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.

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

School Days

During the intro session to my most recent round of counselling, I was asked (amongst other things) what my experience at school had been like. Terrible, I said.

In a previous blog post, I described a little of what happened around the implosion of my time at university. Elsewhere, I made reference to not being diagnosed with things (mainly, dyslexia and a sleep disorder) until much later that also definitely had a part to play in the terribleness of way back when.

Then, most recently, I listed ‘studying’ as something I wanted to in my autumn goals.

I have not, thus far, went into any of that in any great detail or brought all of those threads together to tell the full story of my failed studies and my plan for (hopefully) successful studies going forward. Today, that’s what I want to blog about. Or definitely that first part, because I don’t want this thing to be a million words long. I’ll tell you about my academic history here, and then I’ll come back and detail my future study plan in a separate post. Sound good? Good.

Okay, so… *takes deep breath* where to begin? Being a March baby, I was always one of the younger ones in my classes, starting school at age four. As far as I can remember (which isn’t very far at all), I had one year of playschool before Primary One.

In Northern Ireland, primary school is seven years (P1-7), high/secondary school is five years (1st to 5th form), and then sixth-form (two years: lower sixth and upper sixth) can optionally be studied at that same high school or at a college or “tech.”

I did three years at one primary school before my parents decided to move me to a different one for P4-7. This was a really great move and one I’m very thankful for. As I’ve said already, I don’t remember a lot of my early childhood, but I do know that I hated that first primary school. I vaguely recall getting in trouble a few times and struggling a lot with my reading and writing. In hindsight, struggling with reading and writing was probably a big reason why I got into trouble.

I still had my issues with reading and writing in my second primary school (I had them all the way up until university, in fact), but the environment of that second school was entirely different. I stopped being yelled at by teachers for being a kid and I started to thrive. I wasn’t very well-liked by the other school kids, but I was too oblivious to actually realise it at the time.

I was ignorant. It was blissful. I look back on those four years with affection.

Then high school happened. Continue reading

On Being Privileged

Life is complex and often full of contradictions. I think most people accept this on some intellectual level but, when faced with a single fact or data point, it can be all too easy to jump from it to one conclusion and then the next without stopping to ponder what alternatives might exist as part of a more nuanced story.

That’s a lot of big words to express what perhaps seems a lofty idea, so let me give you a realistic example to truly get to the heart of what I’m talking about: in my previous post, What I Make As a Writer, I broke down the facts and figures of how I’ve survived as a disabled self-employed person so far. On the one hand, I have had to manage on welfare payments. On the other hand, I talk about having lived rent-free with my parents while I got on my feet.

Receiving welfare is, in some ways, a privilege because – while necessary for basic survival – it’s not something open to everyone in need for a myriad of reasons. Compared to the people who need it but can’t access it, we’re lucky. Yet, at the same time, we’re unfortunate to need it in the first place.

Living with my parents sounds like a more clear-cut thing. Yes, my existence there was rent-free. In some ways, that gave me financial freedom. But not when you understand what a toxic, neglectful, and downright abusive environment that place was. Most weeks, I had £10 to live on. Ten pounds to call my own after I paid the minimum amount off my credit card and student overdraft. An overdraft I was privileged to get in the first place, get disadvantaged enough to need. Continue reading

What I Make As a Writer

Some people are oversensitive about money. Some people will be scandalised that I’m about to break taboo in talking about it.

Some people, in my humble opinion, need to get over themselves.

I mean, yes, this stuff matters to some extent (I wouldn’t be blogging about it otherwise) but, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not half as important as we make it out to be.

It was back in May that I promised to lift the lid on my personal income but, all of the above said, I’ve actually gotten a slight case of cold feet between then and now.

Please understand that, when I criticise people for focusing on things that maybe don’t matter so much, I’m including myself in that too.

In my first post I was all like, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna be radical and awesome, breaking down barriers and laying all my sh*t bare!’ And then, having calmed down and thought about it some more, worry started to set in that people would see how little money we’re actually talking about and write me off as barely a professional.

I asked myself if I should wait until I was earning more before sharing my figures. Then I remembered that I was entirely missing my own point. I’m not making this blog post to be impressive, I’m doing it because I genuinely believe more open and honest discourse is needed and that everyone would be better off for it.

So, without further ado, here’s me putting my money where my mouth is:

I started freelancing during tax year 2013/2014 – the best part of six years ago. I’d just quit a “normal” job from hell (it was a call centre. Enough said.) and didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was enthusiastic. Foolhardy.

I was also living rent-free with my parents, which is a depressing yet important piece of contextual information.

For the first eight months, I earned nothing. Not a single penny. I call this my ‘year zero.’ Continue reading

Summer Successes and Autumn Goals

This post is third in a series. You can find part one (covering January to April) here and part two (May to August) here. As outlined in those previous posts, I’m tackling this year in chunks, setting myself goals for four months at a time, rather than having a single set for the whole of 2019.

It seems to be working out.

My only year-long goal – the Goodreads reading challenge – has me sitting at 44 books completed off a total of sixty. That’s 73% complete/4 books ahead of schedule.

Before I get into my goals for the rest of 2019 going forward, let’s take a minute to recap on my summer goals and how well I did (or didn’t) achieve them.

In May, I set myself the following tasks:

  • Lose more weight
  • Continue to submit my first novel to agents
  • Make edits to my second novel and send it to beta readers
  • Draft yet another novel during Camp NaNoWriMo in July
  • Attended two publishing conferences
  • Complete my tax return

From that list, what I didn’t do was lose weight or write a third novel. The number of things I achieved (listed below) definitely outweigh these two failures, which I’m obviously delighted about, but they are still two pretty big failures. Though I will point out that I did take part in Camp NaNoWriMo, as planned, and got a few words towards book three in my trilogy. Overall, I wrote 25,000 words during July, much of it fanfiction works in progress that I wanted to get out of my head at long last.

Here’s the full list of what I actually did achieve: Continue reading