Disconnected (everything is a bit shit…)

I would apologise for the sweary title but I’m afraid I’m not going to. If you’ve read any of my books you probably don’t have a problem with swearing, and if swearing offends you, you obviously won’t read this post. It makes me laugh when people say swear words show a lack of vocabulary. That is missing the point entirely. Swear words exist for impact. An ‘oh dear’ is just not going to cut it sometimes. A ‘damn’ or a ‘for goodness sake’ is just not going to help. Have you seen the world lately? I rest my case. It’s not just bad, unfortunate, problematic or sad… it’s shit. Very, shit. With that out of the way this is a post about our recent long break from power and WiFi…

On the day Storm Eunice was due to hit I made all the necessary preparations. I made sure everything was secure in the garden, moved anything that might get knocked over and tied things down. Inside the house I charged up our phones, laptops and our battery pack. I made sure we had wood for the log-burner and dug out our supply of candles. We knew, living here, that we would get a power cut. And we did. Before it even got really windy, our power went out on Friday morning.

Image by khaase from Pixabay

We expected maybe a 24 hour cut, maybe something a little longer as the storm continue to batter the country, quickly followed by two more, but we ended up without power for 5 full days. Most of the village was affected and by day 4 the Salvation Army had set up a tent in the area to provide people with hot food and drink.

We were more fortunate than others as we have a gas oven so could boil pans of water for hot drinks and were still able to cook our food. Plus we had the log burner to keep warm. It was half-term though so the kids were home from school and were definitely struggling by day 5 without the technology they have got so used to.

The hardest part for me was the lack of light. Workwise I didn’t have any clubs that week anyway. I couldn’t market my books, blog or do anything much on social media unless I paid for more phone data. I kept myself busy by starting to write a new book. I have a few ongoing WIPS but they are all on the laptop so I had to start something new and it really kept me sane. I picked up a notebook where I had ideas, character bios and a map for a future story and just started writing it. It soon became an addiction and I’ve almost written half a book now! I felt I was better able to cope than the kids as I am old enough to remember the world without social media, phones and Netflix. I read and I wrote a lot but that got hard after dark. It doesn’t matter how many battery operated fairy lights you string up or how many candles you light, you still can’t see well. I ended up writing with fairy lights around my shoulders to light up my page!

We got by by playing a lot of The Walking Dead monopoly, and by listening to the radio. They were both life-savers, as was the power pack that charged our phones up a few more times before it died. The frustrating thing was the lack of action getting us connected. We could see that a tree had split on the bridge near our house and all the cables for internet and power were dangling in the river, but days went by before anyone arrived to assess it. We had no communication from the power companies either so we had no way of knowing when it would be fixed. By day 5 I really had had enough and when it came back on, we all jumped for joy. Then we realised that fixing the internet was another whole problem…

We ended up having 2 weeks without the internet. Lots of neighbours were back on but three of us were affected by the cables in the river and nothing seemed to get done about it. It was tough because all the kids have homework set online these days and my daughter is in the final stint of her A-Levels so was getting stressed about lack of access. They had to go to other people’s houses to work and I even spent one morning at a neighbours house catching up on emails, banking and so on. I also had to cancel my Zoom clubs for that week. A lot of us in the area were appalled by the lack of communication and action from the companies involved. It’s very complicated to even work out what company owns what lines or what bit of pavement. One company kept telling us there was a not a fault, even though we had no power, and this was apparently because another company had not told them there was a fault. They blamed each other and we couldn’t seem to get anywhere! See? Shit! And just try getting through to a human on the phone… It doesn’t matter what or who you are phoning these days, you’ve got to be on hold for at least 20 minutes and then talk to automated voices. The whole thing was incredibly frustrating and cost us a lot of money.

During that time I felt so disconnected from the rest of the world. We have become so used to having the world and any information we require at our fingertips, the answer to any question within our phone, any movie or TV show or song right there whenever we want one. The radio really was a blessing – being able to listen to the news, as horrible and heartbreaking as it was, made us feel a bit more connected. It also made us feel fortunate. We might have had some time without power and WiFi but we were safe in our homes, with food, with jobs and cars, with each other, and without the fear of being invaded or bombed.

All I can say right now, is what a world! It just seems to go from bad to worse… Everything feels so fragile. The cost of living crisis, the spiralling costs of fuel and gas and food. We are grateful for so much but we are also reminded that nothing is easy anymore. In fact, everything feels a bit shit. Just as we were figuring out how to cut back more, stretch things over to meet the rising costs of petrol and heating, our landlords decided to put our rent up by almost £300 a month. We are currently trying to negotiate this and come up with a way to cover it. It just seems like pure greed. At a time like this, you would hope people would be kind but it seems many just want to be sure their own incomes are not affected. We are looking at options to move but that is not easy as the kids are all settled in schools/college etc and there is nothing else we can afford locally. I just keep thinking, there has to be an answer somewhere. There has to be some hope…

When I was offline I didn’t miss my phone that much. I felt like I was getting a break from the onslaught of bad news and negativity. To some extent, it was nice not knowing what was going on out there. I also realised just how much time I waste scrolling through my phone. Okay, I do use my phone for work related stuff, for making graphics for my books and for emailing parents for my clubs and so on, but I am also guilty of mindlessly scrolling down my news feed on Facebook or Google. It’s a sort of addiction, I suppose. Once you start rolling its hard to stop, hard to know how to break free.

Without WiFi, I realised how much I ‘check’ my phone. I kept picking it up and looking at it, only to remember there was nothing to look at. I honestly did this so often! And with that out of the equation I got so much more writing done.

The book I started writing (Black Hare Valley – more on that another day!) became my Netflix replacement. I wrote in it whenever I could during the day but the fun part was taking it up to bed with me and writing it when I would normally be watching Netflix. Now that I have Netflix back, I’m not sure I want it. They too have just announced another price hike. Maybe that is the next thing to cut back on. As we pay our TV licence, we can watch via apps on our phones, such as BBC iplayer, My5 and All4. We are also both trying to get more work to cover the rent increase, which makes me feel quite resentful. We won’t see the benefit of the extra work and stress – it will just go in the landlord’s pocket.

Everything is a bit shit. There is just no escaping it. Maybe we are heading to some kind of tipping point. Sometimes I think that things have to get much worse before they can get better. Eventually, something has to give. So many people are suffering at the moment while the rich just get richer. I think we need a big fundamental change. We need a fairer society, that’s for sure. At the moment, its the people with the least money who are taking the hardest hits, and that cannot be fair.

Feeling disconnected was a good thing and a bad. I got a break from the troubles of this world and I got to escape to a world of my own creation. I wish I could do that for good.

Indie Author Interview: M.J. Mallon

Today on the blog we have an author interview with YA author M.J. Mallon. Here, she tells us about her brand new release, Golden Healer, which is the second book in a YA paranormal fantasy series. Links are at the end of the interview. A huge thank you to M.J. Mallon for joining us.

  1. Congratulations on the launch of your new book. Can you tell us a bit about it?

Many thanks Chantelle, I’m delighted to be here today to talk about my new book Golden Healer, the 2nd in my YA paranormal fantasy series The Curse of Time. The story is largely influenced by magical realism and has a strange, mysterious aspect to it.. Magic realism, ‘is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into seemingly realistic fiction’

So, in the otherwise normal day-to-day setting of Cambridge, UK, I imagined a hidden crystal cottage with powerful wizard stones, a girl trapped in a mirror, and a beautiful boy of shadows who brings temptation, conflict and uncertainty.

In Book One Bloodstone, the main protagonist, teenager Amelina Scott, is creatively inclined, she paints, writes poetry and is a gifted musician. Her crystal infused paints bring the painted ‘creature,’ (the caretaker of the cottage,) alive. She is guided by the owner Leanne to discover her gifts as a Krystallos, able to wield the power of the wizard stones to restore her family’s happiness. There are many sub-themes, mysteries, and interpretations of the story. The relentlessness of time, deception, who to trust, and mental health issues, ( including entrapment by our mental health issues – represented by the mirror girl Esme’s dialogues discussing self harm.) In book two, further adventures continue and Amelina discovers more about the roller coaster of time and Ryder’s shadow demonic side.

2. What age group is it at aimed at?

It’s aimed at teenagers going through the turmoil of those years. But many adults have also enjoyed reading the tale, with its poetic, (each chapter begins with a poem,) and philosophical aspects.

3. Where did the idea for the book come from?

Juniper Artland’s crystal grotto by Anya Gallaccio: https://www.jupiterartland.org/art/anya-gallaccio-the-light-pours-out-of-me/ The Corpus Christi Chronophage clock invented by John C Taylor, OBE. https://www.johnctaylor.com/the-chronophage/corpus-chronophage/

A witch’s black cat that visited me in my garden! Oscar Wilde’s, a picture of Dorian Gray Musical aspects courtesy of my hubby, a keen guitarist who wanted to be in a band when he was younger.

4. This is the 2nd book in the series – do you know how many there will be?

I think perhaps three. There are three Chronophage clocks, the grasshopper, the midsummer fly and the dragon!

5. Your main character is very creative – what made you write her this way?

Perhaps because my creativity has been stifled for many years and I wanted to break free of my dreary day job! When I was younger I suffered with anxiety and depression because I wasn’t doing what I wanted to.

6. What are you working on at the moment?

I have lots of projects on the go… A short vampire paranormal story which I’d like to develop, a poetry book, and the 3rd book in this series.

7. What do you most enjoy about writing YA?

I like to keep young! My hubby always teases me that I think I will live forever.

8. What would you say are your main character’s main strengths and weaknesses?

Strengths: determination to succeed, restore and keep her family safe from unhappiness. Weakness: she can be a little selfish and immature at times. But, less so, as she becomes older and more wiser.

9. How did you approach the world-building needed for the fantasy/paranormal genre?

I don’t tend to plot but maybe I should! The world building grew from bursts of imaginative energy. There are pros and cons, when imagination is allowed free rein. Biggest downside – lots of edits!

10. Can you recommend any similar books for young readers?

It’s quite unique, so somewhat difficult to say… But there are similarities to Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, or at least a poet/tutor, at my last job told me so. That was a huge compliment as I love this series, exploring the fight between good and evil, wisdom and darkness in a philosophical way, as is also the case with my Curse of Time series.

Also, in some ways, it has similarities to the surreal wackiness of Alice in Wonderland… a story I love!

Thank you M.J. Mallon for joining us on The Glorious Outsiders today. If you would like to find out more about her and her books, the links are below!

Universal book link: https://books2read.com/u/mgjY67

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/mjmallonauthor

Blog/Website: https://mjmallon.com/

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/M-J-Mallon/e/B074CGNK4L?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1644576276&sr=8-1

How To Handle A Long To-Write-List

I’ve blogged before about how to juggle multiple writing projects at the same time. For me, it’s almost impossible to work on one thing at a time and I used to worry about this. I don’t anymore. There is always a priority project, one that is the closest to being ready for publication, and that’s the one I work on first every single night. However, new ideas spring up all the time, and if I don’t write them down I run the risk of forgetting an important detail. Also, when I’m stuck in a long editing/rewriting/revising process for a written book, my mind craves fresh, new exciting writing. I decided long ago to just go with it and accept that it’s always going to be this way. At the moment, for example, I’m editing/revising my 4-book YA post-apocalyptic series The Day The Earth Turned. This should be the final edit before it goes to the proofreader and as all four books are completed and almost ready, there is no fresh, new writing involved anymore. I’m also going through the same process with the YA trilogy I’ve co-written with Sim Sansford. Book one is with the proofreader and we’re getting the other two books ready to go after that. These two projects are the priority, but I want to write new stuff as well!

But having a lot of ideas, or a long -to-write-list can be distracting. New ideas can derail you from current projects, and at the same time, if you ignore new ideas until you’ve got time for them, you could easily forget important details or forget the whole idea entire entirely!

When a new idea comes along, it can feel so bright and exciting, that it becomes tempting to quit or ‘rest’ your current WIP and jump to the new one. Young writers do this a lot, and so they should – writing should be vibrant and exciting and I think young minds should respond to the influx of ideas they’re getting. However, if you’re a published author, you need to stick to your goals and work through them one at a time, or it can all become a bit of a mess.

My 8-book to-write-list

So, this is how I handle it. I prioritise one project until it is published, but also allow myself to work on something new a few times a week, and jot ideas down in notebooks for future books. Currently, I’m working on the first draft of what will stand as a spin-off book to The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series. (Working title, At Night They Played In The Road.) I’m at chapter twenty-three and only write it every now and then, but it’s constantly on my mind and will definitely be the next one to bump up to priority position. I am also scribbling a diary style story into a notebook every now and then. This is my Zombie apocalypse story which is honestly just a bit of fun at the moment, and a long way down the list to take seriously. I can’t resist adding to it every now and then though.

The other day I decided to organise all my future book ideas into a sensible to-write-list. You can see in the image that I have eight future novels outlined. I’m not exactly sure of the order these will be prioritised in. Sometimes books at the end of the list get louder and push their way forward, shoving others out of the way as they do. I just hope I don’t get any more ideas, as this list is plenty to keep me going for several years! I’ve listed them below in the order I THINK I will tackle them and added a brief description of the book idea and how far developed it is at the moment.

Working title: At Night They Played In The Road. A spin-off to my 5-book series The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. Written 23 chapters so far and characters are developing well. Notebook contains plot ideas and structure, character bios, and chapter outlines so far.
The Mess Of Us: The long awaited sequel to my debut YA novel The Mess Of Me. Written about half of it in first draft. Know exactly what’s going to happen. Notebook contains ideas for the plot, chapter outlines so far and half of a hand-written first draft.
We Hate The Cool Kids: (working title) I wrote this a few years ago! The first draft is done, except the ending needs some sorting out. It came out of nowhere and just wrote itself into a notebook, longhand. I haven’t gone back to it yet because it jumped the queue and I wanted to concentrate on publishing The Holds End trilogy and The Day The Earth Turned series. It will be great to get back to this soonish as it is basically done and ready for it’s 2nd draft! It’s a YA psychological thriller. Notebook contains character bios, plot ideas and structure and chapter outlines, as well as almost the whole book written in longhand.
I’ve popped it here in the list but it might jump the queue a bit and it should get done fast as two of us will be writing it! A year ago Sim and I started writing a YA supernatural trilogy together and it’s now done and each book is heading one by one to the proofreader. Once we’ve done final, final edits on that, we will start this together! It sprung from a short story I wrote. The idea grew and grew and it’s definitely one Sim and I could make work. It’ll be another YA. Post-apocalyptic/dystopian, possibly?? Notebook contains the short story the idea came from, character bios, plot ideas and a possible introduction.
A few years ago me and my son were writing fanfiction together when I had the idea for an ‘IT’ style horror series about unlikely young heroes battling evil in their strange little town. We drew an intricate map of the fictional town and I started writing plot ideas and character bios. My son then lost interest and I tucked it all away for another day. This story has grown a lot since then and its one I am really excited to start! I’d say Black Hare Valley will be a YA supernatural/paranormal/horror series. Notebook contains a huge fold-out map of the fictional town, character bios, ideas for the plot and research on local folklore and legends.
Diary Of The Undead came about thanks to my obsession with The Walking Dead, which started a year ago when I first watched it! A few months ago I got the idea for a diary style book from the POV of an unlikely teen hero and couldn’t resist starting it. I’ve nearly filled an entire notebook but it will be some time before I treat this one as a priority. I will continue to add to it when I feel like it. It’ll be a YA horror series. Notebook contains character bios and plot ideas and almost a whole notebook of the first draft in longhand.
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This book has been growing in my mind for a few years, but all I ever really had was a large, dysfunctional family and the death of a child. I have a lot more than that now so it got it own notebook the other day and I’ve started adding character bios already. I came up with the title quickly the other day but it will probably change. It’ll be some years before this one gets written! It will be a psychological thriller/family mystery aimed at adults. Notebook contains basic plot idea, ideas to explore, structure ideas and a few character bios.

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This is last on the list as it’s calling to me the least but who knows? It might climb higher. This is an idea based on a book I almost finished writing when I was in my late teens. It didn’t have a title back then but was essentially about a terrible crime and the revenge that follows. I’ll use the same characters I had back then and the basic storyline, but it will flick between the past and the present now and will probably fit the adult thriller market. Notebook contains character bios and basic plot ideas I had from back then.

Sorting each book idea out like this has really helped me feel in control. Not all of them had notebooks and some of them were just ideas and characters floating around in my head. I feel like I’ve contained them somewhat now! And the good thing is, I can add to these notebooks any time I get ideas for plot, character or dialogue. This means that when each book finally gets its turn, it will feel like getting in touch with an old friend. Everything will be in place to get going.

Do you have a long to-write list? How do you take care of future ideas? Feel free to comment and share!

Ways To Beat January Gloom

I’ve always hated January. To me, it’s the Monday morning of all the months. And that first Monday back to work and school in January has always been something I’ve dreaded. I love the festive period and it always seems to arrive just when we need it most. The Autumn has stretched into Winter, Summer seems like it never happened, and the days are short, dark and cold. We are all tired and grumpy and need a break and Christmas arrives just in time to provide just that. This Christmas was just how I wanted it. My eldest came back from University (the first time we have seen her since September!) and I had two weeks off from all my writing clubs. I made sure everything was ticked off my endless to-do-list just before school broke up, and that meant I could totally relax over the two week holiday. It was everything I hoped it would be. Slow, lazy, snuggly and warm. We shared lazy days lounging around, snuggling under blankets or drinking hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire. We had the most beautiful Christmas tree and by Christmas Eve, there was an exciting mountain of gifts piled up under it. It all went smoothly, including the dinner with my mum, and visiting various relatives. But at the back of my mind was always the grumbling dread that January was on its way.

It’s just such a bleak and depressing month. Spring feels a million miles away, Summer a distant dream. There is little to look forward to apart from dark mornings and worsening weather. I always get that intense ‘back-to-school’ feeling towards the end of December. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I am very fortunate to have a writing-related job and I come out of each of my writing clubs smiling, because it really is a joy. But life is pretty hectic and enjoying a break is something I am loathe to say goodbye to. Our normal lives consist of so much driving around in order to get everyone to their job, school or college, and then picked up again, not to mention other activities such as Beavers. Monday to Wednesday is crazy with no time to breathe, but I am lucky enough to have Thursdays and Fridays free. It gives me two days to catch up on all the admin and preparation that goes with my job and maybe fit in some gardening or writing if I am really organised!

This year, I decided to try and pre-empt my usual January depression. I don’t like wishing time away and I hate the feeling that everything is flat and bleak. I decided to rail against it and started thinking of ways I could enter January with a more positive mind-set. It’s not been easy but here is a list of the things I am trying to focus on to get through this Monday of a month!

Image by Moni Mckein from Pixabay
  • Plan my goals for 2022 – I do this every year and it really helps me feel a bit more excited about January. I write a list of ten writing and non-writing related goals and then at the end of the year I read them again and write another post about how the reality panned out. It’s quite exciting to get them written down and gives me a kick up the backside to get going!
  • Sort out my seed tin – Another little thing that just cheers me up once the Christmas tree has come down. I sort out my seed tin, add any new packets, label envelopes and so on. It reminds me that I can start planting a few things now and that always cheers me up!
  • Start planting what I can – so far I have planted garlic, leeks and onions. There is plenty more to do and I will try and get a bit done throughout the month. This always feels like quiet rebellion. Sod you, January, I am making plans for Summer! It gives me hope to plant new things. It makes me smile.
  • Tidy up the vegetable patch – It gets a bit neglected in the winter months, but I made myself go out there the other day and I was surprised that so much is still going. I picked some onions, leeks and spring onions and noticed kale, carrots and cabbages all still thriving! I was quite delighted to realise I had kept the patch going through the winter! I weeded a fair bit and tidied up, but there is plenty more to do and I aim to get out there as much as I can this month.
  • Embrace the beauty of Winter – I don’t hate Winter, I just hate January. So I try to remind myself how lucky I am to experience the change of seasons. I enjoy watching the same landscapes alter throughout the year and right now everything is cold, hard and coated in sparkling frost. The birds are singing though and daffodils are pushing up through the frozen ground. Even the bare trees have a certain stark beauty at this time of year. I just need to remind myself to appreciate it before it all changes and softens for Spring.
  • Embrace the slower rhythm of short, dark days – Everyone loves the summer with its long, hazy days and the added freedom this brings. Winter forces us all inside and its dark when we wake up and dark before dinner time. In the summer, we run around more, we pack more in, we go out more and have trips and activities. There is less of this in the Winter but that’s not a bad thing. I’m going to enjoy the slower pace, curl up under a blanket and read more books. I’ve devoured so many over Christmas, it’s been wonderful. Winter is a time for hunkering down, keeping warm and slowing down.
  • Book a holiday – We last had a family holiday in October 2020. It was a holiday postponed from April 2020 when we were in lockdown. We had hoped to book something else for the summer or even for the October of 2021, but prices were sky high! Instead, we filled our summer with free and cheap days out. However, prices for the kind of holidays we can afford (Haven caravan parks around the UK!) have gone down again and as we received some money for Christmas, we decided to book something for the summer holiday. The very last week in August, which feels like an eternity away, but it will soon be here. I booked it just a few days after Christmas and it really cheered me up.
  • Nature watching – me and my youngest are quite into bird watching lately. I’m glad he shares my joy when we spot something unusual or observe the playful habits of native birds. We also look out for deer, foxes, weasels, stoats and herons and are lucky enough to see most each week where we live. It reminds me that life goes on, and January is just a word I really shouldn’t give much power to!
  • Plan for next Christmas – This is something that cheers me up too. I normally start my Christmas shopping in January. I start a new list in my Christmas notepad and write down everyone’s names and start thinking about next year. I’ll pick up odd things or order something if I get a good idea and it keeps me smiling.

After all that, I really do feel better about facing January. There is lots to look forward to and before I know it, it will soon be February!

How do you feel about January? Is it a month you dread or welcome? What do you do to cheer yourself up when Christmas is over and Summer is so far away? Feel free to comment and share!