Reading and Writing Update – November 2020

Reading

I have not been reading quite as much this year as previous ones, so instead of stressing about my Goodreads challenge, I decided to take the pressure off and lower it to a more manageable level. Because I firmly believe reading should be fun, not a chore.

My goal had been 65 books and is now 50, of which I have read 47. That leaves me 94% done, and 4 books ahead of the [new] schedule.

I’m currently in the middle of a couple of books – an ARC* of In Pursuit of Happiness by Freya Kennedy, and re-listening to the audiobook of Side Jobs (short stories from the Dresden Files) by Jim Butcher – so I’m pretty confident that everything is now well within reach.

*Advanced Reader’s Copy 

Writing

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and so, I’m knee-deep in trying to squeeze out 50,000 words in 30 days. This year it’s going… slowly. I am way behind target – sitting at only 15,000 words at the time of writing – but I’m not ready to call it quits yet. As with the reading, I’m trying not to stress out about it too much, because I know from experience how much that doesn’t help.

Any words I get this year, I am totally counting as a win. I said in my last writing update (Summer 2020) that I have somehow been writing more than ever during this strange, unprecedented year, and that has slowed down considerably as we’ve come into autumn, but considering the move and all, I’d say that’s more than fair. It’s not like churning out words at full steam all of the time is sustainable, anyway.

So, I’m pretty happy with how things are going.

Publishing

Recently, I had a poem included in Issue 7 of Re-Side, an online literary zine. I have a short story forthcoming in Scarlet Lead Review. And I’ve had two short stories accepted for Hidden Voice Publishing’s 2020 anthology.

Pretty chuffed with all that!

Please tell me in the comments of this post how you’re doing, dear reader. And until next time, stay safe.

What Happens Now

I said in my last post that at various points in the journey towards putting my debut novel out in the world, I was faced with variations on the question ‘and then what’ll you do?’

Originally, people were questioning the specifics of my grand plan for submitting the book via traditional means. Then the questioning turned to contingency plans, as the original plan didn’t go to… well, plan. (How many times can I use the word ‘plan’ in one post? Let’s see!)

Well. Plan A was a bust, as was Plan B, BUT Plan C is working.

Just in case you didn’t see the news elsewhere on social media: the crowdfunding campaign for Full Term was a success!

As of right this second, it is 113% funded.

So, you might be wondering, what now?

There is still time left to donate and/or claim perks, so if you had been planning to support the campaign but now thought there was no point, please don’t let the fact that the original target has been reached put you off. That goal was only the minimum amount needed.

As the funding deadline creeps closer (twenty days to go, at the time of writing!), I have been looking into funding to cover the editing costs of books two and three in the series, been finalising the cover design for the trilogy as a whole, designing a couple of other marketing images, and looking into a few legal and admin-y things.

The final edits of book one are starting fairly imminently, and so my main task right now is figuring out who I can get to write me a nice quote for the front.

I’m fully planning to document these behind the scenes things here, for anyone interested, so stay tuned!

On Having Finally Made a Decision

There comes a day when enough is enough.

So many times on this blog I debated the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Both generally, and in terms of trying to decide what was right for my own books, in particular.

Having announced last week that I was making a leap and starting a crowdfunding campaign to put my novel in print, I wanted to delve in and explain how I finally made the seemingly impossible choice.

May this year was the most recent time I approached the topic publicly. In my post ‘Thoughts on Legacies in a Time of Lockdown‘ – in which I was discussing how living in scarier times gave me new perspective and had me questioning what to do with my extensive body of work – I said, “I talk about choosing between self-publishing and traditional publishing like it’s a decision, but obviously it’s not as simple as that. If I could just decide to be traditionally published, I would. It is what I prefer, but whether someone else publishes me or not is ultimately out of my hands.”

At that point, I also said I wasn’t ready to self-publish, but was leaning ever closer to the idea of doing so in the “next six months.”

It was following this post that I had an epiphany; a brainwave so simple and straightforward that I felt like a complete idiot for not having it before, instead wasting literal years torturing myself over this decision that, as I’ve said, isn’t really a decision for me to make. Continue reading

Nice Things Agents Have Said to Me

A number of people have read my first, so far unpublished novel (Full Term) at this point. Friends and beta-readers, mostly, but in the process of submitting it various places at various times, some agents have read it too. In the video above is a small selection of their thoughts, from when I pitched Full Term at last year’s SCBWI conference. And below are snippets of feedback I got when submitting traditionally.

All such lovely, wonderful comments that made my heart happy.

You might wonder why, if they liked it so much, I still don’t have an agent, so for context, I will also put in their reason for turning it down, too. As is often the way of things, it’s usually not an actual fault with the book. Marketing reasons. Timing reasons. All things out of my (and their!) control.

I just thought it would be interesting to collect the comments and decisions here, in one place. So have a look – and then read right to the very end, where I have an announcement.

Here’s the very first one I got, containing both praise and reason for rejection succinctly in one sentence:

I really like your writing and found this very engaging, but I’m afraid in the current YA market I’m not confident of being able to place it with a publisher.

Side Note: I thought about putting names beside each of these quotes, but then thought it might be considered bad form. If you’re really interested in who said what, you could turn it into a very difficult guessing game (that I’ll never admit the answers to).

Agent Two:

The writing is pretty good, pretty strong. You’re a good writer but with the YA market not as strong as it was and the amount of competition out there….

Agent Three – a matter of personal preference: (This one read and requested the full manuscript)

I think you have a really gripping premise and setting here, and that you are a very talented writer. Despite this, I am sad to say that I am going to pass on this. I appreciate that Mya’s experience is realistic of a vulnerable young person but it is simply a bit too dark for me.

One agent read my submission and was really positive about it, but told me the subject matter hit too close to home. Which is fair.

Here’s another one: Continue reading

Malorie Blackman

A feature on my favourite author.

World Book Day 2003, at age 14, I picked up my very first Malorie Blackman book. It was An Eye for An Eye, a short story from Malorie’s Noughts and Crosses Series.

I had not read Noughts and Crosses at that point. I hadn’t actually heard of it or Malorie herself before. In fact, that day in Easons bookstore in Bloomfields Bangor, I wanted to pick up an entirely different book.

I’ve said before that, prior to going to university, I was not really a reader. I likely would have been, because I was in love with the idea of books, but it was not encouraged.

That day in the bookstore, I had picked up a novel I wanted to use my £1 book token towards but my parents refused to buy it. They would not add money to my token, so if I wanted to use it, I had to pick one of the £1 short reads produced specifically for the day.

A somewhat unlikely beginning, but I got that short story, read it, and loved it. And when I finally had a little freedom and some of my own money, I walked into Waterstones in Lincoln, aged 18, and came out with my very own copy of Noughts and Crosses.

The short story had stayed with me that long. My curiosity about the rest of the series had been piqued for four years. And so, not long after I devoured book one, I worked my way through the rest. At that point, Knife Edge and Check Mate (books two and three) were out and Double Cross (book four) was in the pipeline. I was one of the first people to preorder it, and I actually have a clear memory of the day I picked it up. Continue reading

The Numbers Game

I think about submissions a lot. Not just figuring out what I will send where next, but bigger picture stuff like how many submissions is “normal” or “enough.” How many acceptances equals success. Torturous questions like that, that don’t really have a real (i.e. definitive) answer. I adore definitive answers. Objective feedback. Hard and fast rules that tell me when things have worked and when they haven’t. With such a mindset, it’s hard to know why and how I ended up writing for a living – where I’m not sure certainty ever happens – but, you know, such is life.

Further to thinking about submissions a lot, I have this one particular friend (hi, Elizabeth!) I talk about submissions with a lot. She’ll come over for tea and a chat, and that chat will almost always turn to which journals are open, who has a good reputation for replying fast (or at all), and whose guidelines are completely incomprehensible.

Even further to this, it has not been unknown for me to start making notes during these chats or periods of intense thought. I will often look up my submission folder in my email inbox, or pull up one of my many spreadsheets. But in all this, I wondered, has anyone else perhaps looked into the submission process more thoroughly? Has anyone ever sat down and researched the stats behind this seemingly mysterious process of firing your word babies out into the void, hoping one of them will land somewhere and… I’m not honestly sure where I was going with this metaphor, ‘word babies’ is maybe one of the worst phrases I’ve ever written and I apologise, but I’m sure you catch my meaning.

It’s all well and good to torture yourself, wondering if the five submissions you made yesterday were “enough,” or if that one you spent two weeks on a month ago was “worth it.” I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be much more effective to torture yourself by the cruel and unusual means of comparison? Continue reading

Refocusing

It is Monday morning. A new day, a fresh week. I am, as the title of this post suggests, refocusing.

I had been thinking I would write a post today titled ‘On Disappointment and Uncertainty,’ because that’s the one I had planned. It’s what I wanted to write last month but didn’t have the brainpower for. Because disappointed and uncertain was where my head was at for pretty much all of August.

I’ve already said I found August particularly hard, and that part of that was moving, but that doesn’t really paint a full picture of everything that was going on.

Before we got to the huge physical strain that moving was, there was applying for houses. And that was the emotional strain, because it seemed no one wanted to accept our application.

Waiting for landlord decisions is tough, in and of itself (especially when the answer comes back as no and you have to start all over again), but what that waiting coincided with for me was also waiting for responses from agents and publishers, waiting for a funding decision, and waiting for my A Level result. (I feel like there was something else in that list, too, but I’ve lost track of whatever it was at this point.)

If you’ve been following the UK news over the past month, you’ll know that results day was a clusterfuck. And if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know I was relying on a good result to, hopefully, kickstart my re-entry to formal education.

Well, I got an okay result. A grade C. Not exactly what I wanted, but not awful. And we found a house and moved in. There are some loose ends still to tie up the end of the moving process, but for the most part that is done. Huge, huge relief!

I found the uncertainty over these things legitimately debilitating. Hence my hiatus from writing. And reading. And posting here.

I’m still waiting on the funding decision – it ended up being pushed back until October – and I haven’t heard from the majority of agents and publishers I submitted to, but I’m not particularly stressing about that. Why? Because I have a plan. I almost always have not just one single plan, but a main plan and lots of smaller, sub-plans. I think that’s what made all the uncertainty hardest for me – all of the things being out of my hands. But going forward – recentering my focus on the future – not everything seems so dire.

I’ve had a poem accepted that I think is being published next month, in October. I have a short story due to be published in November. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I plan to be finishing the third book in my trilogy. As of this past weekend, I am writing again. I am reading again. I have an active list of reading and writing things to work through that is A. not crushing me under the weight of it, and B. not a list of physical tasks I must complete before even considering taking to my computer for words.

In under two weeks, I am handing back the keys to the old house. By that time, the minor work that needs done there will be wrapped up. It will have been cleaned within an inch of its life (several times over). I will have finished updating our address everywhere. Puzzle pieces will have slotted together and our payments will be all in order.

Things are coming together.

Huzzah!

Coming Back?

The organised chaos of my new workspace

*taps microphone* Is this thing on?

I think this is me, coming back from my little hiatus. I feel a little ridiculous for how weird it feels. Coming back, I mean, but also having been away in the first place. It’s only been a month, (only, she says!) but it feels so much longer. I feel rusty. Right now, I’m supposed to be taking part in a writing sprint but I’m weirdly hesitant. Gun shy, I suppose.

I’ve spent all of August and what we’ve had of September so far orchestrating a full-house move and it’s been… a lot. A lot of stress. Physical and emotional strain. I’ve moved before, a number of times, but specify ‘full-house’ move here because switching between student accommodation or transitioning from a single room in my parent’s house to having my own place is different from this. It didn’t have a patch on this.

It has taken all of my time and energy and it’s not 100% done, but mostly there, and now I’m back, here again. I got so excited by the prospect of being able to write again. I set up my new workspace and literally clapped my hands with glee. And I’m sat here… stalling. Scared? Maybe. Why am I scared? I don’t know. Like I said, I feel ridiculous for it. But I don’t think I’m alone in that. I think this is one of those things most if not all writers go through. I’m not sure if it’s burnout, but probably. Burnout sucks.

The ‘library’ area of my new house

But I guess the important thing is not attaching a label to my weird absence of words and focus on going forward. I am typing here, so that’s progress. I endeavour to come back here next week and write another post. And another one the week after that. I’m not entirely sure what those posts will be, but I’ll give it a shot. Because what’s my other option? Not write at all? Ha! No. That’s a truly ridiculous idea.

I’ve come back, so I trust the words will, too.

…in reading back over this before I hit ‘publish’ I’m tempted to say my apprehension makes sense, because writing can very much be like opening yourself up and bleeding. And I think my scabs from before are all hard, but that sounds incredibly melodramatic.

Also in re-reading, I’m concerned that I’m not saying anything new or different from my last post, but it’s an accurate representation of where I’m at right now, so… *shrugs*

It’s possible I’m overthinking this. Honestly, I’ll be fine.

Stay tuned!

Thinking

I’ve been thinking again about my past projects (pictured above), now have a bit of distance from them. They haven’t been out in the world for a while – I unpublished them over a year ago – and, in fact, one of them never even made it out to begin with. I killed my micro-poetry project before it ever really saw the light of day.

But anyway, I’m thinking about it because… because I’m kind of itching to start something new.

And I’m nervous.

I don’t know if anyone has been able to tell, but I’ve been finding it hard to blog, recently. Hard to motivate myself to do it. The words you’re reading now are the first ones I’ve written this month. Maybe I’ve lost momentum. Maybe I’m burned out. Maybe both?

Either way, I think I need a break. Which is funny, actually, because I’m not sure if I know what one looks like. A lot of the time, a break for me just means switching gears to do something else rather than stopping entirely. And it’s kind of the same here. I don’t want to stop entirely so much as I… well. This might sound weird, but I want to draw.

I’m not actually good at drawing, but I want to learn. I want to try.

I actually think I want to try Inktober, and I’m itching to put together a somewhat rough and ready zine from what I create.

…reading back over that last sentence, I am relieved that I still want to create. Maybe it means everything isn’t so bad as it feels right now.

I’m just tired.

I don’t know when I’ll blog again, but words will most certainly return in some way at some point. Maybe it’ll be in a month. Maybe it’ll be a few hours and I’ll then feel silly for having written this. Regardless, I’m gonna doodle in the meantime.

A zine is a fun idea, but I’m playing with it as just that; not committing myself to anything just yet.

I have mixed feelings about putting another thing out into the world, because of the aforementioned past projects. They all took so much time and energy (some more so than others) but, ultimately, I was unsatisfied with them. My standards kept rising and the books kept falling short.

No wonder I’m a little gun-shy.

…I’m not really sure where I’m going with all this. Maybe that’s my point.

I’m just thinking. Musing. Having a little doodle.

I’ll be back.

A Little More on Comorbidities

In my most recent health update, I included a bullet-pointed list of most, if not all, of my issues and talked a little about ‘comorbidities,’ which is a big word that just means having multiple conditions going on simultaneously (at the same time) that can also be, in some ways, overlapped (in terms of causes and/or symptoms).

In my list, I grouped a few of the items together, but I didn’t really explain the overlaps. That’s what I want to do today, and what I have tried to represent in the diagram above.

Before I get into it: it should go without saying that I am not a doctor and this post is purely based on my own experience, and my own limited understanding of that experience. But, you know, I’m gonna say it anyway: I’m not a doctor. Do not use this post as a guide to diagnose yourself.

Probably the biggest thing to note is how Fibromyalgia is right at the centre of the diagram and, also, at the heart of many of my issues. This is mostly because it’s an umbrella condition that has many different things rolled up in it. (Yes, that’s a mixed metaphor, but I’m sure you know what I mean.)

The main symptoms I have from fibro are chronic pain, chronic fatigue, problems with my joints (which can, in turn, make me more exhausted and my body more painful more quickly), Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), depression, and anxiety (and fibro fog! Can’t forget that!! Though I incidentally did, in my first draft of this post. Plus points for irony!). You can have each of these things on their own, or even a few of them, without having fibro, but when you have all of them, it’s a pretty big indication that there’s something bigger at play.

For me, fibromyalgia is a big deal and the diagnosis made a lot of puzzle pieces click into place. But there are things in my diagram (and on my original list) that are not fibro related. Asthma, for example, has no link to fibro. Except, in my case, it’s triggered by allergies and my allergic response often then triggers my sinusitis and/or IBS symptoms.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome has no direct link to fibro (at least that I’m aware of), but they both cause me abdominal pain. My IBS also causes me abdominal pain; depression and anxiety often go hand-in-hand even in people without fibro; and I have a sleep disorder that has nothing to do with fibro, but it does double-down on the fatigue I get as part of my fibro. I’m not exactly sure my costochondritis (inflammation of the cartilage that joins the ribs and breastbone) is linked to my more general joint and muscle problems, but it seems fairly reasonable to me that it is.

Moving on from this, in the bottom right of my diagram, you will see a triangle of what I’ve labelled ‘specific learning disabilities.’ These are dyslexia (problems with words*), dyscalculia (problems with numbers*), and dyspraxia (problems with motor skills and judging distances*). All three of these are different and can occur on their own, but they can also often present themselves in the same person, and I am one of those lucky people to have hit the trifecta.

Bottom left of the diagram you will see I’ve listed my hearing problems, which I haven’t linked to anything. That’s because, as far as I understand, it’s a separate issue from all the rest. I don’t know what caused it and I’m still looking for a solution, but medical science is discovering new things all the time so who knows what I might find out in the future regarding it. Maybe it is somehow linked to my patchwork of other conditions and symptoms, or maybe it really is there all on its own.

I mostly wrote this post and made the diagram above for my own benefit, to help myself better understand how I do (and don’t) work, but what I want you to take away from all this is that it can all get pretty complicated.

It’s only in the past year or two that I’ve come to identify myself with the label ‘disabled,’ and it’s a big label with big implications. The diagram above might make it look fairly organised – simple, or logical, even – but the day-to-day reality is that I am really tired and sore pretty much all of the time.

Hopefully my explanation has been clear, but if you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in the comment section below.


*I just want to note that the explanations of dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dyspraxia I have given are super simplistic and in no way represent the full symptoms or definitions of those conditions.