Dear 12 Year-Old Me…

Dear 12 year-old me,

Image by Piyapong Saydaung from Pixabay

I think about you a lot! I see you in my head sometimes. I don’t think you looked that different to how I do now. Same hair, same face. I don’t think my dress sense has even changed that much. I still remember your crippling shyness, how it crept up on you until you couldn’t deny who you were and how the world saw you. That became a heavy burden in your later teens but right now, it’s not a problem at all. I wish I could go back and tell you that one day you find your voice! That one day you run your own company and write and publish your own books!

It was all you wanted back then. Every day you would rush home from awful school, the place that churned up your guts every night in bed, and you’d glue yourself to your notebooks and pens, scribbling away, pen flying over paper, never stopping. You had so much inside of you, I think it surprised you as much as anyone when you wrote an entire book. Until the moment you created Danny and what would eventually become The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, it had been short, endearing stories about lost animals.

What happened when you turned 12? Everything.

You discovered music. You couldn’t stand the vapid boy bands popular among your classmates in the early 90s, but you found a lyrical friend in Bob Dylan and other musicians from the 60s. You felt so out of place in your own generation, until you discovered grunge and Nirvana! I remember how you’d lie on the floor with your head between the speakers of your hi-fi system, trying to digest and pinpoint every drum beat, every strum of the guitar, amazed and bewildered by what you were hearing and feeling.

You discovered movies. The Lost Boys inspired you to write about monsters, though you made yours the human kind. I still remember that moment, the bit at the end of the movie where they discover that the head vampire is really Sam and Michael’s mother’s boyfriend and you thought what if that happened in real life? What if your mother was dating an absolute monster and no one knew it but you?

You discovered that your parents had already been divorced for a few years – for some bizarre reason, feeling the need to keep up a charade until the truth came out. What you felt more than anything was relief that the arguing would stop and fear about who they might date. After all, monsters really did exist…

You started writing Danny’s story fuelled by your own fears.

You discovered gritty storytelling. Your writing shifted from cutesy animal tales to hard-hitting ones about abuse, drugs, self-harm, and crime and that’s because you fell in love with The Outsiders and SE Hinton became on of your heroes. She published The Outsiders at aged 17, so that meant you could too, right? Reading her books and others like them, moved you away from animal stories and into darker territory.

You discovered Stephen King and his influence would seep into everything you wrote from then on. The exploration of character and back story and motivation, and the every day details we so often miss. For you, the monsters were always human.

You thought you were fat and so many people thought it their duty to convince you this was true. You began to wish you could shrink inside your own skin, or pull it all off and start again. You looked at your skinny older sisters with envy and longing. You didn’t want to be seen in public with a face like that, a body like that. You turned to your writing, to your characters and they became your entire world, your friends, your everything.

They never went away, let me tell you that now. They are all still here. Every night my mind plays out scenes that have happened or not happened, and every night I watch my own little movies in my head just like you did back then.

I wish I could go back and tell you that everything you hated about yourself then is everything I love about myself now.

You were called over-sensitive, grizzly, weak, easy to make cry. You lived on the edges looking in, observing. I can’t tell you how much that shaped you as a writer and how I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. How now I can see who you were and what you were becoming, that pain is good, that silence makes you stronger, that observation builds entire worlds inside you. That you overcome everything and did it anyway. At 12 years old all you wanted was to be a writer and today that is all I am. That is everything. I smile every day because you gave me these stories, these worlds, these words.

Thank you for doing it. Thank you for dedicating so many hours in your bedroom to writing and creating characters. None of it was wasted. None of it was in vain. It was all worth it in the end.

Thank you for being you.

With love,

44 Year-Old me.

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.

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?

So, What Do You Write?

So, what do you write? An innocent enough question, yet one that tends to fill most writers with instant fear and panic. Unless, of course, you’re one of the sensible ones who only writes in one easy to categorise genre. Oh, how nice that must be; to be able to answer quickly and succinctly, ‘I write romance,’ or ‘I write crime thrillers.’

For those of us who write in multiple genres, this is the question we dread people asking. Imagine the scene. You’re getting to know someone, or chatting to a stranger to pass the time at a bus stop or in the doctor’s waiting area. They ask politely what you do for a living and you say you’re a writer. (You probably wave a dismissive hand almost immediately and tell them that you also have a day job…) Or maybe they already know you’re a writer, maybe someone told them and they’re asking out of curiosity. They like to read, you see, so of course they want to know what you write. And you freeze. You look for an easy, quick answer, as neither of you want to drag this out too long, but there isn’t one. So, you start mumbling incoherent sentences about, ‘a bit of this and a bit of that…’ Before you know it, their eyes have glazed over and they no longer take you seriously, if they ever did.

I have always dreaded this question. When I first started publishing my work, I had no idea what genre my books were or how to categorise them. Amazon and other platforms force you to think about this if you haven’t already. You need to allocate your book a category and you need to choose keywords, for example. My first novel was YA but I didn’t actually realise it at the time – I had just written the story that was in my head, and at that time, I had no plan to market it towards a certain audience. Obviously, since then I’ve learned a lot and I now realise how important genre is in marketing your book, from the cover, to the title and the blurb.

My next books were The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series and I still struggle to explain what genre this is! The main character is thirteen in the first book, but twenty-four in the fifth, so I can’t really call it YA. It has a lot of crime and drama, but I would say the psychological elements are stronger. Having said that I wouldn’t really want to call is a psychological thriller. It has elements of suspense and horror, plus coming-of-age. Heaven help anyone who asks me what it’s about…. They’ll be stuck there a while.

Not being sure of genre or category is one problem, but what if you also continue to release books in different genres? It makes it hard to build a loyal audience, that’s for sure.

After that series, I released This Is Nowhere. At heart it’s a family mystery – the main character returns home to try and discover what happened to his mother who vanished when he was a boy – but it’s also an examination of mental health and in our ability to find meaning in life. Tricky. After that I wrote The Tree Of Rebels, probably the one and only time I decided to write a book to fit the market. At the time YA dystopian books were becoming very popular and as I had an idea for one, I decided to write it and market it as such. It ended up being the hardest book to write for that reason. Like someone was watching over my shoulder the entire time.

Since then I have released Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, a book I still find hard to categorise. Its literary fiction; character driven with a young narrator, yet its not YA. My YA trilogy Holds End was easier to classify as YA, but it’s also a mix of things; coming-of-age, crime, drama, thriller, murder mystery…

I’ve released two short story and poetry collections, and two books so far in a co-written YA supernatural/paranormal series. I’m currently editing The Day The Earth Turned series which is YA post-apocalyptic, and I’ve written first drafts for more crime/drama/thrillers and a YA horror/fantasy… That’s not to mention the zombie apocalypse story I started a while back, and the family mystery/psychological thriller I’m making notes for…

It would be great to write in one genre. It would make life far easier for me. I would be able to call myself a horror writer or a crime writer and I would be able to market my blog and social media pages with this in mind. I would be able to work on building a loyal following of readers who know what to expect from me. Instead, the small amount of readers I do attract, never know what to expect next. YA supernatural, followed by YA post-apocalyptic, followed by gritty, crime drama?

There’s no doubt writing in multiple genres makes it harder to market and sell books. It’s almost as if people don’t take you as seriously as the writer that always writes to one genre… I’m not sure why.

I have come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t waste too much time worrying about it. Sales and reviews are hard to come by, but ideas certainly aren’t. My head is full of them. And whether the next idea is a murder mystery, a post-apocalyptic horror, or a story about shape shifters, I don’t think I’ll be ignoring it. How could I?

In many ways, writing in multiple genres keeps things fresh and new. I’m having fun so hopefully my readers are too. And there are a few things that all my books do have in common and I’m not too shy to mention them here. They are all a little on the dark side, often examining the worst elements of human nature, and they are all very character driven. My aim is to make you fall in love with my characters as much as I have. So, if you like things a bit dark and you want to make some new friends you will wish were real, you’ve come to the right place.

And the next time I get asked what I write, do you know what? I am going to hold my head up high and tell them the truth. That I write in many genres, and therefore, have something for everyone, no matter your tastes!