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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
Hypervigilance
• 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?

Wrong.

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.

(Hmmm.)

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?














Monday, 8 October 2018

Penguin Random House #WriteNowLive event in Nottingham 2018


The third anniversary of my stroke is probably a good time to celebrate the fact that I might be getting closer to being published :)


This is a snapshot of the third and final Penguin WriteNow event for under-represented writers 2018. And I was one of the 150 writers/illustrators, shortlisted from 1780, to attend WriteNow events in London, Liverpool and up here in Nottingham.


This pictorial snifter gives a flavour of WriteNow's brilliance. We learnt about publishing and contracts; heard from authors and agents; received in depth guidance on querying and synopses. We all had a twenty-minute one-to-one with a Penguin editor - with the chance of being shortlisted, further, as a Penguin mentee.


(I didn't jump this last fence, btw, but received excellent feedback, made invaluable contacts, and was amongst the top 10% of WriteNow Talent, as calculated by my husband :) 


#WriteNowLive






Okay, I have no picture of Roo Hocking but she's one of last year's WriteNow mentees. She told us about her year-long experience and showered us with inspiration.



"What you're making is good"



"There is something quite magical about being taken seriously"



"Today is for you and you deserve it"



And, actually, we were constantly being reminded that simply being here was a huge achievement in itself - proven by the quality of our writing/artwork. 


We were assured that this WriteNow accolade was a reputable badge that would be taken seriously by the publishing community. 


And, in fact, I spoke to someone who'd been getting full manuscript requests since she'd added WriteNow 2018 to her writing CV :)


So we'll see what happens next...








I jotted down some nutshell writing tips from author Rowan Coleman...



"Main thing is to write the best book you can"




"Ensure you're paid for what you do. Remember your work is valuable"




Rowan told us that her process of writing was, "mostly based on panic and despair" :)



"I write because I'm not qualified to do anything else. Believe in the importance of telling stories







This is the wonderful Molly Crawford - Penguin Random House editor, with whom I had my massively positive one-to-one :) 







Illustrator Dapo Adeola entertainingly spoke about his (familiar-sounding) approach to work:



"A long stressful process of trial and error"






I learnt stuff  while I was there too. But, here's another amusing snippet instead... 


The warm and hilarious Journalist Tom Rasmussen said:



"Sometimes I write naked in bed. If someone is in the house I write in cafes"



"I write because I could never afford therapy"










Picture book author Abie Longstaff had loads of advice, like:


"Don't get it right, get it written


(This was about getting bogged down with editing your first draft, if I remember rightly.)


Abie said, on writing, "A story that itches, I have to write or I start dreaming about it"


I really related to what writer Mahsuda Snaith said:


"I couldn't not write. I need to write, it's how I express myself"






The promise of goody bags stacked up in the foyer :)






Tasty lunch :) 





Laura Mahadevan (one of my table-mates) was chuffed to inadvertently end up with two cups of tea :)





And a sneaky Selfie in the pub afterwards, ensuring that the Penguin bag is IN ;)





Doggy bags were stuffed with BOOKS, would you believe?


On a final and more serious note, I've learned that there are deeper holes in publishing, where writers/artists from under-represented communities should be, than first I thought. And this has been the case for far too long.


I heard from Lgbtq+ groups who grew up not finding relatable material to read.


I learnt that these communities are under-represented, not just as published writers, but as employees within publishing too, which explains why less Lgbtq+ books are taken on in the first place.


So it's a snarly vicious circle. 


But I've learned it's slowly getting better.


And publishers like Penguin - with their #WriteNowLive scheme - are one of the best examples, striving to redress this imbalance.



(They didn't tell me to say that, btw, I read it in an article beforehand, lol)



But thank you, WriteNow.














Disclaimer: lots of talented people said lots of clever things at this event. What I scribbled down in notes were mostly funny bits - I'm drawn to humour like a bat to a cave. So please know that this is an incomplete and undoubtedly unbalanced sketch, for entertainment purposes first and foremost.