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.

Things I Think I’ve Seen

Not too long ago I wrote a post about the syndrome known as maladaptive daydreaming. Here is the post for anyone wondering what the term means or how it may or may not apply to me. https://chantelleatkins.com/?s=maladaptive+daydreamingThis week I read another post from my author friend Kate Rigby on the same subject (here is Kate’s blog post : https://authisticwords.blogspot.com/2023/01/maladaptive-daydreaming-in-adhd.html?fbclid=IwAR12MHls3umdJm2qokKK18fwwDhXID-iTxJGEUMACvoaLJWj21WGNArdND8 )and it got me thinking again about daydreaming, imagination, writing and real life and how these things weave together for writers in particular. I started thinking about the host of ‘memories’ I have in my head that may be true, distorted versions of truth or outright daydreams I made up. Some of the ‘memories’ I’m about to describe I have never told anyone about before. I’m not sure why but perhaps it was simply not knowing myself sometimes where truth and reality end and fiction and imagination take off! That aside, I think some of these might make good writing prompts, so here we go:

Image by Aline Berry from Pixabay

The lady in the road.

I’ve never told anyone about this but when I was a child I was sat in the back of our car and we were on a journey but I have no idea where we were going or how old I was. For that reason, I stipulate that I must have been younger than eight, because I have fairly decent memories of life after the age of eight. This is what I remember, or think I remember. We were in a traffic jam. It was not an area I recognise now. I think we were on a day out maybe. It was hot, so probably summer. I don’t recall who was driving, whether it was my mum, dad or even whether both of them were there. I don’t remember if any of my sibling were in the car. I looked out of the back window and saw a woman come running out of a path or an alley. In my head, she had long brown hair that was sort of wild and messy; she was wearing a nightdress or skimpy dress of some sort and she had bare feet. She was screaming. I thought my parents would notice or react but they didn’t. She ran towards the line of traffic and a man got out of his car and ran after her, back towards the path or alley. He left his car door open and his car in the traffic. The traffic then lurched forward and we drove away. I kept looking back wondering what was wrong with the woman and what happened next but for some reason I didn’t say anything to anyone in the car then, or after. I still think about it now but I have no way of knowing where or when this happened.

The boy on the ground.

This one is slightly clearer so perhaps I was a bit older. It was another summer, another day out and another car journey. I have a feeling we had been to the beach or were near a beach. I remember grassy edges to the sides of the road and a group of people milling around on a corner next to a fence. Perhaps they were waiting for a bus or to get picked up by someone in a car. What stood out to me though was the large angry, red-faced woman who had her foot on the head of a boy who was lying on the ground. I remember blinking to clear my vision. Was I seeing this right? What was going on? I remember wondering if he had been really naughty or had just fallen over. Again, it was such a strange and unsettling thing to see, I didn’t say anything to anyone else in the car, but I’ve thought about it again and again over the years, wondering if what I saw was as horrible as it looked.

The creatures in the undergrowth.

Okay, this is a recent one so the memory is clear but I am still not sure what I saw. Just before Christmas I was walking my dogs down the lane and over the little bridge that crosses the Moors river. As we came over the other side of the slope, the dogs all stopped and stared as there was a tremendous scuffling racket in the woods beyond the fence. At first I assumed it was pheasants running around as when they fight or panic they make a lot of noise in the undergrowth. The noise got closer and closer. The dogs were nervous and confused. Something was coming, but what? The trees on that side of the fence are dense and tall so we couldn’t see what was coming, but suddenly two or three creatures shot out under the fence, skidded in a panic and circled right back into the woods again. It all happened so fast that I did not get a clear look at them. They were definitely short, not the height of deer. They were reddish brown in colour. I didn’t see any tails, or certainly not the long bushy tail of a fox, for instance. They were so fast and so close together that I didn’t see heads or faces. My first thought was pigs of some sort but that doesn’t make much sense for the location. It’s quite near a busy main road so I don’t think wild pigs would be released here and there aren’t any farm pigs in this area. Perhaps they were dumped but I kept an eye on the local news, thinking if they were dumped pigs, someone else would see or hear them and report it. Nope. Nothing. They could have been a smaller breed of deer but I’ve never seen anything but red deer and roe deer in this area. I am still confused and the dogs were very spooked!

The scarecrow in the field

Not long after we moved here I was walking down the lane on a cold, frosty morning. There was low lying mist rolling across the fields and something caught my eye. I stood and stared and thought I could make out a scarecrow in the distance, close to some woods. It seemed weird because I’d never seen one there before, but it had that look to it. Arms out, rigid, stick-like body and what seemed to be grey rags fluttering on the breeze. I shrugged it off and kept walking. Only, the next time I looked back, it had gone…

The naked man on the common

This was a few years ago and I still question my vision that day! It was a hot day and I was watching my dogs run on the common, our favourite place. I saw a figure trundling slowly down a hill on the other side and it was not until I drew nearer that I realised it seemed to be a naked man. He was carrying a stick, he had a long beard and he scuttled away as soon as he realised he had been seen. Heading up the same hill moments later, he had completely vanished. I assume he was hiding in the heather somewhere but I’ll never know.

I’m sure I’ve got more but these are some of the somewhat clearer and stranger ones. After each sight, my imagination went into instant overdrive, making up a story and perhaps twisting what I had actually seen into something else. Do you have any foggy memories or sightings that confused you?

Addicted To Writing Or A Maladaptive Daydreamer?

My name is Chantelle and I am addicted to writing.

Or at least it feels that way… like a drug, a high, like something I crave for and cannot live without…

It’s always like this but its worse when a new story has truly captured me. Last week I blogged about the reasons people stop writing, and I mentioned that as a child and teenager, I wrote constantly and endlessly, before having a 10-year gap where I barely wrote at all. The way I am now is exactly the way I was as a kid and I recently discovered that it may even be a clinical condition. Maladaptive daydreaming is where people daydream so intensely that they subconsciously leave this world for one of their own creation. Within these made-up worlds, they create characters and storylines that they replay and tweak in their heads for their entire life. One person in this article https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/aug/28/i-just-go-into-my-head-and-enjoy-it-the-people-who-cant-stop-daydreaming described it as like putting Netflix on and I relate to that in a big way.

Image by Pheladi Shai from Pixabay

As a child, I was nicknamed cloth-ears by my parents because it appeared I was never listening. I was the daydreamer, the one never paying attention, the one in her own little world. At some point, around the age of eight, I realised I could write these daydreams or stories down and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I am at the mercy of the characters who live in my head and the drama that surrounds them. I identified so strongly with the people in the interview that the only difference between us was that I write my daydreams down and publish them as books! I kind of think these people are missing a trick if they don’t do the same!

I’ve blogged before about The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, and how the characters grew in my head at the age of twelve. I’d lie in my bed at night and move them around, like watching a film that I was in control of. I still do this now, every night. As that series will soon have a spin-off and a crossover book, I think it’s safe to say that my daydreams truly have control of me. I’m not sure whether I am addicted to writing, or whether I am an intense maladaptive daydreamer, but just in case you are curious, this is what it feels like:

  1. I can’t stop thinking about my story from morning until night. I wake up with an urge to write and a head load of possible scenes and conversations and then I go to bed and lie awake, dreaming up more. Every night I fall asleep with my characters in my head.
  2. I can switch between worlds with ease. One moment I will be fully submerged in my created universe, hearing their voices, seeing their movements, picking up on every facial expression or nuanced gesture, and the next I’ll be back in reality, teaching a class, paying for shopping, filling the car up with petrol. My mind seems to know when to switch back without too much disorientation.
  3. Having said that, I do sometimes find it hard to concentrate on other things and this is especially tricky when I am writing a new story that is going well. Some stories take time and patience and lots of rewriting, whereas some of them just write themselves. Those are the best but they do make it harder to switch between worlds. At the moment, my WIP is completely taking me over to the point of obsession, and I find it is all I can think about. I find myself drifting off into noticeably thicker daydreams when it’s like this…
  4. I get a nervous feeling in tummy, because I am scared I’ll not do it justice. The story plays out like a film or a TV show in my head and it looks perfect. Perfect locations, settings, characters and dialogue. Fight scenes look flawless yet realistic, dialogue is spot-on, facial expressions are just right and if I could just encapsulate it as it is in my head, it would be perfect. Yet the tricky bit is writing it and trying to make it how it is in my head so that the reader can see what I see. I am never sure I am up to the job and this can make me feel quite anxious at times.
  5. It feels like having a movie on pause when I’m not writing. When I’m not writing, I feel quite torn away from it, quite lost. It’s like I’ve been forced to put a good book down when I am dying to find out what happens next,. It feels like leaving a movie on pause. They are all just frozen until I can think about it or write it again.
  6. I can’t wait to get back to it. The frustration I feel when I cannot think about my stories, or write them, is quite awful at times. I don’t really want to live in this world, but I have to. Because of this, I am constantly longing to get back to my world, constantly pining for it and missing it when I’m not there.

Whether I am addicted to writing or just an intense daydreamer who writes them down, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Writing has saved me time and time again and without it I know I would struggle. What about you? Were you nicknamed a daydreamer as a child? Do you still daydream? Do you write them down? Feel free to comment and share!

The People In My Head

Being a writer means spending a lot of time observing people, writing down ideas, getting plot twists hit you in the middle of the night, hours leaning over a laptop keyboard pounding away and just as many hours staring helplessly at a blank screen. It also means editing, revising, proofreading and then all those on repeat. But one aspect of being a writer is a little less talked about and that is the phenomenon of having people living inside your head. And it really does feel like they live there. They don’t go away. Not for me anyway, not ever. All the books I have released have characters who at some point in my life have crawled inside my brain and set up camp. They’ve ignored the fact I am already working on a book and they have whispered and nudged and shouted and whined until they got their turn. You would think that once I have given them attention and written their story they would leave me alone, but you would be wrong. They stay there forever and sometimes pipe up again with ideas for a sequel… Writing their story does seem to shut them up a bit though. They seem happy enough to step back and take a back seat for a while. I guess they get bustled out of the way by all the desperate new ones. I have all my old characters in my head, and then I have the new ones too. These are the really noisy, insistent ones. They all want to be next. They overlap and jump the queue and keep me awake at night. They make it hard for me to concentrate on what people in real life are doing or saying! They distract me and overwhelm me and ultimately, they don’t stop talking until they feel they have been heard. So, as well as the old ones, these are some of the new characters I currently have living in my head. You’ll get to meet them all properly in time, but here is a sneak peek, if you like. Maybe introducing them to you will give me a little respite from them!

Hello Johnny – I know you are still there, still lurking, hovering, muttering in the background. I know you have bad asthma and are massively introverted so highly unlikely (at least in your dad’s eyes) to survive a zombie apocalypse – but once you are forced to move and act, you’re going to prove them all wrong aren’t you? You’re going to become a total bad-ass and a hero. Don’t worry, I’ve got the story, all of it, some of it in the notebook and the rest of it in my head because you’ve been very vocal lately. You’ve been through a lot already and you are a survivor. You are secretly in love with Billie, the girl in the cloak you met on the road – and you feel like its important to put down every single undead human even if it means risking your life to do so. A part of you enjoys all this and its that which keeps you awake at night. You are trying to get back home back to where you started, to wrestle it back from those who forced you out. Because you can do it now. You are not afraid. I’m listening, I am. Keep talking, keep moving, keep telling me your journey.

Reuben, Gus, Chess, George, Charlotte.…Gosh there are a lot of you. A whole community, in fact. Picking up the pieces after the adults were wiped out. I’ve left you alone for a while. I needed a break. But you’ve been creeping back, haven’t you? Letting me know that you are still there, hanging out in the remains of the old world, clinging to what you can, surviving, together. I love you all. I can hear you. It’s nearly time for you all to be heard.

Jesse, Willow, Jaime, Ralph, Paddy… yep, I can hear you too. I tried to shut you out for a long time but you guys really started hammering on the door recently didn’t you? I had you, I had your creepy town Black Hare Valley, but I didn’t really have the plot. But you guys started helping me with that and here we are… I’ve got the end in sight now, I know what you have to do, who you have to take down, why and how. It’s going to be quite a fight but you guys are stronger than you think. We’ve still got a lot of work to do as you come alive inside my head. So, keep talking. Knock back. Whisper in the night. Speak up on long walks. Let me know what you want and we’ll keep pushing to the finish line, I promise.

Alfie and Tom… You’ve been getting some attention recently. I’ve been plodding on, listening to you, looking back into your past to see you as children, to see what shaped you to become the men you are today. It’s been interesting, and traumatic, but we are getting there. Sometimes just a paragraph a day, sometimes more. You’ve been in my head for years! It was when I was writing the fifth book in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series that you came forward, shyly suggesting your own storyline, your own place in that last book. You became so real, so much a part of that world, that I just had to give you your own book, your own time, your own back stories. I’m getting to know you better and I like that.

Lou… I know, I know, I started your sequel, then left it, started it then left it…. I’m sorry! All these other people started showing up, demanding their own time, desperate to be heard. I’ve got it all though, so don’t worry – I know what happens and I am sorry – It’s going to be another tough ride for you, maybe your toughest yet. You’ll grow up in this sequel, both you and Joe. Keep talking, I am still listening. You might just have to shout a bit louder than the rest of them!

There are others too. Once who don’t even have names yet… They wander in from time to time, muttering and shaking their heads. They’re not loud enough yet but one day they will be.