Birthday love letters

IMG_0556When is the last time you wrote a letter? Not to ask for something but just to say something? October is always a special month for us; it holds our eldest boy’s birthday and our wedding anniversary in its autumnal grasp. So, when the leaves begin to fall and my breath puffs in foggy clouds in the mornings, my mind is always thrown back to either pre-wedding jitters or pre-birth jitters!  In October 2006 I could not fathom how the ‘person’ that kicked and punched with such conviction inside me could pass through me leaving me intact (!?)  Suffice to say, he arrived safe and well and I fell head over heels in love as soon as he was slapped on my chest; bloody and gooey and looking a bit worse for wear.  I remember it so clearly, so very clearly… and yet  the calendar tells me it was almost nine years ago?!

Those early years were a head-on collision in life lessons for us. He was an unplanned pregnancy. I had no inclination for children at the time – one day – yes, but not until much later. My husband and I had had a whirlwind romance, he’d lost his mother, we’d got married, we’d moved house and moved in together, a lot had happened – quickly. It was time to slow down, not speed up towards the monumental step of parenthood.

Anyway, thankfully sometimes life just gives you what you don’t realise you need. The first few years of our marriage were rocky and he was the reason that held us together, he was the reason I wrote my first book, he is the reason I’ve tried harder at life, ever since. He has grown tall and strong, if I’m lucky I have another two years before he eyeballs me. Now, he is more likely to piggy-back me, than the other way around. My little chunky blonde-haired boy lurks amid the dusty confines of my memory, but he is out of reach. I know he existed because I can see him locked inside photograph frames, but I cannot match him to the tall, handsome, big-toothed boy who rolls his eyes at me despairingly with his theme-song of, “MUUUM!”

Why can’t I remember? Why can’t I summon up that little boy from the depths of me and remember the smell of him, or what it felt like to carry him, or hold his little hand in mine? Sometimes, I think I do remember, but it seems so implausible that all these years have passed and that little boy has been and gone.  That is why I am so glad I began writing him letters. Eight years  ago, on the eve of his first birthday, I wrote my boy his first birthday letter and I’ve written one every year since.  Now, faced with the tragic holes in my memory, I am grateful because I have no idea what I wrote to him back then when he was still aged by weeks and months. Because you forget all the little things. Our memories wipe over so many of the tiny details. My letters record the changes in him in the intervening twelve months, his interests, where we’ve been, what we’ve done, how our relationship has changed, how he is growing away from me step by step.

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I imagine presenting him with my secret bundle of letters, the early ones all dry and onion skinned with age, when he is twenty-one.  I know he will have grown away from me almost completely by then, we’ll have weathered many more storms together and perhaps I will just be an embarrassing motherly irritation to him (heaven forbid) by then. But they will be my love letters to him; each one recording invisible memories telling him how much he has been loved. They are a testament to the power of the written word, I wish I’d done it for my husband too. Who could you write a birthday letter to?

Meerkats and Girl Crushes.

So, I was horrendously nervous and just about got the words out, but I did manage to read my homework to my writing group. And guess what? No one died, no one fell on the floor laughing, no one said, “… and you’ve spent how many years doing this?” Instead, I got some valuable feedback with a large dollop of support and encouragement. This is surely the best thing about being part of a group, part of a community and makes all the fear worthwhile. And the guy below is my homework for this week. (You can read a short extract from my current book using his characteristics at the end of this post.) What characteristics would you give him? IMG_3709

I’m on a roll, and together with my new real-life writing group, I think I’ve discovered my online ‘home’. Selfish Mothers is a group of amazing women saying it how it is. I’ve only just dipped my toe in, but already I’ve got a serious girl crush on most of them! They are all so cool: I want them as my BFF’s now!  I know I’ve found the women to buttress me and guide me through my blogging endeavours and beyond. And the one thing that unites us? We are all trying our best, in different ways, to be the greatest mothers we can be, while keeping our own sh**t together too.

Now here’s that meerkat extract. I hope you enjoy.

Dearest Beth, do you remember our blinking competitions? You could beat the whole family at it. Our eyes would sting and water with the effort of keeping them open, while you would sit impermeable looking into some unseen middle distance. It was like stone had replaced your flesh. You’ve always been the serious one. You’ve never seemed to enjoy the lighter side of life. I’ve always found that strange; you were created out of so much love and joy. Those formative years were such happy ones for us as a family. Is it because I left you? Is it because you sensed the risk involved, even though, in those days it was very small? Maybe. Maybe, I should have stayed at home with you… I guess we’ll never know. As a baby you rarely cried and made very little sound. When you did begin to speak, at around three years old, you were polite and economical with your words, only speaking when spoken to and little else. Of course, I’ve worried all these years that I somehow passed on my burden of secrecy to you, but that surely was impossible – wasn’t it? But when you were younger, and even sometimes now, you’ve a way of looking at me that makes me feel as though you’re looking through me, reading the truth of me, clearly telling the colour of the lies I’ve told. You’ve always seen me with such… accusing eyes; direct as an arrow through my heart. The sharpness of you has cut me often. Why have you always stood apart from the rest of us? Alert and ready to run, instead of enjoying the safety and comfort that comes with a family herd. What sixth sense has made you so untrusting that you’ve gone through life sensing danger, when often, there was only the safety of those that loved you.                                         

When you were little you developed a knack for entering a room silently. I could be reading, making the dinner or performing some other domestic task blissfully unaware of your presence until you’d speak. It never failed to startle me. I would never know how long you’d been standing there observing, or what invisible thought process you might have witnessed… I had a terrible habit of talking to myself, of verbalizing conversations before I had them. It’s always concerned me what whispered secrets you might have heard. You never mentioned them if you did, but then you wouldn’t, would you? In my mind’s eye I can see your four-year old self, standing with your eyes half-shut singing, ‘I can still see you. Look Mummy, I can still see you even with my eyes closed!’ And I’ve always felt that you could ‘see me’ in a way that the others could not. If that’s the case, maybe this book will not hold any revelations for you, but simply be an affirmation of what you’ve already suspected.

This one’s for the girls!

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I’m a bit of a tick box freak. I can’t help it. I’m like the Roadrunner (meep, meep). I like to get things done. That’s why Lauren Laverne’s recent post on writing a ‘done-it’ list, as opposed to a ‘to-do’ list struck a cord with me. Immediately, my world spun on its axis. Instead of feeling like an underachiever, I suddenly became a success story. That is the power of the mind people (or the power of a good blog!) It really is that easy to be kinder to yourself, to think positively, to think glass half-full.

So, in the spirit of my ‘done-it’ list I swallowed back my reservations, silenced my inner critics and hit enter on the Mslexia novel competition. Despite more women studying literature and attending writing courses than men,  far fewer women actually put their writing forward for competitions. It’s the same old, same old; women are more self-critical and therefore less likely to put themselves forward for promotions, jobs, and competitions than men. We cower in corners and hold ourselves back listening to our inner critics telling us we’re not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, clever enough etc. etc. So, hitting enter felt like I was bucking the trend and while my courage was riding high I completed my first homework for my new writer’s group. I only joined a couple of weeks ago and reading out my work to ten other accomplished writers makes me want to dive for cover, like standing in the stocks waiting to be pelted with tomatoes! But, alongside my brash and noisy inner-critic, there is a quiet persistent voice that reminds me, ‘what’s the point?’ What’s the point of all the hours, of all the sacrifice, of all the hard, hard work if I never share it?’ So, on Friday I’ll read it to the group and hope there’ll be no tomatoes! This week I’ve ‘done-it’ in the hope that the next generation of literary women can believe they are every bit as good as the men!

Impress yourself and compose your own ‘done-it’ list followed by a glass of something to celebrate how bloody great you are. #girl power

No One Said It Would Be Easy

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On a wet Sunday afternoon I took my boys to see the latest Pixar film ‘Inside Out’. Since the heady days of “Finding Nemo” it’s fair to say that some of Pixar’s more recent offerings have fallen short of the mark, but ‘Inside Out’ is a masterpiece in imaginative story-telling. The protagonist is Riley, an eleven-year old girl, and most of the story takes place inside her head with the cast of her emotions taking centre stage; Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. We are introduced to her core memories and how each of these emotions have a roll to play in how Riley remembers significant events and how these form her personality. For the main the story develops around Joy and Sadness. It deals with big, weighty themes in an easy, child-friendly format. It’s about the loss of innocence and how, as children grow up, sadness becomes an inevitable part of their lives. I defy any parent not to watch with an ache in their heart for the day when their bundle of joy become less joyful and more morose.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the voices inside my own head- we all have them, not just eleven year old girls! Unfortunately we don’t grow out of them but we can learn to manage them. Recently, I’ve been dealing a lot with ‘Fear’ and ‘Sadness’ and sometimes a little ‘Disgust’ thrown in. It looks like it’s back to the drawing board with my novel. After pouring my energies into it for the past two and a half years I’ve been feeling fairly downcast and exhausted that I’m not closer to my end goal i.e a presentable manuscript that is ready for the scrutiny of my agent and ultimately publishers. I’ve been questioning if I should keep going or put it in a drawer and move on. I still haven’t decided for sure what I’m going to do, but sometimes inspiration can come at the most unlikeliest of times. No one wants to deal with entertaining two young boys on a wet, summer-like-winter Sunday but it led us to the cinema and to a film that has really struck a cord with me. After all, what are books about if not the ‘Inside Out’? Stories allow us to know what characters are thinking – something that is impossible in real life – and that is what is so ingenious and entertaining about ‘Inside Out’. Reading a book is an intimate experience, we get close, really close to the characters and experience their internal thought processes. That’s what fascinates me as a reader and a writer. I want my readers to care about my characters, so I need to get inside them. I need to know them from the inside out and, if I’m honest, I know I’m not there yet. I have a story, a good story, but its heart is not beating – yet. I’m not sure if I can perform the necessary CPR, but I’ll keep you posted!

I’d love to know which fictional character has effected you and why?

For Women Who Write.

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I always make time for my Mslexia issue.

You’ve heard it all before; being a writer is a solitary pastime filled with huge tsunamic waves of self-doubt and a stack of odds so large they block out the light from time to time. That’s why, six years ago, when I discovered Mslexia magazine it was a bit of a eureka moment. Suddenly I’d found a whole community of writing women who where trying to do the same thing as me! If you don’t know it – get it. This quarterly magazine is packed with all the latest from the world of writing, and crucially, written by women for women! I never fail to learn from it, in fact it led me to find my agent. In the current issue there are articles by two of my favourite writers, Sue Gee and Louisa Young, and the brilliant winning entries from the short story competition. I always read it with a pen in my hand so that I can highlight notes of importance – it’s a bit like having a helpful big sister to guide you through the pitfalls of puberty.

When I’m shut in the spare room, sitting at my corner desk, late at night, or during a few precious hours when both children are at school, all too often I ask, “What the hell am I doing?” And when Mslexia falls onto my doormat it never fails to answer,”This is what you’re doing – just like all the others – this is what you’re trying to do.” and it girds me to keep on going. It connects me to something and encourages me to do things like… start a blog!