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.

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.

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.)

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Update on ‘The Situation’

To everyone who has shared and commented on my previous blog post, I want to give you many, many thanks. Steve and I really appreciate the love and support we’ve had from everyone.

I thought I should probably give a bit of an update on how things are now. I know not that much time has passed, but there have been a few developments.

Some of you asked if we have a representative to help us through everything and yes, we do. Although our appeal against Steve’s DLA decision was unsuccessful, our representative has told us that we still can challenge the decision at a higher level, so we have formally requested more details on that.

Regarding our claim for ESA, we now have a tribunal date and are in the process of preparing for that, having met with Steve’s GP today.

The past week has maybe been one of the hardest yet, as Steve’s health has suffered more due to stress and I’ve also started feeling burnt out again. We’re just trying to get through one day at a time and all of the kind messages we’ve had has really helped. I cannot emphasise that enough.

To answer another question we’ve received a lot, I don’t think there is anything else anyone can do to help us at this stage (other than the aforementioned well wishes). I have been toying with the idea of starting a petition to submit to the ombudsman, urging him to reconsider the DLA decision, but have been advised to hold off on that just yet. If it becomes necessary, I will share the link around and would appreciate it if people would pass it on.

A couple of local politicians have shared our plight and someone has been in contact to ask if the media can run a story. Time will tell what, if anything, will come of that. Steve is reluctant to draw attention to all this, almost, but it is important. We just hope it won’t be held against us somehow.

On a different note, I feel the need almost to proactively defend myself. I know welfare is such a contested issue and it engenders a lot of strong opinions. I would like to urge people to question things before they judge.

Maybe you’ve seen me post a status about attending the theatre in the past week, and maybe you think to yourself that it’s terrible we are pleading poverty while spending money on seemingly frivolous things. If that is what you think then to you I say that things are not as simple as all that.

As hard as things have been, it’s a fight to find positive things in our lives to focus on and keep us going. It’s vitally important now more than ever to make the most out of the good days.

We may have little money and an uncertain future but, to paraphrase something Churchill once said, if we stop investing in the good things in life, then what are we even fighting for?

I Miss My Husband

Just a couple of months after I met my partner, I went away for a week to do some voluntary work. 

During that week, I joked about being “halfless”, which is to say, missing my other half. The thing is, it wasn’t a joke. We both knew pretty much right away where our relationship was headed. We were just at the right stage in our lives and those lives slotted together naturally very well. 

Steve has changed my life and, in a lot of ways, I couldn’t be happier. In one way, though, we really struggle. 

For those who know us personally, you’ll know that Steve is sick and unable to work. I don’t think most people really understand just how sick that is, however. He spends most of his day asleep, exhausted from seizures, fluctuating blood levels, and mental health issues. The hours he is awake, he has no energy, no motivation, and now, very limited government help. 

Since moving in together, I have become Steve’s carer, making sure he eats and takes his numerous medications besides a ton of other seemingly insignificant things that add up to constitute a full-time job. 

To do this, I have cut back on my client work and am now only doing a couple of hours a week towards being self-employed. I do this gladly because I love Steve and I don’t resent a moment of it. I’ve had to get better at recognising when I’m becoming burnt out and finding a way around it. 

But back to the government help thing. Last week Steve had a tribunal in which he appealed a DLA decision that said he didn’t need care. We went together and explained in person to a room of six people his needs. 

And they upheld the decision. They consider him not in need of care or the financial help to provide it. 

It took a year for us to reach that point and to say we’re devastated is an understatement. 

Three days before our wedding, we heard that Steve was losing his ESA (a different kind of benefit that we use for all kinds of crazy things like food and electricity). So we then began a second round of the appeals process. 

It took them over a month to decide to pay us while that process is ongoing, meaning we had to use money we received as wedding gifts to allow us to live. 

The stress has been unbelievable, and it’s not over as we wait for the ESA tribunal date to be decided. Part of me doesn’t want it to come, because we have no backup plan for if it fails. There is no possible way we could have a backup plan, as the (reduced!) amount they are currently giving us doesn’t allow any spare money that could go into savings. 

Meanwhile, my awesome, lovely husband is forced by stress into ever increasingly bad health and I miss him. I love him to bits, and we spend a great deal of the day side by side, with me awake and him out of it. 

As things are, he isn’t able to focus on getting better. 

Not wanting to end on quite such a bleak note, I want to instil within you the importance of voting out the cruel, uncaring government who has put Steve and so many other thousands of people in this position. 

Further details here

Catching Up

Taking a break from things can be great – it has been for me, the past few weeks (now that I’ve actually got a handle on resting!) – but there is the unfortunate side-effect of life carrying on without you while you’re gone, meaning there’s plenty of new things to come back to. There’s also the thing about everything taking much longer than you expect (it’s not just me who experiences this phenomenon, right?).

Point is, I’m only now starting to get back on track with things after my honeymoon. Catching up with reading, writing, client work, housework (god, does the housework EVER end?!), trying to maintain a social life, making lists… things like that (can you tell my brain’s already feeling fried?). *insert cliche joke about needing a holiday to recover from your holiday*

Anyway, that’s pretty much where I’m at: catching up. At the end of this month (March) I’ll probably put together a mega-post about everything I’ve been writing and reading since the start of the year (no, I haven’t forgotten and yes, I have still been keeping notes).

Going forward, there are a lot of events coming up that I’m taking part in (details here), so please check that out.

Peace and love!


P.S. As of February, I have now been blogging for ten years. How cool is that? Happy blog birthday to me!

My Name…

If you’ve known me since before university (when I made the change from Elaine to Ellie) or have seen that I have two different names listed on Facebook, you may be confused about what to call me. Here’s a breakdown:

Ellie Rose McKee – my pen name.

Elaine McKee – my birth name (note: no official middle name)

Lady Elaine McKee – what my legal name became after one of my best friends bought me a token title.

Lady Elaine Herron – updated legal name to reflect my new surname. Which is to say… I GOT MARRIED!!  🙂   😎  😆

I am, of course, deeply excited about this development and can’t wait to update all my official documents. But, all that said: please call me Ellie.

This has been a public service announcement 🙂

A Seasonal Summary

At the launch of the Bangor Poetry CompetitionFirst years at university often fall foul to what’s called ‘fresher’s flu’ – a really bad cold resulting from coming into contact with so many new people and their accompanying germs.

I managed to attain this affliction for three years running. (Thanks, immune system!)

This September, I seem to have defied the odds once more. The cold that seemed to have vanished at the end of August, returned during the night last night. Maybe it’s only fitting, seeing as I’m due to start a poetry course this semester. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been really busy, meeting a lot of (wonderful) people.

Last night I was at the launch of The Fourth Annual Bangor Poetry Competition, and the night before that I coordinated my second Women Aloud & FSNI Poetry Recital.

In five months – to this day, exactly – I’m getting married.

…needless to say, things are crazy, and exciting, and amazing, and scary cool!

The season has changed, and I’m trying to set myself up to make this new one a good one, knowing that good things are coming at its end.

Going forward, I’m once more gonna try and implement a weekly work schedule in which I spend two complete days a week writing for myself, completely disconnected from the internet and phone.

But before all that, let me catch you up on last month…

Last month, I finished reading To All the Boys I Loved Before by Jenny Han, I read Belonging to Myself (a poetry collection) by Jenny Cleland, Why I Write by George Orwell (review here), and I listened to Summer Knight (fourth book in the Dresden Files series) by Jim Butcher. As such, I’m 31 books into my 45-book goal for the year.

What I wrote during August? A bunch of blog posts, a piece of flash fiction, notes for a novel I have on the backburner, five poems, and two pieces of fan fiction. Total words: just over four thousand.


Read about my recent client work over on my work blog.

On Entering a New Phase (Life Update – July ’16)

Life UpdateIt’s four years since I became an author, self-publishing my first ever book, and three years since I set up a business around my writing, going after it as a full-time profession. There have been various stages in that process, of course, and now I find that I’m on to a new phase once more.

Back in February, I blogged about how I was moving in with my fiance. What I didn’t say, however, is that he’s unable to work, and the move meant I was becoming his official carer. The change has meant that we’ve become closer in a lot of ways, which is obviously great, but I also had to reassess my entire work-life balance, leaving me back down to only part-time paid hours.

Do I regret it? No. I don’t even think it’s made me any less productive. If anything, I have a better handle on time management now, meaning I get more done in less time. Mostly, though, I get the privilege of taking care of the person who means most to me in the whole world. I get to have my cake and eat it, my dream job and the love of my life. That’s way more than I could have ever wished for, back when I was an unemployed university dropout, playing around with Kindle formatting for the first time.

To those that think it’ll never happen to them? Take heart. All things are possible. *


*Disclaimer: it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses getting here. Life can be hard, but it’s worth it if you work at it. I don’t want to be accused of coming across as false.

The Last Night Alone (What’s Going On 2k16)

This is a bit of a life update, because a lot seems to be going on in my life right now.

As I mentioned in my end of year post for 2015, I got engaged. And now, on the one-year anniversary of when we first spoke/instant messaged – TOMORROW – my partner and I are moving in together! Add to that the recent launch of the new wing to my business, and the book launch I’m having in two-days time, things. are. hectic!

Having just returned from the shop with a small easter egg for myself, I was about to tweet “Having a small party for myself, on my last night alone.” Yes, eating chocolate may not exactly equate to a party, but think about what I just said, for a second. My last night alone. Forever.

That’s kinda only just sank in.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, dear reader, but we’re now living in a modern world. Having hailed from a strict Christian upbringing, certain things from “normal life” (that is, things from outside the influence of the church) still feel a bit alien to me.

From my parent’s point of view, there is a certain sequence in which things are done: you meet someone, you get engaged, you get married, *then* you move in. Whereas, for most other people, you meet someone, fall in love, move in, and then comes the engagement and marriage bit, but it’s entirely optional.

It was as a kind of compromise between these two ways of going at it that my partner and I got engaged before we started house hunting, yet are moving in before we actually take vows. (Always a fan of the untravelled road that is the third option.)

For many people, moving in with someone is not a binding promise to be with them the rest of your lives, the way marriage is, but seeing as we’ve already resolved to do that, albeit at a later time; this, for us, will indeed be our last night alone.

It’s just occurred to me that perhaps now is when the bachelorette party should take place. Tradition needs to grow and change with society. (Which ultimately makes me think of whole same-sex marriage issue, but that’s a whole other blog post.)

Tonight, I’m celebrating love (by means of eating chocolate), and tomorrow I start a new adventure. Who’s with me?