To Be A Boy Of 7…Part 2

A million years ago, but also, only yesterday, I wrote this piece for your big brother, Dylan. https://chantelleatkins.com/2015/04/08/to-be-a-boy-of-7/ A million years ago, but also, only yesterday, he was seven like you are now. When he was seven, you were just a tiny baby, so you didn’t know him then. He was all stick arms and legs and tons of white-blonde hair. In a tiny blink of an eye, he grew older, he grew up and now he is a gangly fourteen year old with a sweet, wry smile.

But you, what are you like at seven? What is being a boy of seven like, for you?

I think to be a boy of seven must still be a glorious thing. I think your heart is as full and free as his was.

Yet being seven, is not as easy for you as it was for him…You’re more intense, more sensitive, more questioning and less able to sleep. Your brain never lets you switch off…Night after night, no matter what effort I’ve put in to wear you out, you delay sleep, you fight sleep and your mind fills with worries. You tell them to the worry dolls, Sam, Shepherd and Raven and you write them down in letters for me. You tell me that bedtime is too long, that you have to lie there for hours, that you feel like crying, that your stomach hurts or your eyes are sore. I try to be patient. I talk you through it. You listen, and you try what I suggest, but it’s like your mind just keeps on spinning. I sometimes wish I knew what was going on inside there.

I wonder if I am too soft on you…but do I really want to make you hard? I say it sometimes when you are being too sensitive, when you have exclaimed ‘ow’ for the thousandth time that day, when you tell me you are getting your ‘cry feeling’. I say you need to get over it, it doesn’t hurt that much, you will be okay, stop worrying, stop making a big deal, please, please, just go to sleep. Toughen up. I tell you this sometimes because I worry that your worries will drag you down.

Know this. I wouldn’t change you though. I wouldn’t change a wiry strawberry blonde hair on your head. Your hair that always smells like the rain. I wouldn’t change a thing about you, because you are one in a million. Sometimes people describe you this way, a real character they say. If you were not real, I would want to invent you!

The little boy who stops to say hello to woodlice and bumblebees, the little boy who always takes one sock off at some point during the day, the little boy who always says please and thank you to everything and everyone, the little boy whose stomach hurts when he gets his ‘cry feeling’, the little boy who just cannot stand to be told off, the little boy who does not like to play alone, the little boy who always brings home ‘good sticks’ and ‘cool stones’.

I love watching you walking along with a good stone or stick in your hand. Sometimes they end up in my pockets, but mostly you hold on to them. The kitchen window sill is full of your finds. The garden is littered with important sticks and several of them have residence in your bedroom. And every time when you walk the dogs with me, you ask if we can pretend to be in a zombie apocalypse. You’ll give me a stick and tell me its a machine gun. You’ll have a sword or a shotgun or a bat. We’ll take down the zombies together whilst searching for supplies. We’ll look for a shelter, or a community to join. We’ll rescue each other, again and again and again.

You want to be a builder or a vet. I see both in you. You play with bricks and blocks every day, creating towns and communities and car parks. You are kindly to animals, to even the smallest spider or tiniest caterpillar. They all deserve a friendly hello and protection.

At the moment, I see you are changing fast. It feels like seven is the bridge between little boy and big boy, and there you are, perched and teetering. You are outgrowing all your clothes and shoes. Every time I look at you I am shocked. Your face is thinner but your hair even wilder. Your legs go on forever and your appetite is huge. I try to fill you up but you are never satisfied. You are a small, warm hand in mind but you are getting too pick to pick up. You like to snuggle. You ask if I have time to snuggle with you now or later. You ask for me to snuggle you up. You tell me you love me about a million times a day. You also tell me I am pretty and you tell me off if I get cross with myself. You are my biggest fan.

Today we walked the dogs together and as we approached the road I felt your hand reach out for mine. I felt its smallness and softness and I felt the belief from you that I will always take care of you. We had to pretend we were leaving our base to get supplies and when we came back you begged me to play real army with you, which meant I got some of your best sticks as swords and you got your toy guns. You laid out all your weapons on the sofa in your room and told me to upgrade mine when I had enough points. You showed me your upgrade pose – blowing the top of each gun and then pointing them while you tipped your audience a wink. You made me laugh. You always make me laugh. Every day, there is something you say or do that sets me off. You’re just happy that I’m playing with you and as you say, I’m ‘getting into it’. I keep reminding myself how little time we have left of you wanting to play like this. How I must grab it with both hands, even when I’m tired, or not in the mood.

Because it means so much to you. You hate to play alone. Unattended, you wander around and make noises and get told off for annoying people. It’s like you don’t know how to be alone, not at bedtime, nor play time. I tell you all the time to play with your toys but you hate to do it alone, even though you have the most amazing imagination. But it pleases me that you read alone at bedtime, because reading is how we learn to be okay with being alone. I tell you you are never really alone, because you are full of memories, and dreams, and hopes, and you are full of all the people who love and adore you. I hope one day you will believe me.

My noisy little boy who can’t sit still. Watching a movie with you is like being on a trampoline. You ask endless questions we can’t possibly know the answers to. You live for the details. You want to know everything about everything. A little frown creeps onto your forehead when I answer you as best I can. You are my last little one and not so little anymore. I guess in some ways you will always be my baby boy, no matter how tall you grow, and I am sure you are going to be taller than all of us. Lately I’ve seen the changes that seven brings. The self-consciousness when you realise you’re the oldest one in the park. Telling me a park is too busy for you to play in. You have always been obsessed by parks, but now you are put off easily. You tell me you don’t want to embarrass yourself. You seem too aware of what big kids and little kids can and can’t do.

But at home, you are you. Our little wild thing, with one sock missing and always with a smear of food on your shoulder from wiping your face. You get in the bath and turn the water brown and I laugh and say, that’s how you know you had a good day. You write me little notes asking me to play with you. Little wish lists of things I’ll try to fit into the day. Army men. Playmobil set-ups. Zombies. Lego. Bricks and cars.

I’ve tried to hold onto you from the start, knowing you were the last and sometimes the knowing is like being unable to catch a breath. My God, it goes so fast. A chubby baby fills your arms, gets down and toddles away, climbs a tree, runs down a hill and then finally, one day, pulls their hand from yours and leaves. Parenthood is always letting go. One small step at a time. Parenthood is always being left behind, waving, smiling, crying, watching them go. And it’s a privilege and a joy, my sweet, funny, complicated, non-sleeping little boy…You are a joy, my boy of seven, you are glorious.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

I think one of the questions you get asked the most as a writer is; where do you get your ideas from? I always feel a little bit sad when I get asked this, because in my mind I kind of expect everyone to have a head full of ideas and this question reminds me that is not always the case. And then I feel a little bit sorry for the person asking because I don’t know what it feels like not to have millions of ideas and characters running around inside my head.

But where do ideas come from? It really is a good question if you think about it. Our minds are amazing! Pick up any book in your house or think about a recent read that had a real impact on you…it can boggle your brain to wonder how the author came up with it! Here are some of the ways writers get new ideas…

Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay
  1. Out of nowhere… Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere. You can’t trace them back to anything you saw, or heard or felt, or anything that inspired you. They just jump into your brain and they are there, taking up space. With me this is usually because the character invades my mind, sets up camp and then starts chatting. Before long they’ve suggested a back story and a possible plot.
  2. Musical inspiration... Writers will sometimes find an idea growing after listening to music. It could be that the song reminds them of a certain time and place and brings back memories that inspire a storyline. Or it could be the lyrics of the song itself that entice the writer to create a story. While driving, I once heard a song on the radio that instantly transported me back to a certain time in my life and by the time I reached my destination I had a short story in my head. I later evolved it into a novel which is in the first draft stage.
  3. TV/Film/book inspiration… Sometimes the young writers I work with worry that their story ideas are too similar to TV shows or films or books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve fallen in love with something and naturally want to emulate it in their own writing because it’s fun to do so. But they feel self-conscious, like they have stolen an idea or copied a character. I always tell them there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that a lot of ideas are inspired by things we have enjoyed culturally. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series was originally inspired by me watching The Lost Boys at aged 12! My series has zero vampires in it but the scene when the mother realises her new boyfriend is the head vampire, got me thinking about real life monsters that hide among us, and the story grew from there. Writers ‘magpie’ ideas, taking little bits from here and there to create something new and this is totally fine.
  4. Real life people/places/events… Often writers will feel inspired to write about real life people, places or events. This could be in terms of historical or political fiction, or it could be someone they have known or come across sparks off an idea in their head. Writers people watch a lot and they tend to soak up whatever is around them, so the chances are real life people and events do sneak into their writing, sometimes without them even realising it.
  5. Anxieties and fears… I think this happens to me a lot! Quite a few of my personal fears and anxieties have evolved into novels. I think this is my way of working through what upsets and worries me. I never realise it until later though! For example, another reason The Boy With The Thorn In His Side story came about was my fear at 12 years old that my recently divorced parents would meet new partners I would hate. The Mess Of Me grew out of my own body image issues. This Is Nowhere is essentially about a non-religious character trying to find meaning in life, which is something I was thinking about a lot at the time. The Tree Of Rebels and my current work-in-progress confront my fears around climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature contains characters who sort of represent an internal fight I have with myself – one is open-minded, open-hearted and wants to see the best in people and view the future with hope, while the other hates people so much she basically becomes agoraphobic. I don’t think writers always realise it at the time, but I do think our personal fears weave their way into our work.
  6. Long walks… Or long showers! Either way, I find doing something relaxing that you don’t really need to think about for a long time, really allows the ideas to flow. I always get good ideas for stories or plotlines when I am walking my dogs alone. Any time I have had a block or got stuck, it has become unravelled on a walk. Ideas for endings have popped into my head out of nowhere while walking. Dialogue often starts to flow too, so I’ll write it down into my phone or record myself saying it so I don’t forget. If you are ever out of ideas, I would strongly recommend a long walk on your own!

So, that covers some of the places ideas come from and some of the things that spark off stories, but I am sure there must be more. What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Feel free to comment and share!

5 Ways Writing Improves My Mental Health

If I look back, I can see that it was reading that started my love affair with writing. Quite simply, I was a young bookworm who devoured books, one after the another, and that love of reading soon evolved into a love of writing. I’d read books and feel so inspired, I’d want to write my own. It was a magical feeling realising that I held this power inside of me. The ability to create characters and devise worlds and storylines, all of my own creation! It was exhilarating and addictive and I’ve never lost that excitement. But over the years, writing has helped me in other ways and I’m a strong believer that writing can be of great help to anyone struggling with their mental health. Due to some personal circumstances, mental health is one of the biggest issues in our family at the moment and if there was any way I could impress upon those struggling, how much writing has helped me to survive, these are the points I’d raise.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
  1. Writing Is A Release – They say that if reading is breathing in, then writing is breathing out and I truly believe this is so. But it doesn’t just apply to reading. Our entire lives we are breathing in, absorbing, observing, soaking up and reacting to what is around us. And it’s hard. It can feel overwhelming, like we can’t breathe and our bodies don’t know how to respond. Writing is a release. You breathe out again, you let go. You take everything you have absorbed, everything that has battered and affected you, and you breathe it back out again in your own words. Every time I write I feel like that – like my thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes are released slowly and calmly onto the page. I couldn’t bear the thought of having it all locked up inside forever.
  2. Writing Is Private – Until we choose it not to be, writing is intensely private. When I was a kid I started writing a diary and I kept it going for decades. I still have those old notebooks now and if I choose to, I can go back and revisit all the different stages of my life. But they are private. Not for anyone else. I recorded my frustrations, my insecurities, my failures, losses and anxieties on those pages throughout my life. Writing them down helped me release them and deal with them, but so did the private aspect of the process. Knowing those words were just for me gave me the freedom to write them down. It’s the same with writing stories and poems and even blog posts. I have a host of unpublished blog posts. Thoughts and feelings I needed to let out but have not yet felt the need to publish. I have a notebook full of random thoughts and poems that may never see the light of day! And when I write a novel, for the first few drafts at least, it is just for me. It is private and there is something both liberating and protective about that, like I am shielding myself from the world and creating a private, calm space just for me.
  3. Writing Helps Us Work Out How We Feel – Sounds strange, but it really does. Sometimes in life, how we feel is black and white and very simple. We feel happy or sad and we know why. But there are times when it’s far more confusing and muddled. The teenage years for example are turbulent and full of mixed emotions and thoughts and feelings we can barely understand ourselves. The same applies to the perimenopausal stage of life for women. And as we navigate our way through our lives, we are sometimes unsure of how we feel about the things that happen to us or around us. Writing can really help us make sense of this. There have been times I’ve not truly understood how I feel about something until I start to write it down. This might be within a story a poem, a blog post or a diary entry. I might start writing about something else entirely but somehow the words lead me to where I need to be. So many of my books contain topics I was absorbed by at the time, and writing about them through made-up characters enabled me to figure out how I felt. When I’m distressed or feeling dark, I write poetry and although it is sometimes just a mess, it really does help me figure my own feelings out.
  4. You Are Never Lonely or Bored If You Write – I say this all the time. Because of writing I have never been bored or lonely in my life. How could I ever be either when I have a head so full of ideas and stories and characters begging me to tell them? If I have a quiet moment, or I’ve just gone to bed, its those people and stories that come back to me, filling my mind and keeping me company. Waiting at bus stops, travelling on trains, walking alone, waiting in cars to pick people up, none of those things are ever boring to me because my mind will transport me to the worlds I have created and I will just hang out there until it is time to snap back to reality! I think this has helped me immeasurably over the years. I feel genuinely worried for people that don’t have creative hobbies, whether its writing, drawing, sculpting, acting or creating music. If you have a creative hobby, you will never be bored or lonely and that can really help when your mental health is not so good.
  5. Writing Gives You A Voice – Writing can be private but it can also be the opposite. Writing can change the world and it has done, many, many times. Storytelling is part of the human condition, going right back to the beginning of our time here on Earth. We have lives, dreams, hopes, fears, beliefs and experiences and we have the right and the ability to voice them. Sometimes in life, when things are tough and you feel like you are floundering, it’s good to remember that you have a voice and writing enables you to be heard. Tell the world how you feel. Write about it. Tell your family and friends how you feel. Write about it. It doesn’t have to be personal – you can use fiction to tell the world your story.

Writing is hugely therapeutic to me and I will always recommend it to anyone struggling. What about you? How has the act of writing helped you through your life? Feel free to comment and share!

The Only Writing Advice You Ever Need

Google the term ‘writing tips’ or ‘writing advice’ and you will soon find yourself drowning in things you should and should not do as a writer. Write every day. Write when you feel like it. Self-publish. Don’t self-publish. Know your audience. Write for yourself. Write what you know. Write what you like. Other writers will give you advice, and people who don’t write will give you advice. There are infinite amounts of websites and author services dedicated to giving you advice.

And of course, a lot of this advice is important and valuable. If you are new to writing, of course you should seek advice, ask for help, ask for feedback and be prepared to listen to those who have gone before you. The trouble is so much of the advice is contradictory, because what works for one writer will inevitably not work for another. The trick is forging your own, individual path through all that advice and all those tips.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Take what you need from the writing advice websites and articles, and ignore what you don’t. Because above all else, you have to remember that one size does not fit all. Some writers plan and plot to an excruciating degree before they ever start writing, and that’s okay. Some writers don’t plan or plot a thing, they just start writing and see what happens and that is also okay. Some writers get the concept first and have to create the characters to fit the idea, and some writers get the characters first and have to create the plot to fit them. Both are totally okay. Some writers write every day. Some writers only write when they feel like it. It doesn’t matter what type you are.

The only writing advice I personally think you ever really need is this.

Do what you want.

You can interpret that any way you like. Find your own path. Create your own journey. Do whatever makes you happy. Do whatever the hell you want.

Because above all else writing should make us happy and passionate. We should feel happy and excited and passionate about our writing. It should be, above all else, our happy place. The thing that makes us feel like ourselves. The thing that makes us feel free. And yes, further down the road, you might want to think about audiences, and readers, and markets and blurbs and selling…but before you ever get close to those things, you have to love what you write. You have to love to write. You have to be totally and utterly in love with the act of writing because quite simply, the act of writing is for you. It’s yours.

Its your escape. Your freedom. Your way of interpreting the world. Your way of figuring out how you feel and what you think. Your way of speaking up and being heard. Your way of leaving some kind of imprint on this world. Your way of being you. That’s how writing feels for me. And every time I try to please anyone else, it all gets messed up.

Writing is mine. And I do what I want.

I’ll leave you with this poem, one of many from Charles Bukowski that for me sums up how I feel about writing. Please note, this poem does not sum up how everyone feels about writing! Other writers may not relate to this at all, and that is okay! I just love this poem so much and I feel like Bukowski only ever did exactly what he wanted.

“So you want to be a writer


if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.

if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
typewriter
searching for words,
don’t do it.

if you’re doing it for money or
fame,
don’t do it.

if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.

if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.

if you’re trying to write like somebody
else,
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
you,
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
love.
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
sleep
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.

unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.

unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.”