DeptCon Adventures in Dublin

Last Friday and Saturday, I was in Dublin for the fifth annual DeptCon: Ireland’s Biggest Young Adult Book Convention.

It was super fun and I’m now, almost a week later, almost recovered. Let me give you a rundown:

I couldn’t sleep the night before. I tried but, like so many other nights, just couldn’t manage it. So I caught the 10.35am train from Belfast on thirty minutes rest, fueled by tea and enthusiasm.

On the journey down, I finished reading Savannah Brown’s poetry collection and started reading her novel. I had them with me anyway so I could get them signed.

Savannah is someone I’ve been watching on YouTube for years. I’ve been meaning to get to her books since they came out, so this was the perfect opportunity to bump them off my TBR.

Once arrived at Connolly Station, I made the forty-minute trek to my hotel. It was in the north of the city: somewhere I’d never stayed before, but I’d charted the route via Google Maps in advance and found it easily enough. I had just enough time to pick up my key and dump some things out of my heavy rucksack onto my comically sized bed (more on that later) before walking forty-minutes back into the centre of town for event registration and panel number one: Natália Gomes, Savannah Brown, and Connie Glynn. Continue reading

October Reading & Writing Update

What I Wrote in September: 7,000 Words Total

  • 2 Poems (100 Words)
  • 2 pieces of Micro-Fiction (400 Words)
  • 3 Blog Posts (2,000 Words)
  • 900 Words of Non-Fiction
  • 1,000-word Essay
  • 2,700 words of Fan Fiction

What I Read in September:

Currently Reading: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

My ‘To Be Read’ List for the Next Four/Five Weeks: 

Exciting Things Cometh!

For a little while, I hadn’t been doing quite so many events. That’s just changed. I’ve gone from having a relatively quiet summer to having a series of awesome things lined up for Autumn.

I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago but had to hold off making it public because there was an embargo on the news item near the end. What’s happened in the meantime is that I read at the most recent Flash Fiction Armagh as well as at a Women Aloud NI event for Culture Day.

On Thursday the 10th of October I have co-ordinated a Short Story Showcase at Books Paper Scissors in Stranmillis. Then, hot on the heels of that, is DeptCon5: Ireland’s biggest Young Adult convention which I will be attending (just as a regular attendee, not as a speaker or anything).

November is, of course, National Novel Writing Month, and I’m hoping to get along to Purely Poetry in October and December, but by far the biggest thing I have lined up for the coming months is the SCBWI Conference.

I was absolutely thrilled to discover that I am one of SCBWI’s Margaret Carey Scholarship winners for this year. The start of NaNoWriMo will be a little delayed for me because, from the 1st to the 3rd of November, I will be in Winchester attending talks and panels and meeting literary agents face-to-face!

You can realistically expect plenty of blog posts on my return. I cannot, cannot, CANNOT wait!

On Being Privileged

Life is complex and often full of contradictions. I think most people accept this on some intellectual level but, when faced with a single fact or data point, it can be all too easy to jump from it to one conclusion and then the next without stopping to ponder what alternatives might exist as part of a more nuanced story.

That’s a lot of big words to express what perhaps seems a lofty idea, so let me give you a realistic example to truly get to the heart of what I’m talking about: in my previous post, What I Make As a Writer, I broke down the facts and figures of how I’ve survived as a disabled self-employed person so far. On the one hand, I have had to manage on welfare payments. On the other hand, I talk about having lived rent-free with my parents while I got on my feet.

Receiving welfare is, in some ways, a privilege because – while necessary for basic survival – it’s not something open to everyone in need for a myriad of reasons. Compared to the people who need it but can’t access it, we’re lucky. Yet, at the same time, we’re unfortunate to need it in the first place.

Living with my parents sounds like a more clear-cut thing. Yes, my existence there was rent-free. In some ways, that gave me financial freedom. But not when you understand what a toxic, neglectful, and downright abusive environment that place was. Most weeks, I had £10 to live on. Ten pounds to call my own after I paid the minimum amount off my credit card and student overdraft. An overdraft I was privileged to get in the first place, get disadvantaged enough to need. Continue reading

What I Make As a Writer

Some people are oversensitive about money. Some people will be scandalised that I’m about to break taboo in talking about it.

Some people, in my humble opinion, need to get over themselves.

I mean, yes, this stuff matters to some extent (I wouldn’t be blogging about it otherwise) but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not half as important as we make it out to be.

It was back in May that I promised to lift the lid on my personal income but, all of the above said, I’ve actually gotten a slight case of cold feet between then and now.

Please understand that, when I criticise people for focusing on things that maybe don’t matter so much, I’m including myself in that too.

In my first post I was all like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be radical and awesome, breaking down barriers and laying all my sh*t bare!’ And then, having calmed down and thought about it some more, worry started to set in that people would see how little money we’re actually talking about and write me off as barely a professional.

I asked myself if I should wait until I was earning more before sharing my figures. Then I remembered that I was entirely missing my own point. I’m not making this blog post to be impressive, I’m doing it because I genuinely believe more open and honest discourse is needed and that everyone would be better off for it.

So, without further ado, here’s me putting my money where my mouth is:

I started freelancing during tax year 2013/2014 – the best part of six years ago. I’d just quit a “normal” job from hell (it was a call centre. Enough said.) and didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was enthusiastic. Foolhardy.

I was also living rent-free with my parents, which is a depressing yet important piece of contextual information.

For the first eight months, I earned nothing. Not a single penny. I call this my ‘year zero.’ Continue reading

Summer Successes and Autumn Goals

This post is third in a series. You can find part one (covering January to April) here and part two (May to August) here. As outlined in those previous posts, I’m tackling this year in chunks, setting myself goals for four months at a time, rather than having a single set for the whole of 2019.

It seems to be working out.

My only year-long goal – the Goodreads reading challenge – has me sitting at 44 books completed off a total of sixty. That’s 73% complete/4 books ahead of schedule.

Before I get into my goals for the rest of 2019 going forward, let’s take a minute to recap on my summer goals and how well I did (or didn’t) achieve them.

In May, I set myself the following tasks:

  • Lose more weight
  • Continue to submit my first novel to agents
  • Make edits to my second novel and send it to beta readers
  • Draft yet another novel during Camp NaNoWriMo in July
  • Attended two publishing conferences
  • Complete my tax return

From that list, what I didn’t do was lose weight or write a third novel. The number of things I achieved (listed below) definitely outweigh these two failures, which I’m obviously delighted about, but they are still two pretty big failures. Though I will point out that I did take part in Camp NaNoWriMo, as planned, and got a few words towards book three in my trilogy. Overall, I wrote 25,000 words during July, much of it fanfiction works in progress that I wanted to get out of my head at long last.

Here’s the full list of what I actually did achieve: Continue reading

FanFic Writing Update 2019

I usually share some statistics regarding my fan fiction on the 28th of July each year (the anniversary of when I first started writing fanfic). This year, I wasn’t too bothered about it, but I do actually have some news to share in that regard so am deciding to write about it after all. Better late than never!

As I acknowledged in my annual fan fiction round-up post last year, I won’t always have the opportunity to write as much fanfic as I do right now, at this stage in my life.

If and when I get a publishing contract, my focus will be on working with my own characters and worlds.

So, as much as I’m impatient to hurry along any future success in that regard, I’m using the opportunity currently afforded me of not being on book deadline to continue work on my (unpaid) passion projects.

This past year, I wrote some new stories and finished off a couple of other pieces that had been left abandoned for way too long. I also won Elysian’s Field’s ‘Author of the Month‘ award – something I have coveted since it was first announced, a few years ago.

I continued the mega task of re-editing and uploading my older work to Archive of Our Own and, in completing my outstanding WIPs, ticked off another goal I’d been working towards: finishing with Fanfiction.net

All of the stories I have published on FF will remain there, but I won’t be adding any new pieces to that site (those will continue to be shared on Ao3 and Elysian Fields).

In the image on the right are my ‘legacy user stats’ as of the day I uploaded my last chapter FF.

By this time next year, my goal is to have finished archiving old work to Ao3. Beyond that, I can only hope to have acquired one of those lovely publishing contracts, but we’ll see how it goes.

Life Advice from a Thirty Year Old

Sylvia Plath was thirty-years-old when she died. This is a sobering fact I have only just learned, having googled her to directly reference her fig tree analogy.

When I lie awake at night, I often think of the fig tree she described in the Bell Jar. Of all of the opportunities and the paralysing fear over picking one of them.

Somewhat fittingly, I have started to write this post several times, each with a different slant, only to scrap my words and start again. I almost scrapped the idea in its entirety, worried that not being able to select and follow a narrative was a sign that the whole thing wasn’t going to work.

Here’s a fun fact: life has many narratives. That’s the whole point!

I always felt like the fig tree analogy spoke to a deeper truth but from my perspective now, as a thirty-year-old myself, I actually feel there’s a lie at the core of it: “Choosing one meant losing all the rest.”

NO!

Choosing means choosing and nothing more. You can change direction down the road.

Changing direction is normal.

Changing direction can be the best thing ever.

Turning down one opportunity might mean it is gone and will never be open to you again but for every turn-off you miss, there is a literal infinite number of others and THAT’S OKAY. In many cases, that’s actually fantastic. Revel in the freedom of this knowledge.

Missed opportunities are not the end of the world, friend. I wish to god someone had sat me down ten years ago and told me that. Continue reading

The Dogs of Humanity by Colin Dardis

I have something a bit different on this blog today for you, folks: an interview with local poet Colin Dardis about his new poetry collection, the Dogs of Humanity. Without any more preamble, let’s get into it!

Can you tell us a little about the themes of the collection? 

I’m not a massive fan of reducing a collection down to themes; for a poetry book, it’s almost an injustice, although it has to be done. I don’t read collections due to the themes mentioned; I read because I want to be subjected to strong, startling poetry. For example, I have no interest in beekeeping, but I absolutely adored Sean Borodale’s Bee Journal.

To be absolutely drawn on themes, the poems use dogs and other animals as a central motif to look at how people treat each other in an increasingly toxic world, touching on bullying, self-identity, chauvinism and mental health. But there’s also so much more. As Mary O’Donnell kindly said in her blurb, there is “an avoidance of zeitgeist poetry, what really sets the work apart tonally and in subject is its assumption of a counter-position at all times.” That counter-position could be the schism between the individual and society, between perceived norms and personal attitudes; but it’s equally a stance that allows any subject matter to be explored, as long as it is well written. That’s what poetry validates.

Why did you feel drawn to the themes? How did it all come together?

The poet, at the starting point, is drawn to every poem they write as they are compelled to write them. In some ways, your best poem is always your most recent poem, as that has been the one that allows the poetic muscle to continue flexing. Only with time and distance however does the poet realise which pieces will continue to speak to them, and for them. Therefore, almost all the poems in Dogs have been about for a while. Only the closing poem would have been written from scratch in the past year. Many predate poems that were in ‘the x of y’, my previous collection.

Fly on the Wall Press had a call out for chapbook submissions at the end of last year. I knew I had a number of poems mentioning dogs; a few years ago I had done a set at a reading exclusively of dog poems. The collection bloomed out of that, and Isabelle Kenyon at Fly on the Wall Press was immediately on board with the idea. She’s made the whole process very easy, and has been incredibly supportive and motivated in spreading the word about the book.  Continue reading

Soakings and Seizures: A Day in the Life

Oh, what a morning. Afternoon. Would some people call half-five evening? Probably.

Whatever. As far as me and my sleep disorder are concerned, it’s morning.

I woke up an hour ago in the middle of a thunderstorm. My dog stretched and toddled over to me, then keeled over in one of his seizures. I lifted and cradled him to my chest until it passed, tried calling my husband in the bed next to me.

Unresponsive. He’d, evidently, had a seizure too.

I watched him for a minute, figuring it would be a while before I could reach him. The rain was still hammering down.

I went downstairs, puppy still in hand, and got him settled in his downstairs bed with some food. Next was the super fun part. I had to go out in all of the rain to fetch the wheely bin, praying I’d find it in the alley.

Our last bin was stolen. The one before that was blown up by some kids with fireworks.

It has not been an easy month.

I went out, got soaked, but did retrieve the bin. A small win, but important.

Hands washed and feet wiped, I went back to check on Steve. He was vaguely aware of my presence. The seizure had passed and now he’s into the extreme fatigue of recovery. Another good thing.

It’s still ridiculously warm, despite all the rain. The heat makes it all worse: my health, Steve’s, and the dog’s.

On my way back downstairs again, I can see the cat has destroyed more wallpaper. Great. She’s set about stripping a whole section, no matter how many deterrents we try or alternatives we offer.

Steve and I are supposed to be getting ready to go to Slimming World but it’s clearly not going to happen. Another week missed. Another fee incurred. But maybe it’s for the best. We’re in between payments again and can’t really afford it right now.

I need to go out for milk but am already feeling the day weigh me down. I’ve felt ill for a month– no, wait. Backtrack. Clarify: I’ve felt ill all my life. This past month, maybe two, I’ve felt worse than usual.

This would have been another day for not leaving the house at all, but I must get that milk.

The funny part is, this is me taking a break. I’ve been ‘taking it easy’ for the past few days. Which means still dealing with all this, and housework – dishes, laundry, cooking – but not really writing or editing. I haven’t had the brainpower.

When people ask me how I am, I say I’m “getting there.” I don’t know what else to say. I love my work, when I can get to it, I love my husband and my pets. Our home is the loving, accepting atmosphere I’ve always craved. On the whole, I do not have a bad life.

A lot of the time, though, this life is made of days like these. I’m getting through them. This isn’t me complaining, really, about any of it. I do want people to understand, however.

I don’t live a conventional life and I’m fine with that, but sometimes I do want to open up a window and show people what it’s like.

This is it.