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

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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.

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Reading and Writing Update

It’s been a while since I updated this blog with reading and writerly things, so I’m here today to fix that.

Books read so far this year: 11/65 – 17% complete – 1 book behind schedule

Currently Reading: Jumping in Puddles by Claire Allan

I got a lot of words in February – 28,997 in 29 days, to be exact. And for the most part, the momentum seems to be carrying over until March. Long may it last!

27th of February I had a short story published by Visitant Lit. It’s called Earworms, is a horror/fantasy piece, and might not be suitable for overly squeamish readers. Read at your own discretion. (Apparently I gave my beta reader nightmares.)

Going forward, I’m going to have a piece published in volume two of The Bramley – the literary journal of Flash Fiction Armagh. I’m even getting paid, which is a first! It’s only a token fee but, even so, it feels like a milestone.

The short story I had published online in August last year will be coming out in print in April 2020.

And, in other news, I’m doing a little bit of client work at the minute, and Belfast Writers’ Group things are moving forward again. We hope to have the third anthology out this summer.

Events

I’m due to read a selection of my work at The Secret Bookshelf at the Courtyard, Carrickfergus for World Poetry Day on Saturday 21st March. It’s a bit of a ‘pop up’ event, but I believe I’ll be ‘on’ at 1pm (maybe 1.30) I’ll confirm on social media closer to the time.

Camp NaNoWriMo April: I am all signed up and planning to redraft an existing work-in-progress ‘Death Girl.’ (Previously titled Born of Death.) At this stage, I have most of the main plot points but don’t know if it’ll turn out to be a full-length novel or more of a novella.

April is also challenge month for the fan fiction site I’m part of, so I’ll be writing a story for them, too.

That’s everything for now! (I think.)

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On Adulthood

So no one told you life was gonna be this way. Your job’s a joke, you’re broke, your love life’s D.O.A.
It’s like you’re always stuck in second gear, when it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month, or even your year.

Because my husband and I recently got Netflix, I’ve been binge-watching all of Friends from the very beginning. So I’ve been singing (and clapping) along to the theme tune a lot recently, and it’s got me thinking – about life, and it not being what you quite expected.

This time last year, I was panicking about turning thirty, focusing on all of the things I felt I should have achieved by that milestone. I was married, which society told me was a key achievement I should have unlocked, but I wasn’t sure I had done anything else I was ‘supposed’ to have done.

My expectations were unrealistically high. I was disappointed I didn’t have a publishing deal or a child. And not just because society told me I should want these things. I wanted them – and still want them – deeply, on a personal level. If kids or marriage or writing a novel isn’t want for your life, then cool, you won’t find any judgement here, but – for me – having these goals lined up with what a lot of other people profess to want out of life.

I’ve talked about success (and the lack thereof) on here before. I’ve discussed, in-depth, my journey in constantly amending my personal milestones and how I feel about them. I’m generally reflecting – again – about this whole thing we call life and growing up.

As I watch Joey and Chandler and Monica and Rachael and Ross and Phoebe navigate their late twenties and early thirties, I find myself comparing my life to theirs – no matter that they’re fictional.

All of that is to say, I’ve come to a conclusion. Despite being in pretty much the same physical place (literally, and financially, and career-wise) as last year when I was having my Big Panic, I actually find myself in a much better headspace right now. I don’t have a publishing deal or a baby, but I don’t feel all that stressed about it. My mental health is the best it’s maybe ever been.

I think what I’m trying to say is, for right now, I’m okay.

I don’t want that to come out like a boast. I know I recently put up posts telling the story of how I found ‘the love of my life,’ but don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to paint some rose-tinted version of my life that the internet will applaud me for. God knows there have been plenty of times in the past few years where I’ve come on here to rant about life being just plain sucky.

It can be tricky trying to find a balance between sharing the good and the bad – you don’t want to misrepresent yourself or your life, one way or the other. It just so happens that right now, I’m having a good patch. I want to document that, and I want to celebrate it.

I hope you, reading this, are also having a good patch. If you’re not – I know this will sound incredibly cheesy, but I do genuinely mean it – I will be there for you, attempting to be the best friend I possibly can. (Even if it’s only on the internet.)

Maybe that’s what growing up is really about, and I’ve got it figured out after all. I guess we’ll see.

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Writing and Mental Health

A couple of days ago, I asked people on my Facebook Page and Twitter timeline if there was anything, in particular, they’d like to see me blog about. One person said ‘writing and mental health’ and I thought, aha!

In the past, I’ve talked extensively about writing and about mental health, but I hadn’t as yet brought the two topics together. So, here we are.

Let’s start with the key facts, shall we? Writing can be tricky and mental health even more so. Put them both together and, well, things ain’t so simple.

Sometimes when I’m having a bad mental health day, I write a ton, and sometimes bad mental health means I can’t write at all. I find writing definitely helps my mental health, but if I find myself unable to do that thing that helps, what then?

Being completely real: if your mental health is super bad, picking up a pen isn’t going to cut it, you’re going to need help from outside yourself. On that note, I have a post about getting help and what that actually means linked here, and I have a post about counselling here.

But let’s assume, for the sake of this particular post, that your mental health is not so great but not exactly critical. If you’re already a writer, you may find accessing your creativity to be a bit of a struggle. In which case, I suggest switching things up. Usually write fiction? Try an angsty blog post, or a terrible poem. (I’m a big, big fan of both.) Usually a non-fiction writer? You could try creating something based entirely in fantasy just for the escapism. Either way, these words are for you. You can show people, if you want, but you’re under no obligations. If you’re in a sucky mood, allow yourself the freedom to have your words suck. Put down in text things that you could never and would never admit out loud. This can help even if you’re not already a writer, too.

One thing I find particularly useful is letters. I might write one addressed to my brain, or my body, my depression, or a specific place. Sometimes writing a letter to a person in your life will help, even if you never send it. The important thing is to get it off your chest so it’s not pushing you down.

If writing really isn’t working for you, try painting, or music. There is no one-size-fits-all here. One day, one thing might help and another it could be something else entirely. If you’ve tried writing in the past to lift your spirits and it didn’t pan out, what’s to say you shouldn’t give it another go?

If you have thoughts, anecdotes, or other tips to share, I’d love to hear them! Please leave a comment and please, please, talk to someone if you’re really struggling. You deserve the help you need.

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The Disconnect – Letter to My Body Part Three

There’s this thing John Green has spoken about quite a few times: how he used to conceptualize himself as a brain that had to be carried around by his body rather than the body being an intrinsic part of his being to begin with.

That’s how I used to think, And – in all honesty – it’s still how I feel, deep down.

But I can understand why John ultimately found the thinking unhelpful. For if the body was just a physical means to an end – to get him from A to B – its wellbeing didn’t matter so much. He didn’t have to really care about it, so long as his mind was fine.

Except doctors have known for a long time that physical health can and does affect mental health.

When John began to think about his body, and its needs, and embrace it and them as part of himself, he started to make changes than benefitted him as a whole. He began to exercise. He started to eat right, take better care of his teeth, and quit smoking.

For John, this has been a journey, and he’s not at the end of it, yet.

But, dear Body, I am trying – by the means of these letters if nothing else – to walk that same path.

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Tips for Meeting the Love of Your Life

So, it’s coming up to Valentine’s Day and you might be wanting to have a little romance in your life. As a follow up to my last post, talking about my own potted relationship history complete with Happy Ever After, I thought I’d share my top tips to finding that special person for yourself.

These are specific to online dating, as that’s the method that ultimately worked for me.

1. Play the Long Game/Take Your Time

If you’re serious about wanting to commit to a long term relationship, you might need more than a few days lead-in time. Signing up for an online dating profile tonight, with four days to go until Valentine’s, might score you a date for the big day and you could be lucky enough to have said date with someone super right for you but, realistically, it’ll probably take more than that. More time, more energy, more searching.

I’m sorry if this bursts your bubble. It’s probably not what you want to hear, but you’ve waited all of your life so far already, right? What’s a little longer? If you want lasting results, it’s gonna take some time, but it will be worth it. (That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with just wanting a date and nothing more. If that’s your jam, go for it, but this advice isn’t really targetted at you.)

I was on (and off) online dating sites for years, not taking it very seriously at all, before I found one that worked for me. The one I stuck with was OkCupid, but you may find a different one that suits you better (bonus tip: do your research!). Even once I’d finally selected my dating site of choice, I was on there for so long that they actually made me on of their moderators.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Those years of being on the site were not entirely devoid of options. I would get messages fairly regularly, it was just that none of the message-ees suited me. This might also be your experience, but do not despair. Continue reading

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Five, Four, Three – A Love Story

Ten years ago, I had a string of disastrous not-quite relationships. In the space of nine months there was the guy who tried to take over my life, the guy who scared me off because he fell so hard, so fast, and I was too broken; the other guy who wanted more than I was willing or ready to give, the guy who I put on a pedestal and damn near lost my mind over, and there was the guy who raped me.

I was in such a messed up place, but I took a year away from all that – moved back in with my parents (an entirely different kind of toxic situation) – and more or less got back on my feet.

Nine years ago, I got caught up with someone who was even more damaged than me and I got torn up all over again.

Then there were three years of being alone and becoming comfortable with things that way. There was a two-month-long relationship at the end of those that wasn’t great but at least didn’t leave me deeply psychologically traumatised.

Then… five years ago, this very day, I got an email.

Three days and fifty-five messages each way later, I was going on a date. Two days after that, date number two; and two days after that, it was official. We changed our Facebook statuses, deleted our online dating profiles, and Steve told me he loved me.

I believed him, and let him show me that love – no matter how terrified I was. (And I was terrified, let me tell you.) It wasn’t long before I fully let go and was saying those three magic words myself. In under six months, we were engaged.

Four years ago, we moved in together.

Three years ago, we exchanged vows.

And I’m even more in love now than I was then, which is saying something.

Happy anniversary, baby. Here’s to the next half-decade x

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Inside Madammé Flintchet’s Mind

As with last week’s post, this story “outline” (if you could even call it that) comes from many moons ago. How many moons, I’m not exactly sure. Circa 2010 or 2011, if I had to guess. It’s entirely ridiculous and nonsensical and not at all like the kind of thing I write these days– and I just had to share, for the sake of… posterity, I guess. It’s probably best not to question it. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy.

Madammé Flintchet’s Mind – A Tourist’s Guide 

Ageing spinster [Madammé Flintchet] owns her own home in which her middle-aged brother has a room, rent-free. He’s an aspiring comedian earning little-to-no money and always thinking up mad get-rich-quick schemes that never work out.

Francés (Madammé Flintchet) is a retired horticulture teacher who is often inspired with great ideas that come from nowhere – often while she’s about to drift off or wake up.

(Note to Self: comedic tone.

Alternative character names: Nora or Mildred or Millie)

One night, while giving her creaky headboard a thud to shut it up, [Francés] pauses. What did she just hear? It was just her tummy rumbling. Nothing to worry about. Although, she did internally note that there wasn’t the usual vibration to accompany such a rumble.

She muses about cat assassins while following a stray down the path/alley. [????]

One night, upon leaving her room – to ‘make use of the facilities’ as she puts it – she shot high off her feet, startled by her brother returning from a midnight kitchen raid.

SMACK!

She hadn’t noticed him until the words, “What’s the craic?” echoed in the darkness.

Told from the perspective of a ‘person’ working in her mind, on his tea break.

“Oh, look at the time! Must dash!”

“Suduko alert! All working braincells report for duty!”

“It’s been non-stop in here this morning!” etc.

Again, yes, this is indeed how it ends. I’m as baffled as anyone as to why I haven’t gotten a multi-million-dollar publishing deal yet. It must be those inexplicable cat assassins!

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Travel Awkwardness

This evening, I’ve been clearing out some paperwork from my home office. So much of what I found was so old, I’d forgotten ever writing it. Alongside my long-abandoned novel, and a partial script for a random radio play, and drafted children’s book, and doodles for a Christian colouring book were six loose pages.

Two of the loose pages outline a story I will share here next week, and the other four (titled ‘Travel Awkwardness’) form what I’m guessing was supposed to become a blog post. Well, today, I’m going to make that blog post a reality, because it’s (in my opinion) so cringingly funny I just have to share. Below, therefore, is a direct transcription.

I travel fairly regularly – not very far most of the time, but usually just enough that I require a small wheeled suitcase. Other than a suitcase, though, I travel alone, and this comes with a few issues that couples or groups would never experience. Like, when sitting in an airport for a few hours – waiting for a flight, obviously – a common thing to do is to read and/or help yourself to a caffeinated beverage. This is fairly standard, regardless of who you’re with (/not with), but the difference is what happens after this period of sitting but before the period of getting up to sit in a big metal bird: one goes to the bathroom.

Going to the bathroom is not as simple as it sounds, for people with other people. But people without other people have to pack up everything and head to the bathroom with it for fear that it will be stolen (by security guards more likely than actual thieves).

People with people (PWP) can leave their caffeinated beverage half drunk, their magazine open on their table, their suitcase and their toddler behind them for a few brief moments alone to freshen up because – joy of joys – they have a minder.* Meanwhile, I’m getting strange looks reflected in my direction from the lucky “look, free hands!” woman standing by the mirror, taking her sweet time to fix her already perfect hair as I try to squeeze both myself and my case round a tiny cubicle door only to find that, now I’m in, the door won’t shut because me/my suitcase are in the way. Needless to say – it takes some manoeuvring.

As the perfect-haired PWP resumes her coffee/magazine/parenthood I am now faced with the problem of releasing myself [from the space] I’ve just spent the last seven minutes trying to get into. Typically, when I do get out, I discover that – due to the plane being “delayed for unforeseen circumstances” – my pre-flight preparation piss was in vain, as I’ve suddenly got two more hours to kill and will therefore no doubt have to complete the process two more times (a side-effect of all those time-killing caffeinated beverages).

Just recently, I was in Dublin – on my own, of course – and an odd thing happened:

Snoring in toilet.

Unknowledgeable fart.

(Yes, that’s really how it ends.

*There’s an asterisk here in my original notes, but no corresponding footnote. Absolutely no idea what I had been planning to clarify or elaborate on at the end. I was so very good at this!)

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