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A pretty bold statement I hear you say and I might even catch a slight chortle on the wind as you think what a Pratt. How can a website change your life? Well for me it is actually true. Let me see if I can explain and where better to do that than at the beginning so join me on a trip down memory lane as I take you on a journey that has led me to where I am today.
It was a cold dark afternoon on the tenth day of April in the year of our Lord 2004 and I was going through a spate of signing up for every survey site I could find and Ciao just happened to be one that I came across. It was a week later when after receiving no surveys I happened to take another look at the site. I noticed that as well as the surveys they promised to make me money by writing a few words about stuff lying around in my house. My interpretation at the time. Sounded good to me, after all how hard could it be? It wouldnít take five minutes to bang out the minimum word allowance and then sit back and watch the money roll in. It didnít take me long to realise that I was in for a long wait to make my fortune. Not to worry thinks I, at least a few people had read my feeble effort and some had left nice comments, ever the optimist a couple of days later I tried again, an attempt at a PC game review, again not a booker prize piece of writing but maybe I was getting the hang of it. I got a few more reads if nothing else and helpful is a positive rating isnít it.
Breakthrough the next day. Why not write about something I really knew about, I could write loads about my home town after all I had lived there for a large chunk of my life so I progressed to my first VH review, hey maybe I didnít suck at this lark quite as much as I was beginning to think I did. Meanwhile something was invading my head almost unbeknown to me. The community side of the site was creeping up on me. Guestbook messages appeared, someone wanted to talk to me, offer advice, have a chat and generally be nice to me. This was my first experience of that sort of thing on the net and I was nervous about replying. Reading and rating were something else that I found a little intimidating. Those coloured dots, those Ciao status symbols, only a few coloured pixels on a screen but for me as a lowly white dot I do remember feeling that rating a higher dot slightly worrying. A Jill Murphy, a Torr or a Coooeee and so many more wrote such fantastic pieces, how could I as a newbie rate and comment, would they look down on my comment and dismiss me or worse send a guestbook message berating me for daring to have an opinion on their work. I neednít have worried; nothing could have been further from the truth. I soon found that more brightly coloured dots than I were not only approachable but more than willing to help out me, the lowly newbie. So I was getting to grips with the site now and a guestbook message from a certain Miss Scarletribbons was the point at which I suddenly felt a sense of belonging. A COT addition, someone actually liked what I had written enough to add me to their circle of trust. Astounding, I was so pleased and I still cherish that message as a reminder of the day I felt I was accepted and welcomed into the Ciao community.
I donít know if it is me or how Ciao is and has evolved but the community side of the site for me anyway has changed since those days in 2004 when I spent hours talking to the friends I had made on here. Guestbook parties were a Saturday night event, messages were sent to friends every day. I came in from work and the first thing I did was check my GB for messages. Maybe it is the way it goes, that first all encompassing addiction meanders on and changes as time passes. Friends leave or become inactive and although more friends are made as time goes on I donít think the same feeling of camaraderie will happen again for me here. Yes I still enjoy talking to people and there are many good people on here that I would happily chew the fat with and do so on a regular basis but itís different somehow. It is hard to explain but I donít think I would be on here at three oíclock in the morning in a Guest Book virtual bar anymore. Maybe we grow maybe our circumstances change but for me that side of the Ciao addiction petered out almost without me noticing its passing.
And so my ciao experience progressed, I wrote product reviews and even did a few challenges, chatted to friends and got over virtual hangovers and all looked set to continue in similar vein but in August and September two things happened that with hindsight I can say are the two things that went more than any to change my life. The first occurred on the 19th of August 2004 when I wrote a joint review with Elffriend. It was called the Italian connection and it took us on a virtual visit to an Italian restaurant where we got to know a little more about each other and the reader hopefully got to know both of us a little better. Innocuous on its own but it does stand out as having an important impact on things to come. The second happened the next month, I remember it was a Saturday afternoon and out of the blue an idea for a story popped into my head. At that point I hadnít thought of doing any really creative writing on Ciao, hadnít really thought of doing any at all if I am completely honest but that idea stuck, it was so vivid that I just sat down and started typing. The story was called the Beach and at the time I thought it was a clever concept, I still do if I am honest although if I rewrote it I might do it a little differently, I wonít though that story will stay as it is as a reminder to me. It seemed that several others thought it was good too and I received some great comments on what was my first attempt at story writing since school. That story gave me belief in myself. I could write a story that people would like to read and I enjoyed doing it. Many more followed that first attempt, in fact for a goodly while I was almost exclusively writing in the cafť. Maligned by some members I know, and not as well read as product reviews (partly because it is made hard to find by the powers that be at Ciao I would suspect) but it is still my favourite place to read and to write on Ciao.
It was toward the end of 2005 when things changed. Elffriend left Ciao for her reasons of her own and I think Ciao lost one of its best writers that day; however Ciaoís loss was my gain in many respects. After completing the Nanowrimo challenge that year we decided to do something radical. We had both come a long way on Ciao in terms of improving our writing and one of us mentioned that we should try writing a book of short stories. Fiction written by both of us had gone down really well with the good people of Ciao so why not have a go at writing a book of short stories.
And so we started, we swapped ideas, thought things through and came up with the notion of a house. Not just any house but a house with a long history that we could write stories about. Eager to begin we started to plan and to write stories about our house. Before too long those stories were linked ever closer and we decided that it was a book of short stories no longer but a novel telling the story of the Meverall family of Halleswell Hall. So after several rewrites of large parts of it we were satisfied that we had turned our short stories into a novel and so with crossed fingers we sent it off to publishers. A nervous time ensued as we waited for a yes or no. Joy of joys our attempts were accepted and so now we will be able to call ourselves authors when Halleswell Hall is published at the end of this month, exiting times indeed. Out of writing Halleswell Hall also came the two websites that I run and we are now deep in the planning stage of a new novel one that I am really exited about and will hopefully be a fiction event rather than just another book. I really do have that much confidence in what we are planning for this one.
Anyway so what has all that got to do with Ciao? Well I have to ask myself, would I have got back into writing, would I ever have even dreamed of writing a novel, would I have had the confidence and the ability to be able to write a novel if I had not joined Ciao? The answer is no to all of those questions I am sure of it. So for me Ciao has enabled me to fulfil a latent ambition to have work of mine published. Ciao introduced me to Lisa to make Halleswell Hall and our future projects possible and so to me yes, Ciao has changed my life in a very real way.
So what does my Ciao future hold? Well I am closing in on my hundredth review. I am planning to do something I hope will be rather entertaining. There are still some characters available in that for volunteers who would like to have a role in the story so if you want to volunteer let me know. Apart from that I hope to make new acquaintances and continue to enjoy talking to existing friends. Also I hope to continue to write and ever so slowly make my way to the metal dots and enjoy the Ciao experience as I have over the last three years.
The first part of that read exactly how I found ciao...and the 3 O'clock bar...teehee....wow at the book...I wish you buckets of luck and truckloads of success......and I hope you get lots of volunteers for your play..... :-) xx