Cramp

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Healthy work habits

If I continue the analogy that I used in a previous post, of this year being about swimming away from Mummy towards Amanda, I think it’s fair to say that I now have cramp.

I’ve always been a bit all-or-nothing. My therapist said it was the cause of my poor mental health, that I see everything and live everything in black and white.

January was no different.

As well as working on the project I managed to secure through Findaproofreader, and planning and executing my daughter’s 8th birthday party (you know, making a glitter ball pinata and glitter jelly and glitter ball cakes and a playlist and all that jazz), I’ve also been buying and selling furniture to get our house where we want it.

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Knitted pouffe

Oh and knitting my daughter’s pouffe for her birthday. And trying to stay on top of all the domestic stuff like cooking and ironing (yawn). So, in the end, there’s been no time for actual swimming.

It turns out proofreading someone else’s novel takes a hundred times more energy and concentration than editing your own. To begin with, I only managed a couple of hours a day before my head was ready to explode. Thankfully it’s a good story, and so I wanted to know what happened next. I sent the finished work off today, on time and on budget. Hurrah.

But what’s really giving me cramp? The juggling.

I have always known how very lucky I am not to be a working parent. But there is one thing knowing you’re lucky, and another living the other life for a while. Especially at a time the school decided to double the kids’ homework (grrr to homework full stop, but especially for six and eight year olds), never mind Beavers and Brownies and karate and clubs and parties and play-dates. Oh my goodness, I don’t know if it’s Tuesday or Easter (or whatever that lovely phrase is).

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Amazing space

But it’s also great. I love having work to do. I am living the saying, ‘if you want something doing ask a busy person,’ as I’m getting much more done in a day than I used to. And I’m managing to work for more than a couple of hours a day, as my brain adjusts. New glasses help! (Turns out my eyes are getting better – there had to be some compensation to getting older.)
The best bit is spending my wages on a new wardrobe for my daughter (although that caused its own drama), not just to make her happy, but to sort out her room to make me happy.

Of course I’ve probably spent my wages about eight times over, but that’s not the point! The point is I have wages to spend. And let’s hope there is more to come, because I’m so jealous of my daughter’s fabulous wardrobe, I want to do our room next!

But in the meantime, I’m actually glad it’s half term in a week. I could use the rest, and perhaps, finally, get a chance to go for a swim.

Proofreader: Found

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All lovely things I’ve bought

It’s no secret that I’m a complete shopaholic.

It’s a terrible thing to admit in a world devastated by frivolous consumption. But I am a true child of the 80s and shopping makes me happy. Especially finding charity shop bargains or nabbing a deal on marketplace sites.

But life as a self-published author is not exactly lucrative. It’s a good year if I break even between what I make selling books and what I spend on editing and cover art.

What to do?

Well the obvious solution has always been get a job. But it isn’t that straightforward. Our life works because I don’t. We’ve made choices to allow me to be at home, running the house, and my reward for large amounts of tedious boredom and no income is huge amounts of time to swim, read and knit.

But oh, the shopping.

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Cutie Caramel

I miss guilt-free ‘it’s my money, I earned it, I’ll spend it how I like’ shopping. It doesn’t matter that I know part of my husband’s income is due to me for the cooking, cleaning, ironing and childcare. It’s not the same. That’s just pin money.

Until now.

Through a series of marvellous coincidences, I started working last year, transcribing audio, and then editing a memoir.

This year I decided to take a risk and pay to advertise on Findaproofreader. And, what do you know, it worked! And now I am working too.

So if you or a friend need a proofreader, editor, audio-typist, or writing buddy, look me up. You’ll be helping me make my house beautiful and my kids and guinea pigs happy. Of course, I’d still rather sell books than time, but both are awesome.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go shopping now…

Envying the Extraordinary

Raven.jpgI have just finished The Raven King, the last in The Raven Cycle, by Maggie Stiefvater.

Oh. My. Lord.

Mind. Blown.

I loved the first book in the series, The Raven Boys, when I read it way back when (three years ago, apparently), and was bereft at how it just ended dead (well, bloomin furious is probably closer).

Then I read Dream Thieves and darn me if it didn’t happen again, although the beautiful organic prose made it almost okay. So, when Blue Lily, Lily Blue came out, I was still a little resentful, and not quite ready to re-read the first two and catch up.

I’m glad I waited because it meant I could consume all four books inside a month.

I’m trying to describe how I feel, without giving anything away: it’s a series that has to be appreciated without anything resembling a spoiler. The reveal, the experiencing alongside the characters, is the heart and soul of it.

To borrow a shadow of Maggie Stiefvater’s masterful imagery, I feel like I have hiked up an impossible mountain, thinking the view couldn’t get any better, certain I’ll be disappointed. And then the top is a panoramic view of a magical world. And then – and then – there’s a crystal ice-clear lake, and I jump in, and I’m shocked and shaking and tingling and alive all at once.

That.

I want to hold the book, the characters, the story, the journey, hold it to my face, like I do the guinea pigs, and sink into the warmth and comfort and escapism of it.

And yet.

I also want to write like that. And I know I can’t. And it’s okay.

Sort of.

It’s like at school, when I didn’t do A Level Art, because I was never going to get an A, and I wanted to go to Cambridge University (or other people thought I should want to, I can’t really remember) and because the other kids were just so amazing at all sorts of artistry I couldn’t even dream of, and I was never going to produce something like that out of my mundane and stubborn imagination.

So I did History and Maths and English Literature, and quietly slowly smothered my creativity and turned myself into an academic and then a number-cruncher.

*Shudder*

I can’t let my awe-ful (in the full-of-awe sense) admiration, hunger and desire for these books, this writing, this powerful imagery and incredible world-building, I can’t let it stop me being the writer I am. Just because I can’t get an A, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t continue to create.

But oh my. To write like that. To be able to give ten years to a set of books – ten years! To persist and dream and create and build and then – let go! How hard must it have been to finish? Just finishing reading them was hard enough. The only thing I admire more than the talent and vision is the sheer dedication and determination. I get bored writing a book after ten weeks.

Anyway, I’m still rather swept up in the Raven Cycle , the hyperbolic, dreamy, electrically charged world. So, sorry for the slightly dreamy hyperbolic post.

I’m not quite ready to come back to earth.

Normal service will resume when I tear myself away from the mountain top. Just a little bit longer.

A New Page

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My new obsession!

2016. We’ll that happened.

Whether you look externally or internally, whether it was euphoric Andy Murray world number one male tennis star, or terrifying politics both sides of the pond, or tragic loss of too much talent (and about half my teen idols) it was a year to remember. And forget.

I don’t do New Year generally. Since the children started school, my fresh start and broken resolutions begin in September.

But, like many, I have dragged myself over the finish line of 2016 so very ready for a new beginning.

Not resolutions, well not like lose weight and quit wine (as I read somewhere on Facebook, no one likes a skinny sober b!tch anyway). More like kick up the bum thoughts.

I got to the end of 2016 without really knowing what happened. Personal achievements were few and hard to recall. I only wrote one book and I feel ambivalent about that one. I did help edit a memoir, and found it rewarding. And we did loads to our house. But still.

I’m a mess of anxiety and contradiction. My kids called me lazy yesterday because I keep hiding in the bedroom, often asleep for hours at a time. I did point out that their 5.30am starts might have something to do with it (although that just makes every parent I know smugly point out that their children have been trained not to wake them until at least 7am. I must have missed that section of the parenting course. Oh, wait…)

But actually I’m hiding from myself. The mess of guilt and duty and boredom of being a work/stay at home mum. I loved helping another author bring their book into the world, but working on someone else’s deadline was ‘real’ work. The kids did childcare (and hated it). The house suffered. People ran out of clean/ironed clothes. I realised however much being a SAHM sucks sometimes it’s easier than self-employed mum.

But.

I was a person, I was appreciated. I was paid.

So, 2017, my plan is for structure. Goals, achievements. The children can adapt to a working-a-bit-more-often mum, just as they adapted to karate mum. This time next year I will have written novels, plural. Perhaps edited a few for others. Maybe even sell some craft on Etsy. Exercise. Read more. Hide less.

Yesterday I took the children swimming and was able to swim away from them (while watching over my shoulder) properly for the first time. They didn’t drown. They did fine.

2017 I’m going to swim away from Mummy towards Amanda. But I’ll still be watching them. Because Mum is a job for life. Just maybe not my only one.

Happy New Year.

Cadge me a Curse Word

img_5623Recently my use of ‘Mummy Words’ (mostly ending in uck) has increased exponentially. I seem to be in a permanent grump, with the children, the dog, the weather, the traffic. And it expresses itself in short sharp swear words.

I did wonder if it’s because of some of the parenting blogs I follow on Facebook, that make swearing not just okay but a fundamental part of surviving parenthood. My favourite at the moment is Peter and Jane. If you haven’t come across it, and you have children living at home (or indeed a husband addicted to gadgets or a judgy dog) and you don’t mind more than a few words ending in *uck and *wat, then I highly recommend it. It’s easily the highlight of my day, although possibly it contributes to my rage by vicarious experience and empathy.

But, thinking about it more recently, I have realised what swearing is to me at the moment. It’s a packet of cigarettes.

I started smoking when I was fourteen and realised it was the only way to get a break when working in catering. I did a summer stint in a posh burger bar at Goodwood Races, and soon joined the girls having a crafty fag in the ladies toilets.

I rarely smoked excessively. Only when I absolutely hated my first proper job, shortly before having a breakdown and quitting everything, did I reach anything like a twenty-a-day habit. Then it was because two other girls I worked with were having a hard time too, and the ‘Fancy one?’ email used to come from one of us to the other two at least every half an hour.

I quit smoking when I went travelling in New Zealand and realised I couldn’t possibly afford it. Until I fell for the manager of a hostel I was staying in, and learned how to roll my own so I could cadge a light on the hostel steps – the only way I’ve ever known how to strike up a conversation with a stranger. It worked too, we lived together for a while.

Of course I quit smoking for good over eight years ago, when I discovered I was pregnant. I can honestly say I haven’t had a single one since. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ve inhaled deeply a few times when passing someone with a roll-up or a Marlboro Light.

I am a hypocrite too, because I hate smoking now with the zeal of the quitter. I don’t even like people vaping near my children, and I’m amazed anyone still does it.

Except…

At times like this, when I’m super-stressed, and the world feels out of control, and people are asking things of me left and right, and the children are being vile, and the weather is awful, and I just want it All. To. Stop. I miss it.

I miss drawing deeply in anger on a burning stick, I miss the camaraderie of the cadged fag. I miss the control. The doing something. The reason to be still for five minutes to do nothing but breathe, even if it is breathing toxic life-ending chemicals.

I realise that my current addiction to coffee, my previous need for a glass of wine every night, my constant search for chocolate or cakes or something to feed the soul hole, are all part of the same thing. Trying to fill the void. Trying to find control in chaos.

And my latest addiction? (Apart from wine and coffee and chocolate and sleep). Swearing. Being able to use forbidden words. Relishing the bite of them. Giving myself permission to tell the family to FO to their face, however wrong it is, just to take back the wheel of my life and who I am as a person.

I love my family. I love my life. I remember being shocked when my doctor asked me in a judgemental way if I didn’t like my children and regretted having them, when I explained my antidepressant dose didn’t seem to be enough to survive the summer holidays. And I couldn’t put into words the dichotomy of love and hate, of giving everything for them but yearning for something for me, the finding of self in being a mother but the massive loss of the self I used to be. The loving being needed but the suffocating prison of it. The days when I can’t breathe because of the pressure of needing to be a person I’m intrinsically not inside: calm, patient, loving, tactile, organised, nurturing.

And on those days I go back to my life working in a bar, or travelling, or hanging out with educated women who say fuck, and I swear.

And I love it.

Can I cadge a swear word?

Life

img_5537The more the world goes crazy, the harder it is to write a blog post. I can’t gather myself enough to write anything meaningful about Trump or the NZ earthquake (tearing up roads I remember driving along fifteen years ago) or the gutter press (too many horrors to mention).

But equally a trivial post about my little personal battles with depression, children, writing, builders or being an HSP seems too frivolous to mention. (I hate the term HSP – Highly Sensitive Person. it makes me sound like Mrs Bennett: ‘Oh Kitty, stop coughing, have a thought for my poor nerves nerves.’ Although actually that pretty much sums me up at the moment.)

img_5523I went to Remembrance parade with the children yesterday, as they marched proudly, and stood silently and respectfully for hours, with their Beavers and Brownies packs. When the Brigadier addressed them all at the end, she said, ‘We were blessed with wonderful weather, although it’s always cold in November. Yet we parade whether it’s sunny, or raining, or pounding with hail. And it’s those times, when the weather is atrocious, that we come closest to understanding, albeit for a short time, what our soldiers endure for us.’ [I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but that was the gist.]

And sitting here now, finally in silence after my own personal few weeks of awfulness, on my own micro scale, it occurs to me that – trivial as my problems are – perhaps my context allows me to access the world’s suffering in a way I couldn’t if life were always sunny.

And when the sun does shine again (When my HSP stops being Hell is Sound and People and becomes Haven in Serenity and Personal space), I can imagine the world finding sunshine again too. When it feels, like now, that I’ll never not be teary and tired, angry and wired, I can know that healing comes to everything eventually. Trump isn’t president yet, and can be booted out in four years (unlike Brexit 😔) New Zealand will recover and thrive, as it has done so many times. The Millennials will come together and fix the world, if only we 80s kids will step out of the way and let them.

Hope will survive.

Until then, HSP can mean Hoping Sanity Prevails.

Blank

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All the gear, no idea

For the first time in a very very long time I have (shhh) writer’s block.

Writer’s block doesn’t really exist: if you write every day, even if it’s rubbish, the ideas keep flowing and eventually a good story comes.

But I haven’t been writing every day. In fact I haven’t written something new since I penned a story for my niece back in April. I’ve either been editing existing works or doing other stuff. Knitting, gardening, moving all the downstairs furniture to make room for the decorators coming next Tuesday.

But it’s November. It’s Nanowrimo time. My audio-typing work is done, the children are back at school. I should be able to bang out a 50,000 word manuscript in four weeks. I’ve done nearly that much in four days before.

But the blank page is defeating me. Dog walking isn’t generating ideas like it should. My brain seems semi-comatose. I can’t even get the kids to give me ideas. My son wants a story about Ninjas or Minions, or he wants to write it with me (!), and my daughter isn’t interested in stories at all.

I even embraced technology, instead of giving in to my technophobia, and purchased a bluetooth keyboard to use with my super-duper new phone. That way I don’t even have to worry if the laptop has charge. But nope. Still nothing.

November is four days old already. Nano is happening all around me. I get the Cambridge Nano Facebook updates and people are hitting 10,000 words already. I haven’t done Nanowrimo for years, but I’ve not forgotten that it’s what got me writing novels in the first place.

But sometimes life conspires.

Actually I think partly what’s triggered it is the feedback I got from Mslexia after failing to make the longlist with Dragon Wraiths this time (it made it a few years ago). Their view was that too many stories start in predictable places: school, home. All my children’s books start in one of those two places. It’s hard to think of something else without plagiarising the fabulous books I’ve read or am reading.

Maybe I’m just trying too hard. When I started my first novel all those years ago, I proper-pantsed it. I had no idea, no character, nothing, just a free-write from a bunch of items on a table at college. Now, though, I know the hot mess I get into pantsing. I need to at least know my character, setting and end-goal.

At the moment I can’t even come up with one out of three! Nothing, zilch, nada.

I refuse to believe in Writer’s Block, but perhaps I can accept that everything has a season, and my season now is home-maker and knitter-extraordinaire.

That blank page still hurts though.