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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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

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.

Of fairies and facebook

During this morning’s walk my dog stopped in front of an elder tree – one of many trees in a plantation that seems to be a mixture of oak, elder, ash and beech. It was marginally larger than the others around it and the only one not to have its trunk cased in plastic. She sniffed it and went to move on to the next one – then abruptly turned back and sat, in the pouring rain, staring at this tree with her head cocked and her tail wagging like it does when she thinks she’s going to get a biscuit.

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Just popping in for a sec

“I might get more blog-happy this week, because I have time and head- space and a game plan. This is the springboard for the summer – I’m a leaf on the wind etc etc.”

Ooof. What idiot signs off a blog post with that sort of optimism? Didn’t happen, obviously. Life keeps running away with me at the moment. Or I run away with it – to Amsterdam, a couple of weeks ago; to a writing conference the following weekend.

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… basically a Nike advert

There’s this quote that I see repeated, often, on Twitter and Pinterest, which is taken from Amy Poehler’s excellent book Yes Please.

“I believe great people do things before they are ready.”

And this one:

“You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”

I could actually happily post most of the text here. Yes Please is that sort of book that makes you want to try harder and do more. It also sort of makes you want to throw yourself at Amy Poehler’s feet and do the full Wayne’s World ‘We’re not worthy’ thing.

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All at sea

The new place is starting to look a bit more like home now. We’re actually in it, for a start, properly. No more camping out and grabbing clothes from backpacks. We have a lovely new bed, complete with lovely new mattress and bedclothes (bedclothes that, for a touch of nostalgia, are patterned with an old map of southeast London. Our old flat is on the pillowcases). We have a comfy sofa that we will try (in vain) to convince the dogs they are not sharing with us. The TV is set up, the shelves are built and crammed with books. I can get up earlier than the rest of the household and not worry about waking up three other people (CM doesn’t count because experience has taught me that he can sleep through almost anything). There’s still some chaos, but now we can stop and breathe and look at the next step – which basically amounts to moving out again.

Oh god, the next step. Those steps never stop coming, huh? Continue reading

Slowly does it

I’m still buzzing. I’ve forgotten how to slow down and not wake up in the morning with a ‘must do’ list already in place. The moving deadline that was egging us on last month is gone, and we are mostly settled, at least for the time being, with far less of a rush to sort out the remaining things. So there’s no need for me to be, in most areas of my life, demanding more (Why haven’t you gone to a poetry reading yet? Why haven’t you made an appointment with the bank? Go out! Join a gym! Move move move! ) But I can’t seem to stop doing it just yet.

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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