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

On Winning the Lottery (Writing Update – October 2018)

I’m not going to beat around the bush here. The title of this blog post is a bit click-baity, yes, but it’s also technically true.

The big news I am delighted to share with you is that the Arts Council of Northern Ireland are funding me, using lottery money, to write my second novel.

I’m practically shaking with joy, just being able to write that. Each element of the statement makes me want to scream with happiness.

Let me break it down for you:

  1. I have written a novel.
  2. I’m writing a second novel.
  3. The arts council are funding me to do so.

If this is a dream, please no one pinch me!

The book in question is called Life Lessons and is the sequel to my first novel, Full Term. Currently, Life Lessons is sitting at the 10,000-word mark. I have between the 1st of November this year and the end of April next year to finish the draft. Those dates include NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) where I’m hoping to get the bulk of it done and CampNaNo, when I’ll be going over it all again before handing it in at the start of May.

Between now and then, I have a letter appearing as part of an exhibition in Glasgow this December. Sadly, I can’t make it to the launch but I still think it’s such a cool thing to happen and I’m delighted to have been included.

I also have a few other opportunities I’m currently waiting to hear back from – there is a residency I have applied for and a competition I have entered book one into. Part of me wanted to wait on those decisions before making this post, but I just couldn’t put it off any longer.

I want to thank the wealth of people who have congratulated me across social media already this weekend so, so much for their love and support. It’s been a long road getting here – I can remember my disappointment this time last year, when I was unsuccessful – but I’m not done yet.

Onward and ever, ever upward 🙂

Of Life and Death

So, I just finished reading Turtles All The Way Down by John Green and it got me thinking. John’s books are great for that. In this recent one of his, my favourite parts were the beginning and the end – the way he introduced his thoughts and the character, and the way we said goodbye to both.

The main character, Aza, muses a lot about life and death, beginnings and endings (as well as a lot of other things!).

She thinks that happy endings aren’t really a thing – that they usually turn out to be, on closer inspection, either not that happy or not an actual ending. Aza also thinks that the only real ending there can ever be is death and/or extinction.

I have thoughts on both these points, but what I think is actually more interesting is the reply Aza’s best friend gives, saying it’s not really about all that, but about the frame with which we look at such things.

It reminded me of a quote by another well-loved Young Adult author, Rainbow Rowell. She’s asked pretty frequently about the ending of her book Eleanor and Park and why she left it open, and the official answer on her website is, “I don’t believe that 17-year-olds get happy endings. They get beginnings.”

I like that answer. There’s a lovely truth to it. But here’s the other side of that coin: it’s scary when it’s not true.

Let me unpack that for you:  Continue reading

12 Warning Signs That You Are With An Abuser

Last week, I shared two blog posts about very personal experiences I have been through with regards to abuse. You can read them here and here, if you haven’t already, but the reason I’m talking about them again today is that they reminded me of a much older post I wrote on a blog that no longer exists.

I wanted to share that post again because these things are both important and not talked about enough. So, here it is: A List of Signs That You Are With An Abuser

  • Manipulation is when you’ve said no to something – anything – and the other person keeps asking until you say yes.
  • Manipulation is when – after they’ve crossed those lines – they convince you that you were a willing party all along.
  • Manipulation is when someone will tell you ‘You want this’ enough times until you believe them.
  • Manipulation leaves you not knowing how you feel, or what to think.
  • Manipulators will make you feel guilty for being confused.
  • Manipulators will talk about other people, and flirt with other people in front of you, and then make you feel guilty for being suspicious of them.
  • Manipulators will get you to do things you don’t want to do, to prove to them you’re trustworthy.
  • Manipulators will sew doubts in your head about your loved ones, telling you they’re jealous, or that they don’t want you to be happy, or they don’t understand, or aren’t really friends at all.
  • Manipulators will try to cut you off from these people, so they can have more control over you.
  • Manipulator’s lies will stay in your head long after the person themselves are gone.
  • Manipulator’s lies will keep you up at night, worrying.
  • Manipulator’s lies take years to recover from. You’ll need your friends for this recovery, if you haven’t lost them all already.

If reading this post has been triggering for you, I’m sorry. If it has made you realize you need help, you can find an international list of helplines here.

Oxford and Everything After

Seeing as I opened Pandora’s box in my last post, I thought I might as well finish going through the rest of the contents before I put it all away again.

Here we go.

It was September 2011 – one year since I left Lincoln – that I moved to Oxford for a job with the church. That summer I had been doing some children’s work at a Christian festival.

The guy that ran the children’s programme was based in Oxford and he was the one that told me about the opportunity there.

I had a lot of different tasks, from more children’s and youth work to setting out tables and chairs, helping with meals for elderly people and audio-visual displays.

And I loved it. For the very first time in my life, I felt like I was doing something worthwhile. Making a difference.

From that September to December, I gave it my all and I got a lot of confidence and self-esteem in return.

Then I returned to Northern Ireland for Christmas.  Continue reading

Lincoln and What Happened There

***Trigger warnings apply to this post. Please read at your own discretion. 

My recent post about my time in Lincoln has got me thinking about a lot of stuff that happened back then. It’s things I’ve touched on elsewhere, previously, but not really something I’ve gone into detail about to any great extent.

I want to go into it now.

At some point, I want to really delve in and talk about my childhood as there’s: A, a lot to say there, and B, it gives so much context to all of this. For now, though, I will preface by saying I had very limited experience of life and/or the “real world” when I went to uni. I had very few social skills and even fewer social graces. It’s not that I wanted to be rude, or anything, I just literally didn’t know any better. Having had just one friend in high school can kind of leave you blinkered to what’s acceptable. But anyway, the point is I was fairly clueless. So there was a steep learning curve.  Continue reading

A Love Letter to Lincoln

For Culture Night Belfast this year, the theme was love. Women Aloud NI had two events in the programme. At the one I read at, each of the readers was given a letter and told to write a love letter to it. I got the letter L, and this is what I made of it:

Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England: the place I lived for three years in my late teens/early twenties.

When I thought about what I wanted to write about for this love letter, there were a lot of options, but I think a part of me will always come back to Lincoln.

While at university there, I learned a lot – a lot of it the hard way and absolutely none of it to do with the actual subject I was supposed to be studying.

I fell in love with the city before I had even visited, having poured over guidebooks, maps, and watched a ton of tourism videos. Then, when I did get to see the place in person, for an open day, I knew it was all going to go well from the moment I slipped on some wet leaves while walking down the big hill and ended up with brown sludge smeared all over my backside for the rest of the day as I met other prospective students as well as my future lecturers.

It was all uphill from there. Then downhill for a bit, then uphill again, before finally going up in flames. Which is to say, my experience in those three years was… mixed.  Continue reading

10 Writers I Look Up To

It seems to me that, in most cases, the people we admire and aim to emulate often have no idea how well they’re thought of. Particularly, I think it’s true of women. We often don’t know our worth, and how would we when no one really talks about their inspirations?

I’m here to change that. Because I know that, on the occasions people have given me encouragement and/or praise, it makes a world of difference. It matters because those people you think are so great have just as much imposter syndrome as the rest of us. Sometimes more, if they’re successful.

It can be easy to think that there’s no need to tell someone with awards coming out their ears how their work impacted you – because surely they should already know, and doesn’t it go without saying?

Dear reader, say it. Always tell your heroes how you feel, just in case they’re not feeling so heroic.

I’ve been thinking some more about the specific people I really respect in terms of writing. This is in addition to Colin Dardis and Anna Sheehan, who I have previously recommended on this blog, and in a similar vein to a post I wrote for ‘Women Writers, Women’s Books’ a long time ago.

My list is as follows:

Jen Campbell

I found Jen through her YouTube channel and have been falling in love with her words ever since as she continues to bring out wonderful book after wonderful book – short stories, bookish non-fiction, poetry, and children’s books.

Malorie Blackman

When I started to read as an adult, Malorie’s books were the first I picked up. No matter than most of her writing is targetted at under eighteens. I actually have a picture book by her that I tresure.

Claire Savage

Claire impresses me on multiple fronts as she turns her hand to poetry, copywriting, journalism, and books for children and is fantastic at all of them.

Continue reading

Obscure Writing Prompt Responses

A year ago, near enough to the day, Belfast Writers’ Group started up again after too long apart. When we got the gang back together, one of the first things we did was work on a crazy series of prompts that, first time around, had me writing about a dead body in a chocolate scullery. Because we’re wildly obscure like that.

Purely by a coincident of timing, we tried the same writing exercise again last week. This time I was to write about rotting turnips in an interview room made of platinum. Below is the madness I came up with.

Being the most expensive palace in the world that no one’s ever heard of, Killasia had its own version of everything – its own swimming pool and helipad, naturally, but also it’s own prison system and jail.

The only thing it didn’t have, until now, was anyone actually trying to break in – it’s difficult to have people after your goods if they’re secret, after all.

Even so, it was fortuitous that the eventuality of a criminal had been thought of and prepared for, because when Mickey Keystone Lennon happened upon the place and decided to try his hand at breaking and entering, the guards had somewhere to put him.

His eyes were wide as he looked around the interview room with its shiny, cold-to-the-touch walls. He wasn’t entirely sure but, if pressed, he would guess they were made out of solid white gold or platinum.

There were no windows in the room – not even one of those fancy two-way walls of glass that allowed people to look in on interviews – just some air vents stopping the space from being completely closed in.

Even the door had a seal around it.

Mickey was too surprised by the placement of his predicament to be worried; at least, at first. After what felt like an age but was probably an hour or two, he began to sweat.

He’d expected to be released soon after his capture, as soon as they figured out he hadn’t got very far into his crime and hadn’t actually managed to nab anything. The place was so big, after all. A palace the size of a country must be subscribed to the Geneva Convention or UN human rights laws or something, right?

By hour four, he was no longer feeling so hopeful. Not only was he not offered a representative, still no one had actually come to question him. That was bad for two reasons: his increasingly urgent need for the toilet, and the turnips he’d hidden in his socks that had been in contact with the heat of his skin so long, the started to rot.

Mickey cursed his decision to raid his neighbour’s allotment, and his stupid urge to follow the hidden path he’d found under a trapdoor he’d found there. Just look where it had landed him – eternally tapped in a platinum-coated interview room with nothing to occupy him but rotten turnips.

Not exactly your usual Thursday.

Life Update – September 2018

Back in June, I posted a life update in which I said I had laid down some roles to allow myself some time and energy to focus on some other things I had planned, coming up. One of the things I gave up was being Project Support Officer for Women Aloud NI and one of the things I intended to start was an A Level to prepare myself for starting a degree.

About a month after that, I published another blog post about how great it has been having room to think and write with fewer things distracting me.

On both these counts, I have further news.

As anyone who has been reading this blog over the past month will know (because I haven’t shut up about it), I attended the John Hewitt Summer School in July. Three key things happened during it that relate back to the topic at hand:

  1. I really surprised myself with how much I was able to do/keep up with
  2. I had two in-depth conversations about going back to school (/college/uni.)
  3. I agreed to be Women Aloud NI’s representative for the Belfast area

Without rehashing the long conversations about the pros and cons of studying, I will cut to the chase and just say that – for now – I’ve put that idea on the back burner and will not be taking a course this year.

This is actually the first academic year in which I’m not studying anything. It feels… weird, I guess.

I mean, even when I dropped out of university and moved back to Northern Ireland for a year before I ended up in Oxford, I took some classes at Crescent Arts Centre. Then, while I was working in Oxford, I was also taking a course in Youth Work. Back at home again after that, I was back at the Crescent Arts Centre learning things there and doing a few other things on the side.

Weirdness aside, I’m confident the break from studying will not be a break from learning and that it is the right decision for me right now. I mean, I have such a good thing going at the minute in terms of my writing and mental health, why risk burning out again by taking a course I don’t *actually* need to take?

If things change again – which they may well do – I can sign up for something in January and that’ll be okay. The main thing is that I’m not stressing out about it.

Healthwise, I’m doing okay in general which is also a big plus.

I am feeling excited for the next twelve months and whatever they bring.