2018 ready.

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.

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A few of my favourite reads from 2017

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To Be loved.

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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.

Eight weeks later.

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Hello again. Apologies for my absence, though maybe you didn’t notice I’d been away? A LOT has happened in the intervening eight weeks since my last post. I’ve had the highest highs and a pretty ugly low – but that’s life – right? Most importantly I’ve turned a decade. I’m writing to you from way over here on the other side of the chasm of thirty-nine – can you still hear me? Joking aside, do you know what? It’s not so bad, not so bad at all. (Though admittedly it is early days!)

Autumn has left us (what a fabulous Autumn it was!) and winter feels like it’s well and truly here. Anyone else just want to drink wine and eat chocolate? I feel so blessed to be warm and cosy in our new forever home. I’m getting myself back into the routine of writing again after all the upheaval of our house move and it feels really good to be back at my laptop. I promise not to be so tardy in the future. I’ve got assignments for Uni and I want to put the finishing touches to my second novel ready to submit to my agent in the New Year: no more procrastinating!  Next week I have a treat for you cause I’m going to be interviewing a real-life friend that has become a real-life published author. So exciting! @Lesley_Allen_ is proof that publishing dreams do indeed come true and I’m going to ask her all about it and then tell you. (Also her book is a heart-breakingly good read) ‘The Lonely Life Of Biddy Weir’ is available at all good book shops. Have a read and let me know if you have any specific questions you want me to ask.

In the meantime I’m going to try and live up to this ‘Be the person your dog thinks you are.’ A fab birthday present that will take pride of place on my study wall (once I get moved in!) And if you know my dog (s) that’s a tall order!!

 

 

Going back to go forward.

 

I’ve big news. I’m going back to University. As of yesterday I’m a fully registered and enrolled student, again! In July I got accepted to study for my MA in Creative Writing at Queens University Belfast. Fair to say that I am excited and terrified in equal measure – What if I’m the oldest in the class by decades? How will I juggle it with motherhood? What if everyone laughs at what I write, or what I’ve got to say? What if I’m not good enough? All these questions, and more, have been whizzing about my head and feeding my internal monologue. And yesterday they were joined by a healthy dose of ‘What the F***k am I doing?’ Everyone was so, so young. I’m not in the habit of hanging around with folk barely out of their teens. I’m either with little folk who still need help wiping their arse, or people with faces like my own; faces with creases, faces with stories to tell. NOT faces that look so… new. And here’s the other thing; they are all so sure of themselves, they seem to know exactly where they’re heading, they already know their place in the world. It was terrifying. Borderline traumatic. Where have the past twenty years gone? Surely there must be a mistake? I felt completely out of place. Unlike my self-assured compatriots, panic and fear seeped through my system.

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I gathered myself over a coffee (though I felt more in need of gin) and I stopped judging. I stopped presuming that everyone was looking at me with pity thinking I was a sad old woman still in pursuit of her dreams at almost forty! I thought of myself at nineteen or twenty years old. I thought about the things I would do differently, if I had my time again. I thought about what my nineteen year old self would make of my thirty-nine year old self. I thought about what I might say to her, if I had the chance. Because I remembered that once upon a time, I too, was a confident young woman who thought she knew her place in the world, who thought she knew what she clearly didn’t. I was that girl. And even though, she has all the benefits of youth on her side, the woman I am today would not swap with her. As the Dixie Chicks say, ‘I’ve gone the long way around’. Maybe not everything in my professional life is how I might have envisaged when I was a nineteen year old university student, but it’s only when you get older that you realise not everything in life goes quite to plan. I feel lucky and blessed to be healthy, to have a happy marriage and two wonderful sons. I guess all those fresh-faced students will have to live a bit longer to appreciate just how precious the simple things are. To realise that sometimes you have to go back, in order to move forwards.

Classes start next week. Please God don’t let the lecturers be young enough to be my off-spring!

Life at 39 and 3/4

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Apologies for being MIA but I’m using every spare minute I etch away from ‘mum camp’ on revising the latest of my book edits. But I have to post this one quick or else the 39 and 3/4 will cease to apply! So, for what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve learnt as I exit my thirties:

 

 

  • Even though the calendar tells me I’m about to turn forty I feel exactly the same as I did at twenty. No one tells you that the ‘older’ outstrips the ‘wiser’ like dog versus human years! I’d say I’m only incrementally wiser than I was twenty years ago.
  • Nothing worth doing is ever easy. Yup, it’s true. Life, marriage, work, children – individually they’re hard, combine them, and you’ve got a lifetime of sweat and toil right there. None of them are easy, but they are worth it.
  • With every crisis comes opportunity. Granted it’s not want you want to hear while in the middle of a crisis, but it’s true.
  • Love endures, it just does – always. If you want to find love, you will, even in the most unlikely of places.
  • More things scare me now. A lot more. But only by doing the things that scare me, can I grow.
  • Each day is precious – appreciate each ordinary damn day – even the grey and rainy ones! This is so difficult to do. It’s what I know, it’s what I’ve learnt since being thirty, but I’m still struggling to practice it.
  • Find a good colourist. You’ll be seeing a lot of her.
  • Be the best version of yourself. That’s all you can do and it’s enough. Surround yourself with people who think it’s enough.
  • Marry someone older – it’s a guaranteed way to always feel young.
  • Persistance is more important than talent. I’m still hoping this one is true and that I can achieve my publishing goal in my forties.
  • Quality over quantity.
  • Look after yourself, no one else will do it for you. Get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, make time for the things you love.
  • The decade between thirty and forty goes really, really fast! Enjoy it.
  • This too shall pass. Bad times don’t last, but neither do good. Hold on tight,  rejoice in the journey and appreciate every damn day – even the crappy ones.

In other news, I’m learning how to increase my ‘GRIT’ and will pass it on in a post soon. We’ve our summer holiday still ahead of us – it entails a small boat and five children  – what can possibly go wrong? I’ll see you on the other side.