Irresolute

81598009_3296375277044185_5649797549654016000_nNew Year’s Greetings to you all. I won’t say Happy New Year, because I find it often isn’t. This year is probably the worst for most of us. A new decade, Australia is burning and Trump is trying to start World War III. The parallels to the 1920s don’t really bear thinking about. So, for the most part, I’m trying not to. I will donate to the wildlife charities, sign the ‘no war’ petitions, and keep my fingers crossed. What else can we do?

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do resolutions, certainly not New Year’s Resolutions. This picture from my favourite Facebook blog, Hurrah for Gin, sums it up perfectly. New Year’s Resolutions suggest that the old you wasn’t up to scratch. While that may be true, it’s not good for your mental health to reinvent yourself because some magazine or TV show told you to, and certainly not because of a date in the calendar. Don’t even get me started on Dry January (but visit Hurrah for Gin to see my opinion!) However, I have resolved to try and write more this year.

I miss writing. I have started several books since I finished my last, adult, novel. All with little success. The children fill my head in a way now that they never did when they were little. Their schedules; their worries; my worries about them; trying to work out what rules to implement; it’s all mentally exhausting. And my job is filled with words too, so when I’m still, my head is empty. When I was invigilating, I had time and my head was full of ideas, but they were gone when I stopped. Now when I stop there’s nothing.

But writing, like any hobby, takes practice. I haven’t been blogging because I feel like I’ve said it all before. I guess when you’ve written more than 750 posts over seven years, you become aware of repeating yourself. I forget that many people reading my blog now don’t go back and read all the old stuff. And anyway, according to my kids, I repeat myself all the time! So my non-resolution but sort of suggestion to myself is to blog more. Hopefully if I get back into the habit of writing, and just letting the words flow without over-analysing them, I will be able to do the same with fiction.

I wanted to enter the Times Chicken House Children’s Fiction competition this year, as I generally do. But nothing I’ve written has ever even been long-listed. I read a lot of books published by Chicken House, and they are always my favourites. When I told my daughter that I didn’t have a chance of winning she said, ‘Write a better book.’ Kids, eh? But unfortunately I seem to have taken the words into my head. Every time I start, I want to come up with a prize-winning idea. Something dazzling. Something even my children might read. That is not the way to start writing a novel. I believe it was Ernest Hemingway who said, ‘The first draft of anything is shit’. The point is you can’t edit a blank page, but these days I get too bogged down in the world building, or the research, or the opening page to get to grips with a gripping story.

I can’t tell you how many books I’ve bought on Japanese culture (I want to write a book about karate) or Greek Gods (I wanted to write a book about wind gods, because of my son’s phobia, until I read the awesome Who Let the Gods Out series). I haven’t read any of them. It’s like I think I’ll absorb the information through osmosis. Or, by having the books, I’m one step closer to writing that masterpiece. The problem is, research leads me into academia and, as my History Professor told me when he handed back my First Class Dissertation, my academic writing is, quote, ‘Rather dull.’ Hmmm.

Besides, that level of detail isn’t really necessary. You need good world building – I’ve read a series with my son about a world of witches, and the world building is fun, but there are no boys. It drives my son nuts. Not because it’s sexist (although that too) but ‘how do they have babies?’ Good point. So, some world building is necessary. But so many brilliant books I’ve read don’t go too far into the ‘how’. Even Moon Pony manages to have a magical horse without going too much into where he comes from.

So, more writing, less thinking, if that’s possible. Sorry. It means more rambling blog posts from me, as I try to find my writing flow again. You don’t have to read them! My irresolute resolution doesn’t need to be yours.

Oh, and I’m going to pass my black belt this year, but that’s another conversation all together.

 

The Superfan and the Psychometric Test

img_6357Doesn’t that sound like a book title to grab the attention, if only for the wrong reasons? Maybe for my next book I should come up with a random title and then write the book to fit? Anyway I digress. The title actually refers to the highs and lows of my weekend.

On Saturday I had an ‘author event’ at our local library. Originally it was going to be a book reading and signing, but that got cancelled due to lack of interest (it was on a school night) and swapped for a Saturday morning craft session. Only I forgot to sort crafts. So at 5am Saturday, full of cold, I searched Pinterest for ideas, and produced craft unicorns, Minecraft Torches and bookmarks. I was still cutting out cardboard at 9.30am when I was meant to be leaving for the library! Me, disorganised? Hmmm.

Anyway, it was a bit of a washout. Five or six  girls made unicorns, but no one really knew why I was there. (The minecraft torches ended up being used for my son’s Nativity Pringle Pot, so not totally wasted!) Until a young lad came in, carrying a copy of Hope Glimmers. And next to him, his dad, who it turns out I went to school with. But they were there to meet Mandy Martin the author, not Mandy Jarman from school. The dad’s surprise when he figured I was me was awesome. The best part, though, was that Hope Glimmers had been purchased online and they’d brought it to be signed. By me. Like I was a real author or something. And when I said there was a new book based on Minecraft, the lad’s smile made my year.

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Nativity & Santa Pringle Pots

I read an article a while ago (written in 2008 and updated here) by a guy called Kevin Kelly, who said that what creative people need to succeed is a 1000 true fans; superfans who will buy anything you produce. I’ve never had a superfan before, generally my books are bought by people I know, or anonymously on Amazon, where without reviews you don’t even know if they liked it. I’m not saying this boy was really a superfan, but it certainly felt like it at 11am on a Saturday morning as I signed books for him.

My happy bubble was short-lived, however, when I received an email from Boots (a High Street Pharmacy Company, for non Brits) with feedback on a job I had applied for as a trainee pharmacy dispenser. Please note, ‘trainee’. As in, to be trained to do the job, surely?

This is my first experience of interview by computer and I’m not impressed. Having clicked ‘apply’ through the job website, they asked for my job (just one) and my education (just one), so I put Invigilating and a Masters in English, as my two most recent. No request for CV or experience or anything. Just an email with a link to a psychometric test.

Now, I hate psychometric tests, especially now I’ve been out of the work game for a while and am fully entrenched in ‘me’ because ‘me’ is a socially-awkward introvert who finds people challenging. But ‘work me’ is outgoing, confident, creative, innovative and all that jazz. So anyway I tried to understand what the questions were getting at, although that’s pretty tough in most psychometric tests as that’s the whole point of them. Except we’re not all black and white, either or, ‘this statement best reflects me’ without context.

I worked in a bar when I was a uni student, and loved it. In fact I wanted to be a bar manager when I graduated, but my first class degree actually proved a sticking point in the interviews I went to because the starting salary was so low. Anyway, six months after I’d been working in the busy train station pub, dealing with difficult customers and working alongside a team of twelve people, they made me do their psychometric test ‘for their files’. I failed. They said they would never have hired me because funnily enough it showed that I am a reserved introvert who doesn’t much like people. Thankfully they had six months’ experience of me being a complex human being who was able to act a role at work, convincingly too, and they trusted me enough to have me run as assistant manager for a while.

Given all that, I shouldn’t have been surprised when I failed the test from Boots. But I was. Surprised and gutted (the job was perfect for me). And angry. Because this was their response:

We’re sorry to have to let you know that you haven’t been successful on this occasion due to the level you attained for the questionnaire assessment.

You will need to allow a 12 month period before applying for a similar role as this will give you adequate time to develop your skills and experience.

Adequate time to develop my skills and experience? How do they know anything about my skills and experience? They didn’t even ask for my CV. See that I’ve worked front of house in Hotels, Restaurants, Youth Hostel, Bars and a Clothing Store. See that I’ve worked as a Marketing Manager with direct reports, worked in Communications and handled the grumpy ‘Letters to Director’ that were received. I could go on. And I did, in my head, at 3am, full of cold and disappointment and a little bit of despair. This was a trainee role, where presumably a person would be given the relevant skills and I didn’t even get a look in.

Sigh. Breathe.

It doesn’t matter. A company that interviews by bot is not one I want to work for. But it’s battered an already bruised confidence.

Thank goodness for superfans, that’s all I can say.

Pup Suspends Progress

So the kids are finally back at school after seven long weeks of wind phobia and too much screen time. A summer of painting for sanity has come to an end and I can start my next book.

Or so I thought.

But it isn’t lack of an idea that’s holding me back, nor the three-star ‘bit predictable’ review on The Family We Choose.

It’s a puppy.

Whose crazy idea was it to get another pet, when we already have four guinea pigs, a hamster and a 10-year-old labradoodle. Oh, yeah, mine. Ahem.

Coco Martin joined us on Saturday and she is a joy. And a menace. But most of all she’s a baby.

Oh my, I’d gratefully forgotten the endless bodily fluids and the interrupted sleep and the day revolving around play and naps and food.

Any attempt to work is quickly aborted. She fell asleep on my fast forward button as I was audio-typing, and cried in her pen through a twenty-minute audio test, as I look to earn back some of the fortune she has already cost.

Much as knitting and watching videos might sound great, I’m ready to use my brain again.

Never mind.

Writing will recommence soon. In the meantime, it’s lucky she’s cute!

Jinxed

So I jinxed the weather with my last post. That lovely chill wind that made the heat bearable? Stopped the next day. It has been like living in a sealed attic. Sorry to anyone local to me! Mea Culpa. Forecast says it might rain this afternoon though, hurrah!

Even so, this week has been all work. I finally got Game Girl on kindle, although I’m not super-happy with the result. Kindle-uploaded-through-Word and images don’t really mix. For the love of literature I couldn’t get the images to centre on the ‘page’.

My marvellous fellow author, Rinelle, has offered to help, so my first job today (after tea and cake in an air-conditioned cafe) is to send her the file. I love the supportive writing community. And if you’re after some fab romantic summer reading, go visit her page!

Talking of community feeling, I had the chance to spread a tiny bit at the Walk-In centre yesterday, where I spent two and a half hours after an accidental run-in with my mum’s dog.

The day after an England football win is not a good time to use emergency services. The poor NHS staff were run off their feet. But I had gone prepared, with book, snacks, water, phone and – most importantly – no children. I was able, therefore, to be part of the Village as it were, by dishing out crayons and paper to bored toddlers and watching hyper youngsters running outside. Every little helps.

Not sure how much more book work I’ll be able to get done this week, though, since my thumb still hurts like heck. At least I can file the information under ‘how to write about a dog bite’.

Thankfully I did most of the formatting for Seren Kitty last week, as the illustrations came back from the talented Annie Welton. So excited! That said, I’ve had an alert from CreateSpace regarding the uploaded manuscript, which means they’re not happy with something, so the work isn’t done yet. Self-publishing is so much more than words!

The third book I’ve been preparing is my adult novel about Domestic Abuse, that was longlisted for the Mslexia award. I find it a hard book to work with, and wasn’t sure I was going to publish it. But when I was working on the kindle version of Game Girl, I noticed that Amazon are running a Storyteller competition with a £20k prize fund. While I don’t have anything like the presence on kindle to win such a thing, you just never know. And I’m proud of the novel, even if I find it hard to read.

I decided to research the market to give it the best opportunity, including the title and cover. Having posted this selection on Facebook, the choice is between the bottom left and bottom right title/image. What do you think? Which would you find most compelling? I like the title ‘The Family We Choose’ taken from the phrase ‘Friends are the family we choose for ourselves’. I’m also more drawn to the right hand image because it’s cheaper 😂. I’ll have to make a decision this week since it’s my last available for work until September.

Which reminds me, I’d better brave the heat and head home. Books aren’t going to publish themselves. Keep enjoying the sunshine. We’re away for a UK break next week so it’s bound to rain!

To Paula, With Thanks

PaulaBack in November 2016 I was working for a friend of a friend, typing up audio files, and she asked if I would help one of her dream writers with a final edit of their autobiography. My first response was to say no: I didn’t feel qualified to edit someone else’s work, especially when I pay someone to do a final edit on my own novels. In fact, I recommended that the author speak to my editor, and assumed that would be the end of it.

It wasn’t.

The author, Paula, wanted me to look at her book regardless, and our mutual friend agreed. I gave a low quote, reflective of my lack of experience, and took it on. To this day it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I got to read an inspirational autobiography – My Life in Colour: From Brighton to Bali and Back [Free on Kindle I see] – and meet the extraordinary individual who wrote and lived it. I also got to feel that I had contributed to the final shaping of a wonderful book, as well as helping to put together the manuscript ready for self-publishing: that at least I have plenty of experience at.

Fast forward a few months, and I got to finally meet Paula at her book launch in Waterstones in Brighton. It was a lovely event and Paula was even more amazing in person. Larger than life and even more colourful than her book.

Paula taught me to have more belief in my own writing. When I first had contact with her, she said of her book, “I am at that nervous stage and would like to hide it and me from the world.” Despite self-publishing all my novels, I’ve never really escaped from that feeling. I apologise for my writing, because I feel it hasn’t been validated by the awarding of a publishing contract. And with my children’s books, I always felt I couldn’t promote them because they weren’t illustrated.

Paula inspired me to get Moon Pony illustrated: in fact she gave me the means to do so, through the work I did for her and other subsequent editing work. Without her support and financial help it wouldn’t have happened. But it did, and I am so proud of the result.

Tomorrow I stand up in front of three different primary school classes to talk about my writing, read from Moon Pony, and hand out some signed copies. I have actually sold copies of my children’s book to children. It feels epic.

I write about Paula in the past tense because tragically she died last autumn, following a car accident on what turned out to be my birthday. I have never mourned someone so much who I had only met once, but it was like a firework burning bright and leaving a pitch darkness behind.

When I was asked to do the author talks, my first response was no. I don’t do people, especially children, and I hate talking in public. Never mind the thought of reading something I have written out loud for people to judge. Terrifying. It’s why I don’t belong to a writers’ group. But then I remembered Paula, and I said yes. Because she was brave and, despite her fears, she launched her book into the world with gusto and self-belief.

Books are meant to be read, heard, shared, loved (and hated) and they can’t do that lurking at the end of a URL.

So, wish me luck. And Paula, thank you. You are missed.

Too Many ‘Me’s

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My Etsy Shop

When I started this blog, several years ago, (and I am so sorry, blog, for my recent neglect), I called it ‘Writer/Mummy’. I argued that my generation were increasingly the slash/slash generation, with several job titles and careers, and I was opting for Writer-slash-Mummy.

 

Fast-forward several years and, regardless of all the job titles that ‘Mummy’ incorporates (you know how it goes: cook / cleaner / confidant / taxi / ironing service / dog walker / general shit-scooper), there are now so many ‘me’s that I have lost myself in trying to find myself.

Currently I am trying to juggle personal assistant / etsy crafter / ebay seller / writer / runner / karate student as well as all the usual wife/mother/taxi driver/school-paperwork-handler duties.

And I am going slowly mad.

ImageOn top of that, I’m not actually doing any of the jobs particularly well. Instead I spend all my time playing a daft game called Farmville Tropic Escape, which also has me completing lots of chores and tasks. The difference is the instructions are clear and the rewards are clearer. I never have to wonder what on earth to cook.

I’ve deleted the darn thing twice.

But there is something addictive about knowing what you are supposed to be doing, accompanied by happy smiling faces and cute somersaulting dolphins.

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Teacher Gift

With all my different ‘me’s I don’t have a scooby doo what I’m meant to be doing. Should I finish one of the far-too-many knitting projects I’ve started? That’s hard, because I’m used to knitting for individuals, and so am motivated to finish because it’s a gift for someone I know and love.

Now I’m knitting for profit, for a.n.other, and the finishing part (always my downfall) seems impossibly hard. Besides, if I don’t finish the items, and list them, I don’t have to come to terms with the bit I’m even worse at – the trying to get a sale part.

Ditto ebay selling. I had a couple of early successes, picking up new and nearly new stuff at charity shops and selling them on ebay to fund my own charity/ebay shopping obsession. But now I have a few items listed that haven’t sold, and it’s creating more loss than profit.

And as for the PA role. Well. That was a bit of an odd one. I applied to do a gentleman’s typing and ended up responsible for selling one of his properties. Not exactly in my comfort zone, and I’ve tried to quit once already, but he’s such a dear, with no one really looking out for him. So I’m persisting. Just.

MslexiaWriting? Well, mostly that’s dead in the water. Except I entered a novel in the Mslexia competition a couple of weeks ago, and the annual Times / Chicken House competition is looming again.

I haven’t missed a year yet. But to enter I really need to dig out an existing manuscript and really work on it until it’s at least half as good as the books I love to read.

There’s that motivation / finishing thing again. Aint gonna happen. But writer is the ‘me’ that’s lasted the longest, and I’m not ready to see it die.

The problem with all these ‘me’s is that I’m Jack of all Trades and definitely Master of None. My son had his birthday this week and, in previous years, I would have arranged a party, made a cake, remembered to buy a helium balloon, and made him feel special. He spent this birthday sobbing because the secondhand nerf gun I bought didn’t work, and instead of a party we’re going to the zoo with a voucher I got last Christmas.

My daughter seems to have hit teenage meltdown a few years early, and yelled at me the other day that I’m ‘Always too busy to listen to her’ despite me trying to get these school-hour jobs precisely so I can be there for them. But my head is so cluttered (and the house even more so) that I’m just a mess.

First Sale

My first and only etsy sale

If I’m honest, I want to do the things that earn me praise. I read a great article about Bliss, and how we lose the passion we had as a child (that gave Bliss) through schooling, switching it for the things that will get us noticed / praised / rewarded.

I’m paraphrasing, obviously, but there’s no doubt I do most of what I do so that someone, somewhere, one day, will pat me on the back and say, ‘well done’, rather than because my passion brings me joy.

Dangerous.

Anyway, I’ve been reading up this morning on the difference between complaining and venting. I’m definitely not complaining. I made this bed, however itchy the sheets and lumpy the pillow.

I’m not really even venting. Perhaps just using the blog as a way to clear my head, as it has always been. Chatting away to a tribe of people who I know understand. Ask any writer / artist / general creative person / parent whether they feel like they’re juggling a hundred different wants / needs / must-dos, and they’ll all say yes.

Really I already know the answer. Take on less. Concentrate more. Delete the app. Finish the knitting projects. Vacuum the lounge and stock the fridge. Look, easy. Right?

Well, at least I can put a tick against ‘write a blog post before you forget how’ even if this post is just a long boring whinge. One step at a time.

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?