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?

Writing Realisations

Sometimes things that should be perfectly obvious manage to, somehow, evade our notice. In terms of my writing – something you would expect I’d know quite a bit about – I have encountered two such examples. Two facts that surprised me that really shouldn’t have.

In the first instance, I was talking to some of my writing friends the other day about how it wasn’t until maybe a year after I finished the first draft of my novel (Full Term) before I realised it is, in essence, a baby fic.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it mostly floats around in fanfiction circles and just means, as the name suggests, a story primarily featuring a pregnancy and/or baby.

Now, obviously I knew there was a pregnancy in my novel – it is indeed the hook of the story – it was just that I hadn’t put two and two together and thought of my novel in those specific terms. Probably because it’s a fanfic term and the novel isn’t fan fiction. But here’s the really interesting part: when I finally made the realisation, I was embarrassed.

I really believe in Full Term and the story it tells. I’m really happy with how it’s turned out, and I’m excited to see where it will end up published. None of that has changed but, in the moment I attached the ‘baby fic’ label to it in my head, it suddenly felt foolish.

It took me a second moment to figure out why, and a third to dismiss the embarrassment as the truly foolish thing. Because what it boils down to is basically snobbery, and snobbery has no place in literature, if you ask me. But let me back up for a second and unpack that a little. Continue reading

Literary Audit March 2020

I was going to put up a post with tips for working from home today but… well, it’s my birthday and – honestly – I want something a bit more fun. Indulge me, will you, dear reader?

It’s been four years since I first conducted an audit of all the words I’d ever written (original post linked here), and it’s fair to say a lot of my stats have changed since then, with some projects being finished, some scrapped, new ones being taken on etc. I’ve of course shared bits and pieces of statistics between then and now, but not all of them in a singular post – until today!

Going forward, I might do a yearly update to help track my progress, but for now, let’s get onto the figures.

Note: I’m not including my previous self-published poetry and short story collections in my list of book projects, because at this stage I’m really trying to pretend they don’t exist. A line in the sand has been drawn and I’m moving on.

Writing Project Master List

Memoir: WIP*

Novels: 2 Complete, 7 WIPs

  • Family Ties Trilogy
  • Death Girl
  • Rain After Fire
  • Family Secret
  • Holes
  • Sasha
  • A Man Convinced

Short Story Collection: WIP

Short Stories (individual): 66 Total, all Complete

  • 3 Awaiting Publication
  • 4 on Submission
  • 16 Ready to Submit
  • 43 Published (by self or otherwise)

Continue reading

Reading and Writing Update

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

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

Currently Reading: Jumping in Puddles by Claire Allan

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

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

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

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

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

Events

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

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

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

That’s everything for now! (I think.)

Writing and Mental Health

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 🙂

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.