Guest Post #5 – Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of Another World is a new feature on my blog, inspired by a piece I wrote during lockdown. I wondered whether other writers and bloggers felt like me during this strange time – that another world was possible and could just be glimpsed thanks to the stillness the pandemic enforced on us. I’ve had a great response to my request and each week I will be welcoming a guest to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences on how lockdown affected their vision for the future. Did it change their views about anything? Did it change anything in their life? Did it make them long for a different kind of life or society? This week Toby Martin shares a story he wrote during lockdown. It expresses the frustrations and fears he experienced when trying to keep an appropriate distance from other people during his daily exercise. (This does include swearing in case that offends you.)

Walking Alone – by Toby Martin

At the last count, there were nearly 8 billion.

Somehow that didn’t seem right. Could it really be possible that after millennia of wars, famines, droughts, democides and genocides, hostile weather, predation, disease, murder and even self-inflicted death, there were still this many? Why did humans have to be so resilient anyway?

Dani found a growl in her throat emerging automatically at the sight of a woman with two loud kids in tow, their screeches and guffaws dirtying the still air. She was in half a mind to confront the woman and tell her exactly how much she had got wrong. Hadn’t she heard of protection, contraception, or even abortion? Where exactly did she get off, producing two more of these obnoxious specimens when the planet was already heaving under the weight of the overinflated ego of a bipedal ape that had gotten too technologically savvy for its own good?

And even if she insisted on ruining the rest of her life by producing time and money consuming crotch goblins, with a masochistic instinct Dani could never understand, why did they have to choose this exact path to be walking on? Dani had chosen this path, and she was almost certain she had been there first. In really ruined the serene image created before – a tiny strip of walkable gravel lined by trees and swaying grasses, tucked away from the hideous noises of humanity, all of that muffled and replaced with the twitter of birds or the occasional whine of an insect. That particular image had been fine as it was before, and Dani really felt that the narrowness of the path spoke volumes about how people should be on it at any given time. But no, apparently dragging your shrieking genetic splurges along it regardless of who else might be there as a giant fuck you to anyone who preferred the quiet life was a perfectly decent use of one’s time. Especially if the path was so narrow that should people be coming in opposite directions, collisions were inevitable. Realising this, Dani began to resent the person who had made the path. Fuck that thoughtless idiot.

Faced with the prospect of other people coming within her personal space, Dani considered her options. As it had been earlier with the blond loser in the hoodie, cheerfully chatting into his phone and not caring that his presence was so interfering, Dani felt she’d have to drastically change direction. The loser from earlier seemed not to have cared that Dani had had to leap across the road and risk being run over by a car, which raised the question of which cunt had thought it was a good idea to be driving in such a way that disturbed the peace, to say nothing of the amount of pollution they were causing. Still, the way out had at least been obvious to her, if risky. Now, however? Vegetation lined the entirety of her peripheral vision. She was funnelled in, doomed to be within the range and space of the disgusting entity that was OTHER PEOPLE. Damn it. The tranquil-looking path had lured her in like the proverbial gingerbread house – and a path with intent was not a welcome idea, because that would mean it was sentient, and then Dani would have to hate it too. As far as she was concerned, her only options were limited to diving into the surrounding plant matter, risking scratches and stings until the loathsome ones had passed, or else hoping that the life-threatening car from earlier would suddenly crash into the vicinity and put this smug, noisy family permanently out of her misery. Such serendipity was unlikely, as Dani knew too well, though she liked to entertain the image for just a couple of seconds before having to face the inevitable.

With minimum grace, Dani launched herself into what appeared to be a minute gap in the surrounding bushes, which, whilst certainly not ideal, did at least count as a gap. At least for this absolutely vital purpose. Now she just had to hope that these organisms would not seek her to bother her further.

“Thank you!” the mother said briefly as she passed. Dani simply scowled behind her back. Sure, it was better for her sacrifices to be acknowledged, but she wouldn’t have to make them if people did the sensible thing and kept out of her way. Surely this town was big enough for people to keep a distance? And if not, then they should all do what would have been advisable many hundred generations back and just stopped reproducing. Was it too much to ask that a voluntary, long overdue euthanasia for the human race be put into practice before any more damage was done? It would be the more palatable option for most, compared to the inevitable rush for humanity to cause its own violent destruction, though Dani considered the latter option to be the more cathartic. At the same time, the former would give Dani more peace in the years to come, when there’d be a beautiful absence of the usual screaming kids, who insisted on getting in your way in the most farcical ways. Though that wouldn’t necessarily solve the problem of the clueless adults, or the teens on bikes. Well, shit.

Dani was about to continue her angry stroll along the now clear path, when she noticed something in her peripheral vision that she hadn’t noticed before. This was understandable – diving into bushes wasn’t her usual way of doing things. The rows of vegetation didn’t seem quite as solid as before, and, twisting around, she noticed that, beneath a low hanging branch, winded a smaller path, covered in earth and looking free of human influences. Hm.

Dani looked closer. The path led onto a field that she had known beforehand ran parallel to this particular path. She had deliberately avoided it because of the sight of all the fucking people there. However, this narrow view of the field showed this particular end of it to be mercifully free of people and leading to a wooded area she had barely spared any thought to before. The wood was bordered by extremely tall pine trees and looked to be completely unoccupied. How come she hadn’t noticed it before? She supposed raging at her species on a constant basis left little thought space for ways to get away from it all. But now, for once in her sorry life, she had struck lucky. Provided nobody else got there in the meantime…

It was the worth of a couple of seconds for Dani to firmly establish her trajectory along this new path and, chancing a revolted grimace at the bastard humans gathered a merciful distance away, briskly made her way past the trees and into the woods.

It was the worth of a couple of seconds for Dani to firmly establish her trajectory along this new path and, chancing a revolted grimace at the bastard humans gathered a merciful distance away, briskly made her way past the trees and into the woods.

Though the sound of the barely sapient sapiens wasn’t entirely muffled by the lines of trees now surrounding her, Dani felt that the ambience had shifted enough. No longer did she have those stupid fuckers in her lines of vision, just the trees, silently swaying or gently rustling, and masses of ferns growing without restriction, without dictat from consumers and horticulturalists. This was the vision of a post-human world. It was just a shame she wouldn’t be there to see it.

Taking a few slow steps along a makeshift path, away from the human noise, Dani began fantasizing about people finally taking notice of how much she avoided human contact, and, became moved by sympathy to put the voluntary human extinction into action. OK, so – it wouldn’t happen. Humans loved fucking and breeding like rabbits way too much to realise how much better it would be to stop. They couldn’t see beyond their next fuck, drink or consumption of natural resources. Their cares lay beyond the important things in life. Mindless breeders, the lot of them. Dani audibly sighed and briefly span around to get a panoramic view of her surroundings. Such a limited look gave the impression of the good life, but alas…

Another twirl showed her a dog and, sadly, its walker in her peripheral vision. Fuck. She couldn’t escape even in a temporary wilderness. She guessed it was time to change trajectory again.

Fortunately, this open woodland allowed for a much greater number of escape routes. The one she selected, over a low-growing holly tree, likely required much for agility than the wrinkly fogey and tiny terrier were capable of, and it led her further away from the breeders beyond the trees. It was ideal!

After the dog and its walker had passed, Dani realised that the particular area she had found herself in was not as ideal as it first appeared. The trees and ferns grew much closer together here, restricting her room for exercise whilst fantasizing about the end of her pathetic species. She began to step back in the direction of the more open area when something else caught her eye. This time, it was mercifully not a human being. It may have been the herald of one, however, long ago.

She crouched down and took a closer look at the small, mysterious shape nestled under a much shorter pine than the ones that towered around her. Shrouded in the permanent shade and covered in pale pine needles, it was very easy to miss. It took a real sophisticate and not a sheep, Dani reflected, a wide, involuntary smile making its way onto her face, to notice such a thing. The shape, as far as she could ascertain, was of a small rucksack, looking to be of a faded indigo colour. How long had it been there? Would it be safe to touch? Dani dismissed this concern and reached out for it, brushing some of the pine needles off. It certainly felt like a rucksack, with the rough, sturdy texture that might have been polyester, although…she ran her hand up and down it, occasionally coming into contact with the odd zip…it was slightly softer than a brand new one would have been.

Dani felt for the straps and yanked it into a clearer view. Though not heavy, it had some degree of weight resistance, and rattled slightly as she set it on a partially emerging tree root. It still contained what it had been abandoned with. What was it and why? This was a pertinent question for those with the intellectual capacity to consider it, not those clueless reprobates. Dani suddenly felt the made urge to yank the bag open and plunder its secrets. But she had to examine every inch of this bag, to find everything that might be within it. It had several separate sections, after all. She would build up.

The smaller pockets and pouches yielded nothing, so that only left the main body of the bag taking up the majority of its weight. A delicious shiver ran up Dani’s spine as she slowly unzipped the rucksack, half-closing her eyes to savour the sound that heralded her discovery.

She peered into the bag once it was fully open.

Tapes.

The abandoned rucksack was full of a pile of cassette tapes, each one its own plastic case. Blank? No – they were labelled with hand-written letters of the alphabet. Some of the cases were cracked, and, as she discovered when she lifted one out to examine it, they opened very easily, indicating a rather repeated use. All the spools of tape were also still intact.

So, it came to this – unbroken cassette tapes, with all almost certainly containing recordings, had been abandoned in the middle of the woods. Who had made the recordings, what was in them, and why had they wanted them hidden?

Dani wasn’t sure if she felt a rush of kinship for someone who had hidden something they had made from prying breeder eyes, or whether she should be wary that these tapes should yield criminal acts of such disgusting depravity that to declare kinship with such a person would be tantamount to being the worst.

Well, there was only one way to find out.

*

Following Dani’s not-so-blissful but interesting walk came the inevitable not-so-blissful and not that interesting either confrontation with her mother, who insisted that she should have let her know before she had set off because she wanted her to post a letter on her way and had had to do it herself. Dani gave her an insidious glower at her words, biting back the retort that she should stop leeching off of her to get her pathetic tasks done and that Dani wanted no part in her attempt to support the increased interaction of the human species or contribute to deforestation by use of her paper consumption and maybe she should take a long hard look at herself and realise how futile everything she did really was. She bit back that retort for a good four seconds before breaking. It felt rather pressing a matter. In response, her mother got defensive and proclaimed that Dani was closer to a leech than her given that she was still living under her roof and being financially supported by her, and maybe she could do more to support her? Well, at this, Dani, her face burning an awesome shade of crimson, hollered back that she’d rather be a leech than a human and that her mother had done a terrible, immoral thing by bringing her into the world in the first place and that she was simply reaping what she had sown. She added a ‘fuck the normies’ and ‘hail Satan’ in there for good measure.

Dani’s mother went off in a frantic distress, muttering about where she might have gone wrong. Dani managed to resist the urge to fire back that birth was the answer (both her birth and Dani’s), but declined, given that now the path to being alone in her room was clear.

She sprinted up the stairs, slid into her room and shut the door behind her. With a sweep of her arm, she cleared her desk of the trashy clutter than inhabited it, with the exception of the small goldfish bowl, containing her best friend, Jeremiah, happily swimming about, oblivious to how fucking awful everyone else was. Jeremiah was always content to have his bowl perched in the corner, so he could be a companion to Dani as she worked on various misanthropic projects without getting in the way.

Amidst a dusty pile of retro stuff under her bed that came in and out of fashion cyclically was a small cassette player with a pale stain on it. Dani had no idea what the stain was, had no desire to investigate, and in any case knew it was of no concern given that it still worked perfectly, about the only thing in the pile that did. Dani set the player on her desk, plugged it in and wiped the film of dust that had gathered atop it off in a flourish. The dust particles still dancing in the air, she selected the tape labelled ‘A’, slipped it in and pressed play.

It occurred to her just after she did this that it might have been advisable to rewind first, just to ensure she didn’t miss anything, but it soon became evident that that had already been taken care of for her. There was a crackle and an exhale on the speakers, and she leaned in closer.

“Hello.” The voice was male, sounded relatively young (though definitely post-puberty) and had a very nasal quality. It continued,

“This is a first of a series of recordings I’ve made where I really want to share…well, everything.”

Everything? Dani’s ears pricked up at these words. Was this recording something she was never supposed to stumble across? That made it even better. What horrific crime did he have to confess to? She held her breath as the recording continued,

“For starters, there are times where I wonder whether some dinosaurs would have been suitable pets.”

Dani frowned slightly. This was a disappointment. Confessing one’s idle thoughts were far from exciting, as she had often remarked to her mother when not raving about how humanity needed to go extinct. Still, this could easily give her an insight into what this person was like. From the pile of abandoned former desk clutter, she extracted a pencil and paper and began to note what this mysterious nasally stranger was saying about dinosaurs.

“I mean, some of the more famous ones would obviously been quite dangerous,” he continued, “Or else have very tricky upkeep. Take Argentinosaurus – the largest land animal that ever existed. Pretty awesome to show to your neighbours, but how are you supposed to house or feed an animal that may have weighed 100 tonnes? You’d have to go for a much smaller one, but that might look a lot less cool. You’d have to strike the right balance between cool to look at and easy to keep, and so…”

And so he went on. Dani began to find it a little tricky to keep up with his line of thought, her jottings becoming rougher and less distinct and wondering how the hell this shameless nerd had managed to talk for so long about an abstract hypothetical. After all, if there were no humans, keeping pets wouldn’t even be a thing! Though she did wonder whether humans vanishing suddenly or simply never having existed would have been the better option for enslaved animals at that point, distracting her so that she almost missed the nasally stranger wrapping up his stream of consciousness by concluding that Struthiosaurus (whatever that was) would make the ideal dinosaur pet, and moving on to another topic, which began,

“I have a little confession to take about when I was younger…”

Dani corrected her slouch so suddenly she jolted the desk and risked upsetting Jeremiah’s bowl. Onto the juicier topics, surely?

“It was back when I was maybe about seven or eight. There was a little wood less than five minutes from where I lived. And at this age, my parents were starting to get a little more relaxed about letting me go there alone, provided I went in the middle of the day, didn’t talk to strangers and promised I’d be back at the exact time they had specified.”

Dani gripped her pencil tighter. An anecdote of being an unsupervised child? Something scandalous was sure to come of this. She licked her lips in anticipation. Did it involve talking to stranger? Even going off with one and his parents never finding out? Maybe he found a whole stash of porn in the woods?

“There was a point in the usual walk in the woods where the canopy ahead was thickest,” the stranger said, his voice taking on a slower pace, squeezing any suspense out of the story he could manage, “and it always interested me, because to me it seemed like it was inevitably the wildest, most untouched part of the whole area. But there was a gate there.”

Dani scrawled, ‘A MOTHERFUCKING GATE???’ onto the paper, taking up the rest of the space and necessitating turning the page over. Now she had to know what was the on the other side of this gate.

“Now, obviously, in such a small wooded area, it’s not exactly wild and exotic. But to my child’s mind it was, and this gate always stuck out to me. A construct of old wood with flecks of green paint. Obviously, the paintwork had just faded with time, but I thought it was a deliberate pattern at the time, to signify something way more mysterious and other-worldly.”

“And what was it…?” Dani actually found herself muttering out loud.

“I was never brave enough to venture through the gate-”

‘FUCKING TEASE.’ Dani scribbled before leaning back and sighing with all the exaggeration she could muster. The voice of the stranger continued,

“Doubtless, on the other side was something hopelessly mundane, probably someone’s garden. But honestly, the possibilities I made up in my head were much more exciting. What if it was a portal to a world of dinosaurs? To a secret world of magic, sorcery, and villainy only I could find? The embarrassing thing is, I spent a lot of time near that gate as a child, completely on my own, wondering out loud what might be on the other side of the gate, and loudly battling the imaginary foes that came out of it.”

‘How sad,’ Dani jotted, sniffing in a supercilious way. What kind of sad person would spend that much time alone?

All the same, as soon as the stranger began to give more details on the kind of encounters he imagined getting from the mysterious gate, which included everything from ancient aliens to ridiculously tall witches, Dani found there was just a little more intrigue than before. Though it was disappointing that no cryptic crimes or mysterious pasts were being unveiled, this insight into a mind that refused to conform to the acceptable imaginations of the sheep that flocked everywhere she trod was a welcome, inviting break. A little lighthouse in a dark sea of depravity.

This delightfully bizarre imagination continued for a while, long enough that Dani had found herself more invested than she expected and was surprised when the tape suddenly stopped with a loud clunk. She frowned. It was possible that all these tapes – ten in total – displayed a continuous train of thought rather than separate accounts. If so, anything the stranger confessed would likely be buried deep within the winding thought stream, not set aside for any tape specifically. She couldn’t be 100% sure of that, but also had no way of finding out, other than to listen to all of them. One by one.

This realisation in her mind turned into a commitment, and for the next two and a bit days, she barely left her desk, listening and taking intense notes on everything intriguing the stranger said. It irritated her to no end when she had to get up to eat, sleep, use the toilet or help her mum out with something stupid and futile and listen to the whines that she was starting to smell and needed a shower. This proved beyond reasonable doubt, Dani decided, that it was infinitely preferable to spend time in the mind of another outsider than brave the horrifically boring and boringly horrific exploits of the common, vulgar, weak, licentious crowd.

It was a good way into the second side of the ‘J’ tape, whilst the stranger was rambling about the kind of food combinations he’d enjoyed as a child, that Dani realised that, if there was some higher purpose for him making these recordings, with this being the last tape, it must be coming up any moment now. With ten whole cassettes dedicated to things like embarrassing childhood attempts at writing, the scariest advert he ever saw, habits he had picked up while shopping, a dream diary he had kept at thirteen that had coincided with puberty and much more, she concluded that such occasionally delightful non-conformist confessions must be culminating in some seriously important zenith. As such, she almost had a heart attack when the stranger began to say,

“OK, so, as this is the last tape, I think I should probably wrap all this up and get to the point about why I even did this.”

Almost involuntarily, Dani emitted a noise that sounded some degree of excited, but possibly also pained to ignorant eavesdroppers.

“I have no idea who will find these recordings,” the tape went on, “but given how much I’ve shared about myself, I feel we’re sort of friends now.”

‘This is a stretch’, Dani found herself writing, but continued listening.

“So…a while back, I heard that a childhood friend of mine was being investigated for…well, the bottom line is, they weren’t who I thought they were. And that severely shifted my perspective not just on the time we’d spent together, but also on basically everything. All of us. As a species.”

‘He had childhood friends?’ Dani queried to her paper but finished this observation quickly. Her excitement had peaked as soon as he had mentioned the human species. This had to be the point where their ideas converged! He was going to condemn the rest of humanity as trash and prove this whole long exploit worth it. Maybe he’d even share some ideas of how to persuade everyone to stop reproducing. Heart hammering and pencil poised, she turned up the volume and listened intently.

“I think, when we grow up and learn more about the intense harshness of some parts of the world, part of us feels betrayed. You know, we had this image of an ideal world where we could be anything we wanted, but actually, no, we have to go into a field that makes money or else we’ll never get a job or a house or a livelihood. Oh, and loads of people are homeless or elsewhere dying of war, disease, famine, oppression, ignored by many people in charge and we’re also completely screwing the natural world over. Suddenly, we feel a bit shafted, and fall into a resentment of almost everyone. Even those you trusted might not be as pure as you thought and it makes you wonder, is anything really worth it in the end? Are we, the dominant species, worth it?”

‘NOOOOOOOOOO!’ Dani triumphantly declared on paper.

“I would say – yes, absolutely.”

What.

“I mean, think about it this way – all this introspection, this species-wide self-deprecating. No other species on the planet does it, not even mosquitoes, who kill more of us every year than we do of each other. We can probably safely conclude that no species has ever done it, because they’ve never had the self-awareness we do. And whilst it can come with some depressing side effects, being self-aware is not a problem, it’s an opportunity. We have a wider scope of the problems we face than any other animal does, giving us both the desire and means to sort them. And sure, we mess up a lot, and we all choose to remember that, rather than the huge amounts of progress we’ve made – for example, I guarantee that nobody listening to this will be living in fear of smallpox, giving us the tiny window of possibility that this may eventually be true for all disease everywhere. Imagine a world like that.

“Now, you might be wondering what this has to do with all the other random stuff I’ve been talking about on all of these tapes. Well, not much, except that it gives you a little insight into me, hopefully to generate a bit of empathy, because sometimes that kind of perspective is all we need to realise we care enough about another individual that we are, even just slightly, invested in their continued happiness. Also, it shows the ridiculous capacity for imagination we have, again, unique among the animals, as vast as our potential. I hope that’s the case anyway – and I hope that whoever found these tapes, whatever you might be thinking of the world right now, I hope you at least bear what I said in mind. Thanks so much for listening to my weird little rambles, clearly a connection’s already been made!”

And the tape clunked to a stop.

Dani let the pencil fall from her fingers onto the desk, ignoring it as it rolled off onto the floor. The last words of the stranger reeled in her mind, echoing strangely as thoughts exploded in her head more intently than she had felt in a while. She had been left with a rather…unexpected message. She glanced down at her paper. Then she snorted and screwed it up.

No, he was completely wrong.

I mean, of course he was wrong. Dani knew better. Humans were depraved. All of them. Even her, probably. Humanity had never done anything good, it was obvious, when you looked at all the bad. God, this fucker was an idiot. And she had thought he had valuable insights? Ha! Clearly only she knew the truth.

Standing up and beginning to pace in frustration, she realised she’d almost definitely have to send him a reply. Write or even record an impassioned rebuttal, taken from a list of horrible human things she had been working on since the age of nine, then leave it in the rucksack when she returned to its former place. Then she’d see what his stupid mind made of that! Maybe he’d be persuaded to stop the breeding of everyone he knew!

Her relish at this was rather heavily distracted however, when she span back around to face her desk and noticed that she had forgotten to feed Jeremiah in the last two and a bit days.

Thank you so much Toby, for writing and sharing this lockdown themed story with us. If you would like to find out more about Toby, his bio and link to his blog are below! I still have spaces for the guest post slot – so if you have a piece in mind, do get in touch! Anything fictional or personal on the theme Dreaming of Another World will be considered.

Toby Martin

I’ve been writing since I was ridiculously young, although I’m happy to say I think I’ve improved a lot since those initial makeshift books in felt-tip pen and terrible spelling. I’m constantly looking to push the boundaries of what I write, and whilst my current preferred avenue is contemporary fiction, I’m looking to expand into some speculative fiction as well, should time allow.I was accepted into Bournemouth University in 2015 and have more recently started a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing & Publishing. Outside of writing, you can usually find me either with a performing arts group, with a humanist group, or doing way too deep analysis of any creative work I feel you might like. You can find out more about me here; https://tobythewastrel.wordpress.com/

Social Media, Distraction and Guilt

Me and social media have had a bumpy ride to date. There was the initial stand off, followed by sluggish efforts, which were then followed by a relationship that can only be described as love/hate. In this day and age, social media is essential for indie authors who want to connect with more readers and build a following. I accepted this early on, but I didn’t have to like it. It felt really odd in the beginning. I needed to be active on as many sites as possible, but didn’t really want to be on any. The whole networking thing was a complete mystery to me and I didn’t know where to start. And then when I did make the brave move of starting this blog, joining Twitter and setting up a Facebook author page, I found I had two main problems. I didn’t know what to post and when I did post, I was just talking to myself!

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These days things are very different. I’m happy to report I now have a far more positive and realistic relationship with social media. I have my little following, for which I am extremely grateful. I have learned what to post and when to post, and hopefully, I maintain likes, follows and engagement, by posting interesting things!

The problem I have these days is a little different, and it might be one you are familiar with. Social media, now that I have fully embraced it, is one major distraction, for which I feel endless amounts of guilt. Know the feeling?

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As a new author, I started with this blog, Facebook and Twitter, but I obviously wanted to spread the word far and wide, so I collected a few more here and there. Goodreads, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Wattpad. And just last week, I added a shiny new one to the social media collection, Instagram.

I thought it would kick me up the bum a bit to try a new one. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and all that. And as I already mentioned, the problem I have these days is rather different to the one I had in the beginning, where I viewed promoting via social media as a kind of cold sell out that somehow devalued what I was trying to do. These days, the problem is it is too tempting to be on as many as possible and for as long as possible!

It’s great that I genuinely enjoy social media these days, but it can be incredibly addictive and it can be hard to strike the right balance.

A while back I deleted Facebook from my phone as I was scrolling through my feed and posting things all through the day, and this was making me feel constantly depressed and angry about the state of the world, as well as terribly guilty for being on my phone whilst I have a beautiful little boy to care for.

I felt much better after it was gone. I limited myself to social media in the evenings only, a bit before writing and a bit after.

But now I’ve got Instagram on the phone. And…um, Facebook is back too.

I have to be strong though, and keep reminding myself that I am on both of them for business, ie book promoting reasons, only. I don’t have the time to go scrolling through feeds all day and missing time with my child. If I only have a few minutes here and there in the evening, then that’s all I’m going to get. Of course, I would love to spend hours and hours on social media, finding interesting articles on Twitter and Medium to share to my pages. I would love to be pinning all day and adding to my boards, and I won’t even go into how joining Instagram has had me viewing everything in hashtags since last week. It’s just weird!

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So, how to you avoid getting totally distracted by social media and then feeling guilty as a result? My advice is to set yourself rules and stick to them!

You don’t need to post on all of them, all of the time. I posted on Instagram for the first time a few days ago. I decided to start off I would post a series of photos in the style of a ‘day in the life’ type thing, I took pictures of things that happen in my life every day, ie walking dogs, baking, gardening, parenting, and at the and of the busy day, writing followed by reading. This was really fun to do. But now I intend to leave it alone until I next think of something worth posting, for example, scenes that inspire or are in my books, front covers, extracts of work, events and so on. I don’t want to get addicted to it as a site.

The same applies to Pinterest. It is very addictive and a lot of fun to play around with, but I only dip in and out when I need to. This is the sort of site you can totally ignore until you need to make use of it. I update the boards when I have a reason to, and will be paying much more attention to the site when I have a new book to launch and promote.

There are going to be times when it is much more important to use certain social media sites, such as when a new book is coming together or about to be launched. But my advice would be the rest of the time, to stick to the three that you deal with daily or weekly, and take a break from the rest.

It’s not a good idea to dip in and out of all of them for example, so if Facebook and Twitter are your thing, then stick with them, and post consistently and engagingly in order to build a loyal following. Just don’t feel like you have to be doing this all day every day with ALL of the sites you are on.

My last piece of advice? Give yourself one day or night totally OFF. I’m the sort of person that would be writing all day every day if I could. I hate not writing and when I am not writing, I always wish I was writing and I am constantly thinking about writing. This includes time spent increasing my social media content. But once a week I turn it all off and step away from the wi-fi. It’s a no go area, and it really does me the world of good. I curl up with my kids, leave my phone off, watch TV and chill out.

It genuinely feels like a day off ‘work’ and of course, we all need those.

Please feel free to comment or share! How many social media sites are you on? Do you feel guilty about the amount of time you spend on them? How do you strike a balance between work, social media and home life?

 

Prove Them Wrong

Sometimes I think that the best piece of advice I have received in my life came from a fictional character I created myself. Strange, eh? In The Boy With The Thorn In His Side , Michael is often nudging Danny along by suggesting he ‘prove them wrong’. Now is not the time to go into who ‘they’ are, but I am sure you have your own ‘they’. I’m sure that whatever your passion, whatever your dream, there is or has been someone somewhere expecting you to fail.

When I was a teenager, I called them the Plan B Realists. They liked my Plan A, which was to become a writer. They smiled at it and nodded and thought it was sweet, but they didn’t think it was realistic or sensible. It wasn’t a real plan, they said. There is no money in it, they said. I tried to ignore them at the time but fear becomes ingrained. Not being successful, not being able to support yourself, not making your loved ones proud of you, becomes too much to risk. It took me a long time to realise life is about pleasing yourself, not other people, and that maybe all the Plan B Realists had Plan A’s too once, ones that they failed to follow.

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As well as the ones who like to piss on your fireworks, I’m sure you’ve got a fair share of the eye-rollers too. You know the ones who basically change the subject if you talk about what you do. Fair enough. Then there are the ones who are so impossible to please, you could become the highest earner in the family, own a yacht, buy them a house and still be the person they just cannot see.

Michael’s words come back to me whenever I am feeling unsupported or ignored and whenever I experience doubt in my journey as a writer. The words stir a steely resolve inside my quivering belly and help hold me still. If you sometimes feel like no one is listening anyway and perhaps they never were, like no one sees you or remembers you, like your voice is too small, like it fades away before it even begins, then perhaps you could also take some advice from Michael and tell yourself to prove them wrong. And that really mean proving yourself right.

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Even if it hurts to acknowledge it, and it’s like there is something loose and rattling inside of you that is scrunched up, and batting around from one side to the other, and it’s like you can’t breathe properly when you think about it, when you think about them – it’s like you’ve been running from something that wants to crash into you if you ever let it catch you up – try to remember this. That there might never have been intentional malice in their words or actions, just a carelessness with your soul. That maybe you are family who really shouldn’t be, that you are so different  from each other that it makes it impossible to recognise what you see – Remember that maybe they did the best they could with all that they had, and that maybe they did better than their parents did with them, and remember that you will do better still.

You will never make your children feel less than wanted and valued and longed for, and you will never have favourites, those that shine and those you allow to fade, and you will always allow them their rightful dreams and be there by their side to guard them so that they are never lost to cold realism.

Maybe they weren’t there and didn’t care, maybe they turned their back or simply looked past you. Maybe you were not what they wanted, or not what they needed. Maybe they will see it one day when it is all too late. Maybe they won’t. Maybe one day all of your dreams will come true and you will finally be able to turn around and say look, I did it, I told you I could, and maybe they will still not care.

If they doubted you or mocked you, ignored you or neglected you, if they turned you away because they knew no better, then prove them wrong and do it well. Whatever it is, whoever you are, whatever your passion, do it anyway, and make it your life’s duty and purpose to prove them wrong. Do it anyway and do it well, and do it for yourself, and let their scorn and disinterest spur you to work ten thousand times harder than you would have without it. Let it be the fuel from which you draw the energy to keep going, to hold your head up high, to hear your voice getting surer and stronger. Let it make you harder and faster and brighter and smarter than you would be had you had all the love and support in the world.

Rise above. Move on, and may they choke on their words as you prove them all wrong.

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New Name, New Blog? Well….

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed I’ve been a bit absent lately. Not that I was ever a rigidly regular poster (although that all may be about to change!) I was always more of a write when I have something to say kind of blogger…

So, questions?

Where have I been and what have I been doing?

Why have I changed the name of this blog? What does it all mean?

Stay with me, and all shall be explained.

Firstly, I’ll blame the absence on two things. One, writing books. Or more to the point, struggling with what feels like the millionth draft of one particular pain the arse book…yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m talking about The Tree Of Rebels. Long story short; it still needs more. It needs more detail, more meat, more clarification, and it also needs the sequel to be finished.  (More on this another day!)

The second thing to blame my absence on, is actually a person. The brilliantly quirky indie author Shalaena Medford. We connected recently on social media, and got talking about selling books and building an audience. Luckily for me, Shalaena is currently studying book marketing as part of her Writing and Publishing course, and she was happy to share some articles and some knowledge with me. She showed me how she was updating and revamping her blog, making it appeal to the type of readers who would enjoy her work. (Don’t worry, I have roped her in to write a guest post explaining how and why authors should build an author platform. She’ll be able to explain much better than me!) There are many strands to this, and lots of advice to take on board, but the one I’ve been concentrating on is re-branding the blog.

Now, I know that all sounds rather cold and corporate, but it’s actually very sensible and even quite fun! So, why have I re-branded my blog and what does that actually mean?

When I started this blog I hadn’t published any books. I simply wanted a way to share my works in progress with my Facebook friends. I called it Life In Words as a temporary name while I tried to think of something better. A few years later, with published books under my belt, I started to put more effort into the blog, listening to the advice of others, and adding pages and blogging more often.

Anyway, after chatting to Shalaena, I realised that another blog overhaul was badly needed. And this time it had to be serious. I needed to think about what my books had in common. Who were they about? Who were they aimed at? Who would like them and why? It slowly dawned on me that they all had a common theme, which was the main characters being outsiders. They are all, in one way or another, rebels and non-conformists, individuals who aren’t bothered about fitting in. I then had a further revelation. The kind of books I like reading are the same! A whole list sprang to mind, and I realised that it’s always the characters I am looking for, and it’s the quirky, the weird and the rebellious that draw me in. So my work and my reading list had a common theme! It was time to think up a new name for the blog and gear it towards that theme. Now this is not a rigid thing. Just an acknowledgement of a theme that runs through my work, and through the books I read, the politics I believe in, life experiences and so on. It was all already there. I just needed help to see it.

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So that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks. Revamping the blog. Re-branding it! Helping to streamline and focus it, with the intention of attracting the kind of people who will genuinely want to read my work and hear what I have to say. I’ve added some new pages! I now have a Recommended Reading page, where you can find my favourite books, old and new. I also have a brand new Character Bios page, where you can find out more about the characters in my books.

And I have goals and intentions!

I aim to blog once a week, every Friday in fact. I’ve been too lazy about this in the past, and of course, it goes without saying, that if you want people to engage with you, you’ve got to show up regularly and put the work in. Every Friday I will post something. It might be about my week, my writing, books I’ve read, thoughts I’ve had, who knows? But I will be here!

There will be guest posts! These will be mostly from writers, but also other people with something to say. There may be extracts from novels, works in progress, and opinions on writing, publishing and marketing.

And I am asking for submissions! I need you too! I need your input. Your book recommendations, your favourite authors, your own thoughts, your own stories. I am open to anything, so just contact me. As long as it is somewhat in keeping with the outsiders theme, OR is generally writing related, then I am interested!

My guest posts will run on Mondays from now on, starting with the wonderful Shalaena explaining how  and why she has been working on her own blog identity.

But for now, it’s over to you. Do you have a blog for your writing and if so, how did you choose the name? Does it have a theme that relates to your own writing or not? If you’re a reader who follows blogs, which ones attract you and why? Please feel free to comment below! See you next time!