When Fear Drives Fiction

So, I’m reading George Orwell’s 1984 for the first time and wondering if what deterred me from it for so long was fear of fear. By that I mean there is already so much to be afraid of in this world, why would I want to give myself more? I’m currently writing from a place of fear and uncertainty and it’s pretty obvious that I’m not the only human feeling like that right now. And I mean on a daily basis. It’s like that Monday morning stomach lurch, except it happens every morning. It’s like the heavy sluggish twisting guts you get before an exam, before a driving test, before you do anything you’re scared to do. Except it never goes away. It’s there all of the time. Weighing me down, wringing me out, making me pause to catch my breath. It’s like that too; like I can’t breathe properly, like there is a deep and shaking level of fear rising up to the surface, and if I am quick I can take a breath and send it back down again. Deal with it another day. Move on quickly into the light.

And there is light. It’s vital to remember that. There is light and love everywhere, and I hope you’ve got as much as I have in my life. When I feel too bad, when the sinking feeling starts to drag me down, I buck myself up and busy myself with the things I love. My beautiful children. Loud music. My garden full of flowers, vegetables and animals. Writing and books.

I’m examining the world right now and wondering if life imitates art, or if it is in fact the other way around. Does art reflect the world we have already created? Or does it project our fears for the future based on what’s going on around us right now? George Orwell must have been pretty terrified, that’s all I can think. Big Brother. Thought police. Uniforms and Two Minutes Of Hate. Chilling stuff. Which all feels rather apt and grim at the moment.

I’m writing to you from a post Brexit Britain. I hate the word Brexit. To me it sums up the dumbing down we’ve been subject to for so long now. Let’s join two words together and make a new one so we don’t have to say too many words! Now I don’t care how you voted, and I’m not going to talk here about my vote, or the whole situation in any real depth. I personally feel that there were good reasons to stay and to leave, but that as usual the government and the media focused on immigration and fed us lies, and what an ugly divisive country this now looks as a result. Let me say again, if you voted to leave, I respect that vote and your reasons for it, and I’m not going to talk about what might happen next. What saddens me most right now is the applause and delight demonstrated by far-right groups across the globe. Whether you like it or not, there are many people out there using this situation to legitimise racism and xenophobia, and that makes my heart sink. I thought we had come so much further than that, but it feels like we are slipping backwards all the time.

It feels like we are now adrift, with no one stepping in to guide us through this unchartered territory. The Labour party and the Conservatives are in turmoil. Everything feels weird and unsafe. I can’t help but wonder what future writing will evolve from this tumultuous time in politics. And that’s the only way to get through it, I feel. Write about it.

My next two books certainly reflect a lot of my current fears, thought I don’t think I was entirely conscious of it to begin with. The Tree Of Rebels was conceived one day when I signed an online petition to prevent Monsanto patenting seeds. I didn’t really know too much about the case, but some very concerned friends of mine deemed it a very serious issue, so I signed it and hoped for the best. It got me thinking though. What if a company could patent seeds? All the seeds? What if they could then, bit by bit, own nature? What if in the future, growing your own food was banned? Surely a government with complete control over nature, would have complete control over its people. The idea made me wonder further; how would this society operate without total rebellion? Well, the people would need to be thankful for what they were given, and what makes people thankful? Perceiving life to be better now than it was then. A story driven by wonder and what if’s…but ultimately fear. I’m a keen gardener myself. I worry so much about the state of the world, so I’m trying to become more self-sufficient, just in case. The thought of someone telling me it’s now illegal to grown my fruit and vegetables or raise my chickens and ducks is terrifying. The thought of a giant and powerful company with extremely dubious ethics essentially owning nature appalls me. So I wrote about it.

Writing helps me make sense of the world. Or at least it is my desperate attempt to. I guess we all have our fears. Things that keep us awake at night. I’ve felt for a while that the world and all it’s people are heading towards some kind of tipping point. Is the world now worse than it has ever been? I scroll through my Facebook feed to witness a never-ending roll call of human misery, animal abuse, environmental damage and worse than all of that; apathy. I feel sick to my stomach, as well as helpless, cynical and angry. Are these the most selfish times we’ve seen? The most brutal? Maybe it is all too easy to look back on the past too fondly. I’m guilty of this myself. I become convinced that the 1980’s and 90’s were a wonderful, simple time. Surely it was all lovely then, wasn’t it? Well no, actually. It’s just that I was a kid and totally unaware.

Fear and dismay drive fiction. We create stories we are frightened of as a way of warning ourselves and others. Helplessness spawns words and worlds and sometimes, if we are lucky, solutions. At least it makes us feel better, anyway. Elliot Pie was born of this frustration with the modern world and the way it is all heading. Elliot is 12 and he wants to do something to help his mother, who is refusing to leave the house after a number of hard knocks. How can he convince her the world is not a bad place filled with bad people?

It’s been quite a task for a writer currently so disillusioned and afraid. But I had to go back and look at it all through a child’s eyes. Elliot doesn’t want to give up on the world yet, or on life. He feels like the adults in his life have all written it off for him before he’s even had a chance to work it out for himself.

Like Elliot, and for my own children, I have to cling onto a dangerous and painful amount of hope. I stand by the very few politicians who have decent intentions. I hope the powers that be don’t prevent them trying to change things. I hope that people are not too apathetic, too far gone, too addicted to reality TV and pointless celebs to fight back before it is all too late. I hope George Orwell was wrong. I hope Elliot Pie is right.

In the meantime, my advice to anyone feeling like I am right now, is to do what you can to ensure love wins. Whatever that means, in whatever way you can, make spreading love and tolerance part of everything you do. This morning I woke up feeling more positive than usual. I decided on the school run journey that I would be kinder than normal, and I let out as many waiting cars as I could. It was actually sad how many of the drivers looked genuinely surprised and thankful. I played some invigorating, uplifting music, told my kids I loved them, and decided that if the two little rabbits in the adoption centre of the pet shop were still waiting for a home, then I would get them. I’d had my eye on them for a while, and once I’d learnt their history (four years of neglect) it was a done deal. I know it’s not much in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit of love counts. And at least I changed the world for them.

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Have You Got What It Takes To Go Indie?

Life as an indie writer is not easy. It is a hard slog, full of ups and downs. It is a journey often plagued by a gnawing self-doubt as well as the added burden of feeling like you constantly have to prove yourself. Not only do you have to make all the key decisions about your book, with regards to editing, front cover, and how to market and promote it, you also sometimes feel like you have a shadow hanging over you. You have to fight harder to be seen, try every trick in the book to prove yourself, and all with the nagging question that just won’t seem to go away. Are you really good enough?

Sadly, since I started my own journey in 2013, I’ve seen indie author’s announce they are quitting on a regular basis, stating that they just can’t do it anymore. There are just so many of us out there now, all searching for the same thing. The Holy Grail. How to succeed as an indie writer.  It often feels like a step forward, followed by two steps back. Many give up when their books refuse to sell. Many become disenchanted when they fail to find an audience. Many become exhausted by the endless choice and costs involved in promoting their books.

So what does an indie need to survive? What sort of person to they need to be to get through the inevitable highs and lows? I believe survival comes down to four main things, four personality traits you are going to need in bucket loads, if you are going to stick with the indie life and not give up when the going gets tough.

You need to have an immense passion.You must believe in your stories. You might be good at writing, but you are going to need more than talent to survive the bumpy road ahead. Never mind your writing abilities or creative talents right now. Ask yourself this; do you truly have a passion, a deep and possessive passion for the stories? Do these stories keep you up at night? Are these stories begging to be told? Do they plague your daydreams and interrupt your ordinary life? Do you have something you desperately want to say and share? Is this idea driving you crazy? If yes, then you‘ve got the passion. But that is only half the battle. You have to keep that passion, especially when times get tough, as they inevitably will. It helps to have a lot of unwritten material sloshing around inside of you. A host of characters chattering away, urging you to get on and give them their turn. A desire to get it all out,whatever it takes, to keep writing and writing, no matter what.  The passion to write is perhaps the most important thing you will need. It will ensure you keep writing, because you have to write, because absolutely nothing is going to stop you.

Self-belief. In truth, for any writer, self-belief comes and goes. There are times you have lots of it and feel genuinely proud of your last paragraph or your final, finished product. But there are equally as many times when a first draft is anything but perfect. In fact it is ugly and clumsy and utterly different to how you envisioned it in your head. Quite simply you think you should give up and never write another word. This is quite normal, and I’m sure even the most successful and well known writers are regularly plagued with bouts of crippling self-doubt. There are days you just can’t write properly, nothing comes out the way you want it to, you compare yourself to others and feel you fall woefully short. This is all fine. But in order to succeed as an indie writer you need to have a rather solid foundation of genuine self-belief.You may not want to brag about it or declare it to the world, but deep down inside you must believe that you are good. You must believe that you can write. You can tell a story and make it work. You can make people care. You deserve this and can hold your head up with the best of them. Otherwise, the hurdles to come are going to knock you off course pretty quickly.

Hope. I think this applies to the indie more than any other writer. The indie needs passion and self-belief, in order to get that idea down on paper. They need talent and determination to edit, rewrite and perfect that work until it is ready to publish. They need to become an expert at marketing, promotion, an entrepreneur even, and in many respects a businessperson. But they also need to be an optimistic and hopeful kind of person in order to survive. Why? Because hope keeps you going through all the hard times, through the low sales and no sales, through bad reviews and no reviews, through feeling totally alone and out of depth and not to mention being penniless! You have hope that you‘ll become a better writer, that you will get better with every new thing you write. You have hope that your small following will continue to grow,and that fans will spread the word for you. You have hope that you‘ll one day land a nice big, traditional publishing deal, (if that’s what you want, and let’s face it, most indies would love to hand at least some of the control over to an enthusiastic professional!) You have hope that you‘ll make it. You‘ll succeed and realise your dreams, and achieve whatever level of success you are aiming for.

And finally, I believe you need to be a realistic dreamer. By that I mean, you need to dream big and aim high, but at the same time, you need to keep your feet on the ground and be realistic. I think perhaps too many writers jump into the indie game with their expectations too high. I know I was guilty of just this at the start of my journey. I sort of expected things to just take off. I thought all my friends and family would buy and love my book, would leave plentiful glowing reviews, and would then encourage all of their family and friends to do just the same, and my book would somehow just tumble forward, picking up speed until I made it! Oh how that makes me laugh now! No, I’m sorry, it’s just not going to happen like that. In my experience, people mean well, but when they say they will read or review your book, it does not always happen. People are busy. They have their own lives and interests, and they may not want to read your book for fear of offending you if it’s not their kind of thing. in truth, many of them are just not going to be interested at all. The indie journey can therefore be a lonely one at times, not to mention frustrating. Expect too much, and you are going to get disappointed. Be realistic. Recognise that it is not a race, but more a journey of development and discovery. The fact is, you will get better at all of it. You will get better at writing, and at marketing, and you will realise you don’t need your family and friends to push you forward. You need to find your own audience, and finding them, is quite simply part of the package you sign up to. Getting reviews and exposure, gaining readers and fans, winning awards and so on; all of these things are down to you.

I believe that if you have enough passion, self-belief and hope, you will be able to maintain longevity as an indie writer. Keep your feet on the ground and your expectations realistic, while not ever giving up on the dream. They may all get dented and bashed about from time to time, but as long as the reserves are deep, you should be able to keep going. Who knows what is around the corner as long as you don’t give up your dream?

Lessons From A One Year Old

11889626_1028807190471879_5952087130499316575_nIt would be all too easy to become frustrated with you. I never have much time, yet time means nothing to you. You’ve got your whole little life to amble slowly down the lane, while the dogs are tugging me on. You’ve got a great big sky above you, and strange winged creatures that glide across it, screeching for your attention. It would be so easy to become impatient with you. You scream if you are strapped into the buggy. You don’t want to be held. You want those tiny legs to lead the way. You’re marching on with your own mission in mind.

Your mission is rarely the same as mine. I have time to keep and things to do. Chores that gnaw at my mind. Tiredness that makes my head ache and my teeth clench. But you know nothing of the sleeplessness you cause me, you know nothing of the jobs that await me when we get back home. You are in the right here, right now. I’ve got washing to bring in, plants to water, dinner to think about, rooms to tidy. You’ve got stones to collect and then throw around. You’ve got sticks to find and drag along behind you. You’ve got horses to stare at as they trundle past, flicking their tails at flies. You’ve got leaves to pick up and scrunch in your palm. You’ve got dirt to claw at with your hands.

It would be quicker, to scoop you up, screaming and kicking, to march on anyway, to drag you away so I can get on with the things that pester my mind. But I don’t. Not today. I let my breath out slowly, and just watch you. Just let you. I feel my shoulders relax, drop down and move back. I only move my feet when you move yours. I let my face relax, and stop straining my eyes into the distance, wondering how much longer it will take us to get home.

It’s meant to be me teaching you, yet there are so many things I can learn from you. Slow down. Look around. Look and listen and touch. To stop and see the world we live in through your eyes, is a magnificent thing. Everything grows bigger, brighter, surer. You don’t know anything, so every little thing makes you stop and look. Every little tiny thing delights you. It’s the same old boring lane to me, until I see it the way that you do.You crouch down to pick up stones, passing them from one hand to the next. You give one to me, then find another. You chatter and laugh at it all. You clap your hands. You stare, transfixed, when a bird breaks free from the hedgerow and climbs up into the sky.

Sometimes I am filled with despair when I look at the world. Sometimes my stomach tightens and turns over inside of me. Sometimes I wonder what the point of anything is. Bad news, bad people, bad times. Sometimes I look at you when you are sleeping, and I wonder what on earth  I have done. What world have I given to you? What hardships will you go through? Sometimes I feel such guilt I almost cry. To have a child is a selfish thing. You long for love, to be loved, and to give love, but you forget about the dying world you have forced them into. You push that aside and do it anyway. Then, when they are asleep, perfect and pure, untouched by anything bad, or sad, or hopeless, you think why?

The thing is, hope is why.

When you see the world through the eyes of the very young, you see the world the way it could be. You see people that smile and melt when they set eyes upon another, smaller, newer human. You see potential. What if? You see what they could do, who they could become. You think of all the good people who have lived and died, and the difference that they made.

You see wonder and beauty in every tiny little thing. You slow down. You calm down. You see a big brave beautiful planet full of chances. The world is a story, with a beginning, a middle, and one day an end. It has bad guys and good guys, and it has always been this way. Mammoth battles have been fought and won by people who cared so much…Wherever there is evidence of cruelty in human nature, there is also evidence of courage, selflessness and love. For some reason, I stop and think about all of these things when you are taking forever to walk down the lane. I am reminded that you have a place in this world just like all of us, a story you will become part of, your own, and the world’s.

Today you taught me to slow down, to breathe, to live in the moment and to have hope.