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…

What I’m Asking

I want support – moral and financial – as I complete the rewrite of my debut novel. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. In fact, the amount doesn’t matter so much as knowing that some people (no matter how few) are choosing to invest in me. Even if I only get three people donating $1 to me each month, I consider that a positive thing. It gives me something to build on, see.

How You Can Help

Donate! By clicking through to my Patreon page (linked at the bottom of this post), selecting a support tier that’s right for you (in the sidebar on the right of the page or below the ‘about’ section if you’re viewing the site on mobile), and filling in the relevant details, you will be agreeing to support me for the set fee you have chosen, which will be taken automatically each month via PayPal and give you access to perks, as listed below. What happens if you sign up but then can’t afford to continue? You cancel your subscription. Simple.

What Funders Will Get

If you donate $1 per month, you will unlock access to posts that only subscribers can see containing breaking news about my writing. If I get a literary agent, or land a publishing deal? The people on my Patreon feed will hear first.

Donate $5 per month and you’ll get the exclusive posts PLUS a previously unpublished poem by myself.

Donate $10 and you’ll get the exclusive posts, poem, and a previously unpublished piece of fiction (most likely a short story of around 1,000 words).

People who donate $25 or more will get everything already detailed AND be listed in the acknowledgements of my novel when it finally reaches the light of day/bookstore shelves.

Two lucky people who donate $50 will get a side-character in my novel named after them, so they can live forever between the pages of a book. (And yes, that’s in addition to all the lower-tier perks.)

In addition to that, if/when I hit 50 patrons, all of them will be able to read the first chapter of my novel exclusively, before anyone else.

What I’ll Do With the Funding

I intend to use any money I receive towards costs associated with my writing. For example, right now, I need to renew a domain name for this very website. That’s the first thing I would sort if I got funds.

Secondly, I need to get a final set of proof copies of the new editions of my back catalogue. All year I have been saying I would release them and, now there’s little over a month left, I’d really like to push on and get my 2017 editions out into the world.

Beyond that, I want to join the Society of Authors, which incurs a subscription fee of its own.

Donate

If, after reading all that, you would like to donate, please click through to my Patreon page here.

Any questions? Let me know in the comments section below.

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.

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 someone 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.