Dependence before Independence?

It’s 4am and the puppy just woke up. She’s crying and I know that a) she needs a wee and b) if I don’t go soon not only will I have extra laundry, but she will have woken up the kids.

That’s fine. Parenting is about getting up in the night. The problem is I also know I won’t make it back to bed. Because once she’s done her business, she won’t go back in her crate without protest. And by protest I mean yelping, crying and rattling at the gate until it sounds like armageddon.

We’re on dog two. We know the rules. Ignore them when they cry and they stop. And we did. A bit. She goes in her crate at bedtime without crying now. But the mornings are different.

Firstly, I’m not so great at 4am. I go from calm to banshee really quickly. When I threatened (in hyperbole I hasten to add) to drown or sell her, I knew it wasn’t working. That whine, man, it’s like a chainsaw to the nerves pre-dawn.

Secondly, I’m not the only one who becomes vile on too little sleep. A couple of weeks ago I left the puppy crying and took off to the outside room, where I couldn’t hear her. I slept beautifully for a couple more hours, but awoke to carnage. The whole house was up, poo everywhere, tempers frayed. It took days for husband and kids to recover.

It was the same when my youngest child was born. My eldest was a light sleeper then, and only 19 months old, so whenever the baby cried he was instantly hushed. I spent the next five years dealing with the consequences. Even now I wonder if I caused his separation anxiety by trying to protect the family’s sleep/sanity.

And there’s the rub. At 4am, when I’m taking one for the team, I’m also telling myself what a terrible parent/dog owner I am. Creating a needy, spoilt puppy whilst also creating a grumpy exhausted me.

My only salvation is something a therapist said to me once. I wasn’t there for parenting advice, but it was the only good thing about the whole experience, since they did more harm than good for the thing I was there for. Anyway, the advice was ‘Dependence before Independence’. A child has to learn to trust you before they can leave you. A child has to know you’ll be there no matter what.

That phrase has been our parenting mantra. For every 3am cuddle, for every event left early or extra five minutes spent saying goodbye. It helped me too, because nothing triggers my anxiety like having a screaming child dragged from my arms, no matter how well-intentioned. I’ve had stern words with teachers and left childcare institutions that insisted my child was crying ‘crocodile tears’. I believed in my mantra.

And it’s worked, with the kids. My timid frightened children are now pulling away, finding their wings, choosing to forge their own path, without being shoved. They go on camp and sleepovers and run happily into school without a backward glance. And my sanity has remained intact.

Time will tell if it holds true for puppies.

Pesky Pets and Puzzling Programming

September didn’t get much better. I don’t know if it was exhaustion or a change in meds supplier but I was (am) fragile as a poppy. Any attempt to process more than one thing and I crash like a crappy computer.

So far October is okay. I did four hours of karate training this weekend and, while my body is broken and I can’t walk, my soul feels replenished.

I reached a nadir last week and decided a proper career shift is essential to my sanity. I put out a query for career paths where people skills are not a key aspect, and programming was the answer. I did go for a programming job as a new graduate and got 87% on the paper. Unfortunately the pass rate was 90%. Apparently I needed to slow down and read the questions better. Funnily enough I say the same thing to my son every time he gets stuck on his maths.

So it isn’t completely crazy for this ditsy arts student slash author to try and learn something as methodical as programming. But the brain is soooooo slow at 42 (even if it is the answer to life, the universe and everything!) I’m doing an online course from Harvard and have already nodded off during a lecture.

Mind you, the pesky pets have a lot to do with my exhaustion. Puppy is growing, and can escape from her pen and scramble past the stair block. She came into our bedroom six times last night, and when I finally locked her into her crate, she cried non-stop. Don’t be fooled by her cuteness, she’s a clever little minx.

And even my therapigs are being pickles. I keep trying to combine them into a herd but I have one that’s a bit of a bully. In my advice emails from the lovely people at Wood Green, they said that some gps are just like that and “it’s great that she has a companion already.” Ha! She’s basically me: impossible to live with and lucky she has a life partner who will put up with her. What it does mean is they stay in separate cages, so two lots of mucking out and laundry. Perhaps I need to stick to the guinea pig Mum gave me for my birthday.

Writing is still happening, in between all the chaos and mayhem. I gave Esmerelda Smudge an overhaul, using the awesome Save The Cat book, and renamed it Dani and the Djinni. [As an aside, I’m quite excited to see there’s going to be a Save the Cat book for novelists, although the screen play version has revolutionised my writing.]

I’ve submitted Dani and the Djinni for the Mslexia Children’s Novel Award and, if that goes nowhere, it will be the next in line to be illustrated. I’m doing a book signing at my local library next month so I need to keep plodding on with the writer bit of writermummy.

In the meantime, I’m surviving on coffee and beautiful sunrises. The only benefit of a 5am start.

Clubs, Jobs and Therapigs

Phew, what a month! September is always crazy, with back to school and son’s birthday. But this year has been extra mental with the son now eligible for school clubs.

Between them they now do Zumba, Indoor Bowls, Bridge, Fitness, Basketball, Brownies, Beavers, Swimming, Karate, Flute and Cornet.

That’s a lot of cheques, emails, kits, and a whole heap of headspace.

They haven’t even started half of them yet, that begins Monday, but just processing the details, alongside birthdays and vet appointments and windy weather and packed lunches for the fussitarian has about finished me off.

And the money! Oh my days. My cheque book is weeping.

So this month I’ve been trying really hard to get proper paid work. Grrr.

I’ve re-signed up to Findaproofreader (that cost £36) and renewed my website (another £36). And I’ve applied for two typing jobs. Failed the first test process, distracted by a crying puppy that was meant to be sleeping.

Passed the second rather more rigorous process, and got through a whole heap of security checks and referees and other employment palaver, only to discover not only is it minimum wage, based on my current typing speed (which is a not-too-shabby 80wpm) but also I need liability insurance and updated virus software. Which all would be at least another £100, if not double.

I can’t do it. I know about ‘speculate to accumulate’, but this is ridiculous for a £5 an hour, no guaranteed work job.

I have degrees. I have skills. I have a damn migraine!

Seriously, what do I tell my daughter? If you want kids, don’t bother with uni, train as a plumber or a hairdresser or an Electrician, because degrees don’t mean shit if you ever take a career break to raise sprogs.

Okay, I’m whinging I know, but when unskilled labour would pay me more than knowing the difference between elicit and illicit (one of the many tests I passed) I wish I didn’t have a brain, or an education, because then I wouldn’t feel such a failure.

Anyway, onwards and upwards. There’s always checkout jobs at Waitrose, although most part time work involves people and it’s not my strong suit these days! 😂

Thank goodness for therapigs. In a world of chaos there is always a little bit of guinea pig calm.

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!

Reviews, Glorious Reviews

DAB7B6EA-E27E-49D4-9260-B5B8C8F9A33CIt doesn’t happen very often, but it’s been a good week for reviews. Reviews are the lifeblood of the writer, especially the self-published author, but they’re not easy to come by.

I ran a free promo on The Family We Choose over the bank holiday weekend, hoping to drum up some interest. Unfortunately, the heady days of thousands of downloads during a promotion are long gone. I think I hit 31 copies over 3 days. But no matter, because I received two lovely reviews.

The one that touched me most ran under the headline “Will take you right back if you have ever been there.”

It’s always dangerous writing about difficult emotive subjects. When I wrote Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, I had plenty of first-hand experience of postnatal depression. And while I do also have some knowledge of what it means to have a turbulant childhood and an overbearing father, it’s nothing like it is for the characters in my book. A whole heap of research filled in the blanks.

654C7D41-E4F5-4915-9445-6AF4411DA7E5

So, to know that the story resonates true for those with more experience is unbelievably rewarding, as well as being rather daunting. Should books come with a Trigger Warning?

On a completely different note, I received this lovely review from a nine-year-old who read and enjoyed Moon Pony.

B031E24D-250E-4818-9045-B212236F448EIt’s really special to get feedback from the people I write my children’s books for. What’s nicer is the depth of thought in the review. Not just “I enjoyed it” but an awareness of the book being about the idea that sometimes people need a bit of extra love.

Perfectly timed too, as I got printed copies of Hope Glimmers through this week. A tiny bit proud of how the illustrations came out, as only the second book I have illustrated. I’m itching to write another so I can illustrate that, too. Unfortunately the summer hols are more conducive to painting than writing. Still, only a week left. 😊

 

The Dos and Don’ts of Self-Publishing

TheFamilyWeChooseKindleI published two books this week. The children were at a music camp for five days last week, 9am-4pm, so I had time to get some work done. Although I may have bitten off more than I could chew.

I decided to publish my adult novel, previously called Riley Road, renamed The Family We Choose. But it needed proofreading. I hadn’t realised how many errors there were – no wonder it didn’t go past long-listing for the Mslexia award.

The problem is, it’s such a hard read for me. It was written very close to the bone. I spent last week listening to it being read by the PDF Read Aloud software, to distance myself from it. Brilliant for picking up typos, not so great for proofreading a 60,000 word novel in a week. He. Talks. So. Slowly. And still I spent most of the week under a heavy cloud of being ‘not enough’. Sorry family!

Anyway, I managed to get that done and published, only to spot a typo on the cover. Just after submitting it for review. Twenty-Four hours later, I could change the cover and submit for review again. Check twice, publish once, and all that.

HopeGlimmersCoverAt the same time, I was working on finalising the sequel to Moon Pony, called Hope Glimmers, which I have done the illustrations for. I’ve been pretty pleased with them, I love drawing horses. But, again, it’s very time consuming converting all the images to black and white and getting Word to cooperate with slotting them into the text.

No typos on the cover though, which was great.

Unfortunately, it’s just gone live on Amazon and I’ve noticed that a) I’ve called it Home Glimmers, instead of Hope Glimmers (doh!) and b) I’ve put my author name as Amanda Martin (which I use for adult novels) rather than Mandy Martin (for kids books) so it isn’t going to appear alongside Moon Pony at all, despite being the sequel.

Idiot.

And neither fields can be adjusted in the Member Dashboard, resulting in two grovelling emails to Amazon (because, of course, I spotted the mistakes separately) which I hope they read and fix asap, as soon as they’ve stopped laughing.

SeagullandPippaStill, I have published two books in a week, including illustrations, cover design, proofreading, and everything, which isn’t to be sniffed at, even if it is unlikely I’ll sell any copies of either, since my Amazon sales seem to have dwindled into nothing recently. Even Baby Blues & Wedding Shoes, which was always my ‘cup of coffee a month’ earner, has dropped off to nothing.

Not great, considering my books owe me a few hundred each in editing and covers and illustrations. Not much of a money spinner, more an expensive hobby! Lucky I sort of have a day job now.

And so, once my self-publishing fails have been fixed, it will be on to writing something new. Which I haven’t done in a long long while. I want it to be a children’s book – Mslexia are running their competition on Children’s and Short Fiction this year – but unfortunately the judge for the children’s novel is Katherine Rundell and her books are outstanding. Nothing like that to give you complete writer’s block. When you know you can’t write a Carnegie Medal short-listed novel, it’s hard to even make a start.

But start I shall, because it’s write books or learn how to market them better, and I know which I prefer.

 

The Fragility of an Even Keel

As you may have read in my last post, I was accidentally bitten by a dog at the weekend. Seemed like a pretty trivial if irritating thing at the time. But I thought I’d share how, five days later, I’m fighting off thoughts of not wanting to wake up tomorrow, and how fragile even the most level-looking keel can be when you battle mental health issues.

The bite was small but painful and, being on my thumb, I needed it to heal well, so went to the docs. Who prescribed a wide-range antibiotic, because dog bite apparently. The antibiotics (I think) caused cramps and a dodgy tum. I say I think, because my daughter’s been off school for two days with the same thing. It might have been the child at the docs with the sick bowl, or the pale lad slumped on the floor. Who knows? I just know that my daughter is never ill, and mine tends to be viral rather than gastric.

Regardless of the cause, the dodgy tum (or the antibiotics) has screwed up my SSRIs. I can tell because I want to break things and keep shouting and crying. Which has put the dog and kids on edge, so it’s been pacing and begging and ‘Mummy mummy mummy’ round the clock. They’ve even found me in my hiding place: the dog is outside tiptapping relentlessly under the window

There are a whole heap of other things thrown in the mix, least of which is the damn internet not working (kids can’t do homework, I can’t upload book files, hub can’t play Fortnite) but they’re every day annoyances.

Still, all in all, I’m going on holiday next week and instead of being excited I’m hiding in the spare room thinking of all those things you’re meant to think of, to stave off the ‘I can’t take this anymore’ thoughts. You know; how everyone needs you and loves you, and it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

It doesn’t help.

For a start, it’s being ‘over needed’ that tends to make me desperate in the first place. I feel pressured to be the perfect wife and mother and the guilt of failure can be unbearable. Secondly, depression isn’t actually a temporary problem, it’s a lifetime condition. I never understood it when people said that. I guess if your end-it-all thoughts are because of a broken relationship or other ‘event’ it could be considered temporary, but not depression. It’s pretty bloody perennial.

So, anyway, I’m not going to do anything desperate. My tablets are working enough that I will hide and know that, if tomorrow isn’t better, the day after might be. I love my family and know that they need me, however much that feels like a prison sentence at times. I know that even if this post upsets them (assuming I post it at all) they’ll understand and forgive me. I know I have much to be grateful for and that kids grow up and leave home eventually (and apparently I’ll miss them). I know that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m probably not a failure for not cooking proper meals or giving my kids and husband all my attention, or for shouting at the dog.

Some are not able to find that perspective, I’m one of the lucky ones. It can be the smallest thing that triggers a cascade. And it isn’t selfish or attention seeking or dumb. It’s an illness that can take hold like sepsis and attack the strongest people like a cancer.

It’s morning now. I slept. The world is still a fog but I plod through, waiting for my medication to wrap me up again in my safety net. I wasn’t going to post this (no internet! Ha!) but if it helps one person breathe and hang on until the morning, or one person understand why a loved one couldn’t, then that’s enough.

And I hope one day to learn that I am enough.

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!

Pixie Cuts, Hot Days and Minecraft Mania

Not a good time to have black fur

It’s been a crazy month. For those not local to the UK, we have been enjoying an unexpected heatwave for the last few weeks. Positively Mediterranean!

Usually I wilt like lettuce in anything over 20C but fortunately this sweltering weather has been accompanied by a fresh wind, meaning respite is at hand. Unfortunately it doesn’t do much for the motivation and I haven’t achieved a great deal since I finished invigilating.

I have, however, finally cut off my pesky hair. I’ve wanted to do it since I turned 40, but the kids were rather anti (my daughter said she’d never leave her room again, but that has become a rather tempting prospect recently). Anyway the heat and an impending karate exam made me take the plunge. And I love it. Although, contrary to expectations, it’s no cooler. Definitely needs to be shorter still!

Oh yes, that’s another achievement – I passed my karate exam and am now a brown belt! Still only half way to black, but an amazing feeling nonetheless.

One final achievement is that Game Girl is complete. It’s been a labour of love, as I illustrated this one myself, but definitely worth it. Turns out having a Minecraft-themed storyline has done something no other book I’ve written thus far has managed – my children are actually reading it. I know, shock right? Not just that, but their friends want to read it too, even the boys, even with a unicorn! Such a great feeling.

If you fancy a gander, the paperback is available at cost (£3.99) until tomorrow, when it will go up to £5.99 (although for some reason it’s showing an earlier cover). I hope to finalise the Kindle version today.

So that’s me. There’s been sport too, obviously, but who wants to hear about that right? Even with a certain team breaking its penalty jinx last night! How are you surviving hot days, sticky nights, and endless football and tennis? With beer and good books I hope.

A Note on Suicide

[Apologies in advance if this hurts my friends and family but I need to say it.]

There is a lot of discussion about suicide at the moment for obvious reasons. How it’s selfish. How people suffering from depression need to remember they are loved. Much of the latter is heartfelt and well meant. But.

I’ve struggled with depression. Struggled with suicidal thoughts. And yes, before my medication, I often thought my family would be better off without me. But now, when it happens, my main, overwhelming, sometimes only thought, if it can be called thought, is I want the pain to end. That’s all.

Perhaps that is selfish. But unless you’ve lived with a battle in your brain most of your adult life, you can’t really judge.

If someone going through chemo just wants it all to be over, you wouldn’t judge. And for many at least there is an end in sight. My depression is mild and mostly controlled, but even I sometimes can’t imagine living with it for another forty or fifty years.

So don’t judge, not even in kindness. Don’t tell people with depression to ‘think of their loved ones and how much they are needed’ because that IS selfish. How can being needed, being required to get up every day and give to others, when you are struggling just to breathe, lessen your pain?

It must be horrible to be on the outside. I’ve spoken to people who have lost family members to depression (and that’s what it is, succumbing to an illness). It’s awful. Just as losing someone suddenly to a heart attack or a brain tumour or septicaemia is awful.

And there is always the ‘what if’? I have it. I was meant to be staying with my father the weekend he died, rushed to hospital with septicaemia. What if I had been there? Would we have reacted sooner? Saved him? And that’s as valid for suicide I guess. Medical intervention might have helped. But telling a person they are loved, needed, required, precious, selfish, or anything else AT THAT POINT, I believe would be no more effective than it would to tell someone to stop having a heart attack.

I would love to end this with an answer, a right way to help sufferers of depression. I don’t have one. Except actions speak louder than words. For me, the friends that showed up and put the kettle on, watched the kids for an hour, walked the dog, those were the ones who helped me survive PND. Don’t wait for the sufferer to ask for help. Often they can’t, the darkness won’t let them. Take a risk and just show up. And above all, don’t judge.