Breaking News: Double Book Launch!

Belfast Writers’ Group have been going from strength to strength since we reformed in September. After stalling for nearly two years, we are finally launching a new short story anthology AND re-releasing the first anthology with new, bonus content.

I have a story in the second edition of Ghosts in the Glass, a story in Creatures and Curiosities, and another story in ‘creatures’ that I helped write with my husband. It’s his first publication, so we’re really excited.

The official launch for both books is on Friday 27th of October at Malone Lodge Hotel Belfast, between 7 and 9.30pm.

Please come along for some readings and free tea and coffee. Facebook event here.

On Getting Help

So, it’s mental health day again. I’ve seen a lot of great posts floating around on the internet – poems and blog posts about what it’s like to have a mental illness, ones intended to inspire and uplift those who are feeling down, and a lot of statuses advising people to reach out and get help if they need it. Which is all great.

Except, what does reaching out and getting help entail, exactly?

While I was at university, I had what I now describe as a breakdown. At the time, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know who I was, what I was doing, or how to stop hurting. Needless to say, it was terrifying.

I had a decent sized social circle, so a lot of people knew I was having problems. Some knew more than others, of course. But no one really knew the full ins and outs of it – how could they, when I didn’t understand it myself?

In a lot of ways, I was crying out for help. And many of them tried to help, but only a few actually did.

Now, I’m not laying blame here. There were a million reasons why people didn’t and couldn’t help me – legit reasons. But that’s the simple truth of it: I needed help and, despite everything, couldn’t find it.

I phoned a helpline and, to be honest, found it unhelpful. They wanted to talk, but I wanted to stop drowning.

I asked them something along the lines of, ‘Can you get me an appointment to see someone, or have some diagnose me, or do anything other than listen to me?’ and they said no, and I hung up.

Don’t get me wrong, having someone to listen to you is important. For some people, it’s all they want or need. And it was part of what I needed but, down in the dark where I was, I needed more.

I tried counselling to mixed success. I went to my GP, and googled ways to find help (and googled, and googled, until I could google no more).

Nothing was working. Nothing was enough.

For a long while, I would have actually been relieved to have been sectioned. Then people would realize how bad I was, and come to me with help rather than me having to be the one to go out and find it.

In the end, I can’t actually tell you what stopped the downward cycle. It probably was a mix of friends, counselling, GP appointments, Google, and helplines.

All I know is, one day I didn’t hurt quite so badly. I came out of a big period of depression and was able to see clearly enough to chart my way back to health. For the most part, anyway. (I still have bad days, of course, but nothing like my last year in Lincoln.)

Maybe that particular bout of depression shifted all on its own, the same way it had come of its own accord. Maybe if I hadn’t left Lincoln, I’d still be under it. I don’t know. Answers still aren’t easy.

Telling someone to ask for help is easy. What’s harder is the listening, and the searching for solutions on someone else’s behalf.

This is not a blog post for those who are drowning, but those on shore wondering whether they should phone the coast guard or not.

Here is my advice to you: regularly ask the people around you how they are – like, really ask them, and don’t accept simple answers. They may be great, having the time of their life. Talking to them might reveal that they actually have a lot of possitive things going on behind the scenes that you had no idea about. Talking to them might help you realize that, actually, you have stuff going on in your own background you weren’t even aware of.

You can’t (and shouldn’t!) ever force help on someone, but don’t assume that if your friends are hurting they will come to you. And don’t get upset if you hear, after the fact, that they were struggling and didn’t reach out. I can’t emphasize this point enough but, DON’T MAKE IT ABOUT YOU.

Don’t content yourself with passive pleasantries. Actively look out for people who need you, and try asking them what they need. Like me, they may not know what they need. That’s fine. Don’t pressure them for answers, for god’s sake. Reassure them you’ll search for answers together, staying beside them all the way. And then STAY BESIDE THEM.

A number of people who say, ‘let me know if there’s anything I can do’ and then vanish away into the ether is insane (and, yeah, I use that word with all it’s stigma and implications).

In conclusion, realizing you need help and asking for it is monumental, but it’s only one side of the equation. Realize that people ask for help in thousands of different ways, and listen out for them.

Do not go alone.

Herron Family Update

This year still shows no sign of calming down for my husband and I, but things are looking a lot brighter. After I put up my most recent post about Steve’s health and ongoing issues with the welfare system, in which I imparted the news we’d been told about having to wait a year for a new DLA tribunal, our objection to the first tribunal was allowed and we got a new one without having to wait after all.

So, we had a new DLA tribunal and a new ESA tribunal within a few weeks, and thankfully, thankfully (I cannot impress that word strongly enough!), we won them both. Steve also had some follow-up tests with neurology, and things are actually moving forward! Relief upon relief!!

Steve and I have been wanting to bring a new addition into our family for good, long time. And, now that things are sorted, I can happily impart even more good news: we have adopted a cat!

Sox Herron* is settling in well, and we love her.

For now and (I bloody well hope) the next wee while, things are well  🙂


*For those confused about the Herron surname: it is my married name. I write under McKee as it is my maiden name.

Happy National Poetry Day!

Things are still fairly hectic for me (this entire year so far has been insane) so I’m not making it out to a National Poetry Day event. But I did want to take this opportunity to say that the micropoetry collection I talked about releasing at the start of the year is still in the works. Because of all the madness that is life, I’ve pushed back the release date several times. Currently, I’m aiming for a November launch. But who knows – anything can happen during NaNo. As long as you know, dear readers, that I haven’t forgotten and I am getting there, albeit slowly.

The Chocolate Scullery (Flash Fiction)

During the September meeting for Belfast Writers’ Group (which has finally got back together after its long hiatus!), we did a writing exercise in which we wrote something based on three prompts: the name a room, a luxurious material, and something that rots. Pictured above are the options I was handed, and below is what I made of them. Heads up, it’s about to get weird.

Dark chocolate wasn’t the material you often found rooms made out of, but this room – a scullery on the side of a cliff – was no ordinary room. It had three walls, half a roof, and only one other room attached to it: a kitchen.

Inside the scullery was a large dining table, also made out of dark chocolate. On it were three matching candlesticks made out of white chocolate, and a centrepiece of lard.

Having only three walls, there was no need for any windows, but it had six anyway. It was soon discovered after the room was built that if you didn’t keep air flowing inside, it would melt. Enclosure didn’t help with the dead body smell, either.

The source of the dead body smell was, as can be expected, a body. That was dead. It belonged to the owner of the adjoining rooms, a man in his fifteen-hundreds who didn’t like you to point out the smell or oddities of his dwelling, thank you very much.

All in all, it wasn’t the weirdest thing about him.

Some people (for, yes, there were frequent visitors) thought the fact that he was lactose intolerant was the weirdest thing but, nope, they were wrong too.

One day – a very hot day, in which half of the kitchen (which was made out of Philadelphia cream cheese) – fell into the sea and the dead body (let’s call him Jim) decided he’d had enough, and melted the chocolate scullery to the ground/rock face.

It got stuck, which made Jim even angrier, and the skulls didn’t like it much either.

Second Update on ‘The Situation’

I took this photo at Belfast City Hall the day we set our wedding date. Little did I know how fitting it would become.

At the end of April, I published a blog post here about the nightmare my husband (and, by extension, myself) was facing. At the start of May, I wrote an update. Well, it’s August now, and we’re still facing the Same. Damn. Thing. It’s exhausting just thinking about it, but let me give you a recap:

When I met Steve, two and half years ago, he was already ill. He was diagnosed with diabetes maybe four years ago. Six months after that, he collapsed, was in a coma for a bit, and woke up to find he had the bonus condition of seizures. Fatigue came along for the ride, happy in its task of exacerbating his existing mental health issues (anxiety and depression) – I speak of all this with levity, holding fast to the old adage, “If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.”

About three years ago, Steve moved back home with his parents and got a new job. He collapsed again, while at work, and had to be removed in an ambulance. There was just no way he could go back, so he did the obvious thing of applying for welfare. (I hate the word ‘benefits’ and the connotations it conjures up, but that’s a different rant for a different day.)

Continue reading

August Reading Audit

After reading this article about taking a closer look at what’s on our bookshelves, I decided to have a look at my own and crunch some numbers. Because, really, I can’t resist scribbling notes and coming up with stats. (Yes, I’m a nerd, are you new here?)

For context, I went into the task thinking I had:

A – a lot of books in general
B – most of my books still unread
C – most of my books (both read and unread) written by women

I should say at this point that I was looking at my physical shelves, e-reader, and audiobooks. I didn’t bother with comics or graphic novels. Fan fiction also wasn’t included at this stage.

Without going into too much detail (knowing that others don’t love stats quite as much as me) my findings were basically:

A – I don’t have as many books to read as I thought
B – I’ve already read a fair chunk of the books I do have
C – most of my books are indeed written by women, but not by a particularly high percentage

Seeing as gender representation isn’t an issue for me (Yay!), I’ll end discussion of that particular point here. Though it will be something I’ll keep an eye on, in future.

Regarding points A and B: I have approximately 100 things in my possession, either in print or online, ready to read. That includes some novel-length fanfics I’ve bookmarked but doesn’t take into consideration a bunch of free Kindle books I got once upon a time and I have no intention of ever starting.

Because of these 100 things (novels, poetry collections, audiobooks, etc), I’m going to reinstate the book-buying ban I placed on my self during the first half of the year. So, between now and Christmas, I’m going to see how low I can get that number.

Wish me luck!

Notes from a Playwriting Workshop

Kelly Creighton interviewing Jo Zebedee at her latest Book Launch

Yesterday, before attending Jo Zebedee’s latest book launch (which was great by the way, go check out Waters and the Wild!), I was at a free playwriting workshop put on by the Lyric Theatre.

Apparently the workshop was part two in a series, and the next one is at the end of August (keep an eye on the Lyric’s website for more details).

The event was more in the style of a lecture followed by a question and answer session, really. I’m told the previous one was about the nuts and bolts of actually writing and formatting a script, and the next one is from the point of view of a director, but this one was words of wisdom from Stuart Pringle of London’s Bush Theatre.

He says that he often scouts around for new talent at showcases, showings of short plays, and “scratch nights.” I think the take away from that is to try for something small before aiming to get a full-scale play commissioned.

Similarly to traditional book publishing process, there are submission windows and agents that work specifically with/for scriptwriters. There are some theatres and production companies that specifically work with new writing, and producing theatres (that is, theatres that don’t just host plays that have already been made and performed elsewhere) will have literary departments consisting of people who’s sole job it is to read scripts. There are theatres specifically for experimental work, also.

Don’t assume that new writing means young writing. Older writers just starting out should not feel discouraged.

Most plays require private funding, either sourced by the theatre through sponsors or fronted by the playwright’s wealthy fans/family/companions/contacts. The Bush theatre, for context, gets a third of its funding from the box office, a third from the Arts Council, and a third from sponsors, who the writers and directors are encouraged to meet with regularly.

The Royal Court accept submissions year-round and are great at providing feedback. Most other theatres simply don’t have the people power for such things.

There are two main types of commissioning agreement in the UK, but they will vary depending on the theatre. How much creative input a writer will have after their work goes into production and is put in the hands of the director also varies greatly. If you have a play commissioned that doesn’t get produced, the rights should always revert back to the writer. Having an agent can really help with all the finer points of contracts.

Four Years of Fan Fiction

On this day, every year, I post some stats about fan fiction I’ve written; today being July 28th – exactly four years since I started writing it. You can view my stats for 2016 here, and 2015 here.

When I started, it was only Buffy fanfic, and it was only posted in a single place: Elysian Fields. After a year, I started sharing work to FanFiction.net and dipping my toe into other fandoms, also. Last year I decided to re-edit my back catalogue and stick it all up on Archive of Our Own. That is still a work in progress, as you’ll see below.

Total Words Written: 320,000
Words Posted to AO3: 100,000

On EF, I have left over 1,000 reviews totalling 50,000 words, and 84 people have favourited me.

130 people have favourited me on FF, and I’ve left 150 reviews there.
Total views to my FF profile page: over 10,000.

I have almost 500 ‘Kudos’ on AO3. Hits are over 12,000, subscriptions over 100, and 69 bookmarks (honestly, I don’t really know the difference between subscriptions and bookmarks, but I post the details here for reference anyway).

I’m not even going to begin trying to count how many reviews I’ve received, because it was in the thousands last year and it took me forever to total. Needless to say, though, I’m feeling pretty pleased with what I’ve accomplished.

All of the Thoughts

I feel seventeen again, and not in a good way.

I’m feeling like I was last September, when the poems were running out of me like blood and my mind was lost in space.

…and it’s all in my head, I think about it over and over again

I can’t stop thinking in song lyrics. Can’t stop thinking.

There’s so much more I want to say about Chester, but I don’t know where to start.

I may not get over this. I mean, Linkin Park have been with me 15+ years. Over half my life.

I may not still be living without them. How do I start to get my head around that?

wake me up, when September ends