Letter to My Body: Part Two

Dear Body,

I said in my first letter that I wanted to open a dialogue, and I do, but I guess it’s harder than I thought it would be because it’s been almost a year between that first letter and now. There’s so much we need to hash out, I’m still struggling to know where to start. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot – all our issues.

It’s a lot, you know?

I had planned, today, to bring up the complicated topic of food but, well, we’ve had one hell of a weekend, haven’t we? It’s only fair I give you a break and save that can of worms ’till later.

Right now, I know you’re in pain. To say it sucks doesn’t cover it.

I’m trying to figure out all that’s wrong, but it takes time. I feel frustrated, but I hope that all answers will come eventually, if I don’t stop looking for them.

I’m trying to come to terms with just how sick we are, and the possibility that I might always be in some amount of pain or other.

I’m scared.

I want someone to hold my hand through all this and keep me going. Obviously Steve is great for that, but he doesn’t have any more answers than I do. It’s hard to reach out for support from people who have gone through the same things, when you’re not sure what all of the things you’re going through are called.

I guess I should be grateful that I have diagnoses for at least some of it. Twenty years ago, I probably wouldn’t even have that. And Steve is so great. He listens, and sympathizes even when we don’t understand. It’s such a change of pace to how things used to be, living with my parents.

We can take solace in that. Things could be a hell of a lot worse.

I like to think we’re making progress. And, in the meantime, I really do plan to write more often. We shouldn’t be at odds with each other.

Take care, body. We’ll get there.

– Ellie.

Goals for the New Year

A lot of the goals I have for this new year are directly inspired by my progress (or lack thereof) from last year.

In 2019, for example, I set myself a reading target of 60 books and I successfully completed 68 so, this year, I am setting my target to 65.

Also last year, although it wasn’t something officially on my list, I got into the habit of posting to this blog every week. Therefore, it is my intention to keep this up and have 52 blog posts on here by the end of the year.

September last year, I started studying an A-Level in English Literature. So my next goal is to complete that course.

Three things that showed up on a number of lists for me last year but I wasn’t able to tick off were: weight loss, admin for my writing group, and an anthology for our writing group. These things now have top priority. I hate having things hanging over me.

On that note: for the longest time, I have been going through my old fan fiction and archiving it to Ao3, so I have a goal to finish that this year. I also want to send more short story submissions, complete five fanfic works-in-progress, as well as all (five) of my short story works-in-progress.

I want this to be the year I finish my trilogy. So, between National Novel Writing Month and the two ‘Camp NaNoWriMo’s, I need to get book three finished.

Later in the year, I plan to move house. Which leaves me two last things for my list: completing a tax return and (hopefully) organising a second event with Books, Paper, Scissors.

Let’s see how this goes!

What I Wrote and Had Published in 2019

In 2017, I wrote 146,000 words. Then, in 2018, I wrote an entirely different 146,000 words.

2019, however, I upped my game by twenty-thousand to arrive at a grand total of 166,000 words!

That’s across twenty-three poems, fifty blog posts, essays, reports, memoir, short stories, flash fiction, drabbles, fan fiction, and novel work.

I completed a novel in 2019 – the second in my trilogy – and I wrote a little towards book three. I wrote a children’s picture book. I finished off three fanfic works in progress that had been left abandoned for way too long, and wrote an entirely new fanfic from start to finish at a total of 28,000 words. That’s pretty much a novella.

I shared my children’s book with actual children at an event Liz Weir MBE was doing at the freshly opened Mo Mowlam Park, part of Libraries NI’s Big Summer Read. I read at events part of the Armagh Food & Cider Festival,  Belfast Culture Day, and the C.S. Lewis Festival. And I facilitated a short story showcase at Books, Paper, Scissors.

I was one of the recipients of a Kit de Waal Flash Fiction Bursary for the 2019 Bridport Prize.

I won a Margaret Carey Scholarship to attend the 2019 annual SCBWI conference.

I had one poem published in a book, and four poems published in online journals.

I had two short stories published online, with one of them also due to come out in print format later this year.

As I look back on 2019, I could very easily focus on the fact that I didn’t get an agent or a publishing deal for my novel. But just look at all the things I did achieve! It wasn’t the most perfect writing year ever, but I think it might just be my best one yet.

I am feeling good for all that is ahead 🙂

2019: A Year in Review

I started 2019 by telling myself I would get up early and do all of my work each day in a routine. Naturally, I had all the best intentions in the world. And, somewhat unsurprisingly, it didn’t last long at all. Later, I would discover that the problems I’ve always had with sleep and fatigue were actual medical conditions, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

In February, my husband and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary and in March I turned thirty.

April saw me finishing the first draft of my second novel, as funded by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

I also cut way back on my voluntary work (again) and ‘Kon Mari’-ed our house.

In May, I visited Dublin for a publishing conference and in June I attended a different publishing conference here in Belfast.

July was CampNaNoWriMo, in which I wrote 25,000 words, and most of August, for me, was spent editing a novel for a client. Then, in September, I finally – at long, long last – went back to school (/college) and started studying again.

Oh, and I also wrote a children’s picture book in there somewhere, but I will come back and talk about writerly things in a separate post.

In October, I returned to Dublin for DeptCon5: Ireland’s Biggest Young Adult Convention, which was a super fun (if somewhat tiring) weekend. THEN, at the very start of November, I was off to England for SCBWI’s 2019 conference. Coming back from that, I got stuck into NaNoWriMo proper.

I was sick for a week before the England trip and for about a week after. Then I was sick for two days around the middle of the month. And, finally, as December hit and we headed towards Christmas: lo and behold, I got sick again.

It’s fair to say things have been manic, but they’re kind of always manic. It’s the nature of life. Or, at least, my life. (Click here to read my review of 2018, for comparison, if you want.)

What do I hope for 2020? Well… wait and see. I have a separate post on that very topic planned, too 🙂

Thank you to everyone who’s been following me along so far!

Festive Musings

As I put up our Christmas tree at the start of this month, I found myself getting emotional.

In general, I’m a very emotional person and my hormones often run riot, causing me to cry at the drop of a [Santa] hat, but I wanted to talk a little about this specific instance of emotional-ness.

Christmas can be a difficult time for a lot of people, for a lot of complex – and, often, interconnected – reasons. There’s the ‘winter blues’ brought on by a lack of sunlight/vitamin D. A lot of people are overworked. There’s a lot of social pressure to buy the best gifts and go to ALL OF THE THINGS, and have mountains of time to devote to friends and family. And cooking! The list could go on, but I’ll stop it there because I’m starting to stress myself out just thinking about it. The point is, alongside all of the Christmas cheer and happier things of the season, there are also some rough parts.

As I was decorating our tree, I started to think back to the Christmases of my childhood. Which were… let’s just say, not so good. I thought about the general feeling of stress and aggravation that went along with those holidays, as well as specific unpleasant seasonal memories.

I’m not going to go into those here (saving them up for the memoir I’ll one day write! lol), but I will share this:

My brother and I had a conversation, fifteen or maybe twenty years ago, about how we’d lost the magical feel for the time of year that we used to get as very young kids. We lamented this loss to our mother, who was confused. She’d apparently never experienced the magical feeling, to begin with, so she didn’t know what we were talking about.

That makes me so sad.

But, despite the sadness of that and the gloom of remembering it, I wasn’t just sad as I fiddled with lights and tinsel; I was grateful that those days were behind me, and overwhelmed with positive feelings for the Christmases I spend with my husband now.

I might never have the elusive magical, festive feeling of a five-year-old ever again, but I have something better. I have emotional security. I have physical safety. I have love.

To anyone reading this who is struggling right now, particularly with family… I’m sorry.

I wish for you the happiness I’ve now found, and share these thoughts in the hope that they will bring, well… hope. Life can get better. If thinking of the past, or even the present, is too painful, try and imagine a future where you’re free from the things (or people) currently dragging you down. Don’t give up, and you stand a real chance of getting to that point.

I’m worried that will come across as cheesy and insincere, but I mean it. I’m writing this because it’s what I wish my younger self would have been able to read, and take solace in.

Please, dear readers, stay safe this holiday season. Don’t let the muggles get you down x

The Politics of Hope

Before I get into why I’m feeling sad about today’s election results, I have a confession.

Are you ready for this? Are you braced? Okay. Here it is: ten years ago, while I was at university, I voted Conservative.

It was May 2010 (not quite a full decade ago, but close enough) and the election that saw David Cameron become Prime Minister.

Why did I vote for the Tories? Well, I thought it was the right thing to do. I, foolishly, thought the party stood up for the Christian ideals I had at the time. In short, I was naive and misinformed.

In the years since, I have come to understand more about politics as well as my own personal values. As such, I’m horrified that I played a part as a tiny cog in a big wheel that set the nation’s current situation into motion.

This morning, as I thought about the election results, I was angry. Like many, I was feeling disenfranchised. I was also feeling resigned. The thought came into my head that, if this was how people had voted, maybe they really did deserve all they got. That’s the essence of democracy, right? For better or worse.

Except, I then remembered little twenty-one year old me.

I honestly believe the Conservative Party and their policies are a bad, bad, thing for the nation as a whole, but the poorest and most vulnerable of us in particular.

Even if two-thirds of the UK voted for right-wing parties*, that other third would still deserve the funding in healthcare and education they voted for. And that’s to say nothing of the people who voted for the Tories based on misinformation or out of fear.

This has been a dirty election, and it’s easy to get mad at the people who sided with those throwing the dirt but – for the most part – I think it’s important to focus on the mudslingers themselves.

I’m actively choosing not to be resigned, today. I’m choosing to have hope that, sooner or later, we can turn this around. Because, despite everything – no matter who voted for what – humans, as a rule, need peace and justice and empathy.

Despite my own political leanings, I would have accepted a Tory majority had it been won cleanly and honestly. I would have sat down and shut up, because democracy was being done. But, since that is not the case, I will continue on arguing on behalf of the NHS and poor people, disabled people, and everyone else who will fall foul of the ramifications of this election.

I will not give up hoping, until my hopes are a reality. Will you join me?


*They didn’t, and I know that. I’m generalising here to better illustrate my point.

Writing Update – December 2019

So, NaNoWriMo is over for another year.

In the run-up to November, I honestly didn’t know if I was going to take part. I’ve consistently attempted NaNo for several years, and I wanted to try again this year, but I didn’t know if it was possible with everything else going on.

To begin with, I was starting the month in England for the annual SCBWI Conference, and I wouldn’t have my laptop with me. (There would have been no point, I didn’t have a spare minute for the whole three days.) I was also trying to keep up with my studies. But, despite this, I decided to go for it in the end anyway. I wasn’t really expecting to hit the 50,000-word goal, but I wanted to write as much as possible.

I signed up –– and then promptly got sick. (Typical, right?)

Even so, I managed 21,000 words total across thirty days.

That was:

  • 2 Poems (200 Words)
  • 5 Blog Posts (4,200 Words)
  • a 600-word story outline (for Death Girl: a project that’ll either end up as a novel or novella)
  • 16,000 Words of Fan Fiction

Going in, I thought I’d be mainly working on one project (Death Girl) but, as you can see, I actually ended up mostly writing fanfic. I’m okay with that. Given the craziness of the month, I’m happy with how I did.

Going forward, I thought some of you might be wondering what works-in-progress I have left after recently abandoning a bunch. So, here’s the breakdown of that:

Right at the top of my list is the fanfiction I was writing in November. Originally started in October, it’s now at 24,000 words and I expect it will be done at 30k. I aim to have those final six-thousand words done by Christmas.

My two main projects for the first half of 2020 are the third book in my trilogy (which I will be working on during CampNaNoWriMo in April) and a draft of Death Girl (now scheduled for CampNaNo in July). I also want to finish three short stories: Prepared, The Change, and Wingman.

Back Burner Projects:

  • A non-fiction book about my childhood
  • Short Stories: Drama Queen and Subterfuge
  • Y.A. Novels: Rain After Fire, Family Secret, and Holes
  • Adult Novels: Sasha and A Man Convinced
  • Ella and Vin – a standalone comic book
  • A random academic essay I have an idea for (not actually part of my current course)
  • The twenty-five fanfic WIPs I have ideas for, that I mentioned in part two of my ‘Idea Graveyard’ post

What writing projects are you in the middle of, dear reader? Please tell me in a comment below.

The Idea Graveyard Part Three

A non-exhaustive list of story ideas I’ve given up on:

  • The ten fanfic works in progress I mentioned in part two of this series that went on to have better lives as story challenges for other people.
  • The Worlds of Day and Night. This was to be a speculative novel in which society is divided into two main groups: diurnal people (who are awake during the day) and their nocturnal counterparts. I gave up on this for two reasons.
    • One: I didn’t have much of the story figured out beyond the actual concept as I’ve just explained it, and–
    • Two: I discovered that there is a book called Plus One by Elizabeth Fama that has done something very similar.
  • Matter. A story about a trans character and her lesbian girlfriend that I really want to read but am absolutely not the right person to write.
  • Sidekick. The story of a guy who has always been ‘friend-zoned’ and his long-suffering romantic interest who is trying to explain to him why he’s an entitled prick. A fairly thinly veiled feminist rant.
  • Tears at the Kitchen Sink. A really dark domestic thriller that I might resurrect one day but simply do not have the skills (or the emotional fortitude) to do justice to as of right now.
  • Woodwork. As above.
  • Fairytale Smashed. As above, but not so original.
  • Following the Wind. A concept novel set in a contemporary world the same as ours with one main difference: family means nothing. You’re born and whoever wants you, raises you, but – for the most part – you’re on your own.
  • Untitled. A vampire novel I hadn’t fully thought through and can now see is just full of overdone tropes.
  • The Widow’s Window. A horror novel that I’ve abandoned because I don’t actually like horror. Do not ask me where I got the idea from, because I have no idea!
  • Dark as Day. A short story about a man who is convinced the sun has stopped shining. (Yeah, it’s a little weird. Not sure where I was going with that.)
  • The Spirit that was Intended. About a ghost who’s also a groom. Not so much a story idea as a terrible pun.
  • The Spoon Thief. A children’s story based around spoon theory.

I’m aware this is a really weird mix. Some of these I’ve had in the back of my head for almost ten years. Needless to say, my brain can be a bit of an odd place.

The Idea Graveyard Part Two

I get a lot of story ideas. In the past, I’ve talked about how I deal with them all: metaphorically, by making them queue up and wait their turn, and practically via the use of lists and spreadsheets. But even with this mindset and those tools, it can still be a lot to manage. Sometimes – and it breaks my heart to say this – it is best to just let an idea go.

I was greedy for a long time, so obsessed with fears of ‘the one that got away’, that I tried to not give up on any idea. Ever. No matter how much it didn’t work. But that, as I’m sure you can guess, is unsustainable.

Once upon a time, I had a long list of maybe twenty or more blog posts I wanted to write, forty poems, and dozens of short stories. It stressed me out because, deep down, I know my output wasn’t big enough and that the backlog was only going to grow. Not only that, but all the blog posts, poems, and short stories were keeping me from the novels I wanted to write.

To save myself from the insanity, I’ve had to learn to prioritise even more; not just making the stories queue up and wait their turn, but actually turning some of them away. It’s been difficult, but my master list of works in progress is finally starting to look manageable.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still not entirely where I want it to be, but substantial progress has definitely been made. This has taken literal years. I used to have three blogs instead of just this one. When I merged two of them and scrapped the other one entirely, that was a big step. As of right now, I have ideas for three future blog posts. Three is a number I’m comfortable with.

In place of my list of forty-plus poems I wanted to write, I easily have forty poems. The backlog on those is completely cleared to the point that if I get a poem idea, I can write it then and there without wondering to myself if I should finish a different one first. Continue reading

Future Study Plans

This is a follow-up to my ‘School Days‘ blog post. In re-reading it in preparation for writing part two, I realised I’d left out bits and pieces. I suppose that’s expected when you’re trying to summarise three decades in a thousand words.

There are short courses I’ve done that I completely forgot to mention, and that’s fine, at this point it doesn’t really matter except to further illustrate in a more general sense how much I’ve been trying to educate myself since I left high school.

I have spent most of my thirty years engaged in some kind of formal or semi-formal education, which I think is a good thing but, at the same time, that only makes me feel worse about the fact that I still feel like an academic screw up.

Part of the problem was, I couldn’t find the right path for myself. I didn’t know what to study, so I tried a little bit of everything: vocational courses, science subjects, the humanities. For a very long time, I had it in my head that true success lay in doing ALL OF THE THINGS(!) and doing them perfectly.

When I discovered Forensic Science & Criminology wasn’t working out for me, I dropped the forensics and tried to do Criminology on its own. When that didn’t work, I tried to switch to English Lit (but couldn’t). I sat for ages debating with myself what was my true passion and thought that maybe I’d like to study Social Work, or Youth Work, or Counselling. I had interest in these subjects and still do, but going back a step to pursue them was a path that was blocked to me due to already having used my funding for the failed Forensics course.

I briefly did study Youth Ministry through my church job in Oxford, and for a while I wondered if studying through the church here in Northern Ireland was perhaps a way forward. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.

Having written all that, maybe what I should be taking away from all this isn’t that I’ve repeatedly failed but that I’ve tried again and again and haven’t given up. As I said in part one, I don’t think I’ll be happy until I finally finish my formal education. (Side note, but I’m a big believer in life-long learning, even once formal education is done – at whatever age that is.) Continue reading