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.

My 2023 Goals

It’s New Years Eve and a fresh new year is almost upon us so that means its time for me to set my goals for the year ahead. I’ve been doing this for a while now – setting my goals and then checking them against the reality at the end of the year. In 2022 I did really well, surprising myself by achieving 9 and of 10 goals and writing way more than I had planned to. 2022 seemed to be the year I let myself write multiple first draft manuscripts so that must mean 2023 will be the year I polish them all up one by one. That is exciting but won’t leave much time for fresh new writing! Anyway, here they are. Everything I hope to achieve in 2023.

  1. Start releasing The Day The Earth Turned series – As I plan to release each book with the season it occurs in, the first book Summer will be released in May or June 2023. Apart from one final read through, all four books are totally ready to go and have been edited and proofread and sent out to beta readers. I am currently waiting for covers from my designer and one of the first things I need to do in the New Year is plan my launch for this series. I really want to put the effort in and I plan to spend some money on advertising, set up ARC’s and put together a blog tour for book one. Let’s see what happens!
  2. Finish At Night They Played In The Road (working title, I still can’t quite decide) and send to editor – I think this is achievable. This is the book I am currently working on as it occurs next in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side universe. In 2022 I wrote the rough first draft of this spin-off book, where two characters I introduced in book 5 of The Boy series, got their own book. Writing this was a long slog as it currently stands at over 170,000 words but I enjoyed it immensely. So much, that by the time I got to the end I had another idea for another book set in this universe. Instead of starting the second draft of the spin-off, I couldn’t resist jumping straight into the new book idea, which was essentially a crossover book, using characters from several of my novels. It only took six weeks to write and was totally addictive! That then set me off on another tangent as Leon from The Mess Of Me appears in this crossover book, so I needed to finally finish The Mess Of Us in order to set up his part in the crossover book. Sorry if this is confusing! Anyway, as I have already said, 2022 was the year I wrote four books in first draft so 2023 is the year I have to get them all scrubbed up to release! I am nearly at the end of the second draft already, which has really been more of a read through to remind myself of what I’ve done. Draft three will commence immediately after and will involve more serious editing, revising and cutting the word count down! I am not sure this book will get released in 2023 but I at least plan to get it finished and sent to my editor!
  3. Publish Days End, the third book in the Fortune’s Well trilogy – Sim Sansford and I have already released the first two books in this mysterious YA trilogy (Hangman’s Revenge and Project Pandora) Book three has a cover and is pretty much ready to go. It is with our editor at the moment so at some point soon we will have her edits and feedback to work through and then we can plan a release!
  4. Keep adding to my new short story and poetry collection – It doesn’t have a name yet, but after publishing The Old Friend in 2022, I carried on writing poems and little bits of flash fiction and short stories, mainly in response to my monthly request for writing prompts on my Facebook page! I don’t think this will be ready for release for another year or so but I will just keep adding little bits to it when they come to me. I think this will be really good for me in 2023 as I won’t get much chance to write anything new with all the second drafts I have to dive into!
  5. Launch Chasing Driftwood Books – in 2021 the community interest company (Chasing Driftwood Writing Group) I run with Sim released an anthology called Stay Home – A Year of Writing Through Lockdown. A multitude of talented writers and bloggers, including people who attend our writing clubs and workshops contributed to the collection. We published the book under Chasing Driftwood Books and we also published the first two books in our co-written trilogy under the same name. Towards the end of 2022 we had a meeting where we laid out our plans for this company. Essentially, we plan to create an indie collective of like-minded authors of various genres. There are four of us so far but in 2023 we hope to launch it fully and encourage more to join. As indies, we have struggled to get sales and reviews and we know from talking to others that we are not alone. If we join up and help each other, we can achieve more. Our aim is to set up an indie publishing collective with a website, newsletter and social media pages, all aimed at lifting ourselves and our fellow authors up. I’ll obviously explain this in better detail when we are ready to go!
  6. Keep improving my vegetable plot and self-sufficiency in general – Always on the list because a garden is a project that will never be done! At the moment, my vegetable plot is a in a right state, covered in weeds and leaves and saturated with rainwater, but there is still plenty growing there! I can’t wait for warmer days to get out there and clean it up and get planting again. I need a new greenhouse or two and for Christmas I got plenty more seeds to plant. It keeps me going. I can’t express enough how soothing and therapeutic gardening in. It makes me so happy.
  7. Keep Up with dog training – I’ve never put this on my list before because training my dogs can be a bit sporadic over the year. Obviously I do a lot of training when they are puppies and teenagers and then when they’re a pretty good dog I tend to let it slip. At the moment, Ada is coming up 5 months and has completed a Life Skills course. She is so smart and picks things up so quickly, that I’ve built training into our daily routine on walks and at home. It’s so much fun and really improves the bond between us. Jesse enjoys scentwork and tracking and hoopers but I haven’t booked him into anything for a while, though we do bits and bobs at home to get him thinking. Tinks is a bit old and tired for it all but sometimes she joins in so I let her! I love my dogs so much. They make me so happy and the happier they are the happier I am.
  8. Get fitter and stronger – Last year I started getting into Pilates again after a very long break. I just follow some videos on YouTube and try to fit it in three times a week. This doesn’t always happen and life being what it is, I sometimes fall out of the habit and let a few weeks pass by before getting back into it again. So, this year I hope to keep trying to get fitter and stronger. I want my body to be strong as possible I head into middle-age.

Well that’s it because I can’t think of any more, which is probably a good thing! I’ll check back on these a year from now and see how I did! Are you setting any goals for 2023? Or just taking it as it comes? Please feel free to comment! And have a happy new year!!

September Writing Challenge: Late Night Thoughts

Every month I ask my Facebook author page followers to give me writing prompts. It can be anything from a visual prompt, to a song title or lyric, overheard conversation, a piece of flash fiction, or a poem. This month I had another wonderful selection to choose from and a non-fiction prompt really caught my eye. Thanks to author Shannon Rohrer for this one!

Late Night Thoughts

Before bed, I venture outside and the air is cool, September saying hello. It makes me smile. Feel sort of giddy like that back to school feeling and the smug comfort of pulling on a favourite hoodie for the first time since the heat came. The sun sets a little earlier every night, dark now by 8pm. I cross the garden, flattening grass that died and came back to life. I think about life. I think about death.

I close up the chickens, then check the field behind. I’ve watched all the sunsets this summer, I’ve seen all the colours spread across that same horizon. I’ve watched the copse darken until it resembles a spiked hedge, jagged edges breaking up the sky.

There is a chill in the air, reminding me to say goodbye to summer. I eye up the woodpile when I go back inside. Will it be enough? What sort of winter lies ahead?

There is a calmness, like the earth breathing out, or perhaps she is holding her breath, bracing herself for what comes next. This summer we torched her. We burned her like never before. For the first time, some of us thought about water. And not having water.

Inside, I sit down to write, the window open, the road silent and dark, the pheasants making a fuss as they settle in the trees that line the lane. Everything goes around and around. The sun goes down, the sun comes up. Summer ends, autumn begins, they merge and overlap, until the first frost bites. We wake up and get up and do the things that make a life. We lie down and sleep. One day we don’t wake up.

I think about death when I climb into bed. I try not to assume another morning awaits me. Like every time I get into the car and wonder if today is the day I die. Because we don’t know, we never know. We take it for granted or is it faith? My car won’t crash. Not me. Not today. There is no death in my rear view mirror, only all the open roads that lie ahead. Paths to choose, forks in the road, possibilities, waiting, potential, waiting. Somehow, we feel like we are always waiting.

As a child, we wait for the school day to end. We wait for summer to free us. We wait for Christmas to excite us. We wait to grow up. As teenagers, we wait to become adults, to taste the things we’ve heard about for so long. To have our turn. Take our place. As adults, we wait for the weekend. We wait for better days, more money, more time. As parents, we wait for babies to be born, alive. We wait for babies to survive into toddlerhood and we sigh in relief every day we keep them safe. We wait for children to become teenagers, so that we can claw our lives back and let them go. We wait for phone calls in the dead of night letting us know they are safe. Then we wait for death.

We wait for aching bones and finding it hard to get on your feet. We wait for our bladders to wake us up at night like clockwork. We look forward to sitting down with a nice cup of tea and a good book. I think about this late at night. What am I waiting for?

I don’t know.

Maybe I have everything I will ever need or want, right now. A home, a partner, children, work, a garden to tend, writing to do. Maybe I’m not waiting for anything anymore. Maybe death hovers, reminding us that it’s always close but maybe I don’t have to wait for death, just keep an eye on it.

Late at night, I think that life is very, very weird. You’re born, you live, you die and ultimately, eventually, you will be forgotten. But that’s okay, isn’t it? Is that the part of death we fear the most? We fear death of loved ones because we can’t stand the thought of losing them. We fear our own deaths because we will cease to exist. Possibly. Probably.

Mostly, I don’t think I mind.

In some ways, I have left things behind so that I might not be totally forgotten. Four children, countless trees and shrubs and so far, sixteen books. Eventually, that will all be gone too. Does it matter? I don’t think so.

Life moves on. From dawn til dusk, from summer to autumn. We have no more right to everlasting life than the leaves drying and curling and floating down to rot on the forest floor, and we are just as much a part of everything. Of life, death and decay.

And In Your Place, An Empty Space… (another one flies the nest.)

Isn’t it weird and somewhat comforting how music fills our souls when emotions get the better of us? This time last year I could not get Slipping Through my Fingers by Abba out of my head after my firstborn child left home to start university in Wales. That song (and I am not an Abba fan!) has hit me hard so many times over the years of parenthood. It just nails it, doesn’t it? It rang in my head for weeks as I came home each day to the space she had left behind. I couldn’t even look at her bedroom for a while. I kept crying when I was alone. But it got easier.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Now, here I am again. Last Saturday we drove our second oldest child to university in Plymouth. This was in no way easier because we had already been through it once. Children are so different and because of that, you respond to them in different ways. This one hit equally as hard because this lovely young lady had endured a very tough two year period prior to finishing her A-Levels. At one point, I didn’t think she would get through college, let alone make it to university as she appeared so fragile, so young, so confused and afraid and emotional. Instead, we have stood back and watched in awe as she picked herself back up and battled through to come out the other side. In many ways, it made the moment, that last, tight hug, even more bitter sweet. I got emotional and so did she, and I told her that it wasn’t because I was worried about her coping, it was because I was just so very proud of her.

Her moving into halls could not have gone smoother. The university deserves a lot of credit for how welcoming it was, and how well organised. Street signs helped us find where to park and there we were greeted by an army of student ambassadors. One helped our daughter get her key and showed her to her room, while another helped us load her belongings onto a wagon. Brilliant! Then when she returned, we followed her to the room and two students helped carry her things up the stairs to her new home.

The flat was lovely. Warm, and welcoming, clean, fresh carpets, everything very spacious and light. She started grinning when she saw her room, which although a standard university hall room, it was just lovely and felt very homely. Almost instantly, she was greeted by one of her new flatmates who made her feel really welcome and showed her the kitchen. She then met another friendly housemate who just happens to be on her course. My husband and I thought it was probably time to go. We didn’t want to linger and get in the way of her making new friends. So, we had the hug. Tears flowed. We smiled, we laughed, we said goodbye and then we left her and walked back to the car and drove home without her.

I can’t tell you how weird that feels; driving away from your child and leaving them to start the next chapter of their life. We were fine until we turned the corner into our lane and saw our house. Then we both welled up. She wasn’t going to be there. Our little girl, always tiny, even now, she wouldn’t be there. I almost didn’t want to go inside.

Since then, we have had had numerous messages about how much she is enjoying herself. She seems to have settled in really well, made friends quickly and is really excited to start her marine biology degree. Of course, I’ve been worrying about what she’s eating and whether she will be all right using the washing machine, but mostly, I just miss her.

She has left a hole behind. A space in our house. Her bedroom, usually full of music and teenage giggles and conversations with friends late at night, is silent. Inactive. She is a real hugger and I miss that more than anything. And I’ve had The World Has Turned And Left Me Here by Weezer in my head since Saturday. That’s obviously the song I’m going to associate with this moment! Because that’s sort of how it feels, when they pack up and go. Like the world has shifted, moved them on, taken them away from you and as a parent, you’re left at home, still doing the same things, the same chores, work, and the rest of it, but with this empty space lingering around you.

The house seems so quiet now that two of them have gone. My shopping bill has halved. There are only four toothbrushes in the bathroom, instead of six. At one point I used to do a load of washing every day, now it’s two or three times a week. I feel a little lost without them and a little scared by how quickly my babies turned into grown women starting their own lives. My girls were born nineteen months apart so in my early twenties, my days were a whirlwind of constant nappy changes, feeds, naps, playgroups and tantrums, but oh, how I loved it. My proudest moments were pushing my double buggy around town with my beautiful little girls sat inside.

But life goes on, despite how left behind you sometimes feel. I still have my boys at home, I’m still needed by them and the girls moving out makes me appreciate even more how fast life goes, how we should hang tightly to every precious moment and soak it up the best we can.

And I suppose the feeling I am left with the most is pride. The girls still have to finish their degrees, start employment, find homes to rent or buy, and so much more, but they’ve both taken that first step into independent adulthood and I couldn’t be prouder. And I suppose it’s okay to stand back and bask in a little bit of genuine pride. I did my job. I’ll always be their mum and I will always be there for them, but now, most of it anyway, is up to them.