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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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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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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More news…

I’m exhausted – but the good kind of exhausted. The kind of exhausted you get when you’ve been swimming in the sea, fighting against the tide, learning to roll with the big waves and enjoying the ripple of the smaller waves, occasionally worrying about the lack of control and being dragged out to sea, every so often realising that it’s all much deeper than you realised. And then – when you smack a hand into the sand and pebbles – realising that you’ve floated back to shallower shores and can stand for a while. Which I where I am now: utterly exhilarated and knackered but, after a good sleep, wanting to go back for more. Continue reading

Chorus

Four months, according to WordPress, since I posted here saying I would not be posting regularly anymore, if at all. Two months since the post I stand by, the one that some people told me was scaremongering and over-reacting while I fervently hoped they were right – only so far nothing I’ve read in the news (and I mean verified facts) is making me feel that they might be.

So, in the new tradition of a post every two months, here’s one that is not about global news. Back to the good old days of updates about life, home life, projects, the little bubble that I live in. That sort of thing.

I’m musicking, these days. I’m musicking the fuck out of my life, in a way I haven’t since I was many many years younger. There are songs written and being written, and I am working with a lovely producer (though that title really stretches to collaborator) and recording songs. There’s one song out. It’s even had airplay on BBC Introducing, which is nice. And on local interweb radio show The Grind. It hasn’t had airplay anywhere else, but then I haven’t sent it anywhere else. It has a pretty video and a couple of fans. I have a Facebook page and perform under the name that I’ve used for the internet since I was about twelve.

coming-soon-2

There’s an EP on the way, too, which basically means I’m recording a little cluster of songs and sending them out into the world together next year. Truly, if I never do music again after this, I’ll be pleased that I did this much.

Hell, I’m doing a gig at the end of January. Yep, this is the woman who had ‘play an open mic’ on her to do list for something in the region of 15 years. I haven’t figured out the logistics of gigging and instruments, but I will. I have to, because I already said I’d do it. The biggest upside to putting the fucking fear of whatever into myself by saying yes is that open mics seem even less scary by comparison.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a person for whom the world and the unknown isn’t scary as hell. I’m just a lot better at throwing myself at the scary stuff and not worrying too much about landing on my face. Speaking of said face, I think I’m going to have to get over my general dislike of mine and start putting it out there a bit as well. I’ve been meaning to get a couple of reasonable photos done for the writing side of things for the past few months. I think I probably need a couple of the music side of things as well. I wonder if I can get away with the same photo for both?

God, but asking for portraits is weird though, isn’t it? ‘Please do not make me look like me. A more musical version, please. A more writerly one. And also unrecognisable. Can I wear a mask?’ There are some rather brilliant pictures of my sister-poet that were taken last week. We look slightly similar. I’m toying with the idea of just stealing those and pretending it’s me.

Anyway. Photographer suggestions welcome. The whole art and marketing side of things continues to baffle me, but again, I’ll figure them out. I know what I don’t want, and that’s a start.

Writing – I’ve levelled up. I’ve been shortlisted for Bristol and Bridport this year, which feels like a breakthrough though I also haven’t managed to complete a short story since. But then I also haven’t completed a blog entry (duh), a letter, or a poem. I’ve managed a song. I’ve managed articles I had to write. Writing’s been tough, is what I’m saying. It seems like a selfish act in a world that needs loud voices and less selfishness, and less hot-takes and more action. So it’s not been happening. Except for right now, because I am sat in a café waiting to catch a train.

Shit, guys, I feel as though I should be making this more of a call to arms or something. Or some sort of perky lifestyle inspiration. But neither of those things is my bag (honest to god, the aforementioned portraits should be of me looking slightly tired in slightly dusty dim surroundings, if they’re going to be at all honest. Just please – reduce chin. Add cheekbones.)

Reading over this with my editor eyes on (and Editor Me is sniffing and saying that this really isn’t good enough – but traditionally I have just thrown words on to the screen when blogging. I’m nothing If not giving the honest-to-god thoughts from my brain) and here’s the thing tying all of this rambling together. Some point in the last year, my voice kicked in. Writing, singing, speaking up. Turns out I have one after all. I mean, obviously I always did, but it was kind of squeaky and deferential. These days, it does better. It can hold the tone and hold the note, and it’s got power coming from the core and it is very much all my own work – and it has taken work. Feels kind of good to use it.

Wheel of Fortune

It’s that time again – the time I should be getting some freelance work done, so I write a blog post instead.

Last weekend I went to York for a friend’s birthday. Sorry we went, and had our first experience of being recent-test-passers on the motorway, in an old old (borrowed) car with no power steering which coughed and hrrrmed its way from 30 to 70 in about ten minutes. Speedsters.

Anyway, while in York, I had my fortune read for the first time in my life. For £1, by an old man with a monkey puppet, in the middle of the street. Definitely legit. Definitely accurate.

He did the whole ‘swing a necklace over my hand and it’ll answer a question’ thing, which failed dismally to move much at all. “It’s a very faint possible yes,” he said, as we all stared at the motionless pendant. My question was ‘Will I buy a better car than the one we drove down in?’ so, you know, hopefully he’s right. It’s possible the answer hinged on whether we survived the trip back.

Then the fortune telling cards, where card#1 claimed that I have a friend not to be trusted (is it you?). No one has noticeably screwed me over yet, but now I’m braced for it, untrustworthy one.

cards_

Half a google later, and I can confirm they were these cards.

Card #2 says I have good news coming in the mail, apparently. “Definitely by post,” said the fortune teller. “Not by email.” Nothing’s come yet, mind. So far just a ‘leave’ leaflet, of the type we seem to be getting daily. I ripped up the last one and left it stuck out of the letter box on the other side of the door hoping whoever is dropping them in will take the hint. Rebellion fail: it escaped the mailbox and blew all over the garden. Really, though, campaigning is fine, and I’ll listen to factual information, though you’d better believe I make the effort to research that ‘facts’ I’m told (unless a fortune-teller says it. Then I’ll believe every word). But this is the sort of sneaky pamphlet that starts out with ‘You’re probably wondering how to vote. Here are some not-at-all skewed, completely unbiased facts that we have re-worded slightly and left out important details from’ and ends with ‘if you had this information before we even joined the EU, would you have bothered to join WOULD YOU WOULD YOU HUH IT’S A WASTE OF SPACE OBVIOUSLY VOTE LEAVE’. Not biased at all. No. *rolls eyes*

I will freely admit that I am biased on a totally personal level, and the clarified facts keep me that way. But beyond that the idea of the bunch of self-involved government wankers that actually were elected having total power – without the unelected folk from other countries enforcing useful things like human rights – scares the shit out of me. I could go on. I won’t.

Anyway. Cards three-to-five basically said I ought to be coming into some money. Lots of money. I’m susceptible enough that I actually started hoping maybe this meant I was getting a writing grant I applied for. Ladies and gents, I didn’t even get shortlisted. So. *sob*. But if you want to rebuild my dreams and faith in street-corner fortunes, please do send me some cash. Safe to say, by the way, that that particular no-win stung a bit. I wallowed for, oooof, at least half a day (am Teflon, these days. Feeling so brave that I even, in an email regarding music, wrote the words ‘I’m thick-skinned, I promise’ and then wondered if that really applies to the music stuff yet.)

The wound also healed quite fast courtesy of a couple of things. One – a new story out! On the brilliant Loss Lit site, no less, which is full of the sort of sad, strange, dark, lyrical writing I adore, so I’m pleased to be in it alongside such fab writers as Vanessa Gebbie and Josephine Corcoran. You should, of course, go and read the entire Bumper Issue 3.

And then the wonderful Georgia Bellas, of Mr Bear’s Violet Hour Saloon, got in touch to say she’d picked out a couple of previously published stories to read out on Boston Free Radio that evening. (You should listen to the podcast every week, by the way, if you like stories and poems. It’s a gem.) I was especially chuffed that she chose to read ‘Lost to Dolly’, which was written as a radio piece, really. The other story was ‘Sea Monster’ – it was a creature themed show (there’s links to the published versions of both stories on my stories page). God, but your words sounds different when someone else says them, don’t they? Sentences there that I’d forgotten I strung together, but they were just right. Anyway, have a listen HERE if you wish.

Back to the fortune: so, loads of money apparently incoming. Also an opportunity I should grasp immediately because it will not come again. This was translated as “you’ll see something I want to buy, but when I go back it will be gone, so you should by it straight away”. But I think fortune-speak is flexible, so I’m twisting it to my own ends and using it as a kick up the bum for things that I’ll save for later entries.

OR maybe that money comes from a change in jobs! A fork in the road, says the fortune teller of the seventh and final card, a new opportunity, a new job, a life alteration. I mean, this could just be that the Mega Project is at the printers now and will be in people’s hands very very soon, and if I’ve somehow got something very wrong I could be out of a job? [As I, perhaps unwisely, admitted to a board member, I’m torn between it being a success because I worked so bloody hard on it, and it crashing and burning horribly so that I never have to do that work again. (I want it to be a success, of course. My name’s on it for heaven’s sake – and that thought makes me feel a bit nauseous, so moving on…)]

Huh. I think that actually the fortune teller might have told my 2015 fortune. Job, money, opportunities, untrustworthy friends. Yup.

Oh well.


BOOKS: I have finally (after ekeing it out) finished Beastings by Benjamin Myers, which is so richly written I had to read it a bit at a time, then digest. The ending made me want to be sick and also cry. Hell of a combination. And I’m halfway through Terry Pratchett’s non-fiction stuff, and I’ve started The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Can’t speak highly enough of that last one. I had to read the first three pages out loud because they are just so *nnnngh* (<noise trying to relay total perfection). I need two copies so I can underline stuff. It is also, unfortunately, the sort of book that’s written so much the way I want to be able to write that it’s simultaneously inspiring me and crushing me. (Sample convo with Coffee Monster, after I made him read the first three pages. ‘It reminds me of your stuff.’ ‘It’s exactly how I want to write.’ ‘It’s like how you write, but distilled, like the between parts are gone that aren’t like that.’ ‘You mean edited?’ ‘No. Yes? Wait…’ ‘But I DO edit my stuff!’ ‘Um.’ *sulk*)

MUSIC: I pulled out the Southway CD we bought off them on the street a couple of years ago and have been enjoying. Also very recent (like, this morning) discovery of There There, who are synthy and lyrical. Also more Eve Conway ‘cause she sang her EP a week or so ago at an open mic night and I adore her voice. And for Gothic ennui and historical, wonderful weirdness, The Black Sheep Frederick Dickens just shared their single Shrines.

A shambles of thoughticles

Today my hands were blue with cold and I wore a heavy winter scarf for the journey to work. Seasons are not real.


I’ve always been pretty good at fading into the background – I have a face that manages to be both politely vaguely familiar and completely unmemorable. It suits my wallflower tendencies. It’s also something that comes in handy on trains where, I’ve discovered, if I don’t move to get my ticket when the ticket inspector comes by, they assume they’ve ticketed me before and don’t bother me. (I am not avoiding buying train tickets – I have a month pass that doesn’t need stamping.) Now, though, I wonder if they’ve seen me often enough that they do recognise me, and know that I’ll have a pass and it’s not worth asking me. A train regular. Can’t decide if I like the idea of being invisible or often visible better. Continue reading

The Circle of Day-to-Day Life

The problem with this blog, I’m discovering as I get more and more lax about updating, is that the longer I put off writing anything for it the more there’s a jumble of things to write about. And then I can’t find a solid topic for a post – or even any kind of hub for the mess to revolve around – and it becomes bitty and a rubbish read, and that puts me off writing, and the cycle perpetuates.

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