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Tuesday 21 November 2023



It’s high time I wrote something on this blog. And something cheery might be nice. 

So here’s a pretty picture to get us in the mood. This lake is close to where I go wild swimming :)

Now I’ll try and put a positive spin on the most stressful of writing stages (after writing the thing, that is)


#amquerying is the current term being banded about on social media, particularly Twitter, (I’m still calling it Twitter) and it’s a term most writers are wearily familiar with.

Initially exciting, rapidly excruciating, it’s the protracted process whereby writers try and bag an agent (the person who they hope will get them published.)

The process is many things:

1. Hard on your mental health (and literally hard - in today's competitive climate.)

2. The odds are against you (chances of actually getting an agent sit somewhere between 1 in 3,000 to 1 in 6,000) (It's like playing hook a duck, without a hook, or a duck.)

3. The process is painfully slow 

4. Which makes it a confidence killer, a feeder of self-doubt. Negativity breeds in the silence


Let’s have a picture of a cat. My cat, in fact, Moo Moo.

So, I joined the querying ranks this year, submitting my latest novel to literary agents. I tested the water in Spring after beta readers said I was ready to go. But my submissions, throughout March and April, sunk without trace, exposing weaknesses in my 'pitch package' (the goods sent to the agent)

Time for another picture?

Said package includes a pin-sharp cover letter (there are courses on how to write them), a slick synopsis (the nightmare of all nightmares), and the highly polished start of your finished novel. Your one-line pitch, to entice the agent, is arguably the most important factor in getting the agent to read on. It's my belief that, because agents have so little time to read submissions, they're actively looking for reasons to reject you, right from the Dear Kathryn… (so let's hope the agent’s name is Kathryn.)

Anyway, time for another picture to calm us down...

Ultimately, my first query period was a FAIL. I had one or two personal no thanks, but mostly form rejections and ghostings.

I stopped submitting, returning to work on my package again. Got more feedback/help, from wherever I could. Brilliant writer friends. JerichoWriters. Mentoring or offerings from generous authors on Twitter. Competitions. Whatever. I revised my package over six months. Took a one-day CBC course on pitching, wrote hundreds of elevator pitches till one rang true. I revamped my cover letter and synopsis, again. Revised the first hundred pages of the novel, again, sharpening the prose, ramping up the intrigue, conflict, upping the stakes, clarifying motivation, embellishing characters. The bally lot. I need a lie-down just remembering. Let’s have another picture.

I swapped chapters round, replaced the prologue, whipped it out, put another back in. Rewrote chapter one, chapter two, for the eleventh time. By the way, writing a novel is not for the faint-hearted, or the impatient. Or for anyone with another life. I've discovered, over many years, it’s a venture most suited to people beset with unnaturally obsessive tendencies, for those with meticulous attentions-to-detail and high boredom thresholds. I’d lean dangerously further to propose that writing novels is for the deranged, but that’s just my opinion.

Anyway. I finally felt the novel and pitch package might be fit to try again. During this process, my new hobby of wild swimming really helped. As we moved into autumn, the pain of cold water forged a nice parallel with querying agents. 

I started the process again. Submitting my newly titled novel to another batch of agents at the end of September. I was hoping to snag interest between the Frankfurt Book Fair and Christmas, the last window of opportunity in 2023. But maybe it's too late. Everything is slower than ever. Like  r  e  a  l  l  y   s  l  o  w. I've heard that no time is a bad querying time if your work is good enough, but the slow response rates make you think you're deluded. You go from imagining yourself at your book launch to imagining yourself dead in a river. Oh, just me?


HOWEVER, positive spin alert.... 

I got a full manuscript request!


Which I know to be a major feat, so I was massively excited. I then lucked out with another full request. To capitalise on this, as I've been advised, I contacted a few agents who'd previously praised my writing, and gained another full request. 

So, in October I had three agents considering my full manuscript. This is now back down to one. I have queries still out there, one with my dream agent. Did I mention the word excruciating? Thought so. And now I don't want to talk about this any more, so here's another picture. That's me with the dark circles round my eyes. 

Now, I'll be shutting down my PC and heading for the summerhouse to paint. I need time away from the laptop, from my phone and emails. It's time to get covered in oils. 

I need the smell of turps, the bumps of paint on my palette. With the log-burner crackling and wood-smoke curling, cats scratching the rug and the winter sunlight priming the canvas, I'll be dipping my brush. And forgetting about words. Pictures emerge more quickly in oil paint. My husband comes in and looks at whatever is on the easel and says he loves it. Just like that. 

Watch this space.  


Thursday 29 April 2021

Writer Reporting From The COVID Trenches...


I haven’t posted for a while. COVID and lockdown coincided with landslide changes for me. Work, health - physical and mental -, and small creative successes.

I’m hoping the writing stepping-stones will lead to solid success (if publishers don’t shun me over this NOTTS UNESCO article, lol).

My WEM mentoring with Niki Valentine is proving invaluable, and I’ve had hugely generous feedback from the talented author that is Rebecca Netley too.

During this shitty pandemic, like many of us, I’ve immersed myself online, nerdily attending writing festivals, courses, webinars. Familiarising myself with today’s publishing industry. Engaging with talented bookish people and making brilliant friends. Being forced, by Covid, into this virtual world has been tiring but worthwhile, for me.

Connecting with my chosen industry has been like understanding nature, you must be on the ground, moving between the trees, imbibing the atmosphere, drinking in the scents and sounds. It’s the only way to get to grips with it (and hopefully find a way in). Admittedly hard to do when you’re juggling two disciplines/jobs. I feel deeply for all creative people still striving to do this. It's a fucker, it really is. 

Personally, I’m relieved to report I’ll be leaving the day job this year, through medical retirement.

And will focus 100% on getting my fiction published. But with hopefulness and positivity comes the threat of maybe appearing over-confident, which I'm not, so I’m trying to strike a balance online. But my novel in progress is improving. I’ve had glowing feedback from professional sources, for which I’m eternally grateful. My wilting self-belief has been nourished and restored, and I’ll be giving this all I’ve got.

Thanks for reading. I don’t want to bang on or bore you, so I’m going to leave it there.

Looking forward to us all emerging from the covid fug, like the weary fighters we all are. 😊


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Saturday 10 October 2020

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)


What do you know about #PTSD?

Did you know, for instance, that you don't have to be ex-Forces to suffer it?

Most of us think of veteran flash-backs on hearing the loud words (((Post-traumatic stress disorder))) 

But anyone who has experienced significant trauma (as a child or adult) can potentially suffer from PTSD. It's another form of anxiety. 

A tree, near me

The UK NHS website states:

"PTSD is estimated to affect about 1 in every 3 people who have a traumatic experience, but it's not clear exactly why some people develop the condition and others do not." 

I'm no expert on this, it's something I explored when a counsellor recently suggested I might have it myself. Following my Dad's death when I was six. Meaning I could've had it for over 40 years.

Which, for me, explains everything. I've been a puzzle who has found its final peace (sic).

As a writer, psychology graduate, obsessive analytical thinker, I could say a million things about this. I could start writing now and never stop. So, I must keep this short. 

But, being a writer with a lifelong grotesque compulsion to share my innermost thoughts, I must also let a bit out. So, I'll do so with informative snippets and the odd picture...

Because I have no memories of my Dad, 
the counsellor suggested I expose myself to photos. I went OTT and created a memory-jogger pin-board, lol

In my case, I always knew my Dad's death had had a massive effect on me. I knew I was suffering some sort of delayed-grieving, for instance, throughout my thirties and forties. But I didn't realise how far-reaching traumatic effects can be. They subconsciously swirl, just out of sight, year upon year upon year, subtly but steadfastly sculpting your life, like water eroding a riverbank.

That's what appears to have happened to me.  

Despite studying psychology, and this very subject, I never saw it in the mirror. And I'm starting to realise why. People don't expect to have PTSD, for a start. Might not even know about it. Secondly, how do we know what's normal and what's not? 

How do we know that others do not feel as weird as we do?  

Most of us don't expose our bleakest parts, our darkest thoughts and fears, those ugly feelings or challenging dreams, even during drunken ramblings. 

Me, in Oz, aged 29

It's not very attractive, is it? Telling people, I mean, not my lovely picture, tut. Some things seem too embarrassing, or grim, to reveal, don't they?

After all, we can all be miserable and moany, but no one wants to win Gold for it. 

So we keep it down and hope we aren't alone. (Even though we possibly are.)

My theory is, many of us only start digesting this mental hullabaloo on a bellyful of experience, from lifelong internalising and ponderings, through collecting pieces of the tattered jigsaw, and osmotically learning about ourselves and others. 

That's how subtle this thing is. It's not always like a firework exploding in your face.

This was a present from my Dad. Because of this, I cherish it. But I know what you're thinking. WTF was he thinking, lol? 

Some causes of PTSD:

  • being involved in a car crash
  • being violently attacked
  • being raped or sexually assaulted
  • being abused, harassed or bullied
  • being kidnapped or held hostage
  • seeing other people hurt or killed, including in the course of your job
  • doing a job where you repeatedly see distressing images or hear details of traumatic events
  • traumatic childbirth, either as a mother or a partner witnessing a traumatic birth
  • extreme violence or war, including military combat
  • surviving a terrorist attack
  • surviving a natural disaster, such as flooding or an earthquake
  • being diagnosed with a life-threatening condition
  • losing someone close to you in particularly upsetting circumstances
  • learning that traumatic events have affected someone close to you (sometimes called secondary trauma)
  • any event in which you fear for your life. 

(From https://www.mind.org.uk/)

May Clematis, to lighten things a bit :)

The MIND website states:

"When something traumatic happens in your life it rocks you to the core. The world is no longer a safe place. It becomes somewhere that bad things can and do happen."

This explains the anxiety aspect. The constant fight or flight setting we're unknowingly stuck in. How can this not change us from the trauma point onwards?

Me, this strange year

I've collated a list of PTSD symptoms from a range of sources. I was stunned, on learning of this possible diagnosis for me, to find I have almost all these signs or else they manifest in my behaviours, thoughts, emotions. It appears my Dad's death may have shaped my personality, and my life, in almost every conceivable way.

Without me even knowing. 

Signs of post-childhood-trauma syndrome

• Isolating oneself
• Being antisocial
• Pretending to be okay/happy
• Crying and meltdowns
• Over or undereating, lol
• Addiction issues
• Being emotionally distant / cold
• Feeling messed up
• Feeling lost
• Feeling numb
• Unable to focus
• Poor career record
• Ongoing need for reassurance
• Lack of self esteem
• Anger management issues
• Over or under-reacting to death
• Self destructive behaviours
• Feeling like you have to keep busy
• Perfectionism
• Unable to express affection
• Using drink/drugs to numb feelings
• Heightened stress response
• Higher blood cortisol levels
• Depression
• Anxiety
• Changeable moods
• Nightmares
• Insomnia
• Feelings of guilt
• Lack of childhood memories
• Adult attachment issues
Proven increased physical illness, lol

I want to add something important before I go. You don't need to have been mistreated in childhood to suffer these kinds of effects. i.e. as in my case of losing a parent. From what I've read, it appears that sensitivity plays a part, that the sufferer may have less well developed coping strategies than the next person/child.

I had the best and most loving mother a child could ever wish for; a person who suffered her own trauma alongside myself and my siblings. I want her to realise she did everything right, that she is extraordinary and always will be.

My beautiful Mum and Dad


Footnote: My personal way through darkness is to laugh in its face, and write about it, when able. So any poking fun I do is always only at myself... Or my siblings. Or my husband.


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Thursday 24 October 2019

As a bird soars in flight, so a writer should write

Writers must write.

Busily tip-tapping away all the time, right?


We want to write. We have much to say; our heads as stuffed as homemade scarecrows, bulging with ideas, yet we often don't write, won't write, can't even force ourselves to write. 

You may have heard writers moan about preferring to clean the toilet than to put words to paper.

It's true, but how can this be? It seems insane, considering we chose this delightful diversion...

Or did we?? 

Did it choose us? Like an emperor selects a gladiator to die horribly for his warped entertainment.

Also, consider this. Writing is often a writer’s job. And how many people bounce gleefully into work?

My mother is a dress-designer-maker. And, for as long as I can remember, she hated sewing. Or, not so much hated it as, didn’t want to do it. I recall her often saying: 

“I’ve got to get the bloody machine out again.”

Which is funny, now I think about it. And, interesting, when comparing it to writers. Or comparing it to anyone, for that matter; anyone who's avoiding doing what they're supposed to be doing.

Is it not simply in our nature, then, to want to laze around instead of working? To cradle a hot mug whilst gazing vacuously out the window? To lie on the sofa and do bugger all for as long as possible. Or even clean the toilet again.

It’s not just us writers not working. It’s everyone. It’s more prevalent amongst writers because we have to motivate ourselves. We have no nagging boss chucking staplers at our heads. Unless we have a deadline, of course. 

And I think I know why all this is. Our human genes were forged during times when we only expended energy catching or collecting precious foods. The rest of the time was passed, like other animals, lolling about in languorous satiation or deep in blissful sleep, conserving energy for the next big kill... 

But I digress…

What's the real conclusion of this time-wasting post?

I have a bloody novel to finish, that’s what. I’ve been struggling to get my fat lazy arse in gear, for months, to simply pick up the pen.

It’s that small issue of getting the bloody machine out.

So, I’ve decided to join NaNoWriMo, for the first time ever.

To enforce a deadline upon myself.

To draft my novel by the end of November. A novel in a month, no less.

And might I suggest – if you're a writer suffering from getting-the-bloody-machine-out syndrome – that you join National Novel Writing Month too, so you can finally get your head out of that sparkling toilet...

And write. 

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Saturday 19 January 2019

The Mystery of Creativity Solved :)

                                         Being Creative (Women)

A piece on the Mystery of Creativity, by Debbie Taylor, in Mslexia’s 2018 diary, struck several chords with me; enough to make me wonder if I could finally join the (official creative person) club. I’ve always felt unable to call myself creative or writer or artist because I haven’t made it (professionally) yet.

But Debbie’s article reviews fascinating research into the creative personality; research aimed at ascertaining where creativity comes from because, traditionally, we believed it was beyond conscious control. Like Muse visiting writers in the night...

I’ve borrowed a handful of pertinent points for this blog-post.

Researchers found that writers’ creativity was more of an attitude than an attribute. Rather an approach to work than their gene allocation.

A longitudinal study in 1957, by psychologist Ravenna Helson, following creative women until old age and examining commonalties, found subjects were, markedly more tomboyish as children… and somewhat less sociable [than their matched peers.] They were unconventional, introspective and anxious.

Incidentally - as a child - I played bow and arrow with my brother, built dens in high trees, and battled to pretend deaths with sticks for knives. When not making mud-pies, I sat on the swing at the end of our garden, dreaming alone. Always thinking, often worrying, my mother called me Lizzy Dripping. As soon as I could change my appearance, I did it differently to others.

The study found creative women liked to mull things over and come to their own conclusions, often differing from those around them – producing sometimes rather prickly social personae.

(I can be prickly as a hedge pig.)

Later in life, the most creatively-productive subjects were far more persistent, ambitious, independent, confident, and socially skilled, and had been so from early childhood.

(It’s not all about me, then.)

Debbie’s article states successful creatives refused to close their options. As children, they were independent rebels; as adults… resisted the domestic pigeonhole, struggling to combine creative work with family responsibilities.

The downside? Creative fulfilment was accompanied by anxiety, stress and guilt.

(Tell me about it.)

Debbie asks if a certain amount of stress is necessary to produce the creative personality. She cites from Mark Runco and Steven Pritzker’s Encyclopedia of Creativity, wherein 28% of exceptionally creative people…had lost a parent as a child, compared with just 8% of ‘ordinary’ people.’

I lost my dad when I was six. How can such tragedy forge creativity?                 

The suggestion is that misfortunes of this magnitude jolt a child [from] its normal patterns of thought and behaviour and force it to consider alternatives. Thereby developing the characteristic openness of the creative personality.

Elaborating on this, I’ve read that creativity and diverse thinking are associated with wider neural connections, meaning a person with such interlaced networks will naturally generate more unique ideas, (above brains with lesser links.)  

Debbie’s article continues: those who weather the storm go on to become fulfilled, albeit troubled, creative individuals.    

Crazy facePsychologists have developed a three-pronged theory of creativity: First - A-class skill and knowledge in the field of creative endeavour. Applied to writing this means honing your craft until it’s second nature, reading widely, researching your subject. The second prong is ‘cognitive style’… how one approaches a particular activity. Creative ‘cognitive styles’ are enquiring and flexible; imbued with the independence of mind found in all the surveys of creative people. The third prong (my personal favourite) is motivation: the determination and passion, often bordering on obsession, of the true artist.

(Crazed obsession, I can relate to.)

Hans Eysenck emphasized the vital importance of knowledge, skill and persistence. And ‘ego strength’ which is all that stands between the artist and the mental health system.


Debbie’s captivating piece – penned for Mslexia writers – delved much deeper in than this, I’ve borrowed relevant snippets. Interesting, no?

So, now, Dear Creative, wipe up your tears, take your snazzy label and go produce the goods.


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Wednesday 24 October 2018

A double waste of time

I've come to the conclusion I mishandle time, due to faulty logic and a weird brain. When I don't want to do anything, I check my to-do list. I have a rule whereby I must do AT LEAST TWO things off the list daily. On idle days I'll choose something like: "Tell Rick about the work Christmas meal" and "Water house-plants"
And meet my criteria in under a minute.
Then I can think about painting... but I can't paint when I should be writing. I'm not writing because my sciatica is worse when I sit, (so I mostly write in bed.) I therefore take my to-do list into the summerhouse to decide what I should do next.
I sit in the sun and read the list (short and long-term) and stare out of the window, wanting to lie down and read my book or paint a brand new cow; but I can't do these things because they're weekend things, and not on the fucking list.
It's only Wednesday. Yawn.
I have no energy for gardening or other physically demanding tasks today. So I sit and drink my coffee, stare at the sheep in the field that I'd also like to paint, feel guilty about what I'm not doing and just do nothing at all.
Just me?