Still Lost In My Own Little World

Me, aged twelve – thinking about my story at school, staring out of the window, barely listening to the teacher, barely aware of the world around me, filling my rough book with ideas and pieces of dialogue because my characters think the school day is a perfectly appropriate time to start talking to me. Rushing home, backpack bouncing against my shoulders, breathlessly running through the door to complete my chores before the rest of the day is mine. Me, in my room, music on first. Guns ‘N’ Roses at that age, thumping out from my hi-fi music system on the floor. My desk, an old coffee table, me on my knees, hunched over reams of scruffy A4 lined notepaper. A whole folder of one boy’s story, one boy’s scary world which would over time morph into an entire universe of my making.

Me, feeling excited to the point of explosion. Fixating entirely and completely on the story growing before my eyes under the frantic movement of my powerful biro. Pouring out the ideas and scenes that have bombarded me all day at school. Not a part of me is wondering what else I might have missed, from teachers, friends or society itself. Because I am removed and detached from all of that. That’s the background, the white noise, the distraction and this – this is real.

There were always other stories too, a constant stream of words and action. Sometimes I would sit at the breakfast bar in the kitchen with an old transistor radio to keep me company. I’d be lost in there, utterly gone. A ghost in this world but the puppet master of my own. I’d come back when I had to, with drowsy reluctance. What was there for me in this world? Terrible school, awful people, tedious chores and pointless homework. My parents rowing, doors slamming, people leaving, accusations flying, money draining away. I didn’t want any of that. I did not, in the words of Tom Waits, wanna grow up.

So, I didn’t. I broke free. I bucked the trend. Broke the rules. Did what all of them told me not to. I became a writer. And not much has changed. I have a foot in each world but most of my thoughts and dreams happen in my own one. As a child people used to say I was in my own little world and I guess they thought that one day I would grow out of it. Nah. I became a writer.

And it’s just the same now, as I hurtle back from the dreaded school run, a day off stretching ahead of me, dogs to walk, ideas to hold onto. I get to the laptop, get to my stories, to my own little world as fast I can. The world is bigger now – it’s a universe! I have sixteen published titles and eleven of those occur in the same universe. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was my obsession as a child and a teenager. That story, those characters guided me through my youth and gave me a much needed escape route from reality. No wonder they mean so much to me. No wonder I am reluctant to let go. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, the Holds End trilogy, The Mess of Me, Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature and Bird People and Other Stories have all grown out of my obsessive writing as a twelve year old. I’d love to go back and tell her! And at the moment, the same universe continues to expand with three more books I am working on side by side. Again, I think twelve year old me would be amazed!

At the moment I am working on the fourth draft of At Night We Played In The Road which is a spin-off book from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. Two characters are introduced in book five of the series and I loved them so much I decided to give them their own book. A while back I penned a start to a sequel to The Mess Of Me, which was my debut novel in 2013. I finally finished it recently and as both these new books happen in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side universe, writing them inevitably led me to one final story. A crossover story, which I am currently on the second draft of. This book, The Dark Finds You, brings Danny from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, Leon from The Mess Of Me, Bill from the Holds End trilogy and Elliot from Elliot Pies Guide To Human Nature together in one story about a missing boy. It happened naturally and inevitably, I feel, because storylines that run through all those books have tangled my characters up together in the same dark criminal world where youngsters are lured into running drugs for older, criminal gangs and all of this comes to a head in the crossover book. It really finishes off Danny’s story too – from the boy I created aged twelve, to the man he is now – this last story ties everything up with no loose ends left hanging. Once these next three books are released, it really will be the end for that universe.

I will be both happy and sad but other worlds are calling! Plus, I don’t want to drag it out forever! This last book really will tie everything up perfectly and it’s been a very satisfying one to write. I think it is the fastest and easiest book I’ve ever written. It took just six weeks to complete the first draft and it just sort of wrote itself!

So, I’d like to pay homage to my obsessive twelve year old self. Thank goodness you didn’t give up. That goodness that drive to write was there every single day, upon opening your eyes! You didn’t know then what it would lead to but you did know you were addicted!

And I’m extremely happy and grateful to still be lost inside that world of my own making. It’s the best place to be.

Poem: Shadow Girl

She’s a heavy thing, this shadow girl, this shredded one

I know her well, tried to shake her off long time ago

But she was there the whole time, claws in

A vampire, bloodsucking, soul draining parasite

I got to drag you around with me the rest of my life?

No knowing why she came back, only maybe she was hiding

Teasing, biding her time, playing the long game

She’s on my back, on my shoulder, in my mind, behind my eyes

She’s the dark, spite filled voice in my head

She said, hey you thought you’d got rid of me, thought you’d get free

Thought I’d gone forever, but no such luck

I’m here to fuck you up

She says, you fuck, how did you let this happen

You used to be so in control, when I had you, you were mine

I had you in line, and you had a spine

Now you have no edges, didn’t you like them better sharp

Now you have no lines to define you except the ones on your face

She promises me peace and satisfaction

She promises me a different reflection

give her back the driving seat, the controls

If I let her in, then she will do it for me like she did before

and I will be happy, like I was before.

Poem: Another Day Like This

Another day like this

Comfort in favourite t-shirt

The one with the stars on it

And daughter’s old hoodie, the big blue one

And jeans that need a wash

And don’t look in the mirror

On another day like this

Where my feelings are red raw and stupid

Exposed, like the true me when my face is too fat

Because I ate too much, like the old me

Can’t show a face like this to anyone

On a day like this, I could laugh, I could cry

I could take you wrong, misread the signals

Muddle the intentions

Suspect the worst

Oh no.

Another day like this

December Writing Challenge: Year in Review

At the start of every month I ask my Facebook followers to suggest some writing prompts and challenges and then I post the one I chose at the end of the month. This time I pickedĀ ‘Best of the Year – the year in highlights’ from Beaton Mabaso. I also picked a prompt from author Paula Harmon which was about a diary – I started this as it inspired a short story but the story kept getting longer and I haven’t quite finished it yet! So I am going with this one, thank you Beaton!

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Like every year before it, 2022 has flown by. There is always that uncomfortable and resentful stumbling into January – the least favourite and most dreaded month. It feels like everything is grim and cold and miserable and it feels impossible that spring and summer will ever return to cheer us. Yet they always do. January gives way to February, and as we fall into March, we start looking ahead again. We look for the first signs of spring – bluebells and daffodils and birdsong. We start to smile again, we start to feel warmed and excited. And then summer comes and it feels like forever but it never lasts as long as we want it to. Autumn creeps in stealthily, the air in the mornings has a crispness to it, the leaves start to tumble. Before we know it we are back where we began – at the end of a year, looking a new one in the eye. Another year of life, another year closer to death.

To be honest, the year has gone so fast for me, I’m struggling to look back on it at all. It was a blur! It barely happened. I was spun around and I’m back here again. But then I remember little bits and pieces, small wins and victories, events and memories, and it all starts to seep back.

In the news of course, 2022 has little to smile about. Lockdowns are a thing of the past, yet covid continues to ravage us. As a family we have definitely had our least healthy year in a while, with my youngest son’s school being pummelled by viruses and illnesses. Currently, there is a lot of fear around the rise of scarlet fever and invasive strep A. Every time a child gets a sore throat, we panic. But, touch wood, we have so far avoided both. My son has had a lot of sick days in 2022 though, more than I am comfortable with and I hope that 2023 sees a healthier year for everyone.

The war in Ukraine is a continuing tragedy. Like any war, it all just seems so pointless. Time and time again, the men in suits send ordinary people out to fight and die, while they argue and see very little of the killing and dying themselves. The war had an impact on fuel prices and inflation has spiralled out of control. The cost of living crisis is the current crisis. Yes, it feels like every year gets its own crisis, its own heartbreaking and frustratingly avoidable emergency.

In the spring petrol stations in the UK ran dry as people panic bought fuel. I joined many a long and winding queue in the hope to fill up the car so I could get to work or get my son to school. We stopped using it as much as a result and my husband started cycling to work and back. The prices and supplies stabilised but it made me think hard about our dependence on fossil fuels and cars. It made me think hard about everything.

In the summer my second daughter sat her A-Levels and I could not be prouder of what she has achieved. She was deeply affected by the lockdowns and her mental health took a real battering. She battled through and in September we drove her to Devon to start her new life at University, studying marine biology and oceanography. She could not be happier. She is loving every second of it. Our first daughter started her second year of creative writing and film studies in Wales and we managed to catch up with her when we had a caravan holiday nearby at the end of August. That little simple holiday was a key happy memory for me. The weather was perfect, New Quay in Wales was just stunning and my husband, myself and our two boys whiled away laidback hours on the beach, building stone cairns with the smooth rocks, collecting smooth pieces of driftwood, having picnics, playing arcade games and eating out. Our caravan was really nice and it was a perfect little break away together.

As for the rest of summer, it was record breaking for all the wrong reasons. The UK saw temperatures soaring above 40 degrees for the first time and we sweltered in heat we are just not built for or used to. The other issue was lack of rain, with many counties declaring hosepipe bans as drought lingered. Again, I thought about what we are doing to our world and what it means for the future. It was tragic to watch the wildlife suffering. The trees started losing their leaves early and you couldn’t find greenery anywhere.

We all breathed a sigh of relief when cooler weather sailed in and for the most part, autumn was kind to us. It could have been equally brutal, sending endless rain and floods our way, but it wasn’t and it stayed mild well into November. During autumn, people were getting increasingly nervous and upset about the huge increases to their heating bills. There has been government support for those struggling the most but no long-term solution has been offered. I’d like to see massive investment in renewables to end our dependence on fossil fuels for good but I can’t see this current lot doing anything radical. Instead we have sticking plasters offered and millions of people afraid to switch their heating on.

And as if it somehow knew, the weather turned bitterly cold and winter arrived with a vengeance. With prices sky high and temperatures lower than they’ve been since 2012, people are stuck with impossible choices, often choosing between heating and eating, and again, I am reminded of our ridiculous dependence on the fossil fuels that are killing our planet.

But for me personally, 2023 has been kind. I’m now running seven children’s writing clubs and throughout this year nearly every one has been full with a waiting list. As a self-employed person, I am constantly nervous about whether people will sign up again, especially now times are getting so tough for so many. To get ahead of the game, I am planning on offering two new clubs in 2023 and I will also start offering workshops via Outschool. Financially, this has been a good year for us, which is weird, but we are both earning more and have two less children at home.

My writing went into some kind of crazed overdrive in 2023!! Sim and I finished and released the first two books in our Fortune’s Well trilogy and the third is due for release early 2023. I published The Old Friend – A Collection of Tales and Poems in April and I fnished the final drafts of all four books in The Day The Earth Turned series. 2023 will be all about me planning the best launch yet, getting amazing covers and releasing them one by one.

As well as working on those two series, I also wrote the first draft of At Night We Played In The Road – which is a spin-off book from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. That led to me getting ideas about a crossover book, using characters from The Boy series, the Holds End series, The Mess of Me and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature… Phew! Currently titled The Dark Finds You, once I had the plot outlined, I could not resist diving in and in about six weeks I had written this book too. It wrote itself, to be honest. The story connects Danny from The Boy series, Bill Robinson from Holds End trilogy, Leon from The Mess Of Me and Elliot from Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature in a plot about a missing boy. These books were already connected in small ways so it was very easy to pull the characters all together for this one plot. I loved it and cannot wait to work on the second draft. It will finish off and tie up that whole universe. Once I had written it, I then decided to go and finish the first draft of The Mess of Us, which is obviously the sequel to The Mess Of Me, as I had started it a few years back. That was a harder one to write but I got there! So, now I have the three final books in that universe written in first draft. I will be starting At Night We Played In The Road next, as in terms of the timeline, it’s the next one to finish and release. Then it will be The Mess Of Us and then The Dark Finds You. Plenty to keep me busy then!

But that wasn’t all. In February we had a ten day power cut thanks to storm Eunice and a three week WiFi cut! I couldn’t use my laptop so ended up writing something new in a notebook to keep me busy. Black Hare Valley was an idea already plotted out to some extent, complete with character bios and a detailed map, and this break from technology seemed like a good reason to play with it. I got totally addicted, filled five notebooks and during a three month period, wrote the whole thing. So, that will get worked on at some point too!

As you can see, a crazy year for output and productivity! Oh, I also started putting together a new short story/flash fiction/poetry collection because I’m always accumulating little bits and bobs.

I’m looking forward to 2023 on a personal level. I can’t wait to release more books, dive into second drafts, and maybe even start new books. It is what I love more than anything. I am looking forward to warmer weather, time outside and work on the vegetable plot. I am looking forward to another little family holiday and perhaps a festival or two. I am looking forward to running more writing clubs and seeing where it all goes.

But first, we have Christmas to enjoy! Our food is all bought, our decorations are up, presents are all wrapped, now we just need our eldest back from uni and we are all here and ready to have fun!

What was 2022 like for you? What were your highlights?