for a long while. To be back feels strange, and good. If you’re reading this, it means you haven’t given up on me, just yet. Thank you.

The truth is that I’ve been in a new relationship which has consumed all of me. That’s a lame excuse, I know, and I’m ashamed that I’ve neglected you and this blog. I apologise that I haven’t made time to respond to some of your comments. I hope that you’ll forgive me.

I have fallen in love though.

Not with someone new. Sexy Legs is still very much part of my life.

But rather I’ve grown to love WRITING.

I’ve never considered myself to be creative in anything specific, but the desire to express myself in a creative way, never disappeared. If anything, that need became even stronger after my paralysis. I craved a means of relaxing and an outlet for personal frustrations, joys and sorrows. Well-meaning people suggested that I learn to paint with my mouth. I have the utmost respect for those artists, but it wasn’t for me. Disability shows up your strengths and weaknesses in a quick and profound manner. I’m not artistic, but I have an innate need to be creative. I discovered that I enjoyed writing after I started this blog. Your support and encouragement kept me going, and this engaging community grew my confidence.

During a creative slump last year, I signed up to do an online writing course run by renowned author, Charlene Smith. It was one of those impulsive decisions that you question, yet in the end, do not regret.

At first, it felt more like an affair that I needed to keep secret. I was afraid of failing and having unrealistic expectations. But the butterflies and the tingles persisted. Writing was on my mind day and night. I spent more time in front of my computer than ever before, but now, I wasn’t only filling a void through social media, I was learning and being constructive and creative. I met wonderful people from all over the world who shared the dream of writing a book. I’d never felt so stimulated. It was like I’d found a little piece of me that I never knew was missing.

That’s when I realised that I’d, unexpectedly, fallen deeply in love with writing.

Charlene helped me choose a working title: Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon.

  • Tracy means brave.
  • My second name, Lian is of Chinese origin, and it means Lotus flower.
  • I ‘ride’ through life in a wheelchair.
  • Becoming paralysed has to be scariest dragon I’ve ever faced, and my memoir aims to show how I tamed it enough to live with. I wish I could say that I’d slayed it, but taming it comes close. Also, Dragon NaturallySpeaking software enables me to write without hands.

Although I’d been told that publishers get to make the decision on what to call your book, the title we’d chosen inspired me. Once I had completed the course, I dumped my life story onto my computer, working late into the night most days. Then Charlene gave me great advice on how to proceed.

But, still, I felt overwhelmed. I wanted somebody to hold my hand. So I joined All About Writing’s mentoring programme where Trish Urquhart, Richard Beynon and Jo-Anne Richards guided me through the process with patience, encouragement and practical advice. The interaction with my fellow wannabe writers was invaluable.

The journey has been challenging, and agonising at times. I completely underestimated the roller coaster emotions, and they were worse during the rewrite. It’s not easy to put yourself out there and lay your own character flaws bare. It’s a lot harder to write a book than I ever imagined. I have a whole new respect for published authors. But my mentors taught me that everybody can learn to write, and like an art, it can improve with practice, especially if you want to do it badly enough.

So after a decade of false starts and procrastinating on writing my memoir, I finally did it.

I’ve handed in my completed manuscript and I’m waiting for feedback from Richard and Jo-Anne. Even though there is a huge possibility that I’ll need to rewrite it again, I feel a sense of pride and accomplishment. Finally, I feel like I have the ability to produce a story that I can be proud of. And if the universe allows, I may even be lucky enough to have it published some day.

Please hold thumbs, and toes, that I can pull this off.

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