Happy 5th Anniversary to Me!

cake-445092_1920

Image from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have some virtual cake on me.

Medicate Me: Day Fifteen

Sleeping Family

Sleeping Family

Day fifteen on my antidepressants and I have found a love for life. I laugh more. I am more gentle on myself. I take time to read my book with a cup of tea, or cook dinner while watching Homes Under the Hammer on the iPad, instead of trying to blog, fold laundry and iron at the same time, doing all four things badly.

I leave early for the school run and read my book in the car, arriving at the school gate with a smile on my face. I walk the dog mid-morning rather than running around ten minutes before I need to collect the children. I sleep when I need to, preferably in a sunbeam in the playroom.

I haven’t bellowed at the children or sworn at them in a fortnight.

I’m still not sleeping. I still feel anxious about lots of things (schools, food, teeth!) My writing and particularly the blog have taken a back seat. I miss it. I miss logging on in the morning and seeing blog post likes and new comments. I worry I’ll lose everything I fought so hard to build up last year. But not having to come up with a new topic to discuss everyday is giving me time to breathe. Not having to make time to take pictures to go with my posts is increasing my reading time.

I'm awake!

I’m awake!

It isn’t all a result of the medication. Reading The Five Love Languages brought smiles and understanding back to my marriage and increased my ability to see when the children need my time or a cuddle. The longer days, the sunshine and warmer weather are all mood enhancers, especially for me.

But most of all I have given myself permission to heal. I’ve accepted I don’t have to do everything all the time. I don’t have to fill every minute with sixty seconds run. I accept I am the luckiest woman in the world to be able to cook dinner calmly at 11am while watching TV, or to be able to read my book.

But also I acknowledge that I get up at 5am to wipe bums, crawl out of warm covers at 2am to replace blankets that have fallen off chilly children, and fold laundry at midnight when hubbie is already asleep.

Mine is the responsibility to cook, clean, empty the bins, iron and shop. Mine is the juggling routine of remembering when to collect the children and when to make them packed lunches or sign forms.

I realise I’ve been competing mentally against working mums, needing to prove I work just as hard as they do. Why? What does it matter if I don’t? We made choices for me to be at home. We go without meals out, babysitters, expensive holidays. Surely a happy mummy is an important part of that?

It reminds me of the poem I read at my Mum’s wedding; the Desiderata: “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence … Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.”

Words to live by.

Blogging: The Art of Listening

A potentially life-changing book

A potentially life-changing book

I started reading a (for me) life-changing book, yesterday, which I wish I’d read years ago, called The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. I haven’t finished reading it, so I won’t write too much about it here, but the basic premise is that we all speak one of five love languages and for us to maintain healthy relationships (be it parenting or marriage) we have to understand the other person’s language and learn to speak it.

The languages are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. (If you want to learn more before I finish reading the book, visit www.fivelovelanguages.com).

Rather like Valerie Alexander’s Happiness as a Second Language, it teaches hope, as it reassures that we can all learn these unknown languages, whatever our upbringing. I grew up in a house where happiness wasn’t really spoken and, equally, love wasn’t an open dialogue either. I’m slowly learning to speak these foreign tongues, and having phrasebooks is essential.

The part of the book that sparked today’s blog post came during the discussion of the love language Quality Time. The author speaks of each language having different dialects. For example, Words of Affirmation can include ‘verbal compliments’ or ‘encouraging words’ or ‘kind words’. Quality Time is about giving full attention to another person but this can include ‘quality conversation’ or ‘quality activities’.

On p.67 Chapman explains how hard it is for people to listen, particularly when a loved one wants to rant about a problem at work or similar. He says, “[w]e are trained to analyze problems and create solutions. We forget that marriage is a relationship, not a project to be completed or a problem to solve.”

This was particularly relevant for me yesterday as hubbie came home from work frustrated after having had to work on his personal development plan all day. Admitting there were things he wasn’t good as was hard. Instead of listening sympathetically, “with a view to understanding the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and desires,” I tried to fix the issue. And when he wouldn’t accept my brilliant advice I got angry. Crazy.

Chapman has some great (well worn) advice on listening attentively, but it was point five (p68) that grabbed me.

“Refuse to Interrupt. Recent research has indicated that the average individual listens for only seventeen seconds before interrupting and interjecting his own ideas.”

Oh my goodness, yes, guilty as charged. Interrupting is one of my greatest flaws and I hate myself every time I realise I’ve done it. Even when I’m interrupting to agree, to share an anecdote to say ‘me too!’ or to offer words of sympathy, I am still interrupting. I’m even worse with the children, because for the past five years I’ve had to interpret what they’re trying to say. Now, when they’re capable of explaining it themselves, I still do it and it drives them bonkers, especially the youngest one.

My head fills with words and it’s like I can’t actually carry on listening because my need to speak fills my mind and my words are too precious to waste. How arrogant. When the children interrupt me and I stop them, they often cry and say “I’ve forgotten what I wanted to say now”. My response is usually, “if it was important it will come back to you” but I know from experience that isn’t true. For me, words not said or written down are lost forever (especially the blog posts or character scenes I write in my head at 2am and don’t capture because I don’t want to wake everyone up by getting out of bed.)

I’ve been known to lose track of whole conversations with other people because of the nagging sensation that I was about to say something brilliant. Maybe it’s time to let that go and trust that the words, if important enough, will come back eventually.

Thinking about all this at 5am this morning I realised that is why people love blogging so much and why I love reading posts that other people write. You cannot interrupt. I can write all the way to the end of a thought, or read all the way through to the end of someone else’s explanation, discussion or revelation, without interruption. In a world where we are all so eager to speak, blogging teaches us to listen and allows us to be heard. I hit the like button (where there is one, and I hate it when there isn’t) when I get all the way to the end of a blog post, as if to say “I have listened”.

I also realised that, by reading all the way to the end of a post without interrupting, I often don’t have anything to say. There is nothing to fix, no need for shared anecdotes. The writer has often answered their own question or revealed that actually their situation isn’t exactly like that time when I … at all.

So, my mission is to learn to listen, to learn to let my words go so that I can hear the words of others. How can I write stories if I won’t ever listen to them?

And I’m also going to try really really hard not to beat myself up about past failures. My favourite quote so far in Chapman’s book is “I am amazed how many individuals mess up every new day with yesterday. They insist on bringing into today the failures of yesterday and in so doing, they pollute a potentially wonderful day.” (p47) The sun is shining outside, the children are happy and the husband is smiling. Who would want to pollute this day?

Happy listening.

Serious Blogger? 2013 365 Challenge #255

There goes the diet again!

There goes the diet again!

I went into my blog today without realising I wasn’t logged in, and was surprised to see an advert within my text. I guess I knew that WordPress made money somehow from free blogs, but I hadn’t thought much more about it.

Apparently it costs $30 a year to remove the adverts, and now I’m wondering if I should pay it. When I clicked on the advert it said “you may be seeing this ad because the blogger is making money from their site” or words to that effect. Oh I wish I was making money from my blog! Then I wouldn’t feel guilty at the time it takes away from my family or from writing my novels. Not that I would give up writing my blog for anything.

One of the posts I linked to yesterday was When Blogging Doesn’t Work – on the Writing by the Seat of my Pants blog. It challenged the widely held belief that authors need to blog; explaining that it isn’t always necessary, particularly if you are blogging just for the sake of it rather than because you enjoy it. This was my comment:

Baking cookies with my girl

Baking cookies with my girl

“I started my blog without really understanding why, except that I needed one if I wanted to be an author. Then this year I started a daily blogging challenge – writing a novel in daily installments on my blog – and even though it’s been a right pain at times, I have enjoyed it immensely. It probably hasn’t given me a huge surge in blog followers, but it has improved my ability to write to a deadline and copy-edit quickly: benefits I hadn’t envisioned in the beginning. In fact, I may even do it again next year (although I suspect my family may beg me not to!!)”

I forgot to add that, through my blog, I have met such an amazing group of people and that my blogverse feels like a happy place where I enjoy spending time.

So, should I let advertising intrude on my happy place? Should I let you, my followers, think that I’m trying to make money from you, when I’m not (unless you want to buy my books, and then of course that’s just fine!)

Is it worth $30 a year to keep my blog pure? I’ve toyed with the idea of buying the full package and having my own domain name, but until now I’ve been perfectly happy with the free blog. I guess it’s just one more question in the long list of queries associated with self-publishing and being a writer: and one more thing to add to the list “Things I would do if I had more money”!

What do you think? Are the adverts annoying? Do you even see them? Am I worrying over nothing? Do tell.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire gazed out the window as the ocean crashed against the shore, raising spray that would envelop the bus were they just a bit closer. She’d heard that the west coast was nicknamed the wet coast, and that seemed about right.

The heavy grey skies and angry sea soothed her, as if their rage forced her to be calm. Rain poured down the windows, enhancing rather than marring the view. Claire could see tree-covered hills climbing upwards from the other side of the bus. She curled in towards the window and let the weather entertain her.

The bus slowed and Claire roused herself to see why they had stopped. The driver explained that they were at a seal colony and anyone who fancied braving the rain was welcome to have a look around.

Claire uncurled herself and searched in her bag for a raincoat. Making her way to the front of the bus she realised she was the only person getting off. She was about to sit back down when a giggling couple from the front also disembarked. With a twisted smile, Claire decided she would run, if need be, to get away from them.

Outside, signposts led her down a walkway, slippery in the rain, towards the seal colony. All around her tall spiky plants stabbed at the sky.

There was no one else around as Claire followed the path to the viewing platform. Wind dragged hair across her face and the rain blew in sideways.

This was a stupid idea. I should have stayed on the bus. Knowing my luck they’ll leave without me.

Blinded by her wet hair, Claire almost walked into the railing. She rested her hands on the wood and searched the rocks for seals.

If they’ve got any sense they’ll be hiding in a cave somewhere out of the weather. Even if they are there I’m not going to see them through this.

Heaving a sigh that was swept away on the wind, Claire turned to walk back to the car park. Her stomach roiled like the pewter-grey waves and an almost overwhelming urge not to get back on the bus swept over her. The rigid routine, the upholstered seats, even Bethan’s unending good humour, felt like a cage that she was finally free from.

Claire pulled her hood tight around her face and leant in to the wind. With no seals to see, she knew there was no option but to go back and get on with her trip. Retracing her steps she didn’t notice the sign until she walked into it.

Who puts a bloody signpost in the middle of the footpath?

She rubbed her head and looked up at the offending pillar. It was one of the tourist signs, like she had seen at Cape Reinga, showing the distances to places near and far.

London 16,286km. I don’t think I wanted to know that. I might as well be on the moon.

It was a long way home

*

Back on the bus, Claire felt like she’d gate-crashed a party. All the passengers who had decided to stay warm and dry were gathered in groups, chatting and laughing. Claire sidled up the aisle to her seat and slid in to skulk by the window.

“Claire, you’re back!”

Claire turned as Bethan bounced onto the seat next to her.

“How were the seals? Nice and dry I see.”

“Ha ha. What did I miss? Feels like a festival in here.”

“Everyone’s discussing their fancy dress costume for this evening.”

“Fancy dress?” Claire groaned. Now she really wanted to get off the bus.

“Yes, apparently we have to source our outfit in town later, before we get to the Poo Pub tonight.”

“Poo Pub?” Claire felt like a parrot, but she didn’t know what else to say.

Maybe I sent Josh away too soon. Fancy dress and silliness are much more his thing than mine.

Claire wrapped her arms around herself and curled into the window. It was going to be a long day.

***

The World of Blogging: 2013 365 Challenge #207

The world of blogs

The world of blogs

Today has been a day for giving back to blogging. I’ve written before about how hard it is to have a daily blog and still give to the blogging community. Much of my spare time is spent writing and formatting blog posts and photographs and coming up with new dilemmas for Claire. It’s hard to get a balance.

I should read blogs when I’m staring blankly at Facebook in the evening, but that doesn’t seem the right time. I want to do more than visit and like just to be liked in return. I want to give time and thought to the great blogs I see, and take the effort to discover new ones.

So today I gave my whole day to doing that (as well as a pleasant hour reading and reviewing a lovely collection of short stories). In some ways it reminds me of something I read once about children getting upset when they have chosen a sweetie, as it immediately rules out all the other sweeties.

I reached 200 followers

I reached 200 followers

I feel a bit like that with time spent reading posts. There are so many, about parenting and writing, about life, with amazing photographs and poems, flash fiction and craft ideas. I want to read, understand, comment, share, embrace them all, but I can’t. Tempus fugit.

These are my favourites from today.

  • Some great ideas about how to keep children entertained during the school holidays (sarcastic/ironic – hopefully!)
  • Mary Beth Lee explains how she doesn’t mind a weepie book or film, as long as she knows in advance: no surprise deaths here please
  • Chuck Wendig asks, So you just had your book published, now what? A tongue-in-cheek exploration of what happens next. (contains strong language)
  • Tracey Lynn Tobin asks if you are concerned with gender stereotypes, in her post Gender Insignificant. I explained in the comments that my son wears pink and nail varnish!

I might have to emulate (steal from) Annie Cardi, who has a weekly post just listing great links, called Links Galore. Hers are at least all (or mostly all) about YA fiction though. Mine would be a bit more varied. Amanda’s random links. A winner yes? No?

My Blog Map since launch

My Blog Map since launch

I also took a sneaky peak at my blogging world map today (inspired by a post I read by Mary Beth Lee) and was amazed to see how many countries were included (95 different countries since I started the blog last year).

I used to aspire to be a traditionally published author and see my book in the local Waterstones. I still have that dream. But I’m so thankful to my amazing sister, and others who pushed me to self-publish in the meantime. I have learned so much, gained so much, and – best of all – met so many amazing people.

Thank you to everyone who visits and follows the blog. You’re all making one crazy stay-at-home mum with crazy dreams very happy!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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“What do you think then?”

Claire looked up with narrowed eyes. “What about?”

“All of it. The town, the job, hell the band even. You’re a gal who keeps her cards close.”

Claire looked up in surprise at Conor’s words. Sitting in a bar with him, she felt exposed, as if her every thought was pasted on her face. Maybe it was the lack of make-up, or the jeans, but she felt more visible outside of the office. Conor kept his gaze on her, waiting for an answer. His features were indistinct in the dim bar, but Claire could still visualise the piercing green eyes, pinning her down.

“What do you love about it?”

Conor laughed. “Oh, slippery lady. I’ll have the truth from you, you see if I don’t.”

She raised an eyebrow and he held his hands up in mock surrender.

“Ah, go on then. What do I love about it? It reminds me of home. The friendliness, the sea, the hills. It has a warmth that closes round you and keep you safe.”

“Where is home?”

Conor twisted his lips as if to say, isn’t it obvious.

She grinned, a déjà vu popping up of her tormenting Mitch. “I mean what part of Ireland. I can just about tell you’re from the South but that’s the end of my linguistic skills.”

“Cork, I’m from Cork. Left when I was young, parents sent me to school over here. Thought I’d have a better chance in life without the accent and the parochial tarnish.”

“Really? You kept the accent, though?” Now she thought about it, the Irish lilt hadn’t been as strong during the interview. Gosh was that only this morning?

“I can produce a school boy accent, should the need arise.” He spoke in clipped tones. “But I find my own fair brogue is best for charming the ladies.” He grinned.

“Is that what this is? A charm offensive? Is that appropriate?”

“I’m not your boss yet.” He winked, then his face became more serious. “If I am attempting to charm you, it’s purely in a work capacity. I could tell you weren’t overly taken with your time with us today.”

“If you mean did I dislike being grilled like a piece of tuna, you’re right. Besides…” She stopped. Conor’s manner was too friendly; it had nearly lulled her into another indiscretion.

“Besides what, Fair Maid?” Leaning forwards, he clasped his hands and turned to face Claire full on.

She squirmed under his scrutiny, well aware she had a bad habit of admitting the wrong things to the worst people.

Thinking furiously, her brain threw up a card. “Besides, I’m not sure I’m ready to bury myself in this backwater, charming as it might be.”

Connor frowned. He looked much older without the grin. “From the sounds of it, you’ve stayed in more remote places than this and found peace.”

It was Claire’s turn to furrow her brow. They hadn’t discussed her travels much during the interview, so he must have read her blog. Funny how you could pour your heart out to invisible strangers but find it so much harder to talk to a flesh and blood person who you’d only just met.

“Who could climb a hill, stand in silence on the summit. and not find peace?” She spoke softly, half hoping he wouldn’t hear.

“Me,” he said with a laugh, making her jump. “Can’t bear to be by myself.” He shrugged. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ll happily sit in a bar on me own, but there’s still the steaming heap of humanity all around. Silence makes my teeth ache.”

He turned to face the band still playing in the corner and Claire breathed in relief. She needed to know her own mind before she divulged anymore of it to anyone, least of all a potential boss. When the song finished she drained her glass and stood to leave.

Conor reached out a hand to lightly grasp her wrist. “Claire?” Frissons ran up her arm from his touch. “Don’t sell out. If they counter-offer – and I’m sure they will; I would if you tried to leave me – don’t be swayed. We can’t compete on salary but you’ll be making a difference here. Not to some faceless corporation, but to real people. Think about it.”

Claire looked down at his hand on her wrist and he dropped the grasp as if her skin burned him. His eyes looked puzzled and Claire wondered how often he met with a rebuff.

Not often enough. With a nod to acknowledge his words she turned and made her way through the punters to the door.

Outside, the cool night air prickled her skin. Josh would be awake, if she wanted to call him. She felt drained and hollow, fit only for sleep. Loading up the map on her phone she traced her way back to the hostel and fell into troubled dreams.

***