Sunshine Through The Fear

We are nearing the end of Lockdown Week 2 and with no idea how long this will go on for, we push on, day by day, tentatively and with hope. I have so many things whirling around in my head that by the end of the day I’m always a bit emotional. As always, the best thing for me is to write about it.

Days have taken on a new reality. A sort of unreality. Surreal and at times confusing. At other times, it feels like the new and established normal. Humans are nothing if not adaptable. It’s hard to believe that a few weeks ago the corona virus was still something we felt we could hold at arms length and generally ignore. Something on the news, something vague and distant. It didn’t take long for the truth to catch us up. It was like hitting a brick wall. There you are then. No hiding under the bed. This is it. The new reality sees many of us jobless and forced to stay at home as much as possible. Unable to mix with our friends or family outside of those in our own houses. Real, normal life has changed beyond recognition. And we all go along with it. Day by day.

I blogged last week about the positive aspects I hoped could possibly come out of all of this and I still stand by those. At the very least, this forces us all to stop. To pause, to breathe, to think. I know I can’t be the only one considering the ‘old’ aspects of my life and wondering which ones I miss and which ones I don’t. But as the death toll escalates at an alarming daily rate, I am also choked with fear.

As my husband leaves the house every day to risk his life, we stay at home. We don’t have to set alarms, so sometimes we lie in. We do PE with Joe Wickes or we run circuits around the garden. We divvy up snacks for the day and my 5 year old sells them in his little shop. We start schoolwork around ten and as my older three are well, older, they sort themselves out which makes me luckier than most, only having to home school one child. And what a child…His light, his laughter, his love, his wide blue eyes and infectious giggles are steering us all through our days.

I work with children ordinarily and used to be childminder so I was never going to struggle too much with homeschooling. The second week has been much easier and we have a good routine now and my little boy has been so good for me. There is far less bribery this week!! I really feel like my little boy is saving my sanity, instead of eroding it as I feared he would.

He soaks up everything I show him or tell him. He whizzes through his phonics and his maths. He loves writing independantly and he told us this very seriously today, pencil poised above paper. I love writing, he said. I could have cried. He completes the literacy tasks sent by school. We usually have our dog walk and exercise around 11am and this always involves pretending to be in a zombie apocalypse. Home for lunch. He loves the forest school, art and science activities the most. We have made natural mandalas, clay faces on trees, sit spots, stone cairns and nature colour wheels. His enthusiasm and his simple, spontaneous joy make me feel like I can do this. And we are doing this. Like everyone else. Day by day. Because we have to.

There are aspects I find tough. I am used to being alone and I love being alone. My normal week would involve a lot of driving around and a lot of running writing classes and groups and a lot of working on the laptop. But I am finding ways around this. I am ensuring I have at least two long baths a week, usually with a glass of wine and a good book. I make sure the little one is entertained by the others so I don’t get disturbed. Trust me, this is essential. I need time on my own. In the evenings, since we signed up to the free Netflix trial I have been indulging in TV time with the rest of the family and so far we are onto Season Two of Stranger Things and loving it. It’s nice to find something we can all watch and enjoy together. Shared experiences are vital to get through this. After that I shut myself away in my room and get on with writing. I edit what will be the next release and then I work on fresh writing in a notebook. It saves my sanity and keeps me me.

The daily death toll is something that my husband seems keen to keep an eye on. Part of me would rather not know. I do not have the news on throughout the day as I do not want to scare the kids. I guess my husband has a vested interest in knowing how bad things are getting due to the fact he is still out there working through this. But it is terrifying. And if I pause long enough in the middle of everything to think about it, I feel the fear like a shard of ice that stops everything. There are death tolls for every country, infection rates, survival rates, advice on how to avoid it. Every now and then it hits you so hard…Everything has changed and will probably never be the same again.

But you can’t let fear rule you. You can’t stay in bed or sit and cry all day. All of us are discovering how resilient and adaptable we are and we should be proud of ourselves. Me? I’m discovering or maybe rediscovering how joyful and positive it is to be around a young child. Working in the garden the other day I noticed all the changes there…The clay faces we moulded onto the fir trees, complete with feather headdresses and stones for eyes…the chalk rainbow on the driveway…the glass jars filled with magical potions… the chalk mural on the wall…the army den constructed around the swing-set…the sit spot at the far end brightened by the primroses we planted up there…the beautiful mandala we made on the picnic table…and I smiled, almost cried if I’m honest. One day everything will start up again…school and work and driving about and there will be less time for outdoor art and science experiments in the garden.

I think the best thing I can do right now is soak up the sunshine from my little lad, from all of my children, from everything bright and green and alive around me and use that to keep going and keep smiling. Embrace this unexpected pause in normality and use it to breathe again, to assess life, to appreciate love and to build it all up stronger than it was before.

What’s keeping you going through these strange and scary times? Feel free to comment and share!

Salainis

I had learned already many of the Outland methods of communicating by forest notes rather than trust to the betraying, high-pitched human voice.

None of these was of more use to me than the call for refuge. If any Outlier wished to be private in his place, he raised that call, which all who were within hearing answered.

Then whoever was on his way from that placed hurried, and whoever was coming toward it stayed where he was until he had permission to move on.

Indie Author Of The Month; K.M. Allan

I used to do a feature on my blog called Indie Book of The Month. Like a lot of things it started with good intentions and then fell by the wayside. Basically, I used to interview an indie author if I had read and enjoyed their book and I’d post the interview plus the author’s links on here. I’d like to do more to support fellow indie authors, as I know so many and they are often very talented yet under-rated or unknown authors. It’s a constant struggle for indie authors to get their books seen so anything we can do to help each other is a bonus. With that in mind, I’ve changed the feature to Indie Author Of The Month. These will still mostly be authors I have read myself, but not exclusively. They will certainly all be authors I follow and whose content I enjoy. So, please may I introduce you to the lovely K.M. Allan who I have been following for a while now. Her debut YA novel Blackbirch: The Beginning came out last month and I enjoyed it very much.

1) Tell us about your latest release. What is it about and who is it aimed at?

It’s called Blackbirch: The Beginning and it’s the first book in a four-book Fantasy YA series. It centers around 17-year-old Josh Taylor, who has suffered a family tragedy and been forced to move back to the town he was born in, but can no longer remember. It’s not the only thing he’s forgotten, and when he starts having weird dreams about monsters and magic, long-buried secrets and danger wreck havoc with his life. It’s for 14 year-olds and above.

2) Tell us about your publishing journey so far.

It’s been a long one. I’ve been writing this series on and off since 2001, and started querying it back in 2015. After 22 rejections, it was signed with a small press in 2019, but it wasn’t a good fit and we parted ways. I then decided to self-publish, about a month before release, and that was a real learning curve. I have enjoyed it, though, and now the first book is finally out in the world.

3) When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

I can’t remember wanting to be anything else. I’ve always been a big reader and wanting to write stories was just a natural progression.

4) What is your typical writing day like?

Since June 2019 I’ve been writing at 6am with the #6amAusWriters on Twitter, so my day always starts by checking in with them and doing something writing-related for at least an hour. After that, it all depends on what’s happening during the rest of the day. I basically try to write whenever I can sit down at my keyboard. Some days that’s only for ten minutes, other days I’m lucky enough to write for hours.

5) What is your writing process? (how do you plot a book, come up with characters, find motivation etc)

I’m a total pantser, so I rarely plot, especially a first draft. I’ll start with an idea for a scene or a piece of dialogue and write until I come up with something I can work with. I get a lot of ideas taking walks, or just doing something boring like cleaning and letting my mind wander. Motivation is probably something I struggle with the most, but I find having a routine and writing schedule (i.e blogging on Tuesdays, editing Wednesdays, writing one chapter a day) helps.

6) What has been the most positive thing about your publishing journey so far?

The support. I’ve been part of the writing community through social media for 5 years, and my writing blog for the last 3, and the support I got from these communities when my book was released really blew me away.

7) What has been the most negative thing about your publishing journey so far?

Definitely the technical process of publishing a book. There’s a lot of things to learn, and some of it is not immediately clear. It can be very time consuming and frustrating.

8) What can we expect from you next?

I am planning to release each book in the series 6 months apart, so what’s next is book 2. I plan to get that out in July, and it’s with an editor now. In the meantime, I’m working on writing/editing books 3 and 4.

9) Tell us three fun facts about you

I am an identical twin. I believe there is a Simpsons reference for every situation in life. I can’t not finish a book or a movie, even if they’re bad.

10) What is the best advice you could give to aspiring writers?

Everyone has their own writing journey, find yours and don’t compare it to others. Work out how you write best, stick to it, and remember that you can always learn more.

Thank you so much to K.M. Allan for allowing us a glimpse into her writing life. If you would like to find out more about her and her writing, please follow the links below. Blackbirch: The Beginning is available in ebook and paperback and I can guarantee it is a great read and a fantastic start to a series!

Author Bio

K.M. Allan is an identical twin, but not the evil one. When she’s not writing, she likes to read, binge-watch too much TV, and take more photos than she will ever humanly need. Visit her blog at www.kmallan.com to discover the secrets of the universe, or at the very least, some good writing tips.

Book Links

https://kmallan.com/blackbirch/

Social Media Links

https://www.facebook.com/k.m.allan.author

https://www.instagram.com/k.m.allan_writer

https://twitter.com/KMAllan_writer

Home Schooling Day 1; is bribery okay…?

Today was our first official day of home schooling. As I write this, the Prime Minister has announced total lockdown of the UK, so things are changing fast. With three asthmatics in our family, we were not planning to leave the house other than for dog walks, so this won’t affect us too much. Husband works in a supermarket so he can still leave the house to do that.

Anyway, back to home schooling. If I’m honest, it’s something I have always been curious about. I hated school when I was a kid and would have loved to be home schooled. I considered it when my eldest child was struggling in Years 9 and 10 but thankfully she got over the issues she was having and we didn’t have to look into it too much. I run two writing clubs for home educated children and I often envy their lives. They seem to do so many fun and educational things and all at their own pace. Often before coming to my club they would have had guitar lessons or horse-riding, and after it might be discussion group or philosophy. They are all lovely, well-rounded and relaxed children so it obviously suits them well.

As for me I love the idea of it and but have never imaged I’d have the patience to teach my own children all day every day. It’s nice to have a break from them when they go to school! But here we are. Life has changed dramatically in the blink of an eye. I think that’s the hardest thing to get your head around. We all feel a bit shocked, I suppose. This time last week I was tired from a very busy but typical Monday. This week, I am tired from schooling my 5 year old all day!

My older children, aged 12, 15 and 17 are quite able to get on with things themselves. They have work sent to them from school or college and I trust them to work through it. It’s the 5 year old’s learning I’m now responsible for and yes, I was daunted, and yesterday I felt horrible all day, panicky even. Today was better because we were busy. Less time to think or doubt yourself!

My 5 year old is a typical little boy of that age. At school he is a delight, perfectly well-behaved and very keen to learn. At home, he is noisy, attention-seeking and at times quite demanding as well as over sensitive. We all adore him, don’t get me wrong, he is without a doubt the funniest and sweetest person in our household. But we can all agree with a roll of our eyes that he is exhausting.

So, armed with masses of helpful links which have been splashed all over Facebook since school closures were announced, plus activity booklets we printed out, writing books we already had and the stuff school sent home…I planned two weeks worth of timetables and today was Day 1.

How did we do?

Pretty good if bribery is okay!

It went a bit like this;

‘You’ve got to get dressed now so we can do PE Joe on YouTube,’

‘No, I don’t want to.’

‘Well, you sort of have to. Its good for you, it will be fun. We are all doing it together. Come on, get dressed.’

‘No, I don’t want to.’

‘After that you can run your own snack shop and sell the snacks?’

‘Okay then.’

Result! Me, the 12 year old and 5 year old spent twenty odd minutes jumping around in front of the laptop with the excellent PE Joe. I enjoyed it. 5 year old did pretty well but had his eye on his snack shop the whole time. This was another brilliant idea from Facebook. I chose some snacks and told them they could ‘buy’ two to last all day and the 5 year old could sell them from his little wooden toy market stall. He loved this.

He then did art with one of his sisters outside. Another win. He made a rainbow to hang at the window. Something all the kids are doing to cheer people up. We followed this with free time, or ‘discovery time’ as they call it at school. To placate him from moaning, his sister let him play Happy Wheels on her laptop. Snack time, then I did his phonics with him. This took 5 minutes because he’s pretty good. But I had to bribe him again because he really wasn’t in the mood. I can’t even remember what I bribed him with but it worked.

We had garden time then, playing with the dog, digging up nettles around our ‘sit spot’ and planting primroses. He mostly marched around with a massive stick, scaring the dog and getting shouted at by his unimpressed sister. He likes the ‘sit spot’ though; an idea I came across after signing up to Forest School activities. The idea is you create a quiet, peaceful place to sit and observe the world, practice mindfulness, that kind of thing. Not sure he cared much about mindfulness, he just asked if he could bring cars to play there and I said yes. As for me the sit spot is now my favorite place and I use it often…

His best part of the day was definitely the science experiment which was in one of the booklets I printed off. You just put raisins in lemonade and watch them go up and down, but he LOVED it. He loves stuff like this, so of course we added marshmallows and pasta which didn’t go up and down and we talked about why the raisins did and I learned something new… I got him to draw and label the experiment and then I let him have an ice cream float. (Yes, another bribe…head hanging in shame…)

Is it me or does this look like a Dalek?

Free time again (I swear every activity we do lasts about 5 minutes??) and he found a movie to watch. I wanted to get writing and spelling ticked off so out came the bribery again because he was really whinging now. If he did a bit of writing in his book he could have his second snack….if he then came on a dog walk with me, I would bring biscuits.

I mean, I’m not offering him much, but it’s still bribery right?

He wanted to play zombies on the dog walk but I really didn’t have the mental energy. I felt too much like a zombie myself. Of course more bribery came up…if he kept going, when he got back he could play Plants Vs Zombies on my phone…That worked for us both to be honest, because I escaped to the sit spot with my book and a coffee. Bliss!

So, I think we survived our first day and I even gave him some more biscuits at bedtime for being such a good boy and doing so well. We have some maths and computing planned tomorrow plus two lots of art and some forest school stuff. I’m looking forward to it. The other bonus so far is that because I’m in his face so much, when he gets free time, he does not want to play with me! That’s not how it usually works. He’s usually terrible at playing by himself!

All in all, I feel positive, despite the blatant bribery. Whatever works, right? And like I predicted in my last post, I’m sure many parents already have increased respect for teachers who do this every day with thirty plus kids! It’s different with my writing clubs because I love writing so much, anything that involves writing is pure joy for me.

If you’re home schooling for the first time, how are you finding it? Any highs or lows so far? Any tips?

Silver Linings In Dark Clouds

I’ve been trying to stay positive today. I’m sure you have too. I feel better prepared for home-schooling now and will blog about that when it kicks off on Monday. Two of my children finished school today. One is in Year 11, which is GCSE year in the UK. She is worried about the exams being scrapped and sad she will not have a leaving prom and all the other rites of passage events that happen to mark this time. We will keep her busy and get her through it. I had a spooky trip to Tesco which was odd to say the least, mainly because of the social distancing enforced at the tills by tape and the constant announcements about only being allowed two of each item and verbal and physical abuse of staff not being tolerated. Talk about an uneasy shopping trip. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the possible positives that could come out of it when we get to the other side. I think it’s helpful to try to find silver linings so here are six of mine;

  • Mother Nature will get a chance to heal. There have already been some incredible and uplifting scenes of this happening. Clear water, less pollution, dolphins swimming in the waterways in Venice due to the lack of tourists, blue skies in China and so on. Where I live I have already noticed a remarkable reduction in traffic. I can only imagine the benefits to air quality and to wildlife.
  • We will realise how precious our planet is and look after it better. I really hope so. Perhaps while we are all forced to slow down and just stop what we are doing, we will realise that we can change things and that for all our sakes, we should. Perhaps with no work, no school , no rushing around, we will find the time again to hear the birds, to notice the trees, to smell the flowers as Spring starts to blossom. I hope a new appreciation for nature starts to build.
  • We will realise there were parts of our lives we didn’t like and we will change them. Often, we don’t have a choice, I know that. You need money to pay the bills, to keep the roof over your head and food on the table. But maybe this whole experience will allow people to work out what they like and don’t like about their lives. If they enjoy working at home, maybe they can make the case for doing this? If they prefer home-schooling their children, maybe they will switch to it for good? If they find themselves less stressed, less tired, less worn out by life itself, who knows? Maybe some of us will change our entire lives.
  • We will live healthier lives. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Have you seen the empty shelves in the shops? It’s all the healthy stuff being grabbed and stockpiled. If you go down the crisps, chocolate and sweets aisle, there is plenty of that! People are grabbing the fruit and vegetables, the tinned goods and packets of pasta and rice. They are leaving the bars of chocolate and packets of crisps and sweets. I know that’s probably because they want to stay healthy to have a better chance of fighting the virus, but who knows, it could change things. Maybe people will notice how much better they feel without eating so much sugar and they will endeavour to have a healthier diet after it’s all over. I imagine being in isolation or lockdown will also make people realise how essential and therapeutic exercise is too.
  • We will recognise the true heroes in this and treat them better. I’m talking about the teachers who have been so amazing throughout, offering support and guidance preparing packs of work and online content, so many of them giving time on the Internet to provide free resources. We would be lost without them. And you know what? Give us parents a few days of home schooling and we are going to have a new found appreciation, hero worship even, of our children’s long-suffering teachers. I’m talking about the care workers and NHS staff, utter heroes who have been underpaid and overworked for so long now, yet here they still are, risking their lives to help us. I’m talking about the police, the firefighters and the army, also doing all they can to keep us safe. And what about the postal workers and the delivery drivers? We are becoming even more reliant on ordering online and these often very poorly paid workers are saving our arses and our sanity. And not forgetting a group of people who are also poorly paid and often looked down on by society; the shop workers, shelf stackers and till workers. I’ve done those jobs before and believe me, the general public can be extremely obnoxious towards them. But look now…these people are running themselves ragged trying to keep the food on the shelves. My husband is one of them and I can tell you, he is shattered. I hope that when this is all over we respect these workers more, we pay them more money and we realise that we are all connected, all reliant on each other for survival and we are all important!
  • I hope we become kinder and realise and remember that we are all in this together. In recent years, we have become less kind. We have turned inwards, thought of ourselves and feared others, while we have allowed the true demons to run amok. The politicians have done a super job of turning us against each other, haven’t they? This is, of course, to distract us from what they are up to, but we won’t go into that now. Let’s just say I hope this brings us closer together. Perhaps now we have feared for our lives, been separated from our loved ones, lost our jobs, had to queue for basic food and feared for our homes, we will have more empathy and understanding towards those who flee their countries to seek a safer life.

That’s me trying to find the silver linings and I truly believe there will be some. Of course, we have to get through this with our health and sanity intact first! What about you? Do you think this event will change things in the long-term? Feel free to leave a comment!