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

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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

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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.”

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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

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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.

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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

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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 🙂

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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

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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.

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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

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