Where Change Continues?

Giles being my office co-pilot (looking at me like I’m mad because I probably am).

It’s Monday morning, day fourteen of 2019. After an initial wobble on day one, this New Year has been pretty good for me. I don’t mean to say that the past two weeks have been completely plain sailing, because there have been a couple of health-related blips, but I’ve been feeling pretty positive aside from them.

At least until I hit this past weekend.

After ten days of being on top of my game and managing to stay in super-productive-mode, I got up very late on Friday (the eleventh). It was to be date night for my husband and I and we’d pre-booked tickets to go see Collette at Queen’s Film Theatre. We were both pretty tired and, I’ll be honest, the fact that we’d already paid was the only thing that stopped us going back to bed immediately after breakfast.

We went, we saw, we enjoyed. Then we went for dinner at a Chinese buffet restaurant where I overate and ended up in very intense pain on the walk back to the bus. I think I triggered one of my food allergies but, regardless of the cause, I was left feeling pretty rough. I went home and slept. I slept for most of Saturday, and most of Sunday, though not restfully.

Last night, I took a look at my commitments for the rest of the month and freaked out a little. Here I was with so much to do and I’d wasted a whole weekend!

One of the things I’m continually trying to fine tune is how to pace myself; to not do too much and find a balance between home and work. I wanted to make a resolution about it for the year but found that A-I already had more than enough to try and achieve by the time I wrote all my necessary tasks out and B- I couldn’t quite put my need for balance into any better words than that.

‘Do more but not too much’ isn’t a very helpful goal to try and strive toward. It’s not specific. It’s not measurable. It didn’t make it onto the list. And yet here I am, striving for it anyway. Because as much as I’ve resisted following a routine for most of my life, I’ve come to a point where I’m finally willing to admit I might need one.  Continue reading

2019 Goals (Part One)

I’ve come to the conclusion that, too often, the goals I set are unrealistic. I usually make a list of everything I want to do — everything I want to be — and that’s that, goals made. This year, however, I’ve been putting more thought into it. It’s why I’ve held off announcing my resolutions for the year before now, because I hadn’t made any firm decisions before now. I had my updated list of everything I wanted to do, same as always, but I wasn’t making a direct translation of it to my ‘to do’ list because some of what I want to do just isn’t in my power. Prime example: getting a literary agent. It’s something that I’ve been striving towards for a long time but it’s not something I can make happen completely under my own will. It’s in my power to make my novel the best it can be and it’s in my power to submit that novel to agents, but there’s absolutely no guarantee that an agent will take it. Great books get rejected every day. It’s not a failure to be one of them. Not when the odds are against you to begin with.

Alongside my ‘get an agent’ goal for the past few years has been one to join the Society of Authors, and that’s more realistic but still slightly beyond my reach. To clarify, I’m talking about associate membership here, not full membership which would require me to already have an agent and/or publisher in place. What’s holding me back, then? Well, I simply can’t justify the money for it right now. It’s not a lot, in the grand scheme of things, but when you’re struggling to pay for bread and milk (which has been the genuine reality for me a couple of times in the past year), of course I’m not going to be signing up for anything.

So, I haven’t achieved those goals. They are still goals but they’re not going on my list for this year and that’s completely okay. Their time will come.

I started 2018 with three other goals: to read 52 books, to get healthier, and to learn to drive. Driving didn’t happen for the same reason as above. It’s just too expensive for me right now. But I do have some good news to report on the other counts.

Part-way through the year I upped my reading goal from 52 books to 55 and I smashed that by completing a total of 61. I also lost a good chunk of the weight my doctors told me to shift, and I’ve been more active.

I have set my 2019 Goodreads reading challenge to 60 books and that’s the only year-long goal I’m assigning myself. What I’m going to do instead is set myself shorter-term goals that take into consideration what I already have on my plate.

The first quarter of this year will see me submitting my tax return in January, celebrating my second wedding anniversary in February, and turning thirty in March. March is also a big month for Women Aloud NI, so that’s going to be fairly busy. Plus I’m helping to put together an anthology for Belfast Writers’ Group.

Three things I want to do between now and the end of April, aside from all that: Lose another stone in weight, finish editing and uploading the backlog of Women Aloud NI videos for their YouTube channel and, the biggy, completing the first draft of my second novel.

That’s definitely enough to be getting on with!

Novel Updates/What I Wrote in 2018

It’s hard to believe (for me, at least), but it’s been months and months since I shared any real update about my novel on here.

Back in December 2017, I announced that the title of my book changed (from Ripped to Full Term), I discussed sequels (stating that I had two planned), and I shared some concept cover art I’d made.

Around the middle of 2018, I finished writing book one, had it looked over by a writing mentor, and sent off the first submissions to agents. Then (in news I have shared here previously), I was awarded funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to help support me write book two (Life Lessons).

So that’s where I’m at right now. I’ll be submitting Full Term to yet more agents by the end of the month and will have the complete first draft of Life Lessons done by the end of April.

As for what I wrote in 2018 more generally, I have just totted up the figures and they come to a grand total of 146,000 words — the exact same number as 2017! It’s an odd little coincidence, but I’m pleased with my output across poetry, blog posts, short stories, fan fiction, and — of course — work towards my novels.

Here’s to writing in 2019!


P.S. The image in this blog post was for a NaNoWriMo Instagram Challenge in which I had to imagine which actors would play the main characters in my book. Number One is Jessica Sula as Mya, the main character in book one. Two is Malachi Kirby as Richard, secondary character in book one and main character in book two. Image three is  Brian F. O’Byrne as Kian, my villain. And image four is Ella Purnell as Zhara, secondary character in books one and two, main character in book three.

Where Change Happens

This is the difficult part, where the change is actually supposed to be made rather than just promised.

It’s just past 2pm on New Year’s Day, which would already be a late start for most people but is actually pretty early for me. Giles (my dog) woke me up at 1 to say he needed outside and I dragged myself up, went to the loo myself, checked my Facebook notifications. Then…

It’s the ‘then’ part I struggled with. I almost went back to bed. I was so incredibly tempted, because I’m oh so tired, but I hesitated. I wanted to sleep, but I also want to make the most of the couple hours of daylight. There are at least ten things, off the top of my head, that I could be doing.

It took me many minutes to summon the strength, but I got up again, got changed, started writing this blog post, by which time Giles wanted out again. So I pour some cereal and eat it while watching a few YouTube videos. I can do this, I tell myself. I can stay up and get sh*t done.

Some of the resolutions I considered assigning myself this year have been getting up relatively early, getting out for a walk, trying for some semblance of a routine where I get my housework done and then sit at my actual desk and do some writing. All of these are relatively small and achievable, especially when looked at individually, but here we are on day one of a new year and I had to have a ten-minute argument with myself about whether I could actually be bothered to start.

The important thing is, I got up.

This is me. Starting.

I’m going to come back to this blog later with (hopefully) something better offer in terms of revolutionary content but, for now, I am putting my shoes on, sorting recycling, and going for a walk.

A Year of Unexpected Things

I like to wait until the very last week in December before sharing review posts like this because, if you’re not at the absolute end of the year, who knows what still might happen? Prime example: two days after Christmas last year, my husband and I acquired a dog. This was completely unplanned, to the degree that if you had asked us thirty minutes prior to it happening if we were getting another pet we would have looked at you funny and wondered where you got such an idea.

Following on this theme of life throwing unexpected curve balls, at the end of 2017 I shared a post in which I said I had a new teaching job lined up for 2018 and had been put in charge of organising Women Aloud NI’s 2018 ‘in-train’ recital for International Women’s Day. Well, right off the bat, I was hit with the unforeseen circumstance of getting ill. I had to cancel my first class and the recital didn’t happen thanks to the train selling out all its tickets to eager rugby fans within a couple of hours of them going online.

January rolled into February, then on into March and I was still sick, facing minor surgery, but also on the verge of finishing my novel. Then, during CampNaNo in April, I took the final step and actually did finish it, which left me in the great position of having a writing mentor look over it in May. My husband and I travelled to Derry and I met with Felicity McCall who gave me really encouraging feedback.

I had applied to teach a second term at the Crescent Arts Centre and been given the go-ahead only for it to end up cancelled at the last minute due to not enough people signing up. I taught a one-off, day-long workshop and didn’t put in a proposal for a third term.

During this time, I also had my very first fertility appointment and began trying to lose weightContinue reading

Thanksgiving (not the North American Holiday)

Last month, I wrote about how difficult we were finding things and I signed off that post by saying, “I know good news will come along again soon.” Well, this is a good news post.

In sharing the aforementioned post with my wonderful writers’ community, Women Aloud NI, people reached out to me and my husband. The words of encouragement we got were heartening, and getting everything I needed to say off my chest helped a lot too.

About a week later, I got a private message to my author page from the lovely Liz Weir — a member of said writers’ community. “Come stay with us,” she said. “You, your husband and the dog. Get a break from it all!”

Well, how could we resist? Liz offered us the use of her loft apartment for free, wanted to feed us during our visit, and even was willing to pick us up and leave us home again. It sounded too good to be true, but we took a chance and arranged dates.

And guess what? It was wonderful! Continue reading

All That Glitters… (Flash Fiction)

This time last year, during a creative writing class run by R.B. Kelly at the Crescent Arts Centre, I was set the task of writing stories using only dialogue. Below is a little something I wrote back then, inspired by the season.

“All that glitters is half price. If the glitter has fallen off, consider it a feature and double the RRP. If the lights aren’t working, or batteries are missing, include them in a buy-one-get-one-free offer. Any questions?”

“Just one.”

“Yes, you in the back. Speak up. What is it?”

“I was just wondering… are you serious?”

“Serious? Why, of course. Perfectly serious.”

“Right. Follow up question…”

“Yes?”

“Are you mad?”

“I don’t appreciate your tone, Susan. What right do you have to question me?”

“Well, I am your manager, and you have only been working here a week.”

“As if that matters. Business genius should count for everything, you know? Ah, but of course you wouldn’t understand.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re excused. Don’t worry about it, I’m sure you’ll catch on.”

“Brian.”

“Yes, Susan? You want more business advice?”

“Oh, no, I think I’ve heard enough. I just wanted to tell you your P45 will be ready to be picked up in my office by the end of the shift. Have fun trying to sell yourself in another job opportunity. I’m not sure retail is for you.”

On Deleting the Internet

If you’ve been on social media the past day or so, you may well have seen people complaining about changes to a platform called Tumblr. I, myself, was a site user and I myself have been tweeting about it.

Before I get into my thoughts (and feelings) about what’s going on, though, I should probably explain what Tumblr is and what actually is going on with it. So. Tumblr is a social network alongside all the others — Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, etc..

As a site, it was very visual but was not just limited to photo sharing (as Instagram is). Tumblr has its own culture. It’s own inside jokes. And until yesterday, when they announced some pretty big changes to how they operate, they had a big, thriving community.

Now people are leaving in a mass exodus, myself included.

The changes sound mostly reasonable on the surface. They claim to be about making the site safer, which I’m all for, if that’s what the new policy actually achieved.

I could go into detail about the policy and the reasons for it, but there’s already a hundred news articles out there, stating the nitty-gritty of it; alongside thousands of posts by past and present users giving nuanced reasoning for how the changes will make things worse, not better. What I want to talk about instead is what the site meant to me, personally, and what implications deleting it has had on my life.  Continue reading

Such A Night (Flash Fiction)

Here’s something I wrote at writers’ group last week. It’s a little bleak, but I thought I’d share it anyway. Would love to know people’s thoughts!

He didn’t want to go out on such a night but if he didn’t leave now, his head was sure to explode. The twins next door were both screaming to be fed and the dog in the apartment on the other side was howling in sympathy.

Gerald’s could feel his brain melting out his ears. He grabbed his coat and headed into the rain, just trying to get a little respite from the overwhelming noise in his tiny flat.

He didn’t ask for much in life. A quiet night on the one weekend a month he wasn’t working overtime was all he really needed. Six hours of uninterrupted sleep would have been worth all of the money his extra shifts were pulling in.

You can’t put a price on peace of mind. That’s what his mum always used to say. God, he missed her. Gerald didn’t think he was built for being alone.

Part of him wished he’d kept the house. It would mean he wouldn’t have to be dealing with paper-thin walls now, but he couldn’t justify keeping on such a big place just for himself.

Life after his mum was gone wasn’t the same. Existence was hollow. Maybe that made him sound weak, or pathetic, but he didn’t care. It didn’t change the fact that life for Gerald without his mother wasn’t really life.

He worked in a job he hated just for something to do. He came home to sleep – or try to sleep – because he physically needed to. But he didn’t want to do anything anymore.

Gerald’s mother had been a rudder in his life. Now he was adrift. No other family. No qualifications. No hope. And a blinding headache.

He hadn’t cried.

Some part of Gerald realized that he’d feel better if he just let go and gave into his emotions, but he was scared of them swallowing him whole. If he started crying, he didn’t think he’d be able to stop. That would be worse. It was all worse. There had to be a better plan than just being sad for the rest of time, right?

Gerald’s caseworker said he had a bad attitude.

“Sure,” he’d replied. Because that much was already obvious. “What do I do, though?”

She told him it wasn’t her job to offer solutions, so he didn’t go back.

He walked to the end of the block, turned for home, then thought better of it. He kept walking.

He didn’t go back.

He didn’t go back.

The Reality of Being a Writer in Poverty

Photo by Steve (via Instagram)

These past two weeks have been really difficult and, honestly, I’m feeling really low right now. You would think I’d still be top of the world since the wonderful news of my last post but, as often happens in life, good news was followed by bad. But let me rewind for a second, in case you’re still catching up:

Just over two weeks ago, I shared the wonderful news that I’m one of the lucky applicants to receive a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland to help support me as I write my second novel.

As of today, I’m still waiting on that payment. What has happened in the meantime is that our dog got sick and needed to go to the vet, the vet fees used the last of our food money, we struggled to cover the basics of just bread and milk for four days, in the middle of which, my laptop died. As in completely dead. Unrecoverable.

Needless to say, not only has my attempt at NaNoWriMo stalled, but writing in general is not exactly going well.

I know things are not as bad as they could be — after those particularly bad four days I mentioned, my husband received a welfare payment, taking the pressure off again, and my dog is mostly better. Steve has been lending me his laptop, and the Arts Council money is still coming (I dread to think what I would do if t wasn’t!) — but, even so, I’ve been in a bad headspace.

There’s still a fairly prevalent stereotype of starving artists, and how they almost need difficult circumstances to help fuel their creativity.

Well, I say bollocks to that.  Continue reading