Human boys and puppy dogs.

IMG_5252If you follow me on social media thingys you’ll have seen that we’ve a new addition to our family in the form of a Weimaraner pup. (Because trying to pull together a second book, look after two boys and oversee a house renovation is not enough -I only have myself to blame!) But hopefully it will explain why I’m taking the approach of motherofalllists this week and complied bullet points on the similarities I’ve noted between pups and young boys:

 

  • They love food.
  • They pee everywhere.
  • They love to play.
  • They’re really sleepy when you wake them up.
  • They give the best cuddles.
  • They’re incredibly cute.
  • They love Mummy (see point 1 as it’s usually Mummy i.e. me who supplies the food – I’m not stupid, I know there’s a connection – I think it even extends to my husband!)
  • They know their name, but choose to ignore it at will.
  • They’re noisy.
  • They’re irritable.
  • They grow very fast.
  • Sometimes they don’t understand ‘No’ as an answer.
  • When they choose not to understand ‘No’ as an answer they whine – a lot!
  • They need praise for going to the toilet.
  • They’re exhausting.
  • They enjoy the simple things (see point 1 and point 3 ).
  • They’re fun.
  • Sometimes they need a short lead, sometimes they need to run free.
  • They both have keys to my heart.

Learning not Reading.

 

Reading, for a lot of people, is a past-time, a pleasurable hobby, something that is done on the beach, something you do when you have time to spare. But for me, (and everyone else who writes) it is so much more than that. Because if I want to learn how to be a good writer, I need to study those who are already accomplished at it. The genre that I write is women’s literary fiction, so that is what I read in order to learn and to know my own marketplace. There’s no ‘is that a banana in your pocket’ moments, no heaving bosoms. (though I know there is a very successful market for this and fair play to those writers and readers, but it’s just not my thing.) I don’t read for ‘fun’, I don’t read for escapism, I read to learn. I have to read in order to try and figure out how they do what they do (and hope that by some kind of osmosis it will rub off on me).

When I’m reading I’m learning – or at least trying to. I usually have a pencil to hand and I mark up passages or words or descriptions. I’m not just consuming, I’m trying to consummate.

However, most people associate ‘working’ to be in an office, beside a phone, or in front of a computer. They (i.e. my husband) see me sitting down at home, cup of tea often to hand and a book. They think – ‘nice life if you can get it’ – they (he) doesn’t understand that I am actually working –  that in order to write something decent myself I have to read – A LOT. I have to learn, I have to know what’s out there, I have to study the invisible craft of writing.

But reading – that’s easy right? No. Those of you with young families don’t need me to tell you that time is of the essence. Even this basic activity demands that you carve out the time for it – preferably before you climb too exhausted into bed of an evening. You need to set your alarm half an hour earlier, you need to get off social media (yes, I should be reading right now instead of doing this!) you need to switch off the TV. You need to make the time. You need to be disciplined, you need to see it as part of the ‘job’.  So, if you see me reading don’t think it’s my ‘spare-time’ cause it’s not. There’s always a 101 other things I probably should be doing, but I know if I want to be a successful writer I have to take the time to study the craft.

N.B. Currently reading ‘A Country Road, A Tree’ by Jo Baker. It’s fab and I’m off to spend some quality time with it now.

Needs More Work.

It’s been three months since my post ‘The End’ when I was high with the exhilaration of finishing the latest draft of my novel. Since then I’ve been patting myself on the back and enjoying a little time away from the slog of writing such a huge piece of work while juggling a family and maintaining some kind of a life that doesn’t resemble a hermit. But as the weeks have ticked down it’s also been getting closer to the day when I knew my      inbox would ping, or my phone would ring, with the response from my editor. In my fantasy world she’d say, ‘ you’re a genius! It’s fabulous. I couldn’t put it down. Don’t change a thing.’ But of course, it’s not fantasy. It’s the real world. When she contacted me last week, what she actually said was, ‘Better, but still needs more work!’

More work?! It’s been three years already. I need something to happen with this. I need some payment to keep working on this. I need a big fat juicy carrot. I need guarantees. Oooops. I did it again, didn’t I? I slipped back into fantasy mode. Because of course there are no guarantees, not in the writing world, at least. No point pretending,  I was gutted. I might even have shed a self-pitying tear or two as I licked my writerly wounds.

At first, I was alarmed at the scale of the changes that were being suggested, but several emails later, and after I’d read a sample of the manuscript that she’d already edited, I had to admit – it was better. I began to understand that the story was not being criticised. She was only improving what was already there. ‘Gardening’ as she calls it – cutting back the weeds to let the ‘beautiful prose shine through’ (I liked that bit!) My editor is highly sought after. Her reputation speaks for itself. I am very lucky to have her onboard. She would not want to put in extra work if she didn’t think it was worth it. If she didn’t think  my story had potential. So I’ve put my writer’s ego (didn’t even know I had one until last week!) back in its box and I’m putting my trust in her and her expertise.

Richard Branson openly admits to hiring people smarter than him. He surrounds himself with better people, so he can be better too. (I think this is what I subconsciously  did when I married my husband ) Most things in life are a team effort – once the hard slog of a solitary  1st draft (or 2nd or 3rd!) is done, the reality of writing is no different. No one writes in a vacuum. Everyone has help. This week I learnt why every writer needs an editor. And so, it’s true of life. Here’s to the TEAM. Whoever your members might be.

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The power of Prioritising.

This week I was delighted to be invited by the lovely Melissa Addey (@MelissaAddey) to contribute to her brilliant thepraminthehall blog. You can read my post here. I talk about the importance of prioritising your time. We all need to ‘make’ our own time; it’s not simply given to us.
rabbit Alice in WonderlandRight now, there’s a laundry basket of wet towels that really needs my attention together with any number of  ‘other things’ I should be doing, but I have one hour before I have to collect my youngest from nursery and right now is the only ‘free-time’ I’m likely to get, so I’m doing this instead. I know on my deathbed I’ll not wish I’d kept a tidy house (though my husband might disagree!) I’ll be glad I tried my best to achieve my own goals.

What about you, what will you prioritise?

In other news, last week my writing group were given the Mark Strand poem ‘Lines for Winter’ were he writes to a friend suffering with depression. The poem repeats the line ‘tell yourself’ and it got me thinking about what we tell ourselves in order to keep us thinking our glass is either half full, or not. And what happens if we stop telling ourselves the positives and slip into the negative. My response to the poem is below. It just may have sparked another bigger story idea. You never know, there might be another book in me after all! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

I Tell Myself. (Lines for a wife)

I dreamt of you again last night.  I’m not sure if it’s you then, or you now. When I’m awake you’re out of reach. But, when I’m sleeping it’s… it’s like you’re beside me. I can almost feel you.  I worry I might utter your name for David to overhear. I feel guilty. I feel guilty for even thinking about you. But surely, an affair in my mind does not equal the same betrayal? Does it? I mean I never actually wouId…

I’ve been telling myself it’s an age thing. A mid-life crisis. A cliché. Something to do with turning fifty. Because it was all so long ago and we were children – really. I’m seeing it through rose-tinted glasses… aren’t I? There’s no way back, I know, but… a part of me, no –  all of me, would love to be with you again; young and free. We were together for a long time. Years too long.  Most of it has dissolved into the ether of my memory; taped up and packaged away under ‘when I was young’ and ‘first love.’ But some of it, tiny moments of it, have solidified and I continue to feel them. It’s unsettling. And then seeing you last week – well, I just can’t shake you from my skin. It’s as though you’re in my bones. Inside my head. I see you even when you’re not there.

I’ve been telling myself that this melancholy, this greyness hanging over me is hormones. Nothing more. Just stupid crazy, old woman hormones. Because I love my husband. Twenty-five years married and we’re still happy. I think. We’ve not turned completely inward with neglect.  Sure, life is not as exciting or carefree or passionate, but that’s normal – right? We don’t live on the same heightened spectrum of emotions; we’re not teenagers anymore. But then, David and I never were teenagers together – that was us – you and me.  In fact, David was already thirty when I met him; bruised and broken-hearted still from you. We used to spend hours in my bedroom, just kissing. We had nothing else to do. We had time to waste.  I’ve never had better. I wonder if we’d still be as good. We were each other’s first in… everything. It’s no wonder I still feel something for you. We were great together.

I’ve been telling myself to go to the Doctor, but what would I say? That I met an old boyfriend and now I think the last twenty-five years have been… what? A mistake? That I feel as though I’ve been sleep-walking, living only on the perimeter of happiness – not the full blown thing, the way it was with you. I’d be given some pills, for sure. But what would that solve? No. I’ve been trying to be an optimist about this. I’ve been trying to work out what I know. After all, on the eve of fifty I should know – something, right? So why do I feel as though I know nothing at all?

I’ve been telling myself that it’s being nineteen, I miss. Not you. It was a puppy love compared to the love required to sustain twenty-five years of marriage and parenthood. I wouldn’t swap David for you. He loves me and I love him. At least, that’s what I tell myself.

 

Babies and Books.

Spring has sprung, at last! Hasn’t it? Well, kind of. I’ll take the longer days, at least that’s something – right? I’ve been in the middle of a baby-boom lately; babies have been arriving like the Easter bunny drops eggs! My nephew, and a little cousin to my boys, arrived safely on 18th March.

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MY first baby with his new cousin 

I’ve been thinking (dangerous, I know) but I can’t help but draw parallels between babies and writing a book. One friend has waited over ten long years for her precious baby girl. And then suddenly she’s here, and all the torment of ‘trying’ has disappeared. A brand new life. A miracle. A lucky-dip.

And I can’t help but wonder if I will get lucky… It’s been a hard slog. A long wait. At times, painful. And now, suddenly it’s over.

I’ve been enjoying what I’ve jokingly called my ‘retirement’ . In other words the relief of getting to the end of it. Now I’ve created a bit of distance between it and me I can begin to look back and see things that I didn’t before. My readers are starting to come back to me with their feedback and I know I’ve more work to do. But it’ll never be like it was before. The hardest part is behind me. I can start to live the afterwards, to think about what to do now that I’m not ‘writing my second book.’ Go back to my old day job? Or maybe try something completely different? It’s both exciting and scary.

As I’ve gazed in wonderment at the new lives I’ve had the privilege of holding these last couple of weeks; the parents in awe, my head awash with the memories of my own precious little bundles that I once held. I can’t help but fantasize if my novels will have a life, if they will ever live outside of me, if they might change my life and make my dreams come true. Like new mothers, the effort and pain of the journey means that I am still swearing never again. It’s over. I’m done. I have no plans for any more siblings.

But then again, time has a habit of making us forget the bad bits. And maybe it wasn’t as awful as I remember…  And so maybe, just maybe there are a couple more stories bubbling away at the back of my head. Maybe I should never say never. Maybe I have one more in me…

P.s My ‘retirement’ has meant I’ve been able to indulge in some binge reading, the best of which have been: ‘A God In Ruins’ by Kate Atkinson, ‘I Let You Go’ by Claire Macintosh and ‘The Girl On The Train’ is as good as everyone says!