Reviewing 2017 & Making 2018 Resolutions

There is so much I could say in this post, about lots of good and bad and trying things that have happened this year, but I’ve already spoken about many of those things in lots of different other places, both as they happened and after the fact – yes, I’m a serial reflector, I confess! – and I’m going to cover what I wrote and what I had published in a separate blog post in the new year, so let’s talk resolutions. I started 2017 with six of them:

  • Get married
  • Read 50 books
  • Join the Society of Authors
  • Get a literary agent
  • and a cat
  • Take an official proofreading course

Getting Married – I did that. It was awesome! Probably enough said 🙂

In terms of books – my Goodreads goal for 2017 was 50 and (as of an hour ago, when I finished a collection of stories by Dr Suess) my total is 57. Of that, there was the usual mix of genres and formats. Audible tells me I listened to 12,760 minutes of audiobooks this year, and my most active day for listening were Sundays, apparently. My reading goal for 2018 is 52.

I didn’t join the Society of Authors or get a literary agent, so those goals have moved to 2018. But I did get a cat and (as a complete surprise to me as well as you), I ended up getting a dog as well! Giles (pictured above; bottom right) has been with us less than a week and having the time of his little life.

The proofreading course I mentioned is something I keep changing my mind about. Part of me wants to do it, but then there are other things that would be of more use to me that I want to do more, so it’s nothing I’ve followed up on thus far. It would be nice to have, but if I never complete it I won’t exactly feel sad.

Things of a higher priority on my ‘to do’ list currently are getting my driver’s license and eating a bit more healthily. I’m not intending to go on a diet, exactly, but I do want to take better care of my body.

Those are pretty much my plans for the new year. I guess we’ll see how it goes!

December Update: News, Events, and 2018 Plans

I’m sure I’m not alone in having a lot happening at the moment – December seems to be an ultra crazy month for most people. But, aside from Christmas, there are three biggish things in my life right now, and I’m here to tell you about them.

New Job

Starting in January, I will be teaching a class! With actual students!!

The class is Social Media for Creatives: How to Build & Maintain an Online Platform for you & your work, and the initial run will be two hours a week for ten weeks but, if it goes well, I might get to run the class again.

Women Aloud NI 2018

Women Aloud have just announced their programme for International Women’s Day 2018, and I’m taking part. As well as reading at events in Belfast and Dublin, I’ve been put in charge of coordinating this year’s cross-border in-train recital.

Novel Update

The novel I rewrote during NaNoWriMo last month now has a new title, and I have two sequels planned as well.

Those of you who follow me on Patreon will be able to see the details I have already released there but, for everyone else, I have added a specific page here on my website where you can keep up to date with how things are going. (Spoiler alert: they’re going well so far. I am so excited!)

Taking a Moment

For as difficult as this year has been, I am taking a moment to appreciate it.

Right now, as I type, I am sat in bed with a laptop on my knee and the love of my life sleeping beside me; our cat in the other room, no doubt curled up on a chair by the bookcases I built.

I get to work on my writing – easily considered the second love of my life, though I discovered it first.

Really, truly, I love my job and my life.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that, when I get absorbed by projects and the stress that follows. But quiet, peaceful moments like this make it all worth it.

So what if I’m over 5,000 words behind in my word count for NaNoWriMo? I am right where I’m supposed to be.

As little as three years ago, I had no such contentment. I’d just gotten out of yet another bad relationship, was still living with my parents, and not getting very far professionally. I was unhappy with my place within organized religion, but feeling like I was helpless to change much about my situation.

If only I’d known I was three months away from meeting my husband and having the happiest months of my life that’s brought levels of personal freedom and confidence in my work I’d never before experienced.

Probably, I wouldn’t have believed it. Which just goes to show, you never know what’s around the corner.

Helena Brockovich (Flash Fiction)

At Writers’ Group a while ago, we did an exercise that consisted of a series of prompts –

Characters: A Kitchen Maid and a Retired Judge
Traits: Corrupt, Congenial
Sense: Smell
Location: Dog Show
Object: Piece of Flint

Below is the piece of flash fiction I wrote. Credit goes to David for the title. The reference should become clear at the end, where I will give a bit of extra context.

Helena was a kitchen maid for a big house on the other side of town. Usually a congenial soul, on this day she had to drag out her inner badass and go to war.

As she said goodbye to her sickly kids, hoping their condition wouldn’t deteriorate while she was gone, she mentally prepared herself for the confrontation, using the sight of them sat there, listless and suffering as motivation for her task.

Crossing over to the rich side of town, she passed her employers house and kept walking until she reached the dog track. There was a ‘Best of Breed’ show on for all the pedigree pooches of the neighbourhood, and she’d been told the judge would be there.

Sure enough, she found him in the front row, mercifully unattended.

Helena approached and he smiled at her, so she gave him the speech – a four-minute pre-prepared rant, that didn’t stop for pauses or interruptions, about the state of living conditions on the poorer side of town.

When Helena was done, she handed the judge a lunch box, which he opened and then immediately closed again, throwing it away as he swore at her.

Although he’d managed to throw the box quite a distance, they could both still smell the item strongly. All pleasantries had gone from the judge’s demeanour as he demanded an explanation.

Helena said it was a sample of her front yard, which had become flooded and, subsequently, contaminated with the local water. Which just proved her point: the water in the poor side of Flint, Michigan, was undrinkable. Unfit for the ground, and most certainly toxic to people.

The judge frowned before hesitantly agreeing to look into the matter, hinting that things would be sped along if Helena made a donation to his office.

It took her a month of working extra shifts, but she made the money and sent it off to the address he had written out for her.

It was only after that she found out that the judge was retired and had no influence in local matters anymore at all.

Not the happiest story in the world but, sadder still, it is based on a real-life situation. If you haven’t heard about the Flint water crises, you can (and should) read about it here. Education is power, after all.

If you would like to hear me read more flash fiction in person and you live in Belfast, you’re in luck, because I’m going to be reading at a Women Aloud NI event on Tuesday as part of the CS Lewis festival.

Failing that, you can subscribe to my Patreon here for as little as $1 per month, for which you will get regular access to exclusive poetry and fiction by myself. #SupportIndependentAuthors #SpreadTheWord

Ripped: A Novel

A few people have been asking me about the book I’m working on at the minute, so here goes.

It’s called Ripped, and it’s a contemporary young adult novel. Which is to say it is set in the real world (no fantasy elements), with a teenage main character, and intended for mainly a teenage audience (though it will appeal to some adults too).

The tagline I’ve written for it is ‘Can a family be held together by the red tape that helped tear it apart?

Summary

Mya’s life was hard enough already, dealing with her sociopath step-dad on a daily basis, but when she goes into labour during maths class, things are set to get a whole lot worse.

She hasn’t told her boyfriend, Richard. She hasn’t told anyone; hasn’t got any support in place, and is helpless when her step-dad forces her to give her baby up.

Mya had no idea social services would offer the baby to Richard before putting her in the system, and she certainly never would have guessed Richard would say yes. Now all she can do is fight to get them both back.

It’s quite character driven – written in close third person point of view, so you really get inside Mya’s head.

I’m aiming for is a total word count of 50,000 when finished, so not too long. I got half-way through the previous draft when I realized I really needed to work on the story structure. So, this year, I’ve been rewriting the whole thing from scratch.

Yeah, I’m biased, but I think the updated plot works a lot better. All in all, I’m really happy with how Ripped is progressing. I have plans to finish the bulk of the rewrite this month (as part of NaNoWriMo), tie together any loose ends next month, and start querying agents in January.

Ripped isn’t the first novel I’ve worked on. Previously, I’ve written drafts of two other novels, which I plan to go back to once this one is done.

If you’d like to support me as I plug away at my path to publication, please consider donating to my Patreon. Even $1 per month helps.

Thank you for reading. I’d love to hear what you think of my premise.

Breakdown

For all my talk about this being a new era in which I’m going to really believe in myself and promote my work better, I was a little worried after my previous blog post that I was maybe asking too much or coming across as arrogant asking for people to support me at all.

There’s a delicate balance to be made between blowing your own horn to let people know you’re doing a cool thing and taking that horn and bashing people over the head with it, making a big noise in their ears at the same time.

Out of fear of being counterproductive and turning people away from the things I want to tell them about, and with a big dose of impostor syndrome, I try to err on the side of caution.

I’d rather be too quiet than not loud enough. Even so, I’ve gotten some feedback and, apparently, I’ve done little more than whisper to myself so far. That’s maybe a bit too much towards the other extreme, not being productive at all.

So, here’s the plan. Today, right now, I am going to explicitly break down what it is I’m asking for, how people can help, what people will get in return, and what I’ll do with the funding. Then, at the end of this week, I will be putting up a further blog post about my novel so people can get an even better idea of what they’ll be helping me to create if indeed they choose to help.

Here we go…  Continue reading

A Leap of Faith

In my previous blog post, I said that I’d been turned down for funding by the Arts Council. Since then, I requested feedback on my application and, what they essentially said was, I’ve got a good history of artistic practice and made contributions to the local arts community but I didn’t really sell my current project.

Not believing in myself has been a problem in the past, and it’s something I’m actively trying to overcome. There are a lot of opportunities that I haven’t taken advantage of, thinking I’m not good enough or established enough yet. I tell myself I’ll go after them later, when I’ve got some publication, award, or official recognition.

I know being “established” and “successful” are subjective goals at best, whereas trying to gain specific certifications can be arbitrary. Well, no more. I’m done minimizing all the hard work I’ve done so far and no longer standing in my own way.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to do for a long time but not felt worthy of yet is setting up a Patreon account – a place where people can support me for as little as $1 per month.

I’m not expecting anyone to donate, and I won’t be offended if people don’t want to give me their money, but the option is now there for if you do wish to help. I figure, there’s no harm putting myself out there. If it doesn’t take off, no harm no foul.

Click here to read more.

A Long, Long Year

I want to write an update on life and writing and everything quite literally in between, but I’m having trouble knowing where to start…

Flicking through past blog posts, I can see that NaNoWriMo last year didn’t quite go to plan for me. After that, in December 2016, I tried to take a break. That didn’t quite work out either. I’d been so heavily involved in client work, I’d built up a ton of momentum and found the sudden stop incredibly jarring.

Next, the come-down happened. Burn out from doing too much for too long hit me once I finally stopped and took a breath. I think I allowed myself three whole breaths before New Year hit and I was right back to expecting the world from myself.

I wanted to hit 2017 running but found that I couldn’t go straight back into top gear having stopped the engine for a bit. So I beat myself up for a while, wrote a couple of stirring blog posts about how I was determined to do better. And then I got married, which of course was wonderful but also a bit of a whirlwind that left my head spinning. Months of building up to a single event can kind of have that effect.

Home from honeymoon, I told myself ‘this is it, time to be serious now, get back to work for real.’ So I threw myself into the Women Aloud NI events in March. I had a birthday, and then a little bit of a breakdown in which I admitted to the world just how sick my new husband was/is and how burnt out I was still feeling.

I carried on caring for him, and battling the government on his behalf, and trying to keep up the level of client work I’d been doing before, and trying to write and everything else. And the writing was pushed to the side because I didn’t have the time or the energy, and I felt worse and worse about that. (Writing keeps me sane, I swear. When I can’t do it, I really come apart at the seams.)

During that time – May until like September – client work became increasingly stressful and time-consuming to the point where I snapped and couldn’t do it anymore. I had pushed aside practically all of my clients to work on one main contract and it became too much, so I quit, leaving myself with no income from my business.

I actually stopped operating as a business somewhere along the line, knowing that I needed to focus on my craft as an artist.

The lead singer of my favourite band died during this time, too. A big part of the band that had got me through my teenage years without killing myself killed himself. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I could barely think, much less write.

Then a big relief came when my husband won his welfare appeals, and we finally were able to get the pet we’ve always wanted.

And then I got swept up in launching Belfast Writers’ Group’s two new short story anthologies.

And now I’m here, about to start NaNoWriMo 2017. I had hoped that I would be going into this year’s writing challenge with the backing of the Arts Council, but I have just gotten word that they have turned down my application for funding.

So, I’m going to redraft my novel anyway; not doing much client work or taking a wage besides. I am going to write and relax and try not to traverse any further into burn out territory.

Not gonna lie, I’m exhausted before I even begin this next leg of my journey. Please, please wish me luck.

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.  Continue reading