Thoughts from the tired

Thoughts from the tired

I don’t remember learning much at primary school other than reading, writing and how a mung bean grows. Today, my seven-year-old started up a conversation about the trials of finding a publisher. He’d been given JK Rowling’s struggle as an example. I was in my thirties before anyone told me this stuff.

After a hiatus, I’ve turned back to editing my second novel. It’s rough of course, but to my surprise, readable, at least up to page 60. One scene follows on from the next. Unlike my first novel at this stage, there are no scenes just there for the word count.

This time, I’m using third-person with its pitfalls and opportunities. Telling the same tale from different points of view is a lot of fun. But I miss my old narrator. Like any relationship, it took time to get to know her.

I’ve received word of a commission from a new client – a magazine I’ve wanted to work for, for some time. So I’m pleased if a little bogged down in new contributor paperwork.





Scheduling, writing and fun.

Scheduling, writing and fun.

It was my friend, Sarah, who introduced me to the idea of scheduling things I wanted to do, like writing, into my week. It seemed incredibly indulgent at a time when my youngest was still at home (and awake). My strategy then was to get through my tasks as quickly as possible and then write. It was a dumb one. I never got through everything, and when I did abandon housework for creativity, felt too guilty to be inspired. Getting up half an hour before everyone else worked beautifully: no guilt – I was using time that belonged to me; I was fresh and, having written, felt much less grumpy for the rest of the day.

Anyway, I am now in the luxurious position of writing if not for a living, at least for my lattes. Most of the time, I prioritise finding and fulfilling feature commissions. However, in the midst of this, I have two, no three, novel-related events in my calendar: writing group every month, joining my friend Rachel once a week to write in the library, and now, she and I have signed up to a writer’s conference in March.

I am so excited! Even if it teaches us nothing, and we’re in great hopes it will, we’ll get the opportunity to meet other writers and industry professionals. All day, listening and talking about writing. I’m hoping it’ll be like freshers’ week at University and everybody will be looking for friends.

I think I’m even ready for the book doctor – I’ll send my novel’s first three chapters, a synopsis and covering letter ahead of time. When I’m at the conference, someone in the industry will give me feedback. I think I can now take the criticism and use it, rather than allowing negative comments to crush me like they did ten years ago. In one group, I read out an autobiographical piece of “flash fiction”. The organiser’s response was, “It’s good. Clearly, this woman is a psychopath!” If I survived that…

Clean feet, interviews and 100 years of the vote.

Clean feet, interviews and 100 years of the vote.

I have different kinds of love for each type of writing I do. Developing a novel is like parenting: you’re bringing something into being that wouldn’t otherwise exist, but there are moments of deep embarrassment and fear it’s going to turn out wrong. Whereas, feature writing offers the steady contentment of happy marriage.

One of the most rewarding parts of it is interviewing people. I’m always nervous beforehand, would always give the job to someone else if I could, but I always come away satisfied, feeling I understand a little more about life.

Today, I interviewed Rosemarie, someone who knows Bournemouth’s homeless better than most people.

She told me of a boy she’d first known when he was sixteen and had left home to get away from an abusive stepfather. He’d ended up a heroin addict, forced into male prostitution to feed his habit, get a shower and a bed for the night. Now twenty-five, he is “going rapidly downhill”, too weak to solicit anyone. “If he’d had access to shelter, he could be living a normal life now,” she said.

But she’s doing something about it. Every Monday night, she turns up to St Peter’s Church with the Sally Army to washes the feet of rough sleepers. This keeps infection at bay, helps people feel more presentable, and gives them a chance to open up.

Different subject, a feature I’ve written on British women’s fight for the vote has just been published in the new 2018 London Guide from BRITAIN magazine.

Whenever there’s an upcoming election, the conversation among my friends is pretty much the same: because of the “first past the post system”, Bournemouth East and West will probably return Conservative MPs; votes for any of the parties are highly unlikely to affect the results; however, we know other women fought tooth and nail for our rights, so we must make a choice and hope we’ve not helped usher in disaster.

Finally,  I understand, people didn’t fight so my candidate won the election, but so that my needs and opinions are considered equal to any man’s by the country’s decision makers. I need to continue voting to maintain that situation.





A relationship under pressure: reading and me.

A relationship under pressure: reading and me.

Confession: I spent most of my teenage years in my bedroom reading, but in the last decade, I’ve finished more biographies and books on writing than novels. (Before that, as a doctor, I spent the time I wasn’t working or studying, eating and sleeping.) This is not good. Non-fiction inspires articles, but if I want to get better at fiction, you need to read that.

Stephen King says, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” But nevertheless, it’s felt like an indulgence. King has a wife and fewer children than me. It took a Youtube video with Ian McEwan to change my ways.

He sees reading as much a part of his working day as writing and spends an equal amount of time doing both. He’s doing something right, so I picked up a novel- This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell. As I was away for my birthday, I felt no guilt devouring it in a weekend. Since then, I’ve made sure I always have something to read in my bag and in the last ten weeks, I’ve read eight books.

It may be that I’ve now entered that phase of parenting where reading when the children are around is OK, even advised. They need my presence without constant observation.

I don’t know what effect this reading has had on my prose, but counter-intuitively, it’s already improved my productivity. Enjoying other people’s words with no sense of responsibility for their use, living in the world’s they’ve crafted, I feel so much more inspired.




Thirty-one extra people in the Lake District and a villain I now like

Thirty-one extra people in the Lake District and a villain I now like

Last week was special. I have seven younger siblings and as there are thirty-three husbands/wives/partners and children, it’s rare even those in the UK are all in the same place at once. Pretty much my whole family met in the Lake District to welcome my third sister and family who were visiting the UK from New Zealand. It was the first time most of us had seen them for six years. Some children had either to be introduced or re-introduced to each other. And yet, shared genes and heritage created an immediate shorthand. I’ve never had to explain one of my children to their cousins in the way I’ve needed to do to their friends. (Meeting my own first cousins a few weeks ago was a very similar experience.)

Thanks to another sister’s and brother-in-law’s organisation, there were nerf gun fights, party games and I sent my eleven-year-old son on the Via Ferrata. (As he was making his way there without me, I watched this on Youtube!)

As for my novel, I would say I’m fleshing out my world, but that’s a very active term. Ian McEwan described this point as ‘coming into focus’. (Who says I have to be a literary genius before I compare my process with his?) I’m asking questions and finding answers that convince and interest me. These may not reach the final product, but they will still improve it.

For instance, Jane has always been the nearest thing to a villain in my mind- bitter, disowning her own son- but this morning I realised how she’d got to that point. I think I like her.

Work-life balance would be a struggle if I had lots of work. This is not a complaint. Actually, I’m becoming increasingly relaxed about the ebb and flow of freelancing. The current ebb means I have time to prepare for next term, find things to do with the children over the summer, help my son relearn how to touch type, push him to learn some Spanish, write my current novel, submit my previous one and catch up on reading. And the reduction in stress means inspiration comes more easily. I suppose it’s the flip-side of the perennial working parent’s complaint- that you can never do everything as well as you want. When you don’t have to do everything, your performance improves.



Explaining Michael House in 1200 words.

Explaining Michael House in 1200 words.

I don’t actually live at Michael House, though at times in the last couple of months it has felt and probably looked like it to the residents. I’m a freelance journalist writing an article about the place.

I had a little panic when I received the job, although it had been my idea. So many awards! So many different things going on! It all seemed very complicated. What if I couldn’t distill everything into 1200 words? And what if no one wanted to speak to me?

But eventually, the information fell into place. As for interviews, I couldn’t stop people telling me about their lives. Keeping within word count was a challenge.

There were common themes. Most had become homeless after a relationship breakdown. Everyone was relieved to have a door to lock behind them. And they were all looking forward to their next chapter.

I’m hoping the article will explain why Michael’s is so special. Meanwhile, here are some photos of the garden that the gifted Sarah Cotton took for the magazine: