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.

A-Monster-Calls-616x403

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.

Stormy Monday

Does anyone else get to the Monday of a bank holiday weekend and find themselves feeling down about how little they accomplished over the previous two days? And about how much they have to cram into the Monday because they did all the fun stuff already but also wasted quite a lot of time playing stupid fecking Facebook games and can’t seem to just start the things they ought to be getting on with? And then procrastinate further by writing a pointless blog entry?

Ok, not totally pointless, but I’m not going to actually report on anything. Just mumble quietly about life. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.

listen-with-mother-2

GETTING OLD

This applies to everything. Everything. In the past week we’ve had one of our dogs down the vet being checked for what is, in all likelihood, just middle age rearing its head. I’m not going into the full details of what’s actually been up with her, but there’s a combination of relief that she’s not got a terrible disease combined with sheer sadness that our beloved idiot pooch is actually starting to show her age. And then it’s a really easy hop-skip-jump to everyone’s getting so bloomin’ old.

My parents (who read this, actually: HI MUM AND DAD (and also sorry for this bit and also a joke near the end that you’ll hate) are now, to me, reaching the age and level of health difficulties where I’m wondering if living so far away is selfish of me; I should be closer. Not something I’ve actually discussed with the Coffee Monster, btw. But it’s on my mind. And it’s not just them – we are on a stroke count of 4 in adults of that generation that I know and love. Heart attack count: 3. And no more grandparents. My parents are the grandparents now. It’s terrifying.

Also, not entirely unrelated, it’s my birthday in a couple of weeks, and we all know that I’m totally calm about the getting older thing. I bought hanging baskets on Saturday. Hanging baskets, for outside the house. With little flowers in them. Shut up.

NOT GETTING STUFF FINISHED

For probably the first weekend ever (or at least in a long time) I did not write a To Do list this weekend. Because I never do everything on the damn list, and that makes me feel worse. And I find it overwhelming to read. And I just had enough of having things to do all the time.

CM said yesterday that ‘I know I take forever to get things done, but then at least I know if something is really niggling at me, I really do want to do it’. Which is one way to look at it, and there’s nothing quite like the relief of having scratched that itch after months of itching, I guess (I’m awaiting this feeling on a few fronts at the moment). Not sure the relief is worth the torture, mind. I think I’ve had a few too many of these things on my mind for too many months. Partly for work. Partly just me – which means I ought to just be able to forget them, but I can’t.

calamine lotion

Or just use this.

I really, really do not subscribe to the more spiritual conversations about being a writer. They downright irritate me, actually: ‘I just have to write. My soul pours out on the page etc etc.’ Usually in more flowery language than that, but I can’t bring myself to go there. Annoyingly though, stories really are an irritating bloody thing. They really do squat in my brain pan and witter on at me in the background all day. And I’ve got two long projects which will not shut up ‘til they’re done. I know that, and it’s making me miserable. I’d feel better if I just finished the first draft of one of them. I really would. Expectations for myself of things I’d like to do are just as bad – those things ranging from actually performing some music to actually buying a car. There’s like a big mental freeze on it all, and there really shouldn’t be.

FIGURING OUT HOW TO FINISH STUFF

So I’ve sort of belatedly realised that if I can scratch that story(&ors) itch first thing, with just a few words of some sort, any sort, then I can focus on the more boring work I need to get done far more easily. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to figure out why I freeze in the face of a lot to do, and how to break that freeze (NEARLY 34 YEARS). I think I subscribed to a sort of dinner-time approach to work. Like, ‘If you eat all the vegetable jobs first, then you can have the ice cream writing afterwards’. But I’m a backwards-eater in To Do lists as well as in food, it seems. This was the nicer analogy, by the way. I nearly went with the one about wanking before going on a date.

THE STUFF

I suppose I should just go and get on with it.

  • Currently reading: Erm. Nothing, actually. For shame.

Whys and wherefores

Hello lovely readers (if you’re still out there after a month of silence).

It’s that point in the evening when the sun drops low enough to sit on next door’s roof. If I’m sat on the sofa, working – which I am, and have been all bloody day – the light blinds me for about five minutes. It is very pleasant to be wilfully dazzled. Seems like the time to crack open some cider.

For the purposes of this weekend, I have renamed cider ‘Don’t Care Juice’. Continue reading

The floor is lava

Three weeks of silence, so here’s a story. It was written very quickly over lunchtime last Friday, as is fitting for the Faber Academy weekly #quickfic challenge. The winner gets a batch of Faber books; second place story goes up on the Faber Academy site with the winning story. Third place isn’t really a place but does, it turns out, get you a nice email from one of the Faber Academy folks letting you know that you very nearly almost scraped in, and that next time you might nudge it. Good enough for me. Below is a screenshot of the picture prompt from the Faber Academy site, and my words. It’s worth heading to the site and reading back through all the winners. A pleasant way to spend some time.
Continue reading

Here be dragons

My tea is cooling and the dogs are asleep across my legs, and the pervading feeling is one of waiting. I am not good at waiting.

The wait is for 2014 to wobble through its last hours and 2015 to start, because once it starts, life picks up pace again, and I’ll be able to pack and organise and be proactive in a way that isn’t really possible at the moment. Continue reading

In which I cry in front of Judy Blume

Sometimes I can’t think of anything to write for this. Normally I come up with something, eventually. Other times too much has happened and I can’t seem to pick any one thing to focus on. Normally, I get past that as well. But for the past week I’ve been fuzzy-headed and somewhat easily overwhelmed by things, so when faced with an overwhelming choice of things to write about, I shut down and didn’t write anything at all. Continue reading

2014 – already muddier than 2013.

“Procrastination has become its own solution – a tool I can use to push myself so close to disaster that I become terrified and flee toward success.”

So says Allie Brosh, author and artist behind the brilliant Hyperbole and a Half (expect more quotes; I got the book  for Christmas this year) – and she’s right. She’s talking about herself, obviously, but I can strongly identify with this approach. Even more so today, when I’m not actually in my own flat yet, and so I can’t fall back on my usual procrastination pyramid to avoid working on the Problem Story First Draft that I still need to finish. But the deadline is too far away for me to panic up a work of astounding genius (nothing less will do). Continue reading