Practice Makes Perfect.

I’ve enrolled on to a Creative Writing Course!

Ok, I’m already a writer, just not a very professional one. But I do have a published story to my name (the popular Grey Ice), I’ve been writing this blog since 2015, and I have completed a novel. Yay me 😁

As with any profession though, there will always be room for improvement, and as my initial plan to go on an Arvon writing retreat this year has been scuppered; I decided to take a look at distance learning.

I work a full time job, so my free time is limited to weekends and evenings. Plus, my job is very busy, demanding and stressful. The writing retreat would have been an ideal break, but I can go another time. With distance learning, I can dictate my own study time, work at my leisure, and still get online support from a tutor.

The Open University offer some great courses, sadly though, even the online package prices are way beyond my means. It would have been so nice to go for something like a degree though. Again, maybe I’ll be able to pursue that another time.

I trawled the internet, looking at various courses with publishers, literary agents, and colleges. Eventually settling on Open Study College which I was already aware of, and who have a very good reputation, as well as being affordable! I signed up, and within a couple of days, received my study pack.

I believe that if one is serious about a particular vocation, or ambition, wishful thinking is not the way to achieve that goal. I know this, because I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. When I was younger, harbouring dreams of becoming an actress, I used to imagine being “discovered” by famous film directors (Charlize Theron was discovered in a bank, so it can and does happen!), but honestly Steven Spielberg wasn’t going to be visiting Southampton for any reason.

As an adult, hurtling towards my 48th spin around the sun, I’ve realised over the last decade how actually putting in the work to achieve something can get results. Putting myself out there on the Amdram circuit meant I’ve been able to act on stage, and knuckling down to get on with my writing meant I was able to finish my novel, and work on other pieces. I’ve written a slew of short stories, blogged on various subjects, and have other novels I’m working on.

My other half is a great example of working hard to achieve his goals; he’s ambitious with big dreams, but puts in the work to achieve those dreams. He’s toured Europe, played gigs in the US, has released his own music, videos, and even performed lockdown gigs. He’s a prime example of someone who deserves every success because of how much work he puts in.

I need to apply the same work ethic, but I also need to improve on my existing skill set. There’s a lot I don’t know about writing. I read a huge amount, which is an absolute necessity, but I need to learn a bit more about technique, style, even improve on grammar, (and I’m already a member of the Grammar Police).

Musicians, singers, dancers, acrobats, athletes etc, all practice their chosen skills; writers should too.

Veganuary

Thinking of trying vegan for the month of January? Or going vegan full time? Here are my top tips on how to go about it.

1 – Sign up to Veganuary, where you’ll receive a 31 day e-cookbook with lots of recipes and nutritional advice.

2 – Sign up to The Vegan Society which is packed full of information on how veganism came about, what it means to be vegan, research, campaigns etc.

3 – Invest in some decent cookbooks. This is a bit of a minefield, as there are hundreds to choose from, covering everything from budget vegans to those who consider themselves a bit of a chef in the kitchen. My go to’s are Chloe Coscarelli, Bosh, and So Vegan. Bosh and So Vegan are very popular as they appeal to the mainstream, and both are good places to start as they make vegan cooking fun and informative.

4 – Join a Facebook group for support and encouragement. I’m a member of non-Judgy Vegans UK, which is a fantastic group, not just about food, but for all aspects of veganism.

5 – Don’t just cut meat and dairy out, and eat nothing but vegetables. As healthy as vegetables are, you need to ensure you are still eating all the food groups. Lentils, beans, and pulses contain lots of fibre, minerals and vitamins. Dark, leafy greens such as Cavolo Nero and Kale are excellent sources of vitamins K, A, B6, manganese and calcium as well as a whole host of essential nutrients. Mushrooms are a typical meat replacement, forming the basis for many dishes and items from burgers and sausages to the mince in a shepherd’s pie. They’re versatile, highly nutritious, low in fat, and highly sustainable (you can grow them yourself using kits or go foraging).

6 – Dairy

  • Cheese – Everyone loves cheese, right? Did you know, cheese contains casein which has an opiate effect on the brain? It’s why it’s one of the hardest foods to give up. Many vegans advise to give it a few months before trying vegan cheese in order to allow tastebuds to adjust. For cheese fiends, the supermarket choices will probably disappoint; they’re predominantly coconut oil based, can be too sweet, chalky, flavourless, bad at melting etc etc. It really is trial and error to find one you’ll like. In my house, we have Applewood, my other half eats it in sandwiches or on toast (it melts beautifully), I prefer to use it in cooking. You can always splash the cash of course, and try the many artisanal vegan cheeses on the market such as Tyne Chease where you’ll find specialist flavours and combinations to suit the fussiest tastes!
  • Milk – I found milk the easiest to give up. Before going fully vegan, I’d already made the switch to soya eventually transitioning to oat. In terms of sustainability, oat is the best, almond is the worst. Almond milk has the same environmental impact as dairy. There is a huge variety of blends and brands available; from cashew to hemp to oat, and even pea milk. I find soya is great for cooking, but barista edition oat is more versatile as it works in tea, coffee and cereal. Make sure your milk is fortified for extra nutrition.
  • Eggs – A poached egg on potato cake at the weekend used to be one of my favourite things. I have since swapped this treat for a yummy tofu scramble every Sunday. If you like your eggs savoury, there are lots of ways to achieve the alternative. For the bakers amongst you, you’d be surprised at the number of vegan friendly alternatives that work just as well in cakes.

7 – Honey – also a no-no. Bees do not make honey for us, they make it for their Queen and their colony. Honey is their food, they need it to survive.

8 – Clothing – vegans do not wear wool, silk or leather as these are animal byproducts. Some vegans give old items to charity, or continue to wear them until they’ve worn out. It’s a personal decision, I’ve still some old leather shoes in my wardrobe. Haven’t worn them in years, won’t wear them again, just need to decide what to do with them. Clothing is usually where there is a dividing line between someone who is vegan and someone who is plant based. One follows the lifestyle, the other follows the diet.

9 – Convenience foods. The rise in veganism has led to an amazing range of convenience foods in the supermarkets. No longer faced with a paltry selection of nut roasts and veggie burgers, we have sausages, pies, nuggets, roast “joints”, pasties, plant-based pieces to use in stir-fries, stews and casseroles. There is so much more choice now. These are great if you don’t have much time or inclination for cooking from scratch, but beware, these items are likely more expensive than their meat-based counterparts (£5 for a 2 pack of Beyond Sausage is a good example; I don’t care how good they are, I’m not spending that kind of money!). It’s a good idea to shop around, bulk buy when things are on offer, and compare prices (my shops take twice as long now, as I scrutinise everything!). I always have a few freezer items for those days when I simply want to just bung something in the oven. Veganism doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can be if you rely on convenience foods all the time. Miguel Barclay has a popular cookbook for vegan meals coming in at £1 per person.

10 – Batch cook – got some time at the weekend? It’s a great time to batch cook, and freeze meals for the week ahead. I only cook for two people, but as most recipes cater for four or more, I freeze the additional portions. It saves money on the weekly shop, and it’s a quick solution for dinner on those days when you simply can’t be bothered.

11 – Household products, toiletries and cosmetics – A product maybe vegan, but isn’t necessarily cruelty-free. Yet another minefield to negotiate! These shopping guides from Cruelty Free International and Naturewatch will help you make the right choices to avoid products that have been tested on animals.

Here are some links to additional resources:

Vegan for the animals

Earthlings or Dominion – warning – these films are incredibly graphic, and not for the faint of heart.

Vegan for the environment

Cowspiracy looks at the impact of animal agriculture on the planet, does contain some graphic imagery.

Vegan for health

Forks Over Knives goes into the science of following a whole food plant based diet in tackling a variety of health conditions.

The Game Changers veganism through the eyes of some of the world’s top endurance athletes.

What The Health looks at the links between the modern, western diet, disease and the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry.

Earthling Ed is a vegan educator and activist who believes in power through knowledge. His channel is definitely worth a watch as he delivers his message in a calm, measured way.

Barnivore is a useful little app for checking beer, wines and spirits for their suitability.

Phew!

Remember – there is no such thing as the perfect vegan, our presence on this planet alone has an impact, from the houses we live in to the cars we drive, and the jobs we do. We do the best we can to reduce our impact through the actions we take. Your vegan journey is a personal one, go at your own pace, and ignore the haters.

From my own personal experience, veganism has given me a new love of food, a better connection to the environment, and a love and respect for all animals. I once said, “I couldn’t go vegetarian.” I went vegetarian Christmas 2014. I followed that up by saying, “I couldn’t go vegan, that’s a full lifestyle.” I went vegan 31/03/17, and I haven’t looked back since.

My only wish? That I’d done it sooner.

Reflections

It’s been a funny old year. I don’t normally reflect on each year that passes, that’s never been my nature. Like many people, I suspect I’ll be looking back on 2020, not with fondness, but with incredulity.

Let’s face it, 2020 has been a clusterfuck of monumental proportions.

Politically, we are in turmoil, however I congratulate our cousins across the Pond for finally seeing sense in the November elections. In the UK, we’ve simply set ourselves up for another four years of abject jingoism disguised as getting our sovereignty back. (We never lost it). Add to that, the epic mishandling of a deadly virus that’s killing people in their thousands, because of *checks notes* “the economy” and you’ve got something resembling the sinking of the Titanic, with the musicians serenading the screaming passengers as the country sinks into oblivion.

Writing wise, it’s been tough. I’ve procrastinated with the best of them, dipped my toe in and out like a Channel swimmer in January, had a huge lightbulb moment a few months back; which resulted in eight chapters of a brand new story in a week, then nothing. My notebook stares back at me in disgust as it gathers dust, whilst I’ve got the entire story mapped out in my head, but pen hasn’t touched paper for a while.

Horizon Skies, which I finished in 2018, continues to suffer. I’ve done lots of editing, tried to tighten up parts of the plot, but it’s beginning to feel like it will never be 100% complete. My new aim now, is to use my Christmas week off to finish it, with a view to resubmitting to agents in January. If it fails again, well, I haven’t thought beyond that. I know self-publishing is a viable route, but even that is a minefield! I need to work on my story arc for Sanctuary Of Stone (standalone fantasy) and continue with Daughter of Tomorrow (working title). Ugh.

At least, Christmas has been lovely this year. I’m not a very festive person usually, however I was quite looking forward to it this year. Despite being in tier 3 lockdown, Pete and I enjoyed yummy food, LOTS of drinks, wonderful pressies, and had a bit of a laugh. Without the pressure of having to travel anywhere I felt like I was finally able to relax and not worry for a few days. My anxiety has been spiking a lot recently, my day job has had some very stressful moments, and self-care really is the order of the day.

On a final note, if you’re a regular visitor to my blog, thank you for your support, and for taking the time to show an interest. I will try to make more effort with it in 2021 as it’s always been a great place for me to exercise those writing muscles. If you’re a new visitor, I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, and that you will come again! Before you go however, please take a moment to provide some feedback.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year xxx

The Deepest Cut

Maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but for a long time, I’ve resisted making major cuts to Horizon Skies. It’s my baby, why would I want to hurt it?

With, what I hope, are the final round of edits and revisions, I took a look at one of the opening chapters. A piece of critique I’d received from a literary agency a couple of years ago came back to me. They suggested the first chapter weakened the main protagonist as she’s just a baby with her first appearance. At the time, I resisted the idea, the readers need to know how she came into her family’s life, don’t they? Nope. Their idea was to weave her origin story throughout the book. With my level of inexperience at the time, all I could think was “how on Earth am I going to do that?” I had a finished book, wasn’t it perfect enough as it was?

Actually, no.

With the benefit of hindsight, time away from the manuscript, I look at some of the earlier chapters, and my inexperience shows. I wrote it with a very linear storyline, there are a couple of flashbacks, and every character has their own chapter; telling their individual stories until their destinies begin to merge in the latter third. I’m still happy with the structure, that doesn’t need to change.

But, the literary agency critique was right. Ava’s first chapter really just amounts to padding. I realised, her origin story can be told through snippets of conversation. I also concluded, it takes away some of the mystery as to her connection to another character. This really is an example of telling instead of showing, which writers are always told to avoid.

If you’re unsure what show don’t tell, means, it’s simply a way of allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the story through the actions and expression of the character. For example:

Angry – balled fists, red faced, growled responses.

Scared – rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, the hairs standing up on the back of the neck.

This allows the reader to fully conjure the image of that character in their mind, thus creating engagement with the story, and empathy.

That being said, it won’t serve the story very well to show every aspect. Some elements do benefit from telling. For example, if your character is getting ready for bed, it’s not necessary to describe them having a bath or shower, towelling off, dressing in pyjamas, brushing their teeth, drying their hair, and then getting into bed. It’s a mundane activity that doesn’t need a deep level of commitment. The reader will simply get bored. In this instance, telling is preferable to showing.

After her usual night-time rituals, Bethany settled into bed, a book propped open on her knees.

By telling in this case, we’ve established the character’s actions in a single, succinct statement. The reader knows what’s happened, without getting bored, and the story can move on without slowing the pace.

After reading chapter two again, it became apparent to me, there was too much telling, and not enough showing. It had to go. I’ve already worked part of it back in to later chapters, and feel that works better. My character’s origin story still gets told, but in a more natural way that doesn’t do a disservice to her character arc. I’m hoping, it will enhance it.

Whilst cutting isn’t a fun prospect for writers, we know it’s a necessary evil. It helps tighten up the narrative, gets rid of clunky paragraphs that might be slowing the story down, and keeps the reader engaged to the final page.

 

 

Keep Reading

The header is a quote, all writers should be familiar with.

Stephen King may not have been the first to coin such a phrase, but it’s the one I come across most often.

Understanding the importance of reading to be used as a tool when writing is absolutely vital, particularly for any budding writer.

Aside from the obvious pleasure reading brings, the education a good book provides is invaluable:

  • World building – excellent examples of this can be found in Brandon Sanderson’s work; he even invented an entire universe, named the Cosmere.
  • Magic systems – from the simplistic tropes of elemental magic to more complex practises, creating a unique type of magic will help your writing to stand out.
  • Structure – is there a clear beginning, middle and end? Are loose ends neatly tied up or left open for a sequel?
  • Pacing – do the chapters flow or jar? Does the momentum continue at a steady pace or do you find yourself struggling to read past the first few chapters?
  • Characterisation – there’s nothing worse than one dimensional characters. This maybe fiction, but characters should have personality, quirks and foibles. Can you empathise with the mc?
  • Vocabulary – seriously, I make a note of any words I come across in a book, look up its meaning, and look for a way to work it into my own writing. Better than any thesaurus.

These are just a few examples of what you can learn from reading in order to make a better writer.

Other things to consider:

  • Who, or what, inspired you to write?
  • Has a particular writer or book grabbed you in such a way, that it lit that fire inside?

I can remember clearly, the first time I thought about writing. It was after reading a book titled The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by the late Joan Aiken. An alternate history set in the mid-19th century in which England has been overrun with wolves, and two young cousins fall into the clutches of an evil older cousin. I loved it, and my first attempt at writing was to completely plagiarise the story. I was still in junior school then, and didn’t know you couldn’t pass off someone else’s story as your own…Obviously, it’s never seen the light of day.

Nowadays, inspiration comes to me from all sorts of sources. The books I read, films, TV shows or the voices in my head. Honestly, sometimes they just don’t shut up!

Horizon Skies, my debut, currently languishing in the “please finish these final edits!” area of my head space, has been doing the rounds in my head since my early 20’s. It was a story I simply had to tell. I don’t know if it will ever be published, it may forever be consigned to the rejection pile, but at least – I did it. I wrote a book. 

If it hadn’t been for all those stories of my childhood, including books by Noel Streatfield and Monica Hughes, I may never have discovered the passion for writing I have now. Reading remains my number one pastime, my books have always been a constant in my life. When the crap has really hit the fan, diving into a Terry Pratchett or James Herbert has rescued me, allowed me to live a different life for a few hours.

So, if you’re wondering how to be a writer, make sure you’re a reader first. The knowledge and experience will enrich your world.

 

 

Not Another Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Dystopia Novel!

I’ve always had an idea in my head for a film about the rage outbreak, as depicted in 28 Days Later. I’ve imagined the opening scenes, time and time again. This idea has been germinating for years.

Like Tina in Bob’s Burgers, I have a complicated relationship with zombies. My favourite zombie film is Dawn of the Dead; The Walking Dead Tina Belcherand Fear The Walking Dead have been part of my life for years (although, I do think TWD has really had its day) as well as another great TV show, Black Summer (visceral and brutal). That’s not to say I like all zombie films and shows, for every good one, there are probably at least ten that are utterly dreadful (Zombie Nation, take a bow.)

Recently, I read an interesting trilogy of books called Plague Land, Plague Nation and Plague World which isn’t really a tale of zombies but a strange infection that physically assimilates humans into its invading mass. How the infection starts, spreads, and how the dwindling humans desperately try to escape made for a curious read. I’ve simplified the story as there is so much more to it, but I’m not a reviewer.

 

There’s also the usual dystopia novels I’ve read over the years. The most devastating being The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a bleak, heart rending story of one man and his son trekking across a devastated US to reach the coast where the father believes they can find safety. The book, like it’s film adaptation, packs an emotional punch to the gut, but is so subtle, the tears did not flow until I’d finished the last page. I’m not sure I want to write something that emotionally wrenching.

The next paragraph contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2.

As a gamer, I’ve really enjoyed The Last of Us parts 1&2. Like all good RPG’s, the stories are wholly immersive, gripping, and invoke all sorts of reactions. Part 2 in particular, with its character swap part way through in which the player HAS to play the antagonist plays with your feelings as their personal story unfolds. I may have been #teamellie all the way, but for the hours I played as Abby provided an alternative perspective to the story. Her tale of vengeance becomes clear, you understand why Ellie and Joel are the bad guys in HER world. Whilst I may not have rooted for her entirely, I was able to empathise, and this puts a big question mark over the morality at play.

They say to write what you know. 

As a fantasy writer, I have been well prepared for writing Horizon Skies (my current nemesis) and Sanctuary of Stone (stalled WIP) as most of my library is fantasy fiction. From a young age, when I first read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, fantasy novels have fuelled my imagination more than any other genre. 

I do read other genres though; I have horror (James Herbert) dystopia, science fiction and a few contemporary novels. I’ve read classics (Jane Austen and Charles Dickens), and I love Kathy Lette. It’s important not to restrict one’s reading material, particularly when the goal is to be a writer. I’ve currently got it into my head that I want to read Dante’s Inferno.

All of this, the TV shows, the movies, and the books; all have given me the tools to write this new story. Ok, it’s not an original idea, I’m well aware of that. But, maybe I can add my voice, my take on it, and write something that will appeal. I’d love to join the ranks of female authors who have written successful novels in this genre. 

In less than a month, I’ve written eight chapters, the story continually plays out in my head. I know where it’s going, how it’s going end, who survives, who doesn’t, and a lot of awful stuff in-between. Aside from writing a good story, this is also an opportunity to explore my darker side, a place in my imagination not populated by myth and magic, but with fear and anxiety.

Baby Steps

I’m not even going to blog about what a crap blogger I am. Not in terms of how good (or bad) my posts are as that’s for you, dear reader, to decide. I’ve always been sporadic with my blogging and I marvel at those who find things to blog about on a weekly basis. Clearly, I don’t find many things in life that inspiring to write about or, maybe the monotony of daily life kills inspiration?

I go to work, I come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, read. Rinse and repeat, five days a week. Weekends have become about recharging, lounging about, watching movies, gaming (I love my PS4) drinking wine, cooking and other than going out for a food shop or the occasional drink in my local pub, I’ve become something of a hermit. This is dangerous territory. I’m a homebody, I love my home comforts. Other than my bed, the sofa is probably my second favourite place.

Obviously, I need to get out of this funk.

2019 was about being a little selfish. My mental health was suffering, work was awful in the first half of the year. I was so exhausted and numb that I barely did any writing, put AmDram on hold and put myself first.

This was all well and good but the lazy part of my nature took over. I stopped exercising, put on weight and towards the end of the year started feeling crap about myself again. For someone with anxiety and depression, this is not good. I ended up living in my rut, desperate to get out of it, not knowing how to and unable to motivate myself.

Christmas was great, no travelling to see family, it was just me, my boyfriend and my cat. Lots of food, lots of drink, nice pressies and for a good week or so I was totally relaxed.

Almost three weeks into the New Year and it was already looking like 2020 would pan out to be another 2019. Ugh.

For weeks, I’ve been telling myself to reopen Horizon Skies and go through the notes from the last beta read. For weeks, I’ve been putting it off. I really am one of the world’s best procrastinators.

Today however, I actually did it. As soul destroying as it is to work on something I technically finished in 2018, I am fully aware of how, NOT working on it means no one else will ever get to read it. Therefore,  that I am cheating myself out of the opportunity of getting it back out there to an agent.

A few niggling edits aside, it seems the story just needs a few more elements added to it to strengthen aspects that haven’t been elaborated on. I have given myself until the end of February to get them done which means setting a little time aside in the evening each day and doing the work. I won’t be getting it beta read again, it’s had five people read it now and I think that’s enough outside opinion 🙂

As for other aspects of my life. Work is better, my new role which I’ve now been doing for 7 months is VERY busy and challenging but for my mental health, has made a massive difference. I’ve been getting back on the exercise bike and making more of an effort to eat properly during the day instead of wasting money on expensive ready meals and shop bought sandwiches.

These are baby steps, I’ve never been on to rush headlong into something but I think I’m heading in the right direction. I’m keeping an eye on AmDram news and if something comes up this year that piques my interest, I hope I’ll be in the right frame of mind to take part.

I still read every day, that hasn’t changed. Books have always been my one constant in life and I still need that escapism.

Creativity Doldrums

Oh dear, four months since I last made a blog entry.

I changed jobs at the end of May which has been great, I’m really enjoying the new role but I am busier than ever. Life is flashing before my eyes.

I still had some crap to deal with from the previous role which is yet to be concluded so that has been a frustrating experience, to say the least.

Mental health has been a bit up and down. I was exercising for a little while but then lost the motivation to do it every day and my weight has started creeping back up again. I’ve become lazy and complacent which is hard to deal with, especially on those days when I feel the tidal wave of sadness looming behind me. I feel sad every day but try and occupy my thoughts with other things as best I can. I treated myself to my first tattoo in June and had my next one Saturday just gone.

So, of course, the writing suffered. Horizon Skies was left to gather dust as the editing process dragged on. I think it’s on it’s 5th or 6th draft now and if it hadn’t been for one of my lovely Twitter crowd asking about a beta reader for her own book, I don’t know if I’d have got someone to take another look at mine. I decided to stop where I’d got to and we did a beta swap. I am so glad I did because it’s taken away some of the stress I was feeling  and I’ve been able to turn my attention back to other WIPs that have been languishing in the dark.

I last picked up Sanctuary of Stone in March this year and whilst I’ve looked at it from time to time, I couldn’t work out the story arc. I’m very much a writer who lets the plot unfold as I write. The danger with that is my stories either wither and die or go off on a wild tangent.

The trouble with Sanctuary is that it started out as a story within a very contained environment with just one character. I soon realised, this wouldn’t be enough to sustain a story of novel length so introduced other characters as I worked out the story in my head. As the environment in which these characters occupy is a place they can’t/won’t/don’t leave it became apparent that I would have to conclude the story quite quickly, thus, reducing the length to that of a novella. I don’t want to do that though.

Yesterday, I picked up were I left off and added another 1,000 words to chapter 10 which has now clocked in at approx. 1,700 total. I’d like to add another 500 or so as I always try to aim for a minimum chapter length of 2,000.

Today, I printed off all completed chapters and I then had a light bulb moment, something I’ve not had in a long time. A story arc came to mind and I felt inspired once again. For someone who wants to be a professional writer, the last few months of floating in the creativity doldrums had me worried. Is Horizon Skies the only book I’ll ever write?

Hopefully not, I’ve got so many more stories I want to tell.

 

Kick Back and Relax…It’s Really OK!

I’m often very self-critical when it comes to fitting in writing time. Because it’s the job I want to do, I hate not being able to fit it in every day; as I see so many other writers managing to do.

I currently work in I.T. and have been for the last thirteen years. All the jobs I’ve had in this industry are busy in the extreme. I’ve worked evenings, weekends, gone into the office early, worked through lunch – you get the idea.

The past couple years have been particularly difficult for one reason or another and I’ve reached the point where my stress levels are high and I suffer mild anxiety. For someone with existing mental health issues, this is not an ideal situation.

I made a decision after a crazy January that I wouldn’t again get sucked into the vicious circle of working long hours to try and stay on top of things. I don’t get any thanks or recognition for it and I’m only hurting myself in the process.

As a conscientious person, this is actually quite difficult for me to do. I’m a natural helper, I’m good at my job, I have years of knowledge and experience but these attributes have definitely been taken for granted. I’m stepping back. I get into the office around 8.45am instead of 8.00am. I take an hour for lunch away from my desk, I leave at 5.30pm and I do not log on or check my phone before or after those times.

Sadly however, I have had to drop out of the AmDram production I was due to appear in, in June. My mental state, the exhaustion and lack of energy meant I wasn’t enjoying rehearsals, I couldn’t engage with the material, therefore, was unable to devote 100% which was really unfair on the cast and director.

On a positive note, my evenings and weekends are free. I’m worrying a bit less and hopefully, my stress and anxiety will level out to something more manageable. I don’t have much energy in the evenings so writing time is reserved for the weekend and I’m happy with that. It’s better to be doing something than nothing.

Horizon Skies took six years to complete, it’s been almost a year since I first hawked it out to agents so I do need to get my arse in gear to really polish it and get back out there again.

So, if you’re in a similar position to me and are beating yourself up about your progress – don’t. It’s counterproductive, you’ll feel like crap and lose motivation.

It’s ok to re-evaluate where you are, make those changes and get yourself into a more positive frame of mind. I’m a lot happier now for doing so and it means

My weekends writing are something I enjoy and look forward to as opposed to something I have to get done.

Kick Back, Relax and Enjoy!

Revision, Revision, Revision – Please Let This Be The End!

I must admit, I’ve been dipping in and out of Horizon Skies for the last few weeks and realising that, despite all the editing, the book I presented to agents is still not completely finished.

The notes from my editor are incredibly helpful but have raised more questions about my work.

World building and my magic system are two areas that still need expansion. I honestly thought I had built my world quite nicely. Apparently, it reads as rather generic with no unique markers to differentiate the various locations. Weird how, what is in my head has not necessarily translated that well onto paper.

Luckily, she has been complimentary overall about the book, the story and my writing style so at least that’s an affirmation of my ability to write.

After spending a few hours on Horizon Skies yesterday, I achieved very little. I’m focusing on the minor revisions such as, what people look like and adding in a bit of detail here and there. When I get to an area that needs a major overhaul, I’m terrified! In my head, I’m thinking, “I spent YEARS writing this, I can’t face it again!”

So, giving it some thought this morning and I think I’ve come up with a battle plan:

  1. Work through the minor revisions first
  2. Print the chapters off requiring more of an overhaul
  3. Get the old notebooks out again and revise by hand (I prefer writing this way)
  4. Expand upon the magic system

I think the magic system will be quite hard. The basics are already there but I have to consider the following:

  1. Type of magic i.e. elemental, chemical etc.?
  2. Are magic wielders born with it or is it taught?
  3. Are there levels of magic?
  4. Does everyone have an ability or just a select few?

Elemental magic is a very common trope in Fantasy, mainly because it is an incredibly easy system to write. People with the ability to manipulate fire, earth, air and water are seen quite often in the books we read from this genre.

I’d love to be able to have the ability to create different magic systems the way Brandon Sanderson does. He manages to create something different in all his novels, they are all unique to the planets within the Cosmere (his universe for the uninitiated). From swallowing different metals (Mistborn) to Lashing (The Way of Kings) Sanderson cleverly demonstrates that we don’t have to rely on tried and tested tropes.

I lean towards elemental, it’s in a lot of books I read plus, as a bit of gamer, I’ve seen it’s very common in RPG’s. The earlier Final Fantasy games had characters specifically gifted with one of the elements.

There are some very handy charts and diagrams all over the internet explaining magic systems, some of these are very intricate but I don’t want to borrow from anyone else. Let’s face it, a lot of fantasy stories have very common themes, especially in Young Adult so it’s important that, as writers, we do create something unique. Something that will make the story stand out just that little bit more to an agent.

Here I go again…