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 ūüėā. 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 РMy Life in Colour: From Brighton to Bali and Back [Free on Kindle I see] Рand 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

FINALLOGOKNITTYCATSGIFTS

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.

MrsDeansDoll

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?

 

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 Sister,¬†Maskmaker’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.