Just FanFic Thoughts

I’m having mentoring with Jo Zebedee at the minute (courtesy of funding from the University of Atypical), and in our most recent check-in I caught her up on what I’ve been writing recently. Which is––some of you who know me well will be unsurprised––primarily fan fiction.

When I said this, I wasn’t sure if Jo was going to wag her finger and tell me I should be working the sequel to Full Term (which I’d initially scheduled for this month). But of course Jo is lovely and not at all finger-waggy, so I think the mild fear came from my own subconscious.

I told Jo I felt a little guilty for writing fanfic instead of “original” fiction, but when she asked why, I found the answer hard to pin down.

“I just generally always feel guilt,” I said, which is true, but in this specific case I also think it’s because fanfic is looked down upon in some circles. As ‘not real’ writing. As cheating. And no matter that I know that’s nonsense intellectually, I’m not immune to feeling chastised by such opinions.

So why am I working on fanfic instead of my novel this month? Because this month has been hard, and I find fan fiction easier in a lot of ways than “original” fiction. I needed something easier––something that would make me happy without taxing my already overworked brain too much. Also because despite my self-appointed schedule, I have almost a year to write Life Lessons. It’s not like I’ve set up pre-orders, have the book coming out in under thirty days, and still haven’t written the damn thing.

So it’s fine. I need to chill. Which is, in fact, what I’ve been doing. And although I just went ahead and did it anyway, I don’t need to justify the writing of fan fiction. Any and all writing that gets done is a good thing. And I’m actually having my best writing month ever. I signed up to do 50,000 words for this round of Camp NaNoWriMo and I’m over halfway there.

But here’s the other thing Jo asked me: if writing fanfic is a big passion for me and I put all this time and effort into it, why don’t I talk about it more? That one had me stumped a little, because I’d been under the impression I talk about it too much. Though in going back through old posts, I can see the last time I made one about fan fiction specifically, it was almost two years ago.

I used to do yearly posts, collating stats on the anniversary of when I started writing fic, but skipped 2020 because, well… we all know there were some other things going on. But a main yearly post and vague mentions elsewhere do not indeed constitute talking about something a ‘lot,’ so I’m back to thinking that was my irrational guilt talking. An internalised sense of shame that I talk about it at all. I know some published authors have fanfic writing pasts that they think of as dirty little secrets, but that’s not me and will never be me.

So this internalised sense of shame acknowledged and unceremoniously shown the door, I next wondered if the topic was moot. If anyone outside my existing fanfic circles wanted to hear about it. I had assumed no, but Jo challenged that assumption, so I decided to put up a Twitter poll and get the actual answer…

And so, here I am, sharing these thoughts. And later this month, on the anniversary of when I first started writing fanfic (28th July), I think I resurrect the tradition of posting my yearly stats.

In the meantime, if you are one of the people who fell into the curious category, you can find my stories free to read online here: https://archiveofourown.org/users/EllieRose101

Mid-Year Check-In

I’ve been racking my brain for a way to summarise how I’ve found this year so far, and to give an account of all the ways I have (or haven’t) worked towards the goals I set out at the end of 2020.

I know that January, February, and March were frantic with rewrites and formatting and marketing for the release of Full Term.

I know April was Camp NaNoWriMo, and I’d previously said I wasn’t taking part as I didn’t think I had it in me. I was decompressing after the first quarter. But then I went ahead and did it anyway, albeit with a small (10k) goal.

If you’re to ask me how I reached that goal, or what I did in May or June… Well, I have the stats right in front of me, which I’ll get into in a second, but honestly? Everything mostly happened in a fog. I have an all too familiar sense that I’ve been very busy but also that I haven’t much to show for it, which is subjective at best and an outright lie at worst.

So, since that is the case, and my own thoughts and feelings are not the best barometer for measuring success, I will lay out these past six months in cold hard facts.

Words written so far: 85,000 across multiple projects––poems, blog posts, short fiction, fan fiction, and novel rewrites.

That was:

  • 31,000 in January
  • 18,000 in February
  • 3,000 in March
  • 10,000 in April
  • 17,000 in May
  • and 6,000 in June

Books read so far: twelve (and I’m in the middle of three more).

I set out to write a minimum of two blog posts per month, make at least two poetry and two short story submissions per month, and it’s these goals that have been the most hit and miss depending on whatever else I’ve had going on in said months.

My study goal was to complete my Masterclass subscription, which I did. (You can find my thoughts on that summed up here.)

I aimed to put out three newsletters this year, and I’ve done one so far and am planning the second for mid-July, so that’s on track.

I wanted to finish writing three fanfic works in progress, and I’m in the middle of that right now.

Still to come this year is finishing the third Belfast Writers’ Group anthology, finish books two and three in the Family Ties Trilogy, and publish a different book, which I’ve teased but haven’t officially announced yet.

I guess you could say things are more or less going to plan. As is often my takeaway from these kinds of posts, I think I need to not be so hard on myself. I may not have written as much as I’ve wanted, but what I want is often unrealistic, and I have done a lot.

Let me know in the comments section how you’re getting on, reader. If you set any goals, how are they doing? And more importantly, how are you doing? As much as my brain tries to convince me otherwise, goals are not the be-all and end-all of everything.

Stay safe, and I’ll write again soon.

10 Things I’ve Learned About Art

As I said in last week’s blog post, I have been starting to get back into art––to get into it properly for the first time ever, really. I also said I’d been watching a lot of YouTube videos on the topic, and so I have gleaned a bunch of useful info. This post is just to document that. It will likely become a series, as I continue to learn, but here’s what I have so far:

  1. Kneaded Erasers are a thing. They kind of look like a lump of Blu Tack and, as the name suggests, can be kneaded into different shapes to suit the artist. They’re preferable to regular rubbers (as they’re called in the UK), as they absorb the lead/graphite rather than rubbing it (and sometimes the paper) away, leaving those annoying bits behind.
  2. Paper Basics
    • Acid-free paper won’t fade/yellow over time.
    • The quality of paper is often denoted in a numerical ‘GSM’ value, which stands for grams per square meter.
    • Sketchbooks might also mention ‘tooth’ on the cover, which means texture.
  3. Harder pencils draw lighter lines
    • Draw with H pencils (harder wood)
    • Detail with HB pencils
    • Shade with B pencils (which are softer wood, and therefore create darker lines)
  4. Draw on a tilted surface, not flat, to avoid distortion/elongation of your lines.
  5. If you’re drawing at night, the warm glow of electric lighting can affect how the colours look. Daylight bulbs get around this.
  6. You should prep your canvasses before painting by putting on a layer of primer first.
    • In the US, the most popular brand of primer is called Gesso.
    • Some canvasses come pre-primed. It will say this on the label, if so.
    • You can add a layer of sealer to your painting when you’re done (Mod Podge in the US, PVA in the UK).
  7. Types of Paints:
    • Oil
    • Acrylic
    • Watercolour
    • Gouache (Which is opaque watercolour, though apparently Acrylic Gouache is also a thing.)
  8. Acrylics dry fast and are therefore not good for blending.
  9. You should dry brushes upside down, where possible, but not in something that lets the bristles rest on a surface, as that will make it lose shape faster.
  10. Most of us know what it means when ink or paint ‘bleeds’ through a page onto the one underneath (or onto your table/desk), but I have recently discovered that it’s called ‘ghosting‘ when you can clearly see what’s you’ve drawn/painted on the opposite side of the paper, but it hasn’t bled the entire way through.

Feel free to share your favourite art facts or tips in the comment section below!

The Formal and the Informal

I am a chill, casual person––except for when I’m not.

Sometimes I like rules just fine––especially the ones I make myself––it’s just rules that have lost sight of why they exist, or rules that exist just for the sake of existing that drive me nuts.

For example, I am against homework and school uniforms because studies have shown that they not only don’t work, but actually further disadvantage families that are already struggling.

And I hate pointless pomp and circumstance at formal events.

But I love lists, and colour coding, and diagrams. You know, useful sh*t.

Do I mentally correct people’s grammar in my head as they’re talking? Absolutely. I have this need to fix the words, even if the other person never knows. It’s how I keep myself right, for writing later. (Hear something said incorrectly enough times and let it go unchecked, and you’ll find yourself adopting the error.)

When it came to our wedding, my husband and I decided which traditions we wanted to follow and which ones weren’t for us. (Most of them weren’t.)

All that to say, I think there’s a balance to be found, between rules and order. And that balance is probably different for everyone.

Some people positively thrive in chaos––but I am not those people.

Recently, I got the urge again to do some art*. It’s an urge I’ve spoken about here before, and one that comes around periodically. Because the thing is that I love art, but so rarely do it. Because I have so very few skills yet (because I don’t do it. Vicious cycle, I know). I also wasn’t sure where to start.

Instead of starting, I stopped and thought. What would I need? I asked myself. And from there wondered what I already had. So I set out to make a list of all the art supplies I currently own. And then I realised that everything I had was completely disordered, mixed together and spread across several different drawers and storage boxes in my office. From there, I tried to put all the like items together (all the pens in one place, all the paperclips in a single tub etc), but soon found it was a losing battle, as the drawers and storage boxes would only let me do so much.

They weren’t fit for purpose.

So I did some online research (i.e. watched approximately fifteen thousand YouTube videos of other people organising art supplies) and decided I needed a new drawer unit. I picked one out, wrote down the details, went to Ikea, spent the morning in a queue, the afternoon assembling pieces of wood, the rest of the day resorting all of my art supplies.

The day after that, I finally sat down to colour in.

That probably sounds crazy, right? Entirely excessive. Except do you know what? It made me so, so happy! Continue reading

Writing Masterclasses: A Review (Part Two)

It’s been a year since I signed up for a Masterclass.com membership, and I’m not renewing, so I thought it was high time I put together my final thoughts. (You can find Part One linked here.)

During the past twelve months, the platform has had a facelift (new logo and branding), they’ve added new instructors, and diversified the range of instructors they’re working with.

As with part one of this review, I’m going to be focusing on their writing content, so I cannot speak for other areas of the site, but having a mostly white, mostly male roster of ‘masters’ was something I had previously criticised, and I’m glad to see the imbalance is starting to be addressed.

New teachers include Roxane Gay, Walter Mosley, N.K. Jemison, Amy Tan, Salman Rushdie, and Issa Rae. Shonda Rhimes is on there, too but––unless I’m mistaken––her content’s not actually new, just newly recategorised under the writing section (both her and Issa Rae’s courses straddle the line between writing and filmmaking).

I initially set out to watch all the writing content that Masterclass had to offer, but after 315 video lessons consumed and 16 classes completed in their entirety, I’m actually pretty burned out on advice, especially when so much of it is the same, or at least in agreement (I’ll get onto notable exceptions in a minute).

I’m not renewing my membership in the first instance because of the price point, but being burned out on the content is the other big reason.

I’m worried that this will come across as arrogant, but I don’t think the platform has anything else to teach me. At this point, I’ve been writing for over ten years and have attended a lot of courses and workshops, not to mention read a lot of articles and books on craft, and so a lot of the things covered in the classes aren’t new to me. I’m not saying that I know everything there is to know about writing and cannot possibly learn anything more ever, because of course not. And I don’t mean it as a criticism of the classes, exactly, because a lot of people will find all that information put together in a single place incredibly useful, I’m just not sure that I’m their target audience.

To me, the concept of a masterclass is for someone who’s already doing a thing and wants to get even better, but a lot of the lessons I think are actually better suited to beginners, or people not long started out on their exploration of the craft. Other people’s mileage will undoubtedly vary, but that’s my personal feeling on the matter.

Speaking of personal feelings, I really didn’t gel with a couple of the instructors. Namely, Malcolm Gladwell and David Mamet. While watching video lessons from pretty much everyone else, I nodded along and knew exactly what they were talking about. But these guys… I confess to ranting at length to both my husband and online group of writing friends about them.

For illustration purposes, I have picked out three pieces of Malcolm’s advice that I not only fundamentally disagree with, but am genuinely baffled by anyone who does––yet these people do exist. I googled it, and he has some fans highly praising his teachings, so maybe it’s just me. See for yourself.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Writing Advice:

• When researching, look for irrelevant information you might never use.

• If your piece starts out with a question, don’t feel the need to answer it. Go on a tangent for three thousand words, then tell your reader you never did solve the problem.

• Great stories don’t have to be satisfying. An unsatisfying ending is sometimes what makes them great.

Regarding point two: If he’d said open endings can be great, which I think is perhaps what he meant, then I’d have seen some merit to the statement. I personally don’t think they should be used all the time, but they can be effective sometimes, sure. Except that’s not what he said. He specifically said ‘unsatisfying.’

…am I mad for hearing that and just thinking… what? Seriously?

Beyond these points, I didn’t feel like Malcolm had a lot to offer. (Besides a rambling anecdote about ketchup, for some reason?)

He seems like a really genuine guy, and I’d probably have a pleasant cup of tea with him in some post-pandemic bizarro world where we’d cross paths, but it’s fair to say we don’t see eye to eye.

That’s fine. I can live with it.

David Mamet, though… *takes deep breath*

He actually, actively pissed me off. Not just because he was saying things I disagreed with, but because he has this attitude that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot and doesn’t know what they’re talking about. When, dude… have you seen the other masterclasses? They’re preaching some different sh*t.

An example: David said “there is no such thing as character,” and backstory is a waste of time. Another thing he doesn’t like is exposition. Or narration. Or “obligatory” heartfelt scenes. On one breath he says dialogue isn’t important… and then he says good dialogue is poetry, which feeds the soul.

Compare this to Judy Blume (oh, Judy! I actually fell in love with her over the course of her videos, not gonna lie).

She said she doesn’t really know what plot is, which perhaps is yet another odd statement on the surface, but she’s real about it. About not being a perfect author. About this only being her experience, and it maybe not applying to others. She got visibly choked up in a few spots and you could just feel how much she loves telling stories.

“Character is everything,” she says, and “backstory is interesting.” She is SINGING MY SONG! (Screw you, David!)

Margaret Atwood clears up the discrepancy when she said, “Which comes first, character or story? There is no such thing as first, because a person is what happens to them.” See how that thought works together with Judy’s?

Mamet later recommended watching movies with the sound off, then made a sweeping generalisation about most of them being awful.

He likes the gaming magazines his son reads, because they’re––according to him––written terribly.

“I don’t know what my process is…” he says, “but if you want, I’ll make something up.” And “Who cares?” he keeps asking.

“Me!” I kept wanting to scream at him, because Masterclass is pretty expensive. You’d be a fool to invest your time and money and not care. And so, yes, it makes me angry to think that he doesn’t. That he’s happy to just stand there and make stuff up, when the stuff is overwhelmingly negative and contradicts a lot of the teaching from the other writers, as I’ve said.

But I don’t want to leave this review on a sour note, or give him any more of my attention (lest I be accused of being overly negative myself), so I will instead say that most of the writers on Masterclass are great. I watched videos from all of them, even if I didn’t complete the serieses of a few.

My overall conclusion is that a newbie writer would likely find a subscription an amazing resource––so long as they take some things with a pinch of salt, and they can afford it.

Interviewing my Audiobook Narrator

To celebrate the release of the audiobook version of my debut novel––Full Term, a Young Adult Contemporary––I have the great pleasure of interviewing my narrator, Eleanor Acquah.

I found Eleanor via ACX, Amazon’s service for linking independent authors and audiobook producers. I typed in my preferences (a female English voice who could speak casually and do a couple of accents) and then scrolled, hoping to find someone who had the same background as my main character.

Eleanor immediately jumped out, A. because she had a good audio sample, and B. because she was one of the few black people on the site. My main character, Mya, is half Ghanaian, and as it turned out, Eleanor has Ghanaian heritage too. It was important to me to cast a person of colour in the role, where possible.

Here’s what she had to say about it all:

Can we start with you telling us a little about yourself?

I live in South London. I am a family support worker and have been working in this field for 18 years. I love spicy food and shopping!

What made you decide to narrate audiobooks and how did you get started?

From a young age, I was always doing impressions of the people around me; at the age of seven whilst watching TV, I had a lightbulb moment and wanted to be a voice-over when I was older. I have always had an interest in TV production and I actually wanted to be a camerawoman but choose the career path of helping people as it appealed to me. The voice-over was always in the back of my mind so decided to do it on the side for experience and to earn extra money. My first gig was doing jingles for a Christian radio show Omniscient Radio. When I got the message from Ellie about Full Term, I was in shock as most of my experience was from radio and projects for young people and animation. I had auditioned for audiobooks six years ago without success; thankfully my profile was still active!

So, Full Term is your first full audiobook. How do you feel it went? What did you learn? Anything you would do differently?

I feel it went okay, I was just so happy my audition went well, I just wanted to read! I learnt that producing an audiobook is not just about reading; it’s about trying to get the right pace and essence of the characters; the editing is a long process as you have to take out the breaths, listen to the playback whilst listening and reading along to ensure all of the words are said. If I had to do it again, I would ensure that the requirements to record are set prior to recording! And extra padding in my recording corner in my bedroom as the neighbours upstairs can be noisy.

Was there anything about the story that drew you in?

What drew me into the story was Mya could of had the baby at school considering she didn’t tell anyone about it. As I support children, young people and stories like this are very familiar to me. I actually have a young mum on my caseload who is in a mother and baby unit.

Do you have a favourite character?

Mya. I love her inner thoughts and her determination and she wants the best for Emma.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I am keen to find out what happens in the second instalment!

Thank you so much to Eleanor for answering my questions, and of course recording the book in the first place! If you would like to buy a copy, it’s available on Amazon, Audible, and via the Apple Store.

Black-Owned Businesses to Support

I was contacted during the week to ask if I would help promote some black-owned businesses, as they tend to have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic (among other things).

Of course, I thought this sounded like a great idea!

The specific link I was directed to lists 181 businesses in the United States, as well as a bunch in Canada (at the bottom).

Which prompted me to check and see what there is in the UK.

To that end, I found a directory here, and a different list here.

If you would like to promote a black-owned business here or elsewhere in the world, please leave a comment below!

A New Season

It’s spring in the Northern Hemisphere, which I’m happy about. I think spring might actually be my favourite season (having thought about this more than is probably sensible). Just the sense of renewal, and fresh starts, and oh, the longer evenings!

New Year has that same sense of starting over, which is why it’s my favourite holiday (if holiday is even the right word?). And summer obviously has long evenings, too, but I’m not so great with heat*, so that doesn’t work for me. Spring, though… imagine a very contented expression here just at the thought. (I’d add an emoji, but the ones I have at my disposal don’t quite do it justice.)

*Extreme understatement (is that an oxymoron?).

Point is: I’m feeling good.

But also… in complete contradiction to that, things have also felt a bit… off(?) for me this past week or so.

2021 for me has been full-on so far. I finished the rewrite of my novel in January and February, then had the whirlwind of the launch in March. I typically take part in CampNaNo in April each year, but it’s just not happening for me right now. I haven’t had the physical energy or mental bandwidth, so have slowed things right down and am going a bit easier. It must be said that I probably wouldn’t have realised I was overdoing things (again) if my husband hadn’t pointed it out. You know how it is when you’re lost so deep in work you don’t even realise it? Just me? Well, anyway, Steve let me know I was in danger of burn out (again) if I kept on, and––as often happens––I then proceeded to be hit over the head with all the pain and fatigue I’d been pushing aside while getting on with things.

That was a couple of days ago, and now I think my brain and body have settled again and––lo and behold––I’m starting to get that itch to write again.

It’s almost as if there’s a rhythm to it all. I don’t know how many times I’ve been around this particular… what do you even call this? Weird life cycle? I feel like there’s a common metaphor that applies here, but it’s eluding me. At this point, I’m not entirely sure if this post is coherent or just a brain dump of unconnected thoughts (maybe both?). Regardless, it feels nice to write. To get the thoughts out, coherent or not.

Almost every day, at the end of the night (which is to say, anywhere from 11pm to 6am–our “typical” bedtime. Which is funny, but that’s kind of the point) my husband and I will often turn to each other and exclaim, “Weird day, huh?” And it’s more than just a running gag, because somehow it ends up being true. Every single time. Because there’s no such thing as ‘typical’ for us. We rarely know what we’re doing from one day to the next, and that’s before whatever of life’s curveballs hit us––and I love it. The weird days (and nights), the inconsistencies, and rhythms, incoherent ramblings, and random tangents… I really do love it all. And I’m grateful for the perspective to see that, that the brief step back has given me.

How do I conclude all this? Is there even a conclusion to be drawn? Is a lack of conclusion not kind of part of what I’m trying to say? If anyone is still reading this, thank you. Welcome to the inner workings of my brain. And, um… Happy Spring!

Launch Week Happenings

At the time of writing, it’s less than twenty-four hours until my debut novel, Full Term, is finally, officially out.

You can read the first chapter for free over on Jo Zebedee’s blog today, tomorrow (Tuesday 30th) Kelly Creighton is sharing a Q&A I’ve done over on her blog, and on Wednesday my good friend Vee will be posting a review of Full Term on her book blog.

But that’s not all!

Also tomorrow, I’m having a mini party over on Zoom just for friends and family (which will probably be shared to YouTube, after the fact), there’s going to be a giveaway on my Twitter (UK only), and between 8 and 9pm (BST) I’ll be answering questions for this week’s #UKTeenChat.

If you want to pick up a copy of the book, electronic versions are available for Kindle, Kobo, Nook, Google Play and more––all linked here.

Paperbacks can be ordered from Waterstones in the UK, Barnes & Noble in the US, and Amazon around the world. Libraries should be able to order the book in for you, on request, and independent bookstores should also have it in their wholesaler catalogues.

There’s also an audiobook currently in production.

Plenty to celebrate, I’d say!

On Lockdown and Birthdays

Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of lockdown starting in the UK.

It’s also my thirty-second birthday. Meaning I’ll be one of the first people to have two birthdays spent in lockdown.

Surprisingly, I’m not feeling too bad about it. Maybe because all the excitement going on with my book release is outweighing the disappointment of not being able to celebrate with friends, or maybe because I know that––comparatively––I’m not in too bad of a position.

All considered, I’ve been fairly unscathed by the pandemic. I’m not saying it’s been easy, but I’m aware of my privilege in not having lost anyone close, when for so many others it’s been so much worse.

Back when the pandemic started, my mental health took a nosedive for a couple of months, as I know was the case for a lot of people. And for a bunch of those people, their mental health hasn’t yet recovered. For more still, the emotional impact was compounded by the fresh wave of injustices that happened during the Black Lives Matters protests last summer. And even more recently than that, the unrest over racism against Asian communities in the states, and women in the UK.

Overall, it’s been a hard year. But I don’t need to tell anyone that.

I hope this doesn’t come across as insensitive, because that’s absolutely not what I’m going for here––my heart goes out to everyone who has suffered over the past twelve months. But with everything that’s happened, I also feel personally grateful to have made it through.

I got my first vaccine on Saturday, and I’m hopeful that, soon enough, I’ll be able to see friends again. (Soon being a relative term.)

Trite as it might sound, the hard times will end. We’ve got to hold on to each other now more than ever, in this home stretch. We’re not out of the woods yet, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel and––I’m sorry, that’s a lot of mixed metaphors. What I just wanted to say is I’m feeling hopeful, and I hope that’s okay.