Noticed

I read a quote on Facebook this morning that said,

We are all just waiting for someone to notice… notice our pain, notice our scars, notice our fear, notice our joy, notice our triumphs, notice our courage. And the one who notices is a rare and beautiful gift.” – Rachel Macy Stafford, Only Love Today

It made me realise that all the things we see in the news, all the stuff happening – good and bad – is a result of people trying to be noticed.

Watching in horror at what is happening in Charlottesville, I realised that the problem with white privilege is that most people are not aware of it. If you are born into a position where you don’t have to fight to get a vote, fight to get equal pay, fight not to be searched for no reason on the streets, fight to be allowed to marry for love, fight for representation in government – if these things happen just because of who you are and where you were born – then you don’t feel noticed.

The counter-reaction ‘All Lives Matter’ to ‘Black Lives Matter’ is the perfect example. We all want to feel special, but if you don’t realise that you are special just by winning the birth lottery, you need to find a new way of being noticed. Never mind that ‘being noticed’ for many is being abused, hated, feared, belittled and demonised.

And oh, social media; the perfect platform for the invisible. Trolls, trying to be noticed by being controversial. Bigots and racists and Trump supporters getting a voice and being noticed in their droves, screaming into the void and not caring who they are stomping over in their desperate need to be somebody. Even average, probably lovely, people on my local Facebook social page, bragging about calling 999 because someone is playing their music too loud at midnight on a Saturday.

Us creatives write our books, knit our toys, paint our pictures, and then wait for the world to notice and be impressed (or maybe that’s just me!) We look for nice reviews, good reactions, a heart emoji on a Facebook share, because it makes us feel special.

Actually, that’s true for everybody. I read somewhere that the physical reaction to getting likes on a Facebook post or a Tweet is similar to the high from a drug. That’s why children are glued to their phones, seeking affirmation. The louder, busier, noisier the world gets, the harder it is to feel special, the more extreme our efforts need to be to get heard.

I think about when I was a child. I knew about twenty people. I knew people were my friends because they said so, or sent me a note in class, or came round to play.

I got noticed by being good at school. I was desperate for teacher praise and it took me all the way to a first-class degree. My sister was ace at gymnastics and competed at county. We felt real because of what we achieved, and it made us try hard to excel at those things.

My kids now want to have YouTube channels and Instagram accounts. They’re 6 and 8. They want to be noticed by people who don’t know them and won’t care about hurting their feelings, and they don’t understand why I am reluctant to let them. I want them to have the simpler life I had – I want them to compete at karate if they want recognition, or excel at school. I suspect that feels like too much work, when they watch Kacy and Jacy with their 1.7M subscribers and 8M views (Although the girls must have worked so hard to make as many videos as they have, and they do some crazy things). I cringe every time they lovely girls sign off their videos with “We love you sooooo much.” Really?

There is an upside to social media of course. We can connect with our tribe. We can be noticed by people who are like us. As I was searching for the Rachel Stafford quotation above, I read the page of the book that it is from (I must read the whole book, it looks lovely. I follow the Facebook page). Rachel describes an incident in a café, where her daughter reassures someone who made an error by saying, “That happens to me.” That is the core of tribe. We can be noticed and appreciated by people who get us. Empathy goes a long way, and is at the heart of good noticing. Noticing to be able to say, “Me too”.

My blog is my happy space of followers who understand me, who accept me for who I am. Ditto the parenting blogs I follow on Facebook. The one where 500 people shared photos of their messy houses to make a mother feel better about not being able to live up to the glossy magazine ideal. The blogs with mums reaching for wine in the holidays or wanting to sell their kids on ebay (don’t be silly, you made him, sell him on etsy, one meme says). Being noticed by friends who see you having good days and bad days. Social media can stop us being lonely. But there is a fine line between quenching the desire to be noticed and life being defined by the search for it.

That said, actively noticing people can be such a positive thing. So much of children playing up is because they want to be seen. Although by this point in the summer holidays the phrase “Mummy, look at me!” is driving me to distraction, remembering what is at the heart of it makes life so much easier. I can tell when my children feel like I don’t see them. That’s when they nag and pester and fight and become impossible to live with. They’ll even take shouting and tears from me as evidence that they exist: Any reaction is better than no reaction. If I’m not careful I’ll turn them into Twitter Trolls. Recognising what is at the root of it means occasionally I know to stop, turn off the phone, make eye contact, actually notice what they’re trying to show me. It’s exhausting but oh so rewarding. And a little noticing goes a long way.

For me, too, I can tell when I’m grumpy with my husband because he hasn’t seen me, or something I’ve achieved. These days I just hand him the words. “Please notice that I spent two hours cleaning the kitchen because your dad is coming over. No, that’s not enough Wow, more noticing please.” It works, for us, even though it makes me feel like a petulant child. And for him too, often the most invisible person in the household because he asks for so little. Telling him he looks handsome (rather than noticing he needs a shower!) transforms him. I should do it more often. But we do our best.

Sometimes we steal the line from Avatar, which puts it more succinctly than a thousand-word blog post.

“I see you.”

No Words

IMG_9059The blog is my neglected third child. I don’t mean to be a terrible blog mummy any more than I ever mean to be a rubbish parent to my children.

But really I have no words.

I truly understand the phrase ‘words fail me’. It doesn’t just mean I am silent but that words have let me down. They no longer come, they no longer work. I can no longer use them to explain the world or describe my feelings.

I have no words of patience for the children or answers to their endless questions.

I have no words to put in my characters’ mouths or to make small talk at the school gate.

When I see a tower burning because some people’s lives seem to matter more than others, I am mute.

When a government gets votes despite failing the majority, the only words that come are unrepeatable.

When a PM with a vanishing mandate props up her party with money stolen from nurses and firefighters I am robbed of a voice.

So I am hiding in things that require no words from me. I run. I knit. I listen to the words of others who see the world the way I do, through songs and social media. (Spotify is my new soul mate).

Hopefully I’ll be back to my normal garrulous self one day. In the meantime you can always hang out with me on Facebook where I’m trying to kickstart Knitty Cats again.

After all, what can you do when the world smothers your words but express yourself in any way you can?

Time to knit.

Who Am I?

61nqqvtzerlI recently bought the Moana soundtrack and it’s become my new favourite CD. Partly because I spent a year in New Zealand and the music makes me homesick. Partly because I called my first venture, selling abstract art, Moana Studios (Moana means ocean). I play it non-stop partly because the songs are so catchy with cleverly-crafted lyrics. But mostly I think the soundtrack is awesome because it reminds me why the movie is so good.

All Disney movies are great, particularly the newer ones, with strong female leads and a lesson to learn. They support values like family and being true to yourself and following your dream. As the Disney ‘Dream Big Princess’ advert suggests, there is a princess for everyone. If that’s true then Moana is mine. (And even though she’s not a princess, Maui says she must be because she has a skirt and a sidekick – very clever!)

Disney movies often show writing at its best, with a compelling story and a carrying theme, and Moana is the perfect example of this. It has all the ingredients: personal growth, humour, the whiff of death, and an upbeat ending. Most of all it has a unifying theme. One of my favourite things in literature (and movies) is when it is all tied together with a theme, but one that you don’t really notice until the end. The new non-animated Cinderella (another favourite) has lots of repeating tags throughout that tie it all together.

I didn’t realise it when I watched it, but Moana’s theme is about answering the question ‘Who am I?’ Not just for Moana, but for other characters like Maui and Te Fiti as well.

What makes Moana such a realistic character, and what I most love about her, is that she is conflicted between disparate things that all mean so much to her. She is torn between her family and what’s inside her heart, doing her duty and doing what brings her alive. Actually I guess all the Disney princesses have that battle, and I certainly think we can all relate to it.

In my favourite song, in answer to the question, “Do you know who you are?” Moana says,

“Who am I? I am a girl who loves my island. I’m the girl who loves the sea, it calls me.”

maxresdefaultShe then lists all the conflicts that have resolved into making her who she is. When she belts out the last line, “I am Moana!” it gives me goosebumps every time.

And envy.

Similarly Maui has to come to terms with his past and find happiness inside himself instead of in the approval of others, and Moana helps him do that. Even though he is the demi-god. Talk about girl power!

At the end of the movie (and avoiding spoilers) Moana says to Ta Fiti,

“They have stolen the heart from inside you… but this does not define you. This is not who you are.”

You are not defined by what others have done to you. What a message.

The movie closes with Moana leading her entire island to a proper understanding of who they are inside. By following her own dream, her own calling, she brings happiness to everyone.

Now isn’t that a lesson to takeaway?

 

The ‘What For?’ Week

IMG_8039For about a week every month, although it might be a fortnight and feels like a year, I hit a point where hormones and brain chemistry clash and the anti-depressants don’t quite do their job.

I always know, thankfully, because I can count contraceptive pills left in the pack, and the point at which I start feeling super-low is always when there are just five left.

Who’d be a woman?

That first day I am aware of the descending gloom. I start taking vitamin B supplements and eating fish and brazil nuts in an effort to stave off the dark cloud of ‘what’s the point?’

But by day two or three it’s easy to forget it’s chemical. Life has no meaning, just getting up and moving is a struggle. The sun can be beating down, like it is today, and I’m just hot and bothered. My world narrows and I feel like I’m stuffed with clouds of misery. I genuinely can see no point in going on. I have a copy of Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig but I haven’t read it, because the only time I remember I have it is when I’m so low reading it seems too much effort.

It sucks.

The What For? week is when I wish I had a job. I need to have to do something, because I have zero motivation. I can feed the kids and the guinea pigs and the husband and the dog. Dog gets walked too, albeit a fairly short ploddy amble. But that’s it. I spend the rest of the time asleep, because I have no drive to do anything else.

It sounds pathetic now I write it down. Such a white middle class privileged nonsense of depression. Who can’t find the motivation to mow the lawn or stack the dishwasher or hang out the laundry?

Even on a good week I struggle to get stuff done. I’m managing to get about an hour of writing planning and research done a day before I’ve (almost literally) lost the will to live.

I guess the problem with being a stay-at-home/self-employed/unemployed parent (whatever I am) is that everything is a choice. Sleep or paint the garden fences, sleep or vacuum the carpets, sleep or tidy the kitchen. Given that choice, how many would find it easier to choose sleep?

Anyway, it is only a week (or maybe a fortnight – it’s hard to tell when I start feeling better, it’s a bit like getting over a cold). And on the plus side I have started running again. When my legs can manage it I slot a run in between the bouts of sleep, so at least I feel like I did something vaguely productive, if only to my body.

And at least I have started planning a new novel. It’s taken a long long time to make that choice. It’s going slower than a hungover snail, and I don’t have much enthusiasm for writing any more, and I feel like everything I’ve ever written is complete pants, but in the back of my mind is still the hope I’ll pull something together that will make an agent not chuck it in the bin. One day.

In the meantime, I’m off to have some more vitamin B supplements and eat some salmon.

See you on the other side.

 

 

The Negative Effects of Binge Reading

Sorry I’ve been quiet recently. Life has been plodding on, I’ve done my amazing abseilling/caving/gorge walking/canoeing/via ferrata adventure. And I’ve been binge reading.

I was going to talk about the Big Five adventure, but I’m still hoping one of the lovely ladies we did it with will send me some photos (since our group all forgot to take cameras that weren’t attached to our phones) so I’ll save that for another day. Except to say it was awesome, and I didn’t really want to come home.

Aside from that, though, I’ve had my usual April stinking cold and so have been non-stop reading to stay sane.

And, oh my, I’ve read some amazing Middle Grade and Young Adult books. I don’t really go in for book reviews here on the blog, since you can’t do a book justice without giving away the essence of the story. A quick summary will have to suffice:

The Venice books by Holly Webb (MG)

hw_0001_7647_the-mermaidssister1I was so excited, when I was in Brighton, to see that there were three new books by Holly Webb, set in Venice. I bought them all, The Mermaid’s SisterMaskmaker’s Daughter, and the Girl of Glass, having loved The Water Horse.

I read the first one in a day (nearly missing my train). I loved Maskmaker’s Daughter too, but I’m saving Girl of Glass for a really bad day. Like the last biscuit in the packet, although who am I kidding, I never save that.

If you didn’t know that Holly Webb writes anything other than cutsie animal books, I definitely recommend her magic series for any avid reader over the age of around seven. The Rose and Lily series start it off, but these Venice ones can be read as standalone books (although they do follow on from each other in time).

The Twelve Minutes to Midnight Trilogy (MG)

20twelve20minutes20to20midnight-69446-3-456x699I picked these up in the library while the kids were playing, and consumed them in about a week. Brilliant historical / fantastical / detective novels which I only chose because I read another great book by the author, Christopher Edge. (The other book was The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, and caused me to swear at my husband for the first time ever, but that’s another story.)

The Twelve Minutes to Midnight Trilogy is published by Nosy Crow (which is another reason I picked them up, since I don’t judge books by their covers anymore but by their publishing house! Namely the ones I’d like to belong to.)

As an aside, these books inspired me to create a male pseudonym. Not because I think Christopher is secretly a girl, but because I wondered if gender bias extends into literary agencies. I’ll keep you posted.

How I Live Now (YA)

howlivenow050705_300x450This book by Meg Rosoff broke me. Seriously. I’d bought it ages ago and, like scouring the cupboard for forgotten chocolate, I needed to continue my binge and found it lost on a shelf.

It’s an amazing, compelling, shocking, unputdownable book. Although written thirteen years ago, it rings horribly true particularly now.

But the ending sucked big time. I walked around in an angry funk for days, genuinely hurt and hurting. I see they’ve made it into a film. I won’t be watching it.

51dyqcwyjjl-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Snow Merchant (MG)

This is another random Library pick up. God love libraries. Rather surreal and definitely weird but I still haven’t put it down.

Interestingly I’ve just googled it to put a link here, and I love how the author, Sam Gayton, describes writing it. Read the account here.

Rather brilliantly, that leads me on to the title of my blog post.

This binge reading has been brilliant, but it has had a rather unfortunate side effect. Writer’s block. Again. But this time linked with super-weird creative I-must-write-or-I’ll-go-mad dreams.

I wake up feeling exhausted, but with no idea of a story.

You see, the problem with binge-reading awesome books for me is that I think ‘I can’t ever write something that good, I don’t even know where to start’. So I don’t.

I want to write something new. Something amazing. Something unputdownable. And therein lies the problem. I don’t think you can start writing a book hoping that it will be amazing. I think you write a book because you are driven to write it, by the story or the characters or the theme.

I don’t feel driven, I feel depleted.

And still the words build up inside me. The crazy ideas, the vivid dreams. But I feel like all the good stories have been done, the ideas taken, all fleshed out into brilliance I can’t ever achieve.

They say you have to read to be a writer, and I know that it’s true. But for me, there has to be a long gap between one and the other.

Let’s hope I’m just in the reading phase, and when the kids go back to school next week (month, year) inspiration will strike. Or at least the energy to sit at my computer and write rubbish. Because I know, in my heart of hearts, none of these books started out brilliant. They all took slog and doubt and rewrite upon rewrite. I just need to begin.

But, until then, there are books to read.

 

 

Mini Adventure

IMG_7142

Today I am on a mini adventure.

I have left the family in the capable hands of my husband and travelled to Brighton. The lovely Paula Harward has invited me to the launch of her memoir, My Life in Colour, which I was lucky enough to help edit.

So exciting.

I have to admit, though, that the most exciting/scary part is being away from home alone for the first time in eight years.

It’s fascinating how nervous I was about travelling down by train. Nine years ago I was wandering around Kuala Lumpur on my own (having tagged along on hubbie’s business trip) and yet I left John Lewis in a frazzle last week because two strangers were having a row.

When did I grow so timid?

Actually, travelling has never been without stress, mostly in the planning. I hate to be late, and it terrifies me that I’ll miss my train or get on the wrong one (and I’ve done both).

It is weird being away from home too. I feel sort of guilty and disconnected. I had to go buy headphones and a book, having forgotten both, and picked up a Holly Webb that I haven’t read. (It matches the B&B bedding, so lovely!) In it, a girl talks of being connected to her absent mother by a golden thread. Being away feels like that. Except it’s a white smartphone rather than a golden thread.

IMG_7145These days we’re never far from home. My daughter just texted me a love heart she drew and I could video call if I wanted. I don’t know if it’s good or bad. As a parent it’s comforting – I don’t know how my parents coped when I travelled around New Zealand, with only the occasional text message or sporadic email from a grotty internet cafe to let them know where I was and if I was okay.

IMG_7146At the same time there is a sense of never being free, of never getting lost (I used Google Maps to find the B&B), of always being tethered. Of being reachable, connected. Being able to receive messages from my son that are full of poop emojis!

IMG_7084I took the dog on a different walk last week, and it was exciting to meander without timetable or anyone knowing where I was. It shows you don’t actually have to travel to feel free, or always feel free when you travel.

(As an aside, I was actually glad of my phone. Last time I did that walk I got hopelessly lost, had no internet on my phone, called husband for help which he was unable to provide, and ended up walking through an off-road Landrover course and across two sheep fields, eventually having to heave our 28kg dog over a 5ft barbed wire fence. Got lost again this time and Google Maps rescued me in five mins! Haha)

Whether I’m free or not, connected or not, scared or content, it’s definitely an experience. I can hear seagulls outside my window and the sea is a five minute walk from here. In a couple of hours I get to meet the two people who set me on my path as an editor and see a paper copy of the first book I edited that wasn’t mine.

I’d call that an adventure.

 

Happy 5th Anniversary to Me!

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Image from Pixabay

Goodness me, apparently WriterMummy is five years old today. How time flies when you’re a manic Mum, eh?

These anniversaries keep popping up on me – notes on Facebook about releasing Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, or it reaching some milestone during a free giveaway, or sending off Dragon Wraiths to a competition, full of naive hope.

In some ways it’s nice, because I feel like I’ve been writing long enough to have learnt and grown. But in other ways it makes me feel a bit of a failure, because I haven’t achieved more in that time. I haven’t found an agent, or won a writing competition, or even got much higher than 500 followers for my blog.

I get frustrated at myself because I know I could/should have tried harder. My blog is the first thing to wane when I’m busy, and I don’t visit and read and comment on enough other blogs to increase my followers. At the same time, at least I don’t feel as if I’m disappointing thousands of fans when I don’t write anything for a month!

The same goes for book promotion. I should have done more on Kindle, promoted the books more. Worked harder to get reviews. Sent more manuscripts to more agents. Engaged with people on Goodreads, sought out guest blogs and newspaper articles. I watch how one of the authors whose book I edited is promoting her memoir and she deserves all her amazing success.Blogging5yr

I’ve never got behind just one book and really sold it. But if I had, I would probably have driven myself bananas, and possibly have given up in disgust after the first dozen rejections. I would also have certainly written a lot fewer books. I’m much happier since I stopped checking for book sales every day. Now a royalty cheque is a pleasant surprise and a guilt-free cup of coffee.

And I have to celebrate the successes too. I’ve written over 700 blog posts, had nearly 40,000 views and 22,000 visitors. I’ve published 8 children’s books, three women’s fiction novels and one young adult book (which was also long-listed for an award). I’m having one of my books illustrated by a very talented illustrator and am super excited about it.

The most amazing thing is I’m still going. Five years is longer than any job I’ve ever had, and I don’t feel like quitting yet. So you’re stuck with me for a bit longer.

Here’s to the next five years, the next milestone, the next novel to be finished (Hope Glimmers, with any luck, a sequel to Moon Pony), the next happy post from Facebook to mark the passing of time.

Have some virtual cake on me.