The Old Friend – A Collection of Tales and Poems is out today!!

It’s always exciting when months, if not years of hard work, revisions, edits, proofreads and more edits lead finally to the release of a brand new book. The Old Friend – A Collection of Tales and Poems is released today in ebook and paperback on Amazon. It will be on other platforms very soon. Here is the short link if you feel like checking it out! mybook.to/TheOldFriend

This book in particular was a long time coming. Some of the short stories in here go back at least a decade whereas some are very recent. The same goes for the poetry and the blog-style musings you will find scattered throughout the book. I don’t write poetry very often, for example, sometimes only a few times a year, so you can imagine why it took so long to get enough content for this collection.

I am really pleased with it though. It’s a dark, gritty little thing full of musings on life, death, birth, motherhood, nature, society and more. It’s probably the most personal thing I have ever released, particularly the poems, and some of the musings are about real people in my life, real experiences, thoughts and fears and so on.

Of course, many of the short stories are pure fiction. Before release, I wrangled with the idea of adding a page in the book where I explain the background or inspiration for each piece. In the end, I decided to leave it up to the reader’s imagination. But just for fun and to celebrate release day, here is a list of the pieces in the work along with the stories and inspiration behind them;

Murder – This was a poem that climbed intside my head about 5 or 6 years ago when I was jogging down my lane. The crows were absolutely furious. So noisy it was deafening. Quite eerie, and I really did wonder what was wrong with them. Then I thought about how the local gamekeeper shoots them to protect the pheasants they raise for people to shoot for fun and thought yeah, probably that.

The Old Friend – At one point, I thought my book The Boy With The Thorn In His Side was complete. It was a large book in two parts and had a sequel. Then I started getting new ideas. New ideas that meant moving the ending further back and slotting in a load of new content. The only way to do this was to make it into a series, dividing the big book into two, adding a brand new book three, using the sequel as book four and then inevitably that led to a brand new book five. This short story was written around the time I was writing book three. In book three the main character Danny goes through an even harder time than he had previously and I couldn’t help feeling guilty, almost as if I were doing it to a real person! So, I explored this guilt in this story.

A Mother’s Story – essentially a prelude or teaser to my upcoming YA series The Day The Earth Turned, I wrote this from the point of view of Mother Nature.

Leaf – an old story I wrote years ago about a boy and his imaginary friend. This was based on some truth; my nephew had an imaginary friend called Leaf when he was little!

The Writer Woman – A Cautionary Tale – This also goes back a few years and just popped in my head one day. It might even have appeared on this blog at the time. It’s a little nod to the years I spent not writing because I didn’t think I had time and because so many people try to deter you from following creative pursuits. It’s a bit of an over-exaggeration of what could happen if those ideas aren’t let out regularly!

Child’s Eye – Another old story, I can’t quite remember where this idea came from!

Who Turned Out The Lights? – I wrote this one a few years ago after our writing group were talking about horror stories for Halloween. I wrote it around that time and possibly shared it to Wattpad or this blog. We are prone to power cuts where we live and sometimes when the lights go out suddenly, you automatically reach for the nearest hand…

Snotgoblin – This piece appeared on my blog about 8 years ago when my youngest child was approaching his first birthday. Someone on Facebook joked about calling children of this age snotgoblins and I thought it was brilliant. He was a little sticky mess at that age and the piece just flowed from that. It’s a little nostalgic piece about the untamed wildness of very young children.

Reuben’s Race – I wrote this as a short story or possible chapter for my YA series The Day The Earth Turned. At the time I was busy with other books, but if I got a really strong idea I would write a bit for this series. This story eventually ended up as a chapter in the book!

The Puddle -This is another old one and it comes from the memory of my oldest daughter being quite obsessed with puddles as a young child. She would often say there were other worlds inside them…

Stan – A piece that appeared on this blog a long time ago about my late step-grandfather, Stan. He was a very tall, very quiet man who I didn’t feel I ever got to know. But I have so many good memories of him.

Getting There – A few years back I was going through a low period and most of the poetry in this collection comes from that time. For some reason, I can only write poems when I’m feeling really dark! This one is a reference to what me and my husband often say to each other. You Ok? Yeah, you ok? Getting there. It just kind of means we are hanging on.

7 Minutes – Wrote a few years ago after a chat with my eldest daughter. She had read somewhere that after death your brain is still alive for 7 minutes. I started wondering what those 7 minutes might be like.

Slug – Quite an old one written about my ridiculous but genuine fear of slugs!

Crushed By A Number – Another one written during a dark time. I have always struggled with my body image.

The Rubbish Man – wrote a few years ago. I got the idea when feeling really angry about the amount of litter and fly-tipping that goes on where I live.

Fine Wine – I do like to reward myself with a glass of wine on a Friday after a busy week!

Monday Morning – wrote a few years ago after watching my older kids leave home and try to cross the road to their school bus stop. It was a miserable Monday and none of us wanted it.

Outside – I wrote this after the first lockdown, when restrictions were starting to lift. During the strict early days, it was so quiet everywhere, it almost felt like the world had ended. This is from the point of view of a woman who doesn’t want the world to go back to normal…

Nothing – another fairly dark poem from a dark time

Grief – This one is fairly recent. I was feeling so sad about the state of the world, climate change, the decimation and extinction of wildlife…

Moonlit Shadow – This has a story behind it. I got up one morning about two summer ago and walked blearily into the bathroom. I was sure I saw a shadow move across the floor and when I sat on the loo I got a really strong feeling of loss accompanied with lyrics to a song I couldn’t recall the name of. I associated it with my sister, though I still have no idea why! I ended up googling the lyrics until I found the song. It was Moonlit Shadow by Mike Oldfield. I still have no clue why it made me think about my sister!

Bug – small, strange poem about me accidentally killing a bug. I hate accidentally killing things.

Smokey Sneak – a little poem about the stresses and strains of modern life

Zombies – a poem I wrote during a recent election.

The Shed – This story was my son’s idea! It was during the first lockdown when he was 12 and he told me he had a story idea but didn’t want to write it, so I did.

Dark Little Girl – another dark poem from a darker time!

What If… – a poem that expresses concern about the point of life

Friends List – a poem about Facebook!

Mother Pt 1 – just a little one I wrote one day when tired. I remembered my mum always saying there was no point her sitting down, and I felt the same!

Fried Eggs For Breakfast – The idea for this came when I was cooking eggs and wondering what I would do if something unexpected came out of one…

Tired – a poem that crept in my head when I was still dog-walking for a job as well as running writing clubs. I was really, really tired!

All These Thoughts of Dying – a bit of a grim one, but I find it really hard not to think about death when I am driving!

The Forest – a recent poem I wrote after a walk in my favourite woods. I wondered what it would be like to just lie down and sink into the earth.

Things You Don’t Want To Do – A poem I wrote a while back when feeling a bit overwhelmed. Sometimes life is just full of things you don’t want to do….

Driving The Bends – this one evolved in my head during my constant journeys up a certain narrow, twisty road where I live. It’s one of those roads that is just begging for an accident to happen and it only takes one idiot…

Dylan’s Dream – another idea from my teenage son. He had a bizarre dream and described it to us in great detail. I said that sounds like a weird story. He didn’t want to write it down, so I did.

Read Now, Die Later – I got the idea for this one when dog-walking. I was on a narrow, gravelled path and I kept thinking I could hear footsteps behind me, crunching the gravel. Whenever I turned, no one was there. I soon realised it was the loose gravel flying out behind me when I walked and scattering further back. But by the time I felt safe, I had devised this whole story in my head!

The Universe – I like this one, it’s one of my favourites. For a long time, my husband had to start work at 4am and as we only have one car, I’d wake up too and drop him there. Sometimes on the drive back, the sun would just be rising and everything would seem very peaceful and calm, and if a perfect song came on the radio and if all the traffic lights stayed green, I would cruise safely home feeling that the universe was on my side.

The Death of You – another poem about death. I often get fearful about driving especially when I see the remains of animals on the roads, but then I started thinking about all the other ways you could easily die at any time…

2020 – one I wrote during the first lockdown! 2020 was certainly a memorable year.

The Black Van – This short story arrived unexpectedly when I was driving home one day. The lights were red and a black van was in front of me. Just then an identical black van pulled up behind me and I was sandwiched between them. It was early morning with no other cars about. The lights seemed to take forever to change and I started imagining what would happen if the vans contained bad people with sinister intentions! By the time I got home I had the story idea and wrote it later that day. It just flowed! It then became a novel idea which I intend to co-write with Sim Sansford soon, now that we have finished our trilogy together!

Mother Pt 2 – I think a lot about motherhood. Being a mother makes you realise things about your own mother. I think it gives you a clearer idea of what she did for you and what she sacrificed. Thinking about how much kids are attached to you as little ones but then leave home and don’t look back made me think about my own mother and my experiences as a mother.

A Woman Of A certain age – I wrote this in the kitchen one Friday night after a stressful week when my perimenopausal hormones had really battered me. I had a drink on the go and music from my youth playing.

My Golden Son – I wrote this quite a few years ago when my oldest son was about ten or so. We were walking down the lane which is very beautiful, sheltered by oak trees and enjoying the wildflowers and the hedgerows full of birds, and then I got suddenly very depressed by the litter and the prospect of climate change and I just felt awful for him, having to grow up in such uncertain times

These Streets – Another one that popped into my head during an early morning drive home after dropping my husband at work. He works in a fairly run down area and it was these details I was noticing as I drove.

Black Hare Valley – A few years ago I had a vague idea to write a horror story about a group of kids living in a very sinister town. I started a few character bios and loose ideas and then created a huge map for the fictional town of Black Hare Valley. It was a lot of fun and my son helped me. I couldn’t write the book at that point but I wrote this prologue or teaser for it instead. I am now writing the book!

We Write – The newest poem in the collection. I am obsessed with writing, as you probably know. I love it so much. I think it is pure magic and these are just some of the reasons we feel compelled to write.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these brief stories behind the pieces in this new collection!

Where Do Ideas Come From?

I think one of the questions you get asked the most as a writer is; where do you get your ideas from? I always feel a little bit sad when I get asked this, because in my mind I kind of expect everyone to have a head full of ideas and this question reminds me that is not always the case. And then I feel a little bit sorry for the person asking because I don’t know what it feels like not to have millions of ideas and characters running around inside my head.

But where do ideas come from? It really is a good question if you think about it. Our minds are amazing! Pick up any book in your house or think about a recent read that had a real impact on you…it can boggle your brain to wonder how the author came up with it! Here are some of the ways writers get new ideas…

Image by Colin Behrens from Pixabay
  1. Out of nowhere… Sometimes ideas just come out of nowhere. You can’t trace them back to anything you saw, or heard or felt, or anything that inspired you. They just jump into your brain and they are there, taking up space. With me this is usually because the character invades my mind, sets up camp and then starts chatting. Before long they’ve suggested a back story and a possible plot.
  2. Musical inspiration... Writers will sometimes find an idea growing after listening to music. It could be that the song reminds them of a certain time and place and brings back memories that inspire a storyline. Or it could be the lyrics of the song itself that entice the writer to create a story. While driving, I once heard a song on the radio that instantly transported me back to a certain time in my life and by the time I reached my destination I had a short story in my head. I later evolved it into a novel which is in the first draft stage.
  3. TV/Film/book inspiration… Sometimes the young writers I work with worry that their story ideas are too similar to TV shows or films or books they’ve enjoyed. They’ve fallen in love with something and naturally want to emulate it in their own writing because it’s fun to do so. But they feel self-conscious, like they have stolen an idea or copied a character. I always tell them there is absolutely nothing wrong with this and that a lot of ideas are inspired by things we have enjoyed culturally. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series was originally inspired by me watching The Lost Boys at aged 12! My series has zero vampires in it but the scene when the mother realises her new boyfriend is the head vampire, got me thinking about real life monsters that hide among us, and the story grew from there. Writers ‘magpie’ ideas, taking little bits from here and there to create something new and this is totally fine.
  4. Real life people/places/events… Often writers will feel inspired to write about real life people, places or events. This could be in terms of historical or political fiction, or it could be someone they have known or come across sparks off an idea in their head. Writers people watch a lot and they tend to soak up whatever is around them, so the chances are real life people and events do sneak into their writing, sometimes without them even realising it.
  5. Anxieties and fears… I think this happens to me a lot! Quite a few of my personal fears and anxieties have evolved into novels. I think this is my way of working through what upsets and worries me. I never realise it until later though! For example, another reason The Boy With The Thorn In His Side story came about was my fear at 12 years old that my recently divorced parents would meet new partners I would hate. The Mess Of Me grew out of my own body image issues. This Is Nowhere is essentially about a non-religious character trying to find meaning in life, which is something I was thinking about a lot at the time. The Tree Of Rebels and my current work-in-progress confront my fears around climate change and the destruction of wildlife. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature contains characters who sort of represent an internal fight I have with myself – one is open-minded, open-hearted and wants to see the best in people and view the future with hope, while the other hates people so much she basically becomes agoraphobic. I don’t think writers always realise it at the time, but I do think our personal fears weave their way into our work.
  6. Long walks… Or long showers! Either way, I find doing something relaxing that you don’t really need to think about for a long time, really allows the ideas to flow. I always get good ideas for stories or plotlines when I am walking my dogs alone. Any time I have had a block or got stuck, it has become unravelled on a walk. Ideas for endings have popped into my head out of nowhere while walking. Dialogue often starts to flow too, so I’ll write it down into my phone or record myself saying it so I don’t forget. If you are ever out of ideas, I would strongly recommend a long walk on your own!

So, that covers some of the places ideas come from and some of the things that spark off stories, but I am sure there must be more. What about you? Where do your ideas come from? Feel free to comment and share!

5 Ways This Crazy World Helps My Writing

I could also have titled this post; ‘5 Ways Writing Helps Me Deal With This Crazy World’, because it works both ways. Writing helps me cope with this world and everything going on in it, and the world helps my writing by providing so much inspiration and material! Win win, if you want to put a positive spin on it. I could also have called this post; ‘How The Hell Do Non-Writers Even Survive?’, because seriously, I have no idea. If I didn’t have writing, I don’t know how would I cope. Anyway, here goes. The world is a messed up place but I don’t let any of it go to waste;

  1. Anxiety– I use the mess in my stomach and pretend I’m one of my characters. I play out the scene. I feel the churn and the dread weighing me down. That tightness in my chest. Like it’s hard to breathe. Like you don’t want to think about anything for too long or you might start crying and never stop. I take all that and put it into my characters. I become them. I play act. I change my worries and fears to theirs. I make use of it.
  2. I explore darkness – through my characters. Their stories are nearly all ones I have stood on the edge of. I’ve stood there and peered into the darkness. I’ve wondered about it and thought about it and been tempted by so many things inside the dark. But I have my characters and I explore it through them. I don’t have to go into the darkness, because I do it through them instead.
  3. I leave behind a legacy – For someone who is not religious, I’m not particularly scared of dying, but I do think about death a lot. Because the world is so messed up, and humans so delightfully flawed, I sometimes like to think of my books as my legacy. I’m leaving my thoughts, feelings, dreams, fears and hopes inside my books and these will live on after I do. My response to this world and this life is my writing. All my books, all my stories, my characters are all little bits of me, all part of me and who I am and when I die, my ancestors will be able to know me better than anyone, by reading it all.
  4. I weave the craziness into my stories – I make sense of the world and politics and social issues by writing about them. Anything that angers, upsets or confuses me is woven into my stories. My books all deal with social issues and I love delving into gritty subjects in this way. It gives me a chance to sort through my own thoughts and beliefs, and this dying world gives me a lot of material.
  5. People watching for material -It’s weird being a writer because on the one side you are naturally introverted and shy, but on the other, you are constantly baring your fragile soul to the world. You often distrust people and try to avoid them, yet they are endlessly fascinating to you and provide juicy material for characters and stories. It’s great though because you can go out into the world, soak up all the messy people then come home and expel it all through words.

So, there you have it. I don’t like this world or the people in it a lot of the time. I’m terrified of where we are all heading. But at least I’m getting the constant urge to write! What do you think, folks? Please feel free to comment and/or share. Does writing help you deal with the state of the world right now, or the worries in your own life? Or is the world happily providing you with enough material for a lifetime?

 

‘I Got A Head Full Of Ideas That Are Driving Me Insane’; Tips For Dealing With A Busy Mind

I’ve always loved this line from Bob Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’. I first heard it on a best of Bob Dylan compilation tape I bought when I was 12 years old. Yes, I was a strange kid, obsessed with words, old music, and writing. I used to scrawl lyrics and random thoughts over my bedroom walls and floorboards. And at the time I discovered Bob Dylan’s lyrical genius, I was also discovering how addictive it was to put words together. Little poems. Songs. Stories that grew into novels. I’d get one idea and become obsessed by it, only to have another equally exciting one show up on its heels, demanding my attention.

I remember the feeling of having too much inside my head. And having no escape from it, no way to turn it off or quieten it. I was always thinking about something. I disliked small talk and found it hard to concentrate on people when they spoke to me.

These days, it’s even worse. Just like when I was a kid, I have these people in my head. These made up people who feel so unbelievably real and who all have desperate stories to tell, and who all want their turn NOW!

So how do you cope when your mind gets this noisy? How do you focus on what is important and not end up burning out or giving up? I wouldn’t say I’ve fully figured this out yet, but here are a few tips for anyone who has a head full of ideas problem;

  • Count yourself lucky. Yes, I know it can feel like a burden and a curse. If only just some of these people would shut up and go away, you could concentrate fully on the task at hand. But it pays to remember having too many ideas is actually pretty cool. You’re never going to run out of material. You have decades worth of books and sequels lining up to be penned. That’s lucky and that’s exciting.
  • List your projects. I did this about a year ago. I have a to-be-read list and I have a to-be-written list. I’m a list person and there is nothing more satisfying than putting a tick in a box. So make a list of all the ideas for books you have and then enjoy that feeling when you get to tick them off. Also, this way you won’t forget any of the ideas!
  • Multi-tasking is your friend and ally. If you are taking the indie route, you’re going to need those multi-tasking skills in an abundance, so this is another reason to be happy that your mind is so busy. If you can juggle all of those projects and ideas without losing it, then you will probably do pretty well as an indie writer, juggling writing with building an author platform, promoting and so on.
  • Give yourself a day off each week. I didn’t always do this. I didn’t feel like I could. How was I ever going to get all these books written if I slacked off at any point? But then my kids kept giving me sad eyes and saying they missed cuddling up on the sofa with me. So I take every Saturday off. Completely. I don’t turn the laptop on. I sit downstairs with them and watch whatever they want to watch and take a deep breath. It’s my reward for all the hard work in the week.
  • Make sure it’s still fun. I think serious writers, or at least those who are serious about actually selling their books, should treat writing like a job. I always wanted writing to be my job, and now it sort of is, although obviously, I have to do other things to earn the real money! Viewing it as a job doesn’t have to take the fun out of it.On the contrary, writing should be a fun job. The best job in the world, in fact. So keep an eye on the fun factor. You might be churning out novel after novel and hitting all of your word count targets, but are you still having fun?
  • Feel free to slack off a bit every now and again. I’m doing this at the moment. Or at least it feels like it to me. I’m going over the sequel to The Tree Of Rebels I started a while back which is about half written. I’m editing a bit but I’m not doing any actual writing yet. I have two books with beta readers, so you know, can’t do much there right now. I’m gearing up for the release of The Tree Of Rebels, but until the artwork and formatting is done, I can’t set a release date and put the plan into action, so that’s all kind of relaxed right now too. It’s nice. I know things are going to get hectic again really soon, so I am enjoying the peace. I’ve been watching TV! Unheard of!
  • Remind yourself that one day you will have more time…I’m a mum of four kids and I’m also a dog walker and run writing groups and workshops. My youngest child is almost three, so hasn’t started pre-school yet. He’s 24/7. My older kids are fantastic but let me just say this to all you new parents out there, it doesn’t get any easier. It gets harder. Sorry, but it does! Anyway, I have days when I feel frustrated that I didn’t get much done, but then I remind myself that one day the kids will all be grown up. They’ll be gone one day. I’m not looking forward to that, by the way, but wow, I will certainly know how to keep myself busy when the time comes! So for now, I remind myself to be patient. These are busy days and I’m torn in many directions, but it won’t be this way forever.
  • Write weekly lists to help you stay calm. I would be lost without my weekly to-do list. I sit down every Sunday night and write down the things I would like to achieve in the coming week. There will be things I need to do, such as writing this blog or putting together the monthly newsletter, and things I aim to get done, such as more editing, research or whatever comes up. Basically, I sit down each night and decide which things on the list are the most pressing. I usually split my time in half between promotional things, and actual writing or editing.
  • Don’t push yourself too hard. I could write into the night and not stop. I used to do that before I had kids. I’m more sensible now, because I know I have to get up early and look after them all, but also because I’m kinder to myself. My mind needs a break. I turn everything off around ten pm and climb into bed with a book. Reading helps me calm down and tune out from my own mind. You can guarantee the ideas will start up again once I turn out the light, but I quite enjoy this if I am honest. I always fall asleep playing mini movies in my head, where various characters move about and talk and basically perform the book for me.
  • Have other hobbies and passions. I think this is vital. Obviously, I have the kids, and I expect most writers will have family commitments of some sort, as well as a day job. But I think having other passions in your life can really help you switch off from the writing, and give your hectic mind a break. I love gardening and being with my animals. I can easily lose a few hours just weeding, planting and digging. I love reading and will happily pick up a book at any time of the day, including whilst making the dinner. I’m pretty addicted to music and will waste away an hour or two on YouTube if I ever get the chance! Make sure writing is not your only obsession.
  • And finally, remind yourself that it will all get done one day. One word at a time, one day at a time, one book at a time. You will work your way through that list of projects. I’m sure more ideas will arrive when you really don’t want them to, but consider it a privilege and just keep going as calmly as you can!

Now I just need to keep reminding myself to do all of the above and I might just survive!

Please feel free to leave a comment. I’d love to know how you cope with having too many ideas!