You can find my article “How To Fail; a lesson for my children.” In the latest addition of the NI4Kids magazine. It’s about the need to build resilience in order to succeed. If you are not local to Northern Ireland you can find the whole magazine online or click the link for my article. I hope you enjoy.
Are you 2018 ready? Yes, or no it appears to be storming away at an incredible rate!
I was silent on this blog for the last part of 2017 because, to be honest, I hadn’t the heart to write anymore. After finishing my second novel, and the excitement when the team at Hardman&Swainson loved it, I had a summer and an autumn filled with ‘positive rejections’. This means my book was well received, very well received in some cases, but no offers were made. My mojo evaporated and disappointment prevailed. I felt bruised from the inside out. And then there was Christmas; it seems to get more twinkly every year, as each city tries to out sparkle the next. The lights distract us from the real darkness outside and for a couple of months we play along. Our Christmas was noisy and busy and hectic and full of love, laughter, arguments and (a little?)tiredness. We lost teeth, we shed tears, my eldest at eleven ‘lost his Christmas spirit’ but we gained some great Christmas memories to bank.
As one year teeters and tips into the next I never feel quite ready. I get a worry knot in my stomach for those I love. The future can be a scary place if you stare at it too long. I always want to press pause, to enjoy the moment a little longer, saviour my family as they are.
On Monday I excavated the house of Christmas decorations and suddenly I felt better. I felt braver. I gathered up my courage all around me and I felt ready. I have the idea for my third book. I know what it has to be. I know what I want to write. I’ve gone too far down this road, and got too close, to give up now. I’ve set myself a due-date and so I’ll start, again. Word by word. No one said it would be easy.
I can’t quite believe that I’ve finished the first year of my MA already! My last module was ‘Life Writing.’ It made me delve into my own life and examine my relationships and personal experiences rather than make it up! Here’s what I wrote when given the task to write about ‘a time when I changed my mind. ‘
I hope you enjoy.
P.S. It feels good to be back! x
Eight Minutes To Midnight.
At eight minutes to midnight, on Tuesday 24th October 2006 I didn’t change my mind. It was changed for me. My cotton nightie was ripped open at the neck and William was laid slick with blood and a cheesy coating of vernix on my bare chest. A sheet was pulled up over us and my life inverted. He was the best decision I’ve never made.
I had not wanted a baby. My pregnancy was unplanned. Our marriage could still be counted in weeks. A whirlwind romance from which I was still breathless. Children were a hazy responsibility in the future. Something for my thirties, something for once I’d established my career, something for when I was a proper grown-up, or maybe never at all.
It took me over two months before I went to the Doctor and faced the truth of what my body was already telling me. Growing and morphing out of all proportion into shapes it had never been before. At least please make it a girl, I’d thought. I was truculent. I thought my life was over. My freedom lost. The fresh foundations of our marriage had not yet set. We wobbled and it was terrifying.
At eight minutes to midnight, I would find out what it feels like to find gold nuggets at the bottom of a pan full of gravel.
As the years have passed, our love has become elastic. We no longer need skin to skin contact to know that we belong to one another. I’m not the epicentre of his world anymore. Each year I am gently nudged a little further towards the periphery. I’m instructed there’s to be limited association in public and certainly no kisses. It’s been years since I’ve had a proposal. I remind him, of how each night at bedtime, he used to solemnly ask me for my hand in marriage and he screws up his face in disgust, “Gross Mum.” I’m more likely to get put in a head-lock these days as get a hug.
William doesn’t know that he was the glue that kept our marriage together when vows could not. He was, and is, too young to understand that he made us try harder, that he is the reason for us, as we are now; stronger, better. We had to wait four long years before the miracle of our cells would combine and stick to me again. Mother nature didn’t care that I’d changed my mind about being a mum, she made sure to punish me for my insolence the first time round.
At eight minutes to midnight he left my body, but I swear I still feel the tug of his umbilical cord, like the stroke of a bell ringer, deep in my gut. I watch him, playing with friends, or sauntering out from school; chatting always chatting to someone. Like his dad, he is tall and broad across his shoulders and I feel my throat tighten and my chest fill up with grateful joy. My boy. My immeasurable, handsome, kind, funny boy. How wrong I was; my life didn’t end with him, the most meaningful part of it began.
Before eight minutes to midnight, I thought I knew love. I didn’t.
A short story inspired by someone I don’t deserve.
‘Son, you’ve a face that only a mother could love.’ That’s what she used to tell me, anyway. Mother wasn’t being unkind, just honest. I suppose she didn’t want to set me up for a fall. Maybe it was her way of saying that she did love me, though I’d have preferred just to hear it. When expectations are set low like that, you can live within their parameters quite happily. As long as you don’t presume anything above yourself, it’s hard for life to disappoint.
I never fell, not until I met you, then my heart fell like a stone; heavy, fast and furious. It still shocks me to think of it, because you were not my kind. I’m a lady’s man – or at least I thought I was. That’s where I’d have looked, until you. And then, there you were. Your hair was dark, pitch black and so glossy I could almost see my reflection in it. You approached me first, brazen over-exuberant with the confidence of youth. I hadn’t expected it, but then I hadn’t expected any of it. You were so young, so new.
That’s all gone now. Tempered by the years, you are more cautious, you’ve learnt that not everyone is worth knowing. We both have. That night you planted your flag on me and placed me at the centre of your world. You decided to love me; ugly face and all.
For all these years we’ve kept each other close. You are my defendant, even when I don’t need defending. Oh, how grand love can be when it’s done right. Do we do it right? I doubt it. I’ve never been shown how; I am like a blind man grappling in the dark trying to work out the lay of the land. I take you for granted. I get irritated when you seem to need me too much, days can pass when I hardly give you a second glance. I have all these decades-worth of flaws that you must try and smooth out of me. I have learnt they can puncture love if I’m not careful.
They say opposites attract and that’s true of us. You always prefer a walk to my more sedentary tendencies, you are bold whereas I am timid, you are popular and enjoy company whereas I am happy in our solitary confinement. Our interests are poles apart, in fact the only common denominator we have is that we enjoy spending time together. We are each other’s favourite pastime. And that has been enough to sustain us all these years.
You have such faith in me, in my work. When I torment myself with self-doubt you only have to look at me and I see your conviction; your stupid, uncomplicated, dedicated belief in me. Sometimes the pedestal that you have me on angers me. To be adored is a precarious state to live in; one can only disappoint. It’s the fall my mother tried to save me from. Why have you always thought so highly of me? Forgiven me so readily, believe that I am so deserving of your love, when I am not. I am not. I could never be. I am impatient, and selfish. I take you for granted, I scold and rage at you. If I could only be half the person you think I am.
I need you to know, that I know, I don’t deserve your love. I never have. A single part of it is greater than the whole of me. I want you to know before it’s too late because I cannot believe that it’s almost over; that you, that we, are now so old. It’s true then, that love makes time grow wings and fly because it seems like yesterday when we first met. And yet here we are; both of us greying, our skin slack and lacking the plumpness of youth, our edges sharper somehow. Me with a bad foot, you with a sore leg. But at least we’re still together. Always together. We’ve made it through whatever life has thrown at us. We’ve kept our unwritten promises to love and care for each other till death us do part. To have found one another amongst a sea of billions. Some people live a lifetime without finding what we’ve got. We’re the lucky ones. You are the truth I accidently uncovered, but had always known existed.
Even after all these years when you look at me with those hazel brown eyes, something slackens inside me. I can feel my threads unravel and I can’t help but love you back. You make me want to try harder, be better. Sometimes my mind fast-forwards to the inevitable day when you will leave me. And I feel my heart constrict at the thought and all my breath gets caught in the upper part of my chest and I swallow to try and get rid of the feeling, but it doesn’t go away. And my heart pulses fast and hard so I feel it reverberate in my chest. Everything becomes physical – the actual thought of you dying, of me having to say good-bye, having to put you in the cold damp earth has an immediate physical affect. The thought of life without you is impossible. Without your goodness, without your love to soften me up I will be horrible; mean and cantankerous. No one else will want to speak to me and I will not want to speak to anyone else. I will be alone.
I only ever give these imaginings air for a moment and then I banish them. I shake my head to physically dislodge them because I cannot face it. I cannot face the truth that, one day, death will separate us. People will avoid me, they will suspect me, they will put down their heads and walk past me. I will be alone. More alone that I have ever known. What will become of me when I am just an ugly old man, instead of an old man with his dog. My best friend. My love.
This is Lesley. Lesley and I were introduced about five years ago by a mutual friend when we were both aspiring writers and now – well the picture says it all – now Lesley IS a published author and I couldn’t be more delighted, or proud because I know what it’s taken to get there. We met for lunch recently and here is a little of her story, so far.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve always been writing about something, but I properly started about thirteen years ago. Biddy started as a short story I began while part of a creative writing class at The Heritage Centre in Bangor, County Down. I always wanted to write a novel but I never had the courage or the confidence until I started that class. It made me realise I could write.
How did you find your Agent?
I signed with The Feldstein Agency in 2007 when I had the first draft of Biddy almost complete. I used the Creative Writer’s Handbook to send my first chapters to several agents. I made the classic mistake of sending the manuscript off before I had it finished so when they asked to read the whole thing I had to finish it over a weekend! But I already knew the ending so it wasn’t so bad, but I wouldn’t recommend this approach!
How soon after did you get an offer of publication?
I got an offer from a publisher in August 2008 – it was amazing I was so happy! But then that fell through one month later. It was awful. I was devastated – I felt like I’d been jilted at the altar. I stopped writing for two years after that. I was dealing with some personal and family issues at the time too and I suppose I lost my voice for a while. I gradually started again and joined the Creative Writers Group at Queens University and began tinkering with the manuscript. I did a major re-write and re-structure of it, but nothing happened. So I put it away and began on book two. Unbeknownst to me my agent began re-submitting again to Publishers. And then came the golden moment when Twenty7books (a Bonnier Zaffre Imprint) picked it up in February 2014.
What is your best advise for aspiring writers?
Read, read, read! When I read a good book it inspires me, it’s also important to know your genre, know your market. And never, ever give up. I know it’s a cliche but it’s true. If I had, I wouldn’t be sitting here today. And I write anywhere, any day, anytime. I don’t have a routine I just write whenever I can.
What’s been the most surprising thing about becoming a published author?
Well, obviously seeing my book on a shelf beside J.K.Rowling is thrilling… but all of it has been wonderful. I thought I knew what it would be like, I’d imagined it so many times, but I didn’t. I still can’t believe people are reading reading MY book. I’m humbled and overwhelmed but the response it’s got on twitter and that actual strangers – not family, not friends – but strangers are reading it and liking it. It feels amazing.
‘The Lonely Life of Biddy Weir’ is available at all good bookshops.
You can find out more about Lesley on her Facebook page LesleyAllenAuthor.
So there you have it, whatever your dreams keep on going – they do come true! I have a couple of short stories of my own I’m looking froward to sharing in the coming weeks. In the meantime enjoy the Christmas madness. Our friend ‘Elfie’ is back for the craic and I’m so looking forward to enjoying our first Christmas in our new home.