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.

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Say hello, wave goodbye**

I keep thinking of subjects for these increasingly sparse blog entries and then deciding that no, that’s too big a subject – I’ll save it and write something longer and more in depth. Maybe I’ll try an essay. Which is not to say I don’t put effort into these posts. I do, but normally all that effort happens over the course of a couple of hours at most. I splurge words on whatever springs to mind, and edit and post soon afterwards. There’s a minimal amount of research involved, but I have, usually, had something to say.

Continue reading

Snapshots

Seven-year itch

Okay, the itch is supposed to be about relationships rather than life, but there is a school of thought that says life runs in seven-year cycles: every seven years or so you change as a person (which would also explain the seven-year itch). Well, I’ve been living in London for just over 7.5 years, and working for the same company that entire time (and yes, I will miss them a lot). Prior to that I travelled and studied for seven years. So maybe there’s something to it. Continue reading

The writer next door

Last week, browsing the bookstands at Southbank (yes, again. I have an addiction), I picked up two books by Lillian Beckwith. There are a few names that leap out at me when I’m running my eye over a shelf, and hers is one of them.

Growing up, Lillian Beckwith was our next-door neighbour.  We didn’t know her as Lillian Beckwith. We knew her as Mrs Comber. When we first moved in, my dad mentioned that she was an author, and as a kid who liked to write, that caught my imagination. I honestly can’t remember, looking back, if I wanted to be a writer before we met the Combers, or if knowing them is what made me want to work with words. Continue reading

Pictures or it didn’t happen

I’m taking a terrible, but lovely, series of photos of my route to work over the next couple of months.

They’re terrible because I’m using my phone and I’m a bad photographer whatever the tools, but lovely to me because they’re sentimental. This is my London as me and many other people travelling into Victoria see it, even on the grey days. I’ve had conversations with fellow commuters, and I know that it’s not just me that gets a kick out of the band-name graffiti scrawled on the walls as you come into the station. Loads of other people have spent the day with “It Only Takes a Minute Girl” stuck in their head thanks to whoever painted that lyric on the side of a house. I’m not the only person who goes ‘Awww’ when we see the dogs residing at Battersea Cats and Dogs home being brought out for walks. I want to have a record of some of these things before they are cleaned up or are turned into a soul-less shopping centre. Continue reading

The Next Big Thing

It is the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Migration has begun. Not just the birds; also the people who embraced the summer heat and then looked ahead to the winter and realised that they don’t want to wade through that again. Without thinking too hard I can name four people of my immediate acquaintance who have chosen to jet off to Spain, Italy or Australia before the rain arrives this year. (Or snow. Sometimes we have that, too.) The same sort of migration happens every year. Equally, there are people suddenly coming back to the UK, or who have chosen to stay when they had every intention of leaving. Continue reading

Jonesing: past, present and future

I’m typing this awkwardly with blistered hands from steam-cleaning the kitchen carpet – because that’s the sort of glamorous, rock-and-roll thing us London girls do at the weekend. The blisters are sort of worth it as, although the carpet is probably not cleaner, the dirt is more evenly distributed. I’m sharing this detail because it’s sort of relevant to the below post which, as you’d expect, meanders through three different subjects before stopping abruptly. Structured writing skills – I don’t haz.

Bridget Jones’ Diary has been the source of a lot of conversation this week. One of my friends was re-reading it, and that prompted me to pick it up and re-read it (actually I picked it up to try and get Coffee Monster to read it, but then I took it off him again). As a result, the book and the character have come up a few times in different discussions with different people.

Back when the book first came out, one of the reasons it was a hit was because Bridget is an Every Woman.  A thirty-something every woman, living in London, working in publishing – to some extent, she is still something of an Every Woman, at least in my circle of friends. One mate commented that her mother pointed out that her career path matched Bridget’s; another related how her friends had (insultingly) pinpointed her as being Bridget when they were all 16 and watching the film. I’m of an age now where I was curious to re-read the book and see how much of myself I recognised in it.

When it came out I was about 13 years old. I knew of it because I was the kind of weird 13-year-old that picked up the Sunday papers book section and pored over the bestsellers list and read the reviews and interviews and was very intent on building my ‘grown-up’ book collection. I mean, I actually had a separate shelf on my book shelves where I put all my ‘grown-up’ books. Stuff by Rick Moody and Esther Freud and JG Ballard separated from all the Jean Ure and Robert Swindells. Roald Dahl occupied places in both sections.

So when the little corner shop down the road had a copy of Bridget Jones’ Diary for sale in its tiny, dusty book section, I eventually scraped together the money (I also had a weekend job at this point) and bought it. Then I went home and snuck up to my room and read it in one day. I don’t know why I snuck up to my room with it – I was fairly secretive about the whole venture. But I read it and swallowed it whole and re-read it several squillion times, and nurtured the thought of a future working in publishing, in a City, writing stuff, hanging with friends.

Bridget Jones' Diary

Cup of tea, good read – way better than steam-cleaning the damn carpet.

The whole boyfriend/fuckwittage thing was amusing, but that really wasn’t much of a concern at 13 – in fact I went through school being a) an unattractive geek and b) very certain that school romances were a waste of time anyway, since school was nothing but a starting point and it would all be left behind in favour of a glamorous future. (And then Facebook came along and destroyed that fantasy for the world.) I was all about the lifestyle. That’s amusing now, because now I’m older clearly the point is that she’s not glamorous at all. She’s awkward and normal and broke and bored at work and has a damn good group of friends, and that is, if you’re lucky, basically life in a nutshell.

At 13 I really wanted to be a writer (I finished my first novella at 14 and it was appropriately dreadful. As has been pretty much everything since). I was reading the media stuff in the Sunday papers in part because I spent a lot of time dreaming of the wider world and writing and films and books and the future anyway, and then along comes Helen Fielding and BAM! Talk about reading (and rereading) at a formative age. Then I got older and, well, a bit bored of the whole thing… and now we’re here, where I find myself reading it all over again, but instead of relating to (or wanting to be)Bridget,  I seem to have morphed into Shazzer. Sweary, ranty, feminist Shazza. And that suits me just fine, because she always seems happy, if with a core of rage at the world, which is something I can totally relate to.  It also suits me because it fits nicely with my comfort zone – always the sidekick, never the star. I like being behind the scenes and helping things work. I don’t like being the centre of anything – it’s far too much pressure.

Some of you might be scoffing at that –yes, I have diva-ish moments. Notably when I’m ranting about shit. But the best way I can think to illustrate how I feel about my place in the world is like this… On university trips to the climbing wall, sat in a mini-van on the way home, driving through the mountains in the dark in the middle of nowhere, I used to play a rather morbid game of ‘Slasher Movie’ in my head. The game is essentially this : if the van broke down, and we were all being stalked by a crazy psycho in the middle of nowhere, who in this van would survive? Who is the star, who is the killer, who is which bit player? Who dies fighting, who dies running and who dies fucking? Apply all the movie tropes and see where you end up. I never cast myself as the star – I figured I’d probably be the one who was abruptly stabbed through the window after we heard spooky knocking at the doors. Quick and easy and out of the way. (I can’t be the only person in the world who considers these things?)

Anyway – obviously reading Bridget Jones’ Diary is not the be-all-and-end-all of why I live where I live and do what I do – I found out about the book in the book section, for heaven’s sake. Even if I hadn’t read it, no one from my past would be shocked that I work with words now. But, in retrospect, it might have genuinely shaped some of my choices. This, in turn, with babies and children on my mind (my sisters’, not mine, I hasten to add) makes me think about how much of an effect all the reading and writing and pictures and games has on kids today, and how much more glittery and how much worse it seems to me, looking at it with adult eyes. There’s nothing for me to be smug about – there was a lot of crap available when I was growing up as well, but it was easier for parents to protect kids from it. Now there’s such an onslaught of rubbish shaping minds. Everything is so photo-shopped and glamorous – really glamorous, not Bridget Jones glamorous. It’s fucking scary.

Picture this

Finally, the weekend. After spending the morning trailing from podiatrist (one day I will devote an entry to my disgusting feet, but not today) to pharmacy across most of South East London, and failing to be at bus stops at the same time as buses, and losing my patience and walking instead of waiting, I’m back home and taking a break before heading out this evening to a shindig hosted by Frozen Margaritas. Continue reading

Devon becomes her. Sort of.

It has been a long week. I went to Devon for the bank holiday weekend. I was supposed to be going for the Wimbleball preparation day, but having dropped out of that, I just went and stayed with a friend and made new friends and did the things that one ought to do in Devon, like eat oysters (for the first time) and fish and chips (for the billionth time), and dance to a band in a pub, and draw large Xs in the sand on a quiet beach and write ‘DIG!’ and ‘HERE BE TREASURE!’ next to them. Continue reading