Embracing Norn Iron

I have lived most of my life in Northern Ireland. I was born here. My parents are from here. My husband and his family are from here, too. You could say I’m kinda invested in this place.

But this place is complicated. Geographically, it’s complicated. Politically, it’s really complicated. Culturally, it spends most of its time confused and upset.

Because of this, and for a whole host of more personal reasons, I have always felt conflicted about good ol’ Norn Iron. (As the locals call it.)

It’s quite possible I’ll always feel a range of emotions about here, but what I have come to terms with is that this country – this land – is part of me, and I am part of it.

I used to see being in Northern Ireland as being the worst of two worlds, almost literally. And there is a little basis for that viewpoint even now, but you don’t need to be a genius to see how pessimistic that is.

As I have gotten older and discovered how much I don’t know (about lots of things, not just regarding N.I.), I have learned that the choices we make and the opinions we hold have power. If I stayed stuck in my previous mindset I wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but I would be worse off for it.

These days, I’m actively choosing to watch out for positives because, yes, they do exist if you look for them. Not everything has to be doom and gloom. And being aware of positive things and appreciating them helps to encourage further positive things.

Prime example: the literary community, like all of the other communities, is divided in a lot of ways. There are opportunities open to the UK, and there are opportunities open to Ireland. This used to frustrate me, because my heart would pull one way, my head would push the other, and I never knew which way, if either, I was actually supposed to go. I was caught in the middle, foolishly thinking I had to pick a side, wholeheartedly dedicate myself to it, and cut myself off entirely from the other.

And here’s what I took way too long to figure out: I don’t have to be either/or, I can be both!

That’s liberating. That’s revolutionary. That… probably should have been way more obvious than it actually was, but that terrible mindset I was talking about had blinded me like it blinded – and still blinds – so many others.

All of that to say this (because, yes, I am coming to a point here and it will explain the photo I’ve picked to accompany this blog post): back in the day if you had asked me to take part in a project celebrating Northern Ireland, I may not have said anything, but internally I would have cringed. Now, though – with my new found acceptance of this place and my place in it – I am more than happy to take part in such a project. Ecstatic, even. And asked to take part I was!

When lockdown first started and ‘social distancing’ was still a relatively new term, Angeline King – the lady currently at the helm of Women Aloud NI – hatched a plan to give WANI members a project to distract ourselves with.

“Let’s write a book!” she said, and we only went and bloody did it!

North Star is an anthology of short stories and poems that celebrate the six counties of Northern Ireland, and has a specific section for the city of Belfast, too. I am in there and I am proud to be so.

Again, national pride can quickly become a thorny issue, but this isn’t about that. This is about representing the best of our communities and pulling together to make them even better.

From here on out, that’s certainly what I’m hoping to achieve. Who’s with me?

NO Thank You to Toxic People

Fairly recently I introduced my husband to the song ‘I’m the one that’s cool‘ by Felicia Day/The Guild. I bought the single in iTunes years ago, and obviously still like it, otherwise I wouldn’t still be playing/sharing it, but it does contain one thing that drives me absolutely mad.

The song is about always being picked on – verbally and physically assaulted – for not fitting in while at school, and the tables having turned now both parties are adults. That’s fine. I like that things have changed, but the fact that Felicia is writing a song about it all these years later tells me that, despite those changes, the scars haven’t completely gone away. She still thinks about it.

This fits with my own experience. It makes me feel seen. But then comes the line:

I appreciate you for being cruel
I’m burning bright thanks to your rejection fuel

Which, quite frankly, boils my fucking blood. Because no, I do not and will not appreciate anyone for being cruel. No one ever burns bright because of ‘rejection fuel’, they sometimes survive and thrive despite it. And that’s only sometimes, because so many other people never make it that far. To say otherwise is doing a disservice to those people, and the people who do make it through the other side, as well as the bullies themselves. Because who the hell would ever feel the need to change and stop hurting people if they’re being told by the very people they damaged that, actually, no, it’s okay, you did me a favour?!

Sadly, this phenomena of giving thanks to abusers isn’t exclusive to The Guild. The two other songs that spring to mind are ‘Fighter‘ by Christina Aguilera, which includes the lines:

After all of the stealing and cheating you probably think that
I hold resentment for you
But uh uh, oh no, you’re wrong
‘Cause if it wasn’t for all that you tried to do, I wouldn’t know
Just how capable I am to pull through
So I want to say thank you

And ‘Thank You‘ by Jamelia, which puts it:

For every last bruise you gave me
For every time I sat in tears
For the million ways you hurt me
I just want to tell you this:
You broke my world, made me strong
Thank you

But I’m sure there are many more examples than that. I find it’s one of those things where, once you’re aware of it, you start seeing it everywhere. And okay, listen, I get it. I understand wanting to turn the narrative on its head – to make a positive out of a negative – but this is not the way to do it. Don’t thank your abusers, thank yourself. You got through their torment, whether on your own or with the help of others. If it feels too weird to be grateful to yourself, then thank the people who held your hand, let you cry on your shoulder, or offered you bandaids, not the people who made you need all those things!

Thoughts on Legacies in a Time of Lockdown

Content warning for mention/discussion of death. 

This is a post about publishing, about career-making (or breaking) decisions, and about having a life’s work to leave behind you. In the grand scheme of things, it’s perhaps not the most important topic, but I find importance to be a fairly relative thing.

I feel the need to justify talking about publishing decisions at the minute, given the current state of the world, but I’m not sure how logical that is. What I can say is that it matters to me, personally, and I’ve found the current global situation has given me a little perspective.

Previously, I’ve spoken about my thoughts and feelings about mortality, and I’ve written here ad nauseam about publishing and self-publishing and hopes and dreams. Now I find all these topics overlapping in my brain, mixed in with an unhealthy dose of anxiety.

My thoughts about wanting to see myself in print have gone on a journey from wanting to get really far really fast, to finding folly in being ill-prepared, to slowing things right down and waiting for the right time. And I’ve documented pretty much all of those thoughts as they evolved.

Well, now they’ve moved onto this new place where, on the one hand, I still want to be cautious and careful about making the right decisions but, on the other hand, am worried about what happens if I wait too long and I lose all my opportunities through indecision.

I guess what I’m looking for is a middle ground. I haven’t found it quite yet, but am writing this post as a means to help me do just that. Continue reading

Writing Realisations

Sometimes things that should be perfectly obvious manage to, somehow, evade our notice. In terms of my writing – something you would expect I’d know quite a bit about – I have encountered two such examples. Two facts that surprised me that really shouldn’t have.

In the first instance, I was talking to some of my writing friends the other day about how it wasn’t until maybe a year after I finished the first draft of my novel (Full Term) before I realised it is, in essence, a baby fic.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it mostly floats around in fanfiction circles and just means, as the name suggests, a story primarily featuring a pregnancy and/or baby.

Now, obviously I knew there was a pregnancy in my novel – it is indeed the hook of the story – it was just that I hadn’t put two and two together and thought of my novel in those specific terms. Probably because it’s a fanfic term and the novel isn’t fan fiction. But here’s the really interesting part: when I finally made the realisation, I was embarrassed.

I really believe in Full Term and the story it tells. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out, and I’m excited to see where it will end up published. None of that has changed but, in the moment I attached the ‘baby fic’ label to it in my head, it suddenly felt foolish.

It took me a second moment to figure out why, and a third to dismiss the embarrassment as the truly foolish thing. Because what it boils down to is basically snobbery, and snobbery has no place in literature, if you ask me. But let me back up for a second and unpack that a little. Continue reading

Top Ten Most Read Authors

As much as I dislike the fact that I was denied the joy of reading as a child, the small consolation such a situation brings is that I know – and have therefore been able to list – pretty much every single book I’ve ever read. With that knowledge at my fingertips, I was curious to take a look and see which authors I had most read. Below is what I discovered. (If you are curious, I’ve finished a total of 472 books in my life so far.)

1. Jim Butcher – 17 Books

All of these books are in the ‘Dresden Files‘ series, all of which I have devoured on audiobook, because all of them are narrated by the fantastic James Marsters. For the unfamiliar, it’s urban fantasy (wizards and vampires, but set in our world. Chicago, to be precise). And I cannot praise them enough. Probably the fact that I’ve read so many tells you how much I love them.

A Favourite Author: Yes. Planning to Read More: Double yes!

2. Malorie Blackman – 13 Books

Malorie’s ‘Noughts and Crosses’ series were some of the first books I’ve ever read. She is my OG favourite author, for sure. Aside from her series, I’ve checked out a couple of her children’s books (for very, very young children, because they’re awesome and I have no shame. Noughts and Crosses is Young Adult, for context). I’ve also read ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ by her, as well as a gender-bent YA Othello retelling (‘Chasing the Stars’) and a collection of short stories on slavery she edited (and had one of her own stories included in).

Will I read more by her? Most definitely. I’m actually planning to re-read all of the N&C books again soon. Continue reading

A Light in the Dark

Being stuck inside can suck. Everybody seems to at least agree on that one point right now, but I know that some people have it worse than most. This is an open letter to those not just stuck inside, but trapped inside with abusive assholes.

I wanna start by staying you have not only all of my sympathy, but my utmost respect, too. I’m so sorry this has happened to you.

I’ve spoken here a thousand times before about my own abusive upbringing, so I know a little of what it’s like. Though, of course, no situation is exactly the same and I’m not trying to pretend otherwise. I had it bad, but I know a lot of people had it a lot worse.

That’s not important. Abuse is abuse and there’s no point trying to compare it all to say what kinds deserve more sympathy or help than others. As some else once said, you can drown in a puddle just as well as a lake.

It can sound like a weird sentiment, but don’t feel guilty for being upset at your situation just because you know it could, technically, be worse. What you need right now is to focus on the positives.

Ha! You might be thinking. What positives? 

Granted, it’s much easier said than done and there really might be very little hope for you right now. Again, I’m sorry. I’m not trying to diminish your suffering, I want to help in some small way to get you through this.

So, positive: if you’re reading this, it must mean you have access to the internet. You’ll need to cling to that. As a mental escape. A link to the outside world. And/or a way to contact the authorities if you feel your life is in danger.

If your actions are being monitored, remember to delete your browsing history when you’re done looking at websites.

If your life is not in active danger but you’re being gaslit at every turn, criticised beyond what you can handle, or being made to feel like you’re unwanted, in the way, or being exploited in some way while you can’t get out, here’s the big thing you need to realise right now: sooner or later, this will end. Quarantine will come to a close and you will be able to get out.

You will. You just need to get to that point. Keep it in your sights. Hold tight to it.

Do not give up!

The whole ‘this too shall pass’ thing is kinda trite at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It may take a week, a month, or – god forbid – a year or more, but the situation will change. You will get your chance at freedom.

You deserve freedom and happiness. You deserve to feel safe and loved and all the good this world has to offer. Because this world still does have good in it. I know it may not feel like it right now, because it’s being kept from you, but great things are possible for you. Your situation now will not be your situation forever.

You need to keep hanging on. There will be daylight again.

Tips for Working from Home

Seeing as a lot of people are working from home right now, for maybe the first time in their lives, and working from home doesn’t naturally suit all personality types, I thought I might offer some advice in the hopes it might help at least some of you. I don’t consider myself an expert in this, but I have been working from home for several years so I do have relevant experience. (Other people’s experience can and will differ. As with all advice, take the bits that work for you and feel free to ignore the rest.)

Your (Physical) Space

It may be that working from home really suits you (and your home) and you’ve been wanting to do so for a long time, but have never been given the opportunity before. The world as it is right now obviously isn’t ideal for anyone, but if it’s given you this small consolation, then at least there’s that.

My Husband Steve

For everyone else, it’s going to be a much bigger adjustment. So, here’s what I recommend: as much as you’re able, try and create a distinct area in which you work. This distinct area will vary depending on who you are, how and where you live – it might be a section of your dining room table. It might be a section of your couch. It might be your garden shed, or your laundry room, or a hundred other possibilities I don’t need to spell out. You get the idea.

The point is, whatever your little area is, it needs to be defined if you’re to have any level of success at this thing. If you have lucked out and already have a home office, garden shed, or spare room, you won’t need to worry so much about packing away your things at the end of each workday and setting them out again the next, but if you’re working at your kitchen table or in bed, tidying things away and putting them out again will be something you need to think about. Sure, it’s annoying and time-consuming, but it might actually work in your favour when it comes to setting a routine – something I’ll talk more about in a second.

So: Tip One – think about your physical space and how it might work best for you. This obviously gets trickier if you live with other people, especially if those other people are now trying to work from home as well. This is again something I will come back to touch on later. For now, think about what you need and how you might get it.

For some people, getting a lot of light behind them – i.e. sitting at a window – is what helps. Some people will prioritise structure over comfort, while others will be the other way around. There is no wrong way to work, so long as you respect your own needs and the needs of those around you. Continue reading

Literary Audit March 2020

I was going to put up a post with tips for working from home today but… well, it’s my birthday and – honestly – I want something a bit more fun. Indulge me, will you, dear reader?

It’s been four years since I first conducted an audit of all the words I’d ever written (original post linked here), and it’s fair to say a lot of my stats have changed since then, with some projects being finished, some scrapped, new ones being taken on etc. I’ve of course shared bits and pieces of statistics between then and now, but not all of them in a singular post – until today!

Going forward, I might do a yearly update to help track my progress, but for now, let’s get onto the figures.

Note: I’m not including my previous self-published poetry and short story collections in my list of book projects, because at this stage I’m really trying to pretend they don’t exist. A line in the sand has been drawn and I’m moving on.

Writing Project Master List

Memoir: WIP*

Novels: 2 Complete, 7 WIPs

  • Family Ties Trilogy
  • Death Girl
  • Rain After Fire
  • Family Secret
  • Holes
  • Sasha
  • A Man Convinced

Short Story Collection: WIP

Short Stories (individual): 66 Total, all Complete

  • 3 Awaiting Publication
  • 4 on Submission
  • 16 Ready to Submit
  • 43 Published (by self or otherwise)

Continue reading

A Non-Update

I feel weird writing a blog post this week, given all that’s going on in the world. I have nothing of use to say about the crises, so am not going to add a ‘hot take’ to the ever-growing number already floating around the internet. And yet, to not acknowledge it feels almost wrong. There is something to be said for carrying on as usual as much as possible in times like these, but ‘usual’ and ‘possible’ are vague yardsticks at best.

Being completely honest, I’m feeling very anxious right now. I think most of us are in the same boat with that.

My local college has not closed its doors (yet!), but I’ve decided not to attend. I’m lying low as much as possible.

It should probably go without saying, but I will put it here just in case, that the event I talked about in my most recent post has been cancelled.

That’s all I got for now. Stay safe, guys.