Oh monster, my monster

As I start writing this, it’s 12.15am. In about six and a half hours I will be crawling out of bed to make a Pokémon cake for my nephew’s 10th birthday, before he arrives for a day of being spoiled. (‘What flavour?’ ‘Pokémon flavour!’ Vanilla will have to do.)

Anyway, he and his mum and her boyfriend came over earlier this afternoon. He fed the dogs lettuce until they were near ready to mug him for his pasta. He became best friends with Dog 1, who pinned him down with a paw and attempted to clean his head. After that they were inseparable. Dog 2 – less boisterous, likes her space – wagged her tail from a safe distance.

At some point in the evening he looked up at our mantelpiece, where everything gets stacked in a way that could be considered ‘decorative’ over the fake fire that we never plug in, and spotted my A Monster Calls print.

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like this. (OBVIOUSLY, this is an illustration by artist genius Jim Kay)

That print was my first (possibly last) ‘big’ art buy, after I met Jim Kay’s agent at a launch Q&A (I think) for the book, with Kay and Patrick Ness.  2011. It was clear, then, how completely this story – this publication – would be a classic.

‘Look!’ says Nephew. ‘That’s the monster from A Monster Calls! It’s a good book.’

‘Yes, it is’ I say, meaning both yes, it is the monster, and yes, it is a good book. ‘That picture’s signed by Jim Kay, the illustrator.’

Nephew looks at me with great satisfaction. ‘I’ve got the book, and it’s signed to me, by both of them.’

‘I know,’ I say. ‘I got it for you for your second birthday. I think they thought I was a bit nuts, asking to have a book signed for a two year old.’

‘I wasn’t two!’

‘You were.’

I’m not sure he believes he was ever really two, but he smiles happily and leans back into his seat, goes back to his game. And I think – it doesn’t matter who got the book. It’s his – his story, signed for him, and always has been in his life as much as he remembers it.

And tomorrow he’s ten, and he’ll be rereading that book when he’s 20, and I hope it’s battered and loved and the ink has faded slightly, and that whenever he comes across it or any reference to it, he has a little jolt of special-ness – I have that book, and it was signed for me, and I have always owned it.

I am kicking myself – we peaked at birthday presents when he was two years old.

Books are brilliant, though.

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It’s been a long year

Tradition, isn’t it, to write a post summing up the year? I’m getting it out of the way a few days early, because 1) I’m having a little flap about the current Work In Progress right now, and so this is a nice procrastination and 2) in a couple days I am seeing my family and will have no time for posts, only for them and actually finishing a reasonable first draft of the WIP.

OH GOD I’m in imminent danger of being a writer bore, I’m so sorry.

Here’s a quick list of good and awful things that have happened over the course of this year, as much as I can remember on a mid-holiday day when I should be doing something else.

  • AWFUL 2018 started with my cousin dying. No big details to be included here except I wish the age for suspecting and testing for certain cancers would be lowered. And I wish a lot of other things, that all end with treatments working and him having survived. He was a Very Good Man and we miss him having him in the world awful lot. I went to his funeral up in Scotland on a day that ran through every weather combination you can think of in just a few hours.
  • AWFUL The day after my cousin, my partner’s grandma died. More of a shock, this one, weirdly. Another funeral. January was not a good time, even if funerals do bring people together. I’m not really expecting this year to be marvellous either because sad anniversaries are a thing.
  • GOODish? The snow in February/March. It snowed and snowed and caused lots of problems and I couldn’t get to work because of being 30+miles away from the office. But I did get to bundle up and pretend to be an intrepid explorer fighting my way down to the train station on the off-chance of a train. (I also had to take photos to convince my boss that I really wasn’t making up the state of the roads.) I found cafes with good wi-fi that were open in town. I got to walk our huskies in snow that came up to my knees and it was the best. I love snow.
  • GOOD Throughout all this the hope of a literary agent as one agent worked with me on rewrites with a view to possible representation.
  • BAD She ultimately decided not to rep me and I was, momentarily, completely crushed and a terrible person to work with for a day.
  • BRILLIANT I sent the MS out to more agents and ended up meeting with, and signing with, the brilliant Alice Williams. That MS is out on sub at the moment.
  • GOODish but ALSO BAD. The sun. It was such a hot hot hot hot summer. Dog 2 got dehydrated and overheated despite our best efforts, and she kept woffling her nose through dust until chunks of it (her nose, not the dust) were dry and crusty and coming off. But it was a very active outdoorsy summer.
  • CRAPPY I lost my freelance work (replaced, essentially, by a computer programme. It was coming, but I thought I had another year), so a fair chunk of my income, so I am even more broke than usual, which comes with its own set of worries. Ah well.
  • GREAT BUT SCARY I was accepted on a creative facilitator course, where I met some incredibly lovely and extremely talented people. It was paid training, and work were good about me dropping to four days a week. The second half (placement) of the course is next year. I’m nervous about it.
  • GOOD Because of the course and because of music and reading in general I’ve spent more time on stage with a microphone this year than any previous year. While I was dressed as a witch reading brilliant spooky pictures books to a room full of little monsters, a parent recognised me as having sung at an event for refugees earlier in the year. I loved that crossover. I read at a Dickens event – where the focus was more on Frederick than Charlies – just a month or so ago, and it was such fun. And my work friends travelled down to watch it. And I chopped my hair short after seeing those pictures.
  • GOOD I edited the magazine I work for, as guest editor, and that issue went down really well.
  • AWFUL but most of the rest of the work year was at a high-pitched level of stress and anxiety that means I’m still borderline to a panic attack if anyone messages me about work out of hours. This is also why I’m not linking to the issue I edited from here.
  • BAD discovering that my change of career plans are not currently doable because the bursary I needed in order to do it has been cancelled (government cuts because why do little kids even need qualified teachers, eh?). Yes, puttering along behind all the writing and whatnot I tweet about is, like every other person, a need to sort out my day job.
  • GOOD Because I was working on the longer stuff, I didn’t do much short writing, but I did do some and even managed a few submissions. So there’s a story up on Visual Verse (and a poem, it turns out, which I thought they hadn’t accepted!) and another on TSS Publishing. And I entered a competition for the first time in ages with a story I have some faith in. Though I have belatedly realised that due to the nature of the prize, even if they like the story and writing it might be a little too bisexual to win.
  • GOOD More music – I went on BBC Tees Introducing again. I’ve got a song coming out on the forthcoming Noisy Daughters EP. I helped out at the inaugural Tracks Last Train Home Festival and had a blast. I recorded a song written by a friend (‘Pills Close’, coming soon); and I also recorded ‘Hope & Poison’, which was written entirely about the events at the beginning of the year and figuring out how to deal with them. All profits from it go to charity, so I was able to mark Christmas with a donation to Beatson Cancer Charity. Profits will continue to go to charity, so if you purchase it from Bandcamp, that’s what’ll happen. There’s also a slightly rushed and very demo-recorded (on a phone in the kitchen, no less), with stock footage video, song for Christmas.
  • GOODish Discovered how to get from Newcastle to home entirely by Arriva buses. It takes about three hours but it’s not so bad.
  • GREAT Parents came to visit for the first time since we moved here, and it was really fun and fairly relaxing once my partner took over all the driving, and just really nice to be able to spend so much time with them. And the donkeys that lived outside the cottage they stayed in. We saw butterflies, and stately homes, and Beamish, and the incredible swan automaton, and ate fish and chips, and finally introduced my parents to P’s parents (we’ve only been together for about 11 years. No biggie.)
  • GREAT Bit of exploring. We spent a week in Amsterdam where we met my bestish friend’s beautiful baby son, and cycled miles north past hundreds of horses and herons and cows. Got a couple of trips down to London for gigs and touristing, and we went to the Forbidden Corner for my birthday. I walked half of the West Highland Way. It was rainy and windy and sometimes sunny, and a lot lovely, and knackering, and beautiful, and I camped wild and on my own and loved it, but…
  • NOT GOOD The bag was heavy and my knees are wearing out (like the rest of me) and by the halfway point they stopped working, so I had to quit for fear of permanent damage. My core muscles and arm muscles were in great shape, though. I will be trying again next year, using my new, practical, knowledge.
  • GREAT New friends – more people closer to home that I enjoy hanging out with and (I think) like hanging out with me. Odd, maybe, to have that as an achievement, but I’ve moved often enough to know how much more difficult it is to make friends as an adult, and especially outside of work when you work miles away, than it as a kid when you’re in school. But also old friends – weddings, and a weekend in a brilliant farmhouse that probably wasn’t haunted but we made a video implying it is, and a day in York in the pouring rain, at the Jorvik Museum. Very grateful for the wonderful people in my life who make such an effort to be in it.

Stopping the list there, partly because I’m getting bored of finding links. I suspect I’ve missed out a lot of things because I don’t keep  records anymore. So in 2019, I’m going to start an actual diary of sorts properly for the first time in years. Not a blog, but an on-paper thing. I cringe when I read my old teen diary (because I was a cringey teen, and still am quite a cringey adult), and I think that put me off for ages. But I think I’ve also been swept up (without fully realising it until quite recently because it’s all been so insidious) by the unhealthy idea that All Things Are Public – a side effect of 10+ years of Facebook and Twitter and blogging, and not a good one.

(I KNOW there’s been a lot of other side-effects of those sites, too – BIG HUGE POLITICAL things. But I write music and I write stories, and having Facebook and Twitter accounts means, like, 12 people read/listen to the stuff I make instead of none. So I’m not going to be deactivating either of them for good anytime soon. I might still take the odd week/month break here or there though.)

Other things happening in 2019 – house hunting in earnest.

It’d be lovely to also say  Sell A Book, but that’s a ridiculous resolution to have, cause it’s so out of my control.* All I can do is keeping writing and then cross my fingers thereafter, but having an agent means it’s at least more of a possibility than it was.

* Please, well-meaning people who keep telling me if the book currently out on sub doesn’t sell I can always self-publish – I know. It’s my job to know, so I know there are really stunning and successful self-published books out there. I also know how much time, money and effort that takes, which is why I also know I don’t have the marketing skills, design skills, money or time to make a success of it. I like advice, but I am also pretty well-researched in areas of publishing opportunity.**

** Yes, I am very very very aware of the existence of and potential behind small presses as well. I promise.

Gods and The Wanderer

Yesterday I signed up for the Edinburgh half-marathon. I often tell people that I do well with deadlines, and I really do. I need the pressure to get me going in all areas of life, from writing to exercise to… well, spending time with people even. Otherwise I just lie around stagnant, like water in a pipe waiting for the tap to be turned on, probably growing mould and smelling a bit funny.

The pressure works really well. I get motivated and creative and I DO stuff. And then I get carried away and sometimes I accidentally put a bit too much pressure on myself and water-me sort of blurts out everywhere in panic, and lands up as a useless puddle on the sideboard, waiting to be wiped up.

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Waving, not drowning

Autumn’s properly here, isn’t it? Outside the sky is a lightening blue (it’s 7.30am), and there’s a nip in the air that’s making it awkward to type because I have the circulation of a stone – the sort that people try to get blood out of – and can’t really feel my fingers. Yesterday at work we looked out of the window and realised that the leaves on the trees in the little garden had apparently overnight gone very orange. I would have taken a photo, but all the building work happening behind the trees ruins the shot slightly. Continue reading

The Story of Finding a Literary Agent

Because I am the Mistress of Procrastination and have run out of house to clean, and because I have also done some editing and am feeling quite smug about it (even if, strictly speaking, it was the circle-and-cross-out-and-write-notes stage of editing, so not actually the tough part where the words have to be reordered to sound good), and because there’s been quite a lot* going on over the past couple of months, it is time for your Intermittent Blog Entry, persistent and loyal and inexplicably still-reading readers.

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Not a review: ‘Bookworm’ by Lucy Mangan

Note: this really is not a review. My about-a-book entries are never reviews, just me gushing about books I’ve absolutely loved and have time to write about. Take it for granted that if this was a review it would be a five-star thing, though, because I’m coming out of the tail-end of a migraine right now and shouldn’t be looking at a screen, but am compelled to write this. Continue reading

For the birds

Day three of relentless sunshine, and I have taken to hiding indoors. I’m a cold-weather person. I like blue skies and light, but I also like the temperature to be cold. And dry. I’m actually (it turns out) ever so slightly allergic to sunlight. I wear a lot of suncream but will still get little ‘aaaaargh UV LIGHT!’ welts on my forearms after a day doing stuff outside. Continue reading

Twit twoo

The evening before Easter weekend, I deactivated my primary Twitter account. In the great time-suck that is social media, Twitter is the Big Boss. Facebook has messed with the algorithms of the newsfeed to such an extent that it’s barely worth looking at it, because everything is advertising or repeats from three days earlier. Instagram is a pleasant skim-through, done in five minutes. But Twitter – especially what I think of as my Big Twitter newsfeed – is intensely literary, political and oft-times angry and once I open it (which I mostly do without thinking) I sit there reading and feeling shittier and shittier.

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bric-a-brac, basically

I’m writing a blog post, which is how you all know I’m procrastinating. We’ve got this massive whiteboard propped against the fake fireplace (the furnishing skills of myself and CM are such that our home permanently looks like a long-con grifter HQ crossed with a bric-a-brac stall. This morning I woke to find that the Giant Toy Hedgehog that we use as a pillow for long car journeys had been propped on a shelf in our room between a rarely-used Gothic chess set, and my TBR book stack and necklace stand that I made by warping a cooling tray. It was staring at me. I nearly had a heart attack, and our room looks more like a storage box than ever…)… Continue reading

NWA aftermath

So, update time. Nothing but Writing News in this post. I’ll do a more general entry later this week.

Last time we were here I’d just won a Northern Writers Award. Which was (is, still) pretty exciting, after it sunk in. In the classic way of all things writing, there was a whirl of a few weeks with tonnes of activity – followed by weeks of quiet, just me, in a room, swearing at a screen.

First up was a pitching workshop, which was invaluable and taught a group of us how to network, essentially. Which is a skill no one actually teaches, I don’t think, except for maybe finishing schools. There’s an art to strolling up to strangers in a crowded room and being able to smoothly introduce yourself and why you’re there and be able to pitch/promote your book / project without umming and erring and feeling silly.

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