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.
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.
It’s my blogaversary! I can’t believe it’s been a year since I began pontificating on this blog. According to my stats I’ve posted forty times. FORTY!! And I know some of you have been with me from the start, so I’d like to say a huge big thank you for all your support and comments throughout my first year. I’ve learned a lot, mostly due to @ERMurray guidance and I’ve ‘met’ some really awesome like-minded people who make my writing journey feel much less lonely.
So what about the ‘writing adventure’ I blogged about a year ago? Well, I’ve completed another draft of my second novel. It’s currently with my editor, and after she has sprinkled some editing magic on it, I will do some more work with it before sending to my agent for her all important ‘first read.’ The thought alone makes me feel queasy and light-headed; so many years of work and effort and it all comes down to one answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no’… and then, at the weekend I came across this quote from the late and great Muhammad Ali, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.’ Many years on, I am simultaneously terrified by the thought of not ever being published, as getting published. At least I know I’m in good company. Thanks Ali.
For last week’s homework I was given a box with with several items in it and a genre – Fantasy. This is the result. I hope you enjoy.
‘You’ll get used to me soon enough, Chicken Licken. Isn’t that right Susan?’ Paula, my manager, was standing behind me with her hands on my shoulders gently massaging them into my flesh. I smiled towards the new girl who was standing one step further back than was sociable. That step spoke volumes. It said a hundred things. It said you’re crazy, it said don’t be touching me, it said I don’t want this job.‘She calls everyone chicken, but only the new ones get licken with the chicken.’ I said. Paula guffawed and gave one of my shoulders a light slap with her hand.‘Tsk – you’re bad Susan. You really are.’ She gave a dramatic sigh that started high and ended up in a silent wash of exhale and then trotted off down the remaining line of check-outs. Her large bundle of keys, that signalled her seniority, jangled in her wake like sleigh bells. In fact, Paula reminded me of Santa – always happy, smiling and more rotund than tall. But I knew her secret. I knew it was all an act. I knew the happiness was only on the outside just like I saw what that poor new girl was thinking.
‘The gift’, my grandmother called it, for I can see what people are thinking and feeling. I can see their colour. My world is like a permanent rainbow painted on the inside of my eyelids. It’s a filter that’s always there, like smell; I can’t turn it off. Everyone, apart from Granny, thought I was lying. Her mother had ‘the gift’ but then sometimes it skips a generation – that’s what happened with her. ‘Can’t see a bloody thing except what’s in front of me,’ she used to complain.
I learnt early that human adults pretend – A LOT! They say things opposite to what they’re feeling. The other kids my age would believe them, and when I didn’t, I’d be accused of eaves-dropping. Adults don’t believe that a child can see who they really are. Granny said I should use it for good, that I should put it use. Somehow, I don’t think working at the check-out in Marks and Spencer is what she had in mind. But here on earth people are suspicious, they’re angry and worst of all they don’t believe. They don’t believe we even exist. My job here saves me. It saves me from the weight of other people’s pain; knowing is so heavy. People don’t want to talk at a check out – not really. There’s no time. I’m saved by the beep of my scanner. I’m a stranger, a check-out girl. They don’t expect me to be able to help them. But with Paula I had to. I couldn’t bear to watch her cover it up with cheery chicken lickens.
You see Paula was a deep blue – the worst kind. Some days it was so dark I could hardly breathe; I’m like Superman and kryptonite. She’d always mask it with a smile and her jaunty little walk, but I’d know. I’d know she wanted to die. So on her last deep blue day, the worst I’d ever seen, I followed her to the staff locker room. She didn’t hear me come in, she was standing behind the door of her locker so all I could see was her legs and her feet but the blue was all around her. It hung thick and dense like fog. I walked quietly towards her even though my throat was closing up and my chest could hardly rise for the weight on it. “Paula,’ I said as gently as I could. She didn’t move or reply. I reached out and pulled the door of her locker fully open to reveal her staring down into a little box. Inside there was a hairclip and a button. She reached her fingertips in to gently touch each one. Then dragged her weary eyes from the box to meet mine. I could hardly breathe, being that close to her. Her colour winded me. But I knew what I had to do. So I put both my hands on each of her shoulders and tipped my head towards hers so our foreheads were touching and I absorbed as much of that deep blue from her as I could. It felt like ice through my veins, oh, the pain of it. But I got most of it – apart from the blue crack through her heart. I’m not a miracle worker, you need The Boss for that. It’s bizarre what some of them will cherish: a green bead, a pair of tweezers, a button, or a hairclip. Each one produces a colour. Tears can’t fall in space, but that doesn’t mean people aren’t crying… these people need to learn, a little belief goes a long way.
** Warning: future posts will probably contain a lot of cute puppy pics!!**
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.
Back in November I wrote Replies From My 39yr Old Self after finding a diary that I’d written when I was nineteen. Well, this week, I’ve been inspired by the fabulous Kelly at www.myprojectme.com who turned that notion on its head and wrote to herself in the future. Cool – huh? So, it got me thinking, what would I say to my future self? What do I hope my future self will have achieved?
I’d set the date to 2021. Five years away. I’ll (hopefully) be mid-forties, my husband will have reached and passed the half-century, I’d have a teenage son and a ten-year old, we’ll be living in the house we’re painstakingly renovating, and my dearest dog will be very elderly and more grey than black. (I’m starting to feel like Marty McFly, here.) Any more than that, who knows? But If I was to write to myself in 2021, here’s a few things I would like to say,
- Yay -first things first, if you’re reading this you must be alive and well! ( I bet your fortieth birthday doesn’t seem such a big deal now!)
- I hope my happy little boys have grown into bigger healthy versions of themselves.
- I hope my boys still give you the fiercest of hugs and fill you up with love just by being them. At least one must be taller than you now – that must be weird! Do you make him sit down when you tell him off?
- I hope you’ve shown them how to love full-throttle and demonstrated how it’s important to be strong on the inside, not just the outside.
- I hope you still look at your husband and feel thankful.
- Maybe, now that you’re a best-selling author, your secretary is reading this? Seriously, I hope you’ve got a least one book published, and if not, whatever else you may be doing, I hope you’re still writing. Much worse to give up, than to fail. (no matter what, well done btw, I know how bloody hard it was.)
- I hope you’re still practising yoga and have cracked ‘the boat’ by now and have some other fancy balance poses in your repertoire (I know that’s my ego talking and it’s not what it’s about – but it would still be cool and I reckon it could be one sure way to get some respect from your teenage son, so I hope you can.)
- I hope you don’t act your age.
- I hope you embarrass your boys often with lots of ‘Mum dancing’ at home.
- I hope you throw great parties at a moment’s notice in the house that still seems a dream away.
- I hope you’ve acquired more patience.
- I hope you’ve said ‘I love you’ and ‘thank-you’ today.
- I hope you can speak reasonable Spanish by now.
- I hope you went back and did that MA in Creative Writing.
- I hope you make time for the important people in your life.
- I hope you love your wrinkles and yourself.
- I hope you practise kindness everyday.
- I hope you’re happy – a successful best-selling author kind of happy – but happy none the less 😉
I hope I’m not tempting fate! I hope I’m not run over by a bus in the morning leaving no future-self to read my hopes and dreams. I don’t like the thought of them hanging in the ether: homeless, empty, unread. But you’ve read them now, so thank you. Feel free to chase me up in April 2021! You can have ago at www.futureme.org