A Decade In Review

You don’t really think about how much happens in just one decade. It’s hard to think of it like so many posts out there have as one big chunk of time because there were so many different states and transitions. It can’t be thought of as one entire entity, at least for me.

At the start of the decade, I was still in university. I was struggling. I struggled all the way. I only got through it the way I get through most things. With bullheaded determination. I didn’t have a natural talent for chemistry. Honestly, it doesn’t feel like I have a natural talent for anything I enjoy. But I fought and struggled and I made it. During this time, since the start of university, I didn’t write. I was too busy or exhausted to write. If I was doing something like writing or reading, it felt wrong if it wasn’t university related. I had barely done any on the build up to to university because I was working so much to save up the money. 

It wasn’t until 2012, five years on (in Scotland degrees take longer than some other places), that I started writing again. I started with a rewrite of a shockingly bad fan fiction I wrote in school. Unsurprisingly, my writing hadn’t improved much. That was the year that a friend told me about NaNoWriMo. I was so excited about it that I couldn’t wait for the main event and when I heard about the Camp event in August, I was sold. I thought all day about my story (I worked on a production line at the time, which was convenient for plotting purposes) and when the month came I poured it all out. By July the next year, I had full rough drafts of the Twyned Earth trilogy and a rekindled passion for writing that even the most difficult of periods couldn’t quash – even if they could slow me down. 

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I still have my original drafts of everything. I like to keep stuff archived, so that I can go back and make sure I haven’t removed anything important or otherwise useful for the story. Comparing the original 54k word draft of Through the Black to the current 96k word one, it’s clear to see that my writing has vastly improved (another good reason to keep old drafts, if you can handle the cringe of reading them). It also goes to show that, as with all writing advice, the “cut 10% when editing” spiel is not as cut and dry as it appears. 

Since that first Camp NaNoWriMo event, I have participated in and one every official November NaNo since, along with 7 additional camp events (with 2 participates and misses on top). That feels like I’m missing some as well – the website is a touch buggy at the moment. The 10’s were absolutely the decade where I not only reaffirmed my love of writing but took it to a whole new level. 

It may not be immediately obvious about me, but when I was a child/young teenager, art was just as much a part of my life as writing. I loved it and I was decent enough at it that I even sold a few pictures at school events. That stopped at the same time as the writing, when university just devoured everything that wasn’t itself from my life. That was a lot harder to get back into. My skill level seemed to have plummeted a lot more on the drawing front and I felt too demotivated whenever I tried and failed. It was only within the last couple of years, since 2017, that I started trying properly to push past my insecurities and accept that it’s okay to start from the ground up again, that it’s okay if I spend the next several years just learning how to draw again so long as I wasn’t avoiding something that I loved. Hardware held me back a lot but since getting a new tablet last October, I’ve been drawing and studying and I’ve done more art in that time than I have in ages and it feels great. 

It’s made me think a lot about a silly fantasy I’ve always had, to combine storytelling telling and art. It sounds daft but I don’t know if I’ve ever actually voiced my desire to draw comics before. It’s just always felt so far out of reach – both the artistic and storytelling telling skill required to do comics is immense. Even being able to say out loud that I’d like to try it someday is a big thing for me. 

Since leaving university, I have moved way too often and been through the hardest times of my life. I worked a plethora of jobs before finally landing in the field that I wanted. Some were okay, others were horrendous. I had a severe mental health incident that I’m still not fully recovered from. I finally understood and came to terms with my sexuality and gender. All in all, it’s been busy. 

In the 00’s I abandoned the things that defined me in the pursuit of something that would benefit the rest of my life. In the 10’s, I have taken what I gained from university, my degree and my partner, and clung to those while rediscovering the self I left behind. I am now a partner, a scientist, a writer, and an artist. And coming to that realisation that at the end of the decade I am all of these things, wow, it actually feels kinda good. 

The 2020 Goal Post

Shocked

I hope you were sat down for this one popping up on your feed. Even by my standards, that was a long absence.

A lot has happened, non-writing wise. Relatively, not much on the writing front but life threw a lot at me over the last year and a half. I’ve still been writing but not seriously. I’ve had to focus everything I had at my life circumstances and my day job just to keep my head above the water. I’ve been through a few rough patches but coming out of the other side I’ve grown professionally (just not in the writing department unfortunately) and personally. I finally feel ready to turn back to the things I love. To return to my creativity. It’s time to move on again from just small, sporadic pieces of writing for fun and go back to pursuing my dream of becoming a published writer. 

What better way to do that than to return to the annual resolutions post? Though I’ve changed the name to “goals” partly because it makes them seem like friendly ticky boxes that are less scary and also because of that sweet pun in the title.

 

1.) Start doing blog posts again lol – We all know how good I am at this one. However, I need writing accountability and the old “building the author brand” chestnut that I’m so terrible at. I kept up fortnightly posts for quite a while in the past, so I’ll be trying to return to that schedule.

2.) Finish TE1 synopsis (by 28 Feb) and keep on submission – This is something that I should have done a really long time ago. Honestly though, I haven’t had the time physical or mental strength to get it done. So this goal is to get a query packet complete for Through the Black (which is just the full story synopsis left now) and then get it on submission, and keep it there. 

3.) Get Fishperer beta ready – This is another one that is so close that it’s actually quite frustrating that it isn’t finished by now. Time to put it in writing that this is a focus, and not check it off as “done” until it’s in the hands of some beta readers. Volunteers welcome!

4.) Complete a Goodreads challenge – Over the past few years I’ve fallen into the easy habit of re-reading old favourites. When everything in life just feels difficult, sometimes the brain can try and make everything it can that little bit easier. If I ever want to be a good writer though, I’ve gotta read wide. I’ve already started that by picking up a book I apparently bought and put on my TBR list in 2015. Whoops.

A couple of non-writing ones to finish up with:-

5.) Do enough art to do the end of year meme – If you follow any artists on Twitter, you’re probably familiar with the meme, or at least a similar one. To fulfill this goal, I would need to produce at least one piece I’m happy to post per month, to form them all into a collage in December. Makes me practice and gives a tangible goal I can complete to keep focused. 

6.) Hit weight goal – Not much to say about this one, I just want an accountability record of it. Hit and maintain chosen goal.

 

So that’s it from me – for now. It’s good to be back. Happy New Year!

Living By The Sea

For almost all of my life, I’ve lived close to the sea. It has a special place in my heart and has always been a part of my everyday life, whether viewing out of my window or wandering along its beaches or up its piers. The last year especially, I lived in a tiny little fishing village. The sea was a stone’s throw away; the harbour visible from my window. As much as last year was cruel to me, I will very much miss being that close to the sea as now I’m living far from it. So, for today’s post I have decided to write about what it’s like to live in a tiny seaside village.

Writing a story set somewhere like that? Here are some things that are obvious, and some things that aren’t.

 

The Good Side

 

It’s almost guaranteed to be somewhere beautiful. The sea is beautiful all by itself. Small fishing harbours, cliffs, beaches – they’re pretty hard to mess up. The setting is good for the soul. As a writer, even the bad weather can be fantastically atmospheric. You know in those old films, where the wild literally howls? That actually happens. It’s easy to dismiss as creative hyperbole but there were times where I wasn’t sure if it was the wind or real voices. Between the wind and the haars—thick, rolling fog that devours everything from sight—even the bad days can really put you in the mood to write. And, if you’re a writer writing one of these dark, spooky scenes, you can take solace in knowing that this isn’t the fancy of some old, overly purple prose. Between screaming winds, consuming fogs, misty rains, and every other type of weather you can think of, there’s plenty of scope to put your characters in whatever atmosphere you need.

Even the tiniest, least touristy places are probably going to have at least one great ice cream shop. And, if you’re anything like me, if you live somewhere like this long enough then you’re probably not going to just save it for the sunny days. There’s nothing unrealistic about your character going out for ice cream in the rain.

Not always applicable if the town is more cliff than anything, but there’s a good chance you’re going to have a beach right there. Depending on what route I was taking, I’d have to walk across it to get to the shops. I skipped across stepping stones that crossed the river right where it met the sea as I walked home from dentist. Seaside towns, especially old ones, have weird layouts.

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In the summer, it becomes dog central. Now, I’m actually pretty timid around dogs but I can appreciate how darn adorable they are. Where do people who can’t afford to take dogs abroad or don’t want to put them into kennels go? The seaside. If soaking in the ambience of strangers’ adorable furry friends sounds like a good time to you, get yourself to the seaside in the summertime. Want a little extra authenticity to your summer seaside scene? Dogs.

There are other critters who are here all year round. Crabs, cockles, fish, jellyfish, sea birds, non sea birds (birds don’t give a damn) – a lot of cool things hang out in and around the sea, including some things you wouldn’t expect. Most people don’t generally consider mallards to be sea birds but you’ll still find them bobbing about close to shore.

 

The Bad Side

 

Winter sucks. And that’s speaking as someone who normally prefers winter to summer. My particular town took the full brunt of the North Sea winds, right in the face. And of course, it was an old town, full of beautiful buildings – which were all listed. That means no insulation, no double glazing, and a very unlikely chance of having decent heaters. We spent as much on heating over the winter as we did on rent, and we were still cold all the time. We lived in one room, because there was no way we could have afforded heating more than that. I couldn’t feel my toes until the end of March.

Every now and then, you’ll wake up ready to face another day, expecting to be gently rocked awake by the soft light of morning. It’ll take you a moment to realise that something is wrong. You frown, confused, and go to open the window. For some reason, you really need to get some fresh air in here. Only when you do, it gets worse. That’s right. We all know it, people are just afraid to say it. Sometimes that great majestic and mysterious body known as the sea quite simply just smells like farts. Often it’s subtle. Other times? It’s not. Just occasionally, it’s so thick you can taste it, like you’re stuck in a lift with that person. The entire town stinks and there’s nothing you can do. You’ve just gotta ride it out.

Another one that is easy to forget amongst the romantic idealistic idea of living next to the sea is that, depending on the town’s layout, there are occasions when the main road and the sea are the same thing. You’ll look out the window and think “wow, the tide’s really in toda- oh.” Good luck catching that bus! Always fun if you really just want to mess with a character’s day.

As mentioned previously, it gets busy in the summer. There’s people everywhere and they’re all in holiday mode. That means they’re walking slowly, taking up the whole pavement, and getting really confused and annoyed when someone is actually trying to hurry somewhere – the same type of people who’d probably kick a granny out of the way to get onto the train on their way to work. Anyone who lives in a holiday destination will probably know this already – people who are on holiday have the amazing ability to forget than not everyone is on holiday. Why in such a hurry, they wonder as they eat their ice cream cone. I wonder whoever sold them it, since everyone is on holiday. If your character is in a hurry in the height of summer, even if it’s getting into the evening, they’re probably going to have crowds to contend with. The town might not even have that many tourists but let me tell you, the older it is, the less it’s going to be designed to accommodate a lot of people.

This brings me to my next point. In the summer, every night is Saturday night. If your character lives between any pubs or restaurants and somewhere people might be staying, they’ll get to enjoy listening to drunks every night. Admittedly, I did have the worst of this as I lived right next to a pub. It was a poor choice.

Your character has a car? Great! They’re going to spend a lot of time swearing and/or parking really illegally. My partner and I used to have a game counting how many illegally parked cars you could spot in one place. The best we got was eleven on one corner. As you can image, this makes getting around—both on foot and by car—more tricky.

 

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That’s right. These bastards. They sit on roofs and squak, swoop down and steal your food, sometimes they just stand in the way and refuse to move. It’s even more annoying than you’d think to walk around a stubborn seagull. Like sure, I’m probably sixty times your weight but I’ll walk around you, bird. Great.  Stories of seagulls aggressively swiping things out of your hands or just point blank ignoring you as you try to walk past it aren’t exaggerated. They’re used to people. They don’t fear you. They don’t fear your character. Not even that cold blooded assassin of yours. They’re watching. They’re waiting. And, if you’ve got a poke of chips, they’re coming for you.

Where’ve I Been For The Last Three Months?

What happened to me in the last three months?

 

Well

  • I had an incredibly busy period at work
  • Quit that job
  • Moved
  • Moved again two days later, to the opposite end of the country, into temporary accommodation
  • Panic flat hunted
  • Flapped about a lot as we tried to finalise everything for the permanent flat before our temporary one ran out
  • Finished the novel I’ve been working on for six years
  • Got the new flat two days before our accommodation ran out
  • Hand built a whole lot of furniture
  • Restarted the ever so fun process of job hunting

 

It’s been… a touch busy. And stressful. Don’t forget stressful. But I now have a home (with furniture!) and am settled. Once I’ve organised a new day job everything will be all back on track. If you’ve been around for a while then you’ll know well that the last few years for me have been a string of moves, new jobs, and health issues. However, this time things are a lot more permanent.

The reason for such a dramatic move was my partner being offered their dream job, so of course we jumped at it. That also means that we don’t plan on going anywhere for a long while. Finally, we’re sticking some roots down and let me tell you, that feels amazing after such a long period of temporary living and uncertainty. Things aren’t perfect yet as I’m still unemployed but knowing that we aren’t going to be up and moving again in a year makes everything seem so much more worth it. So much more rewarding.

And now, hopefully, I can get back to posting regularly!

An Update and an Apology

The great disappearing writer has returned once again! I’m sorry to keep vanishing. Unfortunately, as you’ll know if you’re a regular visitor, my life away from writing has been a huge turbulent mess for the past two years and it is once again about to be turned upside down. However, this time there is the glittering promise of permanence and life being a touch easier.

To be very brief about it, after struggling to get work for seven months, I finally managed to get a job though it’s left me with very little time and being very tired when I am home. That said, I won’t be here much longer as it turns out. My partner has secured a new job. Not just any job. Basically their dream job. So naturally we’re both ecstatic and excited. However it does mean that very shortly we’ll be moving to England where, hopefully, we’ll be sticking down our roots and finally getting ourselves some stability. I certainly hope so. It definitely feels as though we could do with a bit of luck finally.

What I’m hoping for is that we can get settled down there, get some stability and some routine, get back on top of the mental health issues as a result and then, finally, get back to regular writing properly. Right now, I have no idea if it will pan out. Everything in recent years seems to turn in on itself and end up a nightmare. With this move though, I have a real hope. I think this could be the one.

The first step is to just work on getting my life back on track. Move somewhere permanent, find work, get settled. Then, once life is working out the way it should, I can go back to pursuing The Dream.

That is, getting published.

I’m going to keep writing whenever I can but I’ve learned that first my life needs to be on the rails before I stress myself out more worrying about my life ticking away. Now I’ve got a plan, a little hope, and two sets of crossed fingers. Let’s get on with it.

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Autumn

Another short from the writing classes. This exercise was to simply choose one of the presented prompts and run with it. The prompt I chose was “Autumn.”

 


 

It happened with the turn of the leaves, when things change from green to precious gold. I didn’t know what I was looking for, just that I was looking. I didn’t need anything to search for because I never found it anyway. Just looking was enough. The shiny disk of the metal detector glinted in the sun, offering promises never fulfilled. I didn’t mind. It was a nice excuse to go outside. I always needed one; I could never allow myself to enjoy the world without some tangible reason for it. So I looked for metal.

Then one autumn’s day I actually found some.

The detector startled me as it bleeped wildly – after all, it was a sound I’d only heard once before, when I tested the thing as it came out of the box. I stared at the flat, bare ground before me, confused as to what came next. I’d never anticipated this moment. Eventually I got onto my knees and dug into the soft earth with my hands. It wasn’t particularly cold yet and the soil came away easily. I kept digging and never found anything but I was so curious I couldn’t stop. When I got to about a foot down with still nothing, I tried the metal detector again. It bleeped, so I kept digging.

The sun was setting and I was still digging. I would periodically check to see if the mystery item was still there. It was. I kept going, until I was certain I’d gone down further than the metal detector’s range. My hands bled but by that time I couldn’t feel them anyway. I plunged them down to take another scoop of earth and they smacked into something cold and hard. I dusted the loose soil away frantically, revealing something smooth beneath.

I frowned. The full moon was high in the sky, casting silver light into the hole. It was a face. A metal face with dead, circular eyes and a hollow rectangle for a mouth. Everything smelled like soil and blood.

“HELLO.”

I flinched at the metallic voice. It hadn’t come from the face. It had come from behind me. From the metal detector.

“GREETINGS.”

I looked back to the face. Both eyes were lit with a soft blue light, the left one flickering. My mouth was dry and slowly the feeling was returning to my hands. They burned and shook.

“IS IT TIME?” asked the metal detector. I turned and picked it up, inspecting it. It looked normal, with no spot I could guess at as being speakers.

“Time for what?” I asked it, feeling silly.

“IT IS TIME,” said the face behind me, and something hit me on the back of the head.

I fell face first to the ground and darkness took me, and when I finally woke again Edinburgh was already gone.

Musings on Pitch Contests

With the completion of Through the Black looming ever closer, I’ve been thinking more and more of how and where I want to get my MS out there. Traditional querying will almost certainly be my number one method, but these days online pitch contests are also a hugely popular way to get your short pitch seen by agents and publishers.

The downsides of these are that you only have a very limited amount of characters to make yourself stand out. The upside is that there’s no quicker way to get huge swathes of publishing professionals all at once.

Of course, you might attract the attention of agent who aren’t the right fit for you or you might not attract any at all. The thing is, if you don’t put yourself out there then you’ll never know. The best that can happen is that you find someone requesting a query. The worst is that you’ll have honed a neat, concise pitch for your work.

I actually tried my hand at one very recently. The creative industries festival XpoNorth held one this month and, as they were accepting pitches for manuscripts that weren’t 100 % complete, I decided to have a go. Unfortunately I didn’t have any success with that but I didn’t have much time to prepare my pitches. What it does mean is that I now have a couple of them that I can work on and polish well for when more roll around, and hopefully be more prepared for. Mostly it was good practice for not obsessively staring at my phone or refreshing my internet browser.

There are a few lined up for after my deadline, so I’m hoping to have some nice polished pitches and a finished manuscript all ready to go by the time they roll around!

 

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