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?

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.

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.

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.

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

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!

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.