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.

pouffe

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.

Breaking the Block

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Teacher

Blimey it’s been ages since I’ve written a blog post.

It’s not that I haven’t had things to say, or even occasionally five minutes alone to get my thoughts down. Well, actually, that bit’s not really true. There has been time this summer to knit and garden and read, but mostly only activities that don’t require much higher brain function.

But now the children have been back at school a whole week (and oh my goodness doesn’t a school week fly by compared to a holiday week?!) I’m just about starting to think straight.

The only problem is, when it’s been this long since I wrote a blog post, I have no idea what to say.

Shall I talk about the weather? (muggy and humid, oscillating between autumn at 7am to high summer by midday.)

My writing? (Just submitted an entry for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition again. Same novel as last time but revamped. But mostly I’m in a writing funk entitled ‘what’s the point?’)

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Knitted Cat

Birthdays? (My son’s is in September – with a Lego theme for his party this year – so invites and paper mache pinatas have been the order of the week. And I hit the big one starting with a 4 in a few weeks. We were going to go away, but now I’m thinking of sneaking off by myself for a spa day. Autumn is too busy for birthdays.)

Gardening? (I’ve shoveled more loads of sand and soil than I care to count this week, as we revamp the front garden and add a flower bed and a pond.)

Reading? (I’ve just finished the Maze Runner trilogy by James Dashner. Fast-paced, thought provoking.)

Knitting? Oh yes let’s talk about knitting.

I’ve had a creative summer. When I can’t write I must still create. It was Art in August two years ago and then loom bands and knitting.

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Zumba Doll

This year I’ve discovered Alan Dart knitting patterns. Oh my.

It all began with my son wanting a jester. Then my daughter wanted a cat. Then I decided to knit dolls for my son’s teachers. And a zumba doll for a good friend. And now I’m knitting a koala bear.

Creativity where you can see the progress and everyone thinks it’s cool and no one says ‘I’ve always wanted to do that’. No wait, they do say that. In that way knitting is like writing, and both is there for the taking if you’re prepared to put in the effort.

So anyway, that’s me.

Now I’ve got the boring update out of the way (in rather a hurry as I’ve just spotted it’s time to collect children) hopefully the next post will be a bit more interesting!

June Journals #10 ~ Domestic / Duvet Day

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Taking Shape

My son was up all night again coughing, and I could barely wake him at 8am, so I kept him home from school.

I try to send the kids in if I can – I know attendance is important to the school – but equally it makes me cross that the kids are rewarded with a book for 100% attendance. So I never mind making sure my kids aren’t praised for something they have no control over.

I’m such a rebel. Ahem.

Although my ‘me’ time is precious, it’s fairly easy having a sick boy home, as he’s happy to watch TV all day, meaning I can still get stuff done and don’t get worn down by endless chatter.

Thankfully I rather like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (especially since the kids started karate and I recognise some of the terms) so it wasn’t awful doing the ironing watching that instead of Cinderella (I love that movie. One day I’ll write a post about why!)

I also got to work on sewing up the Jester. The making-up directions are not as clear as the knitting pattern itself, and I wish Alan Dart had included a few diagrams. I also suck at mattress stitch, but thankfully most of the seams will be hidden by pointy bits and bells!

The kids are a bit nonplussed: my daughter said the face looked like a duck, and then cried when I suggested that wasn’t the most tactful thing to say. My son thinks the toy’s bum is too big. Saying nothing. I’m proud of what I’ve done and that (should be) all that matters.

I even managed to squeeze in my Couch to 5k run after hubbie got home, although it was too hot to run fast. I rather spoiled it by coming back and polishing off my daughter’s dairy milk bar, but, hey, baby steps. Better than eating the chocolate and not doing the run!

I can’t believe it’s Friday already. Time is on roller skates these days. Best get on with my course: otherwise I’m going to blink and the kids will be home for six weeks instead of an extra six hours.

Eek.

 

Grow Up and Get Back to Work

Back to work (crochet away!)

Back to work (crochet away!)

I’ve really struggled to get back into writing this January. After six weeks of Christmas planning and the children being home for the holidays, my brain is foggier than the dull winter skies outside.

I have started several blog posts in my head in the last week or two, but none have made it further than that. They’ve had titles like “Christmas Chaos and Crochet Stole My Voice” and “Farmville Is Evil”. But that’s same ol same ol.

I’ve written before about how my addiction to knitting and Farmville has derailed my writing, how having the children home from school causes me to sleep non-stop (I was asleep at 4pm on Christmas Day) and how hard it is to get the balance between Writer and Mummy. It’s time to stop making excuses and get back to work.

Another post that floated in the unwritten ether of my mind at 3am, as is often the case, was a review of 2014, and how I found inner peace.

Happy children

Happy children

It’s a bit late for end-of-year reviews and, anyway, my new year starts in September, not January. But it is true nonetheless. I might still struggle with depression and the more negative aspects of being HSP. I might have struggled with having hubbie home for four months while he found a new job (he did, hurrah). I might have realised that being self published, self employed, is harder than even my pessimistic view of the world could have predicted. But still, peace was found.

Somewhere between Sertraline, Mindfulness and Good Enough Parenting, somewhere between my children telling me they love me All The Time and being able to be at home with my husband for four months and still look forward to retirement, somewhere between five-star reviews and knitted toys, I found me.

I’m reading a children’s book called Winterling by Sarah Prineas at the moment, and the main protagonist finally finds a place where she fits, where she feels she belongs. This year, especially this Christmas holiday, between making bread from scratch, hosting Christmas play dates for nine and five children, learning to crochet, and being there for my children, I realised I have found where I belong.

Parenting doesn’t come naturally to me. My family and I thought I’d be a terrible parent. Turns out we were all wrong. For all my doubt and shoutiness and crying and constant need to hide, I am a great parent. My children are kind and happy, healthy and full of love.

Writing didn’t come naturally to me. My parents and my tutors at university said my writing was dull. But hard work beats genius every time, and six years in to my writing journey some people (not all!) love my stories. I began to doubt my writing after Class Act and Alfie and the Magic Arch but I need to realise I’m still learning, and not give up.

Huggable creativity

Huggable creativity

My writer’s blues, my lost voice, came from doubt and impatience. Knitting and Farmville are far more instant. I can make a toy in a few days, I can make cakes on my farm in minutes.

Writing is invisible and definitely the long climb to creativity. It’s intangible. At the end of each day I can’t measure my progress with a ruler, or gets oohs of delight from my friends. Just like parenting (my children thank me for working on their Farms, they never thank me for clean clothes or floors), you have to accept the results are a long way off and keep slogging anyway.

I reread a post from this time last year, and discovered I felt exactly the same. Lost, melancholy, restless. It’s January, dark, rainy, and exhaustion is rife after Christmas. Time to take a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other.

So today my laptop is charged, my crochet bagged (except for the photo!), the farms switched off. Today I will return to Lucy and Edan, Andrew and Graham, and I will find their story. I will write until they find their happy ending and, in doing do, I will find mine.

How Critcal Reviews Are Making Me a Better Writer

Knitted Christmas Baubles

Knitted Christmas Baubles

When I released Class Act back in the summer I think I knew it was rushed. As a self-published author, the only way I see that you can make success (rather than it coming through luck or good fortune) is by writing more books. So I took an old manuscript, gave it a few months’ polish, paid for a light edit, and released it, happy that my Beta Reader loved it.

It bombed.

Okay, one or two people have enjoyed it, but the critics have been harsh and eloquent. And fair. Much as I would have preferred not to have the debate about my book in public, through Goodreads (and thank you to the critics for not writing their reviews on Amazon), it has been like having extra Beta Readers who don’t know me and are therefore not afraid to tell it as they see it.

Some of the criticisms I can answer – they’re a matter of personal taste – but others are completely valid. For example there is a general view that Rebecca is a cow, or at least unlikeable. I have been trying to work out why that is the case, when Helen (Baby Blues) garners sympathy. While walking the dog last night the answer came to me: I didn’t live with Rebecca long enough for her to become fully herself rather than a version of me.

Finished Rainbow Fairy

Finished Rainbow Fairy

All my characters start out from an element of my life and my experience. With Helen it was having postnatal depression, with Claire (Two-Hundred Steps Home) it was disillusionment with the corporate world and finding myself through travelling. Rebecca started out from a few instances in my childhood when I felt belittled by people who acted like they had privilege (someone saying to me at school ‘you’re my grandmother’s secretary’s daughter’ as if that made me scum).

The difference is I lived with Claire and Helen for a long time. Baby Blues took two or three years from start to finish, Claire racked up 280,000 words. They became people in their own right. Rebecca, not so much. I wasn’t even happy with the name Rebecca, changing it several times before deciding it was as good as any. Alex I loved, Alex was real, but Rebecca remained a character.

So I have learned not to rush Finding Lucy. It isn’t just the characters who need to find her – I do too. I think that’s why I find the male protagonists easier to relate to (and therefore probably they’re more likeable to the readers) – they might start out with a trait or two from people I know, but they quickly become three-dimensional in my mind. Despite it being six years since I started drafting Finding Lucy, I still don’t have her clear as a real person in my head.

The other, more specific, piece of feedback I’m following is the review that complained about Class Act opening with Rebecca’s father dying.

“I found that when our heroine, Rebecca, is introduced, the scene is not the best way to warm up to a character. Yes, her father had just died, so she is entitled to be upset. But perhaps this is not the best way to introduce a main character, one who is completely vulnerable and who is constantly sobbing in the scene, it unfortunately had me rolling my eyes and wanting to skip ahead. Not a great start for the character. Sorry. “

Don’t apologise! This is great feedback. Finding Lucy also opens with a death. It’s where the story starts. But I see now that it’s hard to feel sympathy for a character you don’t know. So I’ve had a shuffle and now it comes a few chapters in. I’m also working hard on making Lucy more likeable. It’s hard. I’ve decided to think about Pixie Lott. Watching her on Strictly Come Dancing this year I realised she is one of the few people I can look at and say they’re genuinely adorable.

Christmas Cookies for teachers

Christmas Cookies for teachers

The problem with writing for me is balancing the character’s flaws which make for conflict with the traits that make people love them. It’s not hard to see why – I’ve never managed it with myself. I’ll always feel like a bad mother, a bad person, no matter the evidence to the contrary. To quote Pretty Woman, “The bad stuff is easier to believe”.

I haven’t managed much writing this month – Farmville, knitting and Christmas have derailed me completely. But I have invited the characters from Finding Lucy to live in my head. Edan and Andrew are there, making themselves at home and squabbling over the remote. Lucy is still dithering at the door. “Are you sure you want me?” she says. Yes, come in! Let me get to know you. This novel could be my best yet, if only I take the time for it to mature.

In the meantime, have a great Christmas/Hanukah/Festive Season and here’s to a creative 2015.

How Knitting is Like Writing

Can you tell what it is yet?

Can you tell what it is yet?

Two days in to assembling my 38-piece fairy doll puzzle, and I am beginning to see how creative endeavours are all the same. What looks like the hard part is often the easy bit, and coming up with a finished product that shines takes a lot of painstaking detail that is lost on the person who recieves the final product.

I thought following a pattern and knitting my 38 pieces of doll was the hard part. It turns out that, like childbirth, that was the easy bit. The impossible part is putting it all together so that it resembles the pattern or – failing that – at least looks a bit like a doll.

I’m learning that not all DK wool is created equal, so some of my pieces are bigger than others. I’m discovering that fluffy wool doesn’t sew all that well, and that pillow stuffing isn’t a patch on the proper stuff. Most of all, I am learning that it’s worth the effort to polish and take time to make the end product as good as it can be. Not something I’m always good at in writing.

So many people say, “I’d love to write a book,” – almost as many people as have said to me recently, “I wish I could knit.” The answer is the same for both – anyone can. I only started knitting in August but, through passion, practice and a willing audience cheering me on, I’m now creating something I can be proud of. The same goes for writing.

I started my first novel six years ago and now I’m writing my fifth. And in that time I’ve learned that it isn’t the rush rush bit of making the raw materials that makes you a writer, it’s being prepared to take time putting it all together. Slowly, carefully, with consideration and a willingness to pull bits apart. Actually I haven’t got there with my knitting! I should have redone the hair piece and the wings, but it takes me so long to knit something I haven’t the willpower to pull it down again. But with my writing I do – that’s what five years has taught me.

Next time I watch my very talented mum pulling down a piece of knitting that would have taken me a week, because she didn’t like it, or the wool was wrong, or there was a mistake, I won’t wince. I will just think – there is someone who is such a master of their craft, they know what it takes to create a masterpiece. In the mean time, I’m still practicing, learning. And, more importantly, having fun.

Writing Comps, Knitting and Farmville Frenzy

An impossible puzzle

An impossible puzzle

So another fortnight whizzes by and suddenly we’re in December. Thankfully, Christmas gift buying is under control and hubbie has a job for the new year (hurrah!)

For the last two weeks I’ve been caught up in competition entries, knitting projects and (in the last twenty-fours hours) farming. I think Farmville 2 could be the downfall of my writing career. This is the reason I don’t play computer games like the rest of my family – because I don’t know when to quit. I was farming until 2am this morning and my ‘just ten minutes’ at lunchtime stretched into two hours.

If you haven’t come across the Farmville app, it’s a little make-believe world where you grow and sell fruit and veg, and care for farm animals, to make money to buy more fields, livestock and work buildings. The children each have their own farm on the two ipads loosely known as mine but when they’re asleep or at school I can ‘just keep things moving’ (i.e. Take over for a few hours.) it’s beyond addictive. Even now the game is calling to me.

My son's (my!) farm

My son’s (my!) farm

The other distraction has been knitting. I’m making toys for the children for Christmas, including reading and following my first ever knitting pattern – this lovely Deramores fairy doll my friend showed me on Facebook. The pattern might be straightforward (if time consuming, with 38 pieces to knit) but the instructions on how to assemble it are clear as mud to me! It might just remain on the ironing board!

I have five or six concurrent projects, including making up my own (so far unsuccessful) Elsa doll – it’s no wonder my brain is full. Like anything I do, I run at it full pelt, knowing it will fizzle out and I’ll be left with crates of wool and bits of half-knitted toys (like my loft full of paintings). So far writing is the only creative endeavour that had endured. Hopefully that’s a good sign.

Christingles and Poorly kids

Christingles and Poorly kids

Needless to say, I didn’t get shortlisted for the ITV Be a Bestseller writing competiton. Not to worry, I’ve kept the dream alive by entering the Janklow and Nesbit / Mumsnet novel writing competition, so fingers crossed for January. At least the competitions are forcing me to tidy up my early chapters and think about my synopsis, even though Finding Lucy is only half finished.

And that’s it, aside from horrid colds that have swept the family, one member at a time, and the Christmas Fair (which required two decorated pringle pots, a chocolate donation, a bottle donation, raffle tickets to be sold, event tickets to be bought, and a Christingle charity candle to be filled with coins.) Unfortunately my daughter was too poorly for us to go to the Christingle service so I made the children one each so they didn’t miss out.

The tree is decorated, the chocolate advent calendars opened, the floor is covered in tinsel. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. I hope all is calm and bright with you this festive season!