Time to Dig Deep

It was predictable but here we go again – heading into another lockdown in England. Like a lot of people I’d been expecting this for some time as the rate of infections has been accelerating since September. I know there are divided opinions on the best approach to tackle the dreaded Corona Virus, but I’d class myself as falling into the ‘I don’t want another lockdown but if it saves lives, okay then,’ camp.

The announcement came on Saturday night and today it will be voted through Parliament with the lockdown starting tomorrow, Thursday. It will not be as strict as last time, (which does make me wonder whether it will even work…) with schools, colleges and universities remaining open and essential shops, as well as DIY and garden centres staying open. The advice is work from home ‘if you can’, which will no doubt mean for a lot of people, life will go on as normal. Which again, makes me question what impact this will have on the spread of the virus…

For me, I once again cannot teach my writing clubs and groups in person. Instead, I am forced back online, and I suppose the only good thing about it this time is that I am better prepared. Last time, I just could not act fast enough to what was happening. I think my brain put me in survival mode and for me that meant looking after my kids and ignoring everything else. As the time wore on I did give in and purchase Zoom and I have been holding regular adult writing groups online in this way. There is no reason why my other groups cannot go online, but unfortunately children seem less keen to do this, and I have not had a good response so far to my proposed Zoom clubs.

The other positive is that having predicted this would happen, I undertook a Copy-Editing and Proofreading course and at the moment I am providing these services for free to a few authors with the agreement that they will write testimonials for my website. Editing and proofreading their work is also a great experience for me. The plan is my CIC Chasing Driftwood Writing Group will soon offer extra services to authors in the form of editing and proofreading. I hope eventually this will bring in some money to help replace what I have lost. In the long-term it gives me an income stream that can be achieved working from home.

A few days ago I felt intensely unsettled and anxious. I’m sure a lot of people did as they waited to hear whether their place of work would have to be shut down this time or not. For me, it is the uncertainty that makes me anxious. As soon as I know what is happening, I feel better and I can deal with it. I felt sad driving home from dropping my youngest at school and gave in to a few tears while alone in the car. His school have asked parents to wear face coverings during drop off and pick up time, and of course everyone has complied instantly and without complaint. But it was sad to see all these faceless parents dropping off their children and I could not kiss my son goodbye properly, which really got to me. I thought about the virus and how it has made so many things miserable and joyless. Shopping, mixing with people, moving about and now even the school run. I had my tears but I am over them now. Today I am sat here feeling thankful and positive.

I’m thankful because the schools have not closed so while that remains the case, I can get tons of work done at home without disruption. I’m thankful because I have a new business partner at last to share the load and really push Chasing Driftwood in the right direction, despite the pandemic! I’m thankful because I live in a beautiful area with glorious walks right on my doorstep. I’m thankful that so far my family and loves ones are all happy, healthy and safe from this virus. I’m thankful for my pets and my kids and my garden and all the ways I have to distract myself if I start to feel down.

Last time around, the weather was beautiful and we threw ourselves into gardening. It was a real family effort, transforming areas of the garden and making the most of what we had. It was a life saver and I know it had a massive effect on my moods. Being a woman of a certain age struggling daily with the mood swings of the perimenopause, the pandemic has been an eye opener with regards to mental health.

I am better when I am busy, and I am even better than that when I am outside getting my hands dirty. I was fascinated watching the wonderful AutumnWatch the other day, where they explained the science behind nature elevating our moods. From being near water, walking among trees and even spotting birds, all aspects of nature release mood enhancing hormones in our brains. In particular there is a microbe (Mycobacterium vaccae) in soil that when inhaled by us increases the levels of serotonin, lifting our mood and helping us to feel relaxed and happy.

I can testify to this, because whenever I spend any time gardening I finish off feeling as high as a kite – no kidding! It makes me feel amazing, it really does.

Last lockdown saw a huge rise in people growing fruit and vegetables, tending their gardens, attracting wildlife and so on. This will be harder as we enter Winter but not impossible. I have set myself a challenge. To help me through this uneasy time of reduced income and increased stress, I aim to spend at least half an hour every day in my garden. There is still plenty to do out there and I will not let the cold or the rain deter me. I need it!

So, my advice to anyone with a bit of dirt near them is to dig deep and keep digging. Gardening is productive, positive and rebellious. It reminds us where we came from and links us to our ancestors and their ways of life. It connects us to nature and to wildlife and elevates our mood, making us feel happy and content, despite the crazy world we live in right now.

We are all feeling on edge as the virus increases again, as we worry about our health and the health of our loved ones, as we isolate from the rest of humanity, cover our faces and keep our distances, as we fear a reduction in income and living standards, as we fear so many things….We got through it last time so we know we can get through it again. Talk to each other, help each other, speak up when you are feeling lost and afraid and dig deep, even deeper this time to find the resilience we are going to need to get through it.

(Image by Goumbik from Pixabay)

Silver Linings In Dark Clouds

I’ve been trying to stay positive today. I’m sure you have too. I feel better prepared for home-schooling now and will blog about that when it kicks off on Monday. Two of my children finished school today. One is in Year 11, which is GCSE year in the UK. She is worried about the exams being scrapped and sad she will not have a leaving prom and all the other rites of passage events that happen to mark this time. We will keep her busy and get her through it. I had a spooky trip to Tesco which was odd to say the least, mainly because of the social distancing enforced at the tills by tape and the constant announcements about only being allowed two of each item and verbal and physical abuse of staff not being tolerated. Talk about an uneasy shopping trip. Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the possible positives that could come out of it when we get to the other side. I think it’s helpful to try to find silver linings so here are six of mine;

  • Mother Nature will get a chance to heal. There have already been some incredible and uplifting scenes of this happening. Clear water, less pollution, dolphins swimming in the waterways in Venice due to the lack of tourists, blue skies in China and so on. Where I live I have already noticed a remarkable reduction in traffic. I can only imagine the benefits to air quality and to wildlife.
  • We will realise how precious our planet is and look after it better. I really hope so. Perhaps while we are all forced to slow down and just stop what we are doing, we will realise that we can change things and that for all our sakes, we should. Perhaps with no work, no school , no rushing around, we will find the time again to hear the birds, to notice the trees, to smell the flowers as Spring starts to blossom. I hope a new appreciation for nature starts to build.
  • We will realise there were parts of our lives we didn’t like and we will change them. Often, we don’t have a choice, I know that. You need money to pay the bills, to keep the roof over your head and food on the table. But maybe this whole experience will allow people to work out what they like and don’t like about their lives. If they enjoy working at home, maybe they can make the case for doing this? If they prefer home-schooling their children, maybe they will switch to it for good? If they find themselves less stressed, less tired, less worn out by life itself, who knows? Maybe some of us will change our entire lives.
  • We will live healthier lives. It’s ironic, isn’t it? Have you seen the empty shelves in the shops? It’s all the healthy stuff being grabbed and stockpiled. If you go down the crisps, chocolate and sweets aisle, there is plenty of that! People are grabbing the fruit and vegetables, the tinned goods and packets of pasta and rice. They are leaving the bars of chocolate and packets of crisps and sweets. I know that’s probably because they want to stay healthy to have a better chance of fighting the virus, but who knows, it could change things. Maybe people will notice how much better they feel without eating so much sugar and they will endeavour to have a healthier diet after it’s all over. I imagine being in isolation or lockdown will also make people realise how essential and therapeutic exercise is too.
  • We will recognise the true heroes in this and treat them better. I’m talking about the teachers who have been so amazing throughout, offering support and guidance preparing packs of work and online content, so many of them giving time on the Internet to provide free resources. We would be lost without them. And you know what? Give us parents a few days of home schooling and we are going to have a new found appreciation, hero worship even, of our children’s long-suffering teachers. I’m talking about the care workers and NHS staff, utter heroes who have been underpaid and overworked for so long now, yet here they still are, risking their lives to help us. I’m talking about the police, the firefighters and the army, also doing all they can to keep us safe. And what about the postal workers and the delivery drivers? We are becoming even more reliant on ordering online and these often very poorly paid workers are saving our arses and our sanity. And not forgetting a group of people who are also poorly paid and often looked down on by society; the shop workers, shelf stackers and till workers. I’ve done those jobs before and believe me, the general public can be extremely obnoxious towards them. But look now…these people are running themselves ragged trying to keep the food on the shelves. My husband is one of them and I can tell you, he is shattered. I hope that when this is all over we respect these workers more, we pay them more money and we realise that we are all connected, all reliant on each other for survival and we are all important!
  • I hope we become kinder and realise and remember that we are all in this together. In recent years, we have become less kind. We have turned inwards, thought of ourselves and feared others, while we have allowed the true demons to run amok. The politicians have done a super job of turning us against each other, haven’t they? This is, of course, to distract us from what they are up to, but we won’t go into that now. Let’s just say I hope this brings us closer together. Perhaps now we have feared for our lives, been separated from our loved ones, lost our jobs, had to queue for basic food and feared for our homes, we will have more empathy and understanding towards those who flee their countries to seek a safer life.

That’s me trying to find the silver linings and I truly believe there will be some. Of course, we have to get through this with our health and sanity intact first! What about you? Do you think this event will change things in the long-term? Feel free to leave a comment!

Being A Self-Published Author; Is It Worth It?

This is a question I ask myself on a regular basis. And let me be honest, for many reasons, I would not choose to be self-published over having a decent traditional deal with the right publisher who knows how to market my books. Let’s get that out in the open. There are many proud indies out there who feel very differently, and I admire them greatly. Perhaps their books are selling so well they have been able to give up their day job. It does happen! Perhaps they are earning enough to keep a smile on their face and self-doubts at bay. Perhaps they are natural promotional and marketing wizards, or have experience in this area. I salute them.

But for many indies, the self-published route is a hard old slog. That’s not to say it’s without its joys and successes. It’s thrilling to finally publish a book. It’s exciting to work on a cover, and it’s challenging to learn how to craft a decent synopsis. There are a lot of positive aspects to self-publishing, and I would never ever deter anyone from trying it. You learn innumerable skills, you run your own business, you hit the ceiling with joy when your book connects with a reader so much they send you a personal message or leave a book review that blows your mind. Believe me, there is a lot of fun to be had.

But let’s take another look at the hard old slog of it. Let’s take a look at what it can take to get a book finished and out there, to push it and promote it, and then see a trickle of sales reward you. Let’s think for a minute what it is like to remember that literally millions of other indies are publishing books, that the market is swamped and that it is getting harder and harder to be seen and heard.

So, first, you write a book. Which might take a year or two out of your life. There will inevitably be blood, sweat, and tears. There will be semi-breakdowns and outright temper tantrums. There will be a neglected family and or partner who know you are never really listening to them when they talk. There will be a day job for you to try to focus on. There will be housework and life and this crazy, messed up world. But somehow, you do it.

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Of course, the hard work has only just begun. Now you must rewrite it, redraft it, edit it, proofread it, cry over it some more, enlist beta readers, cry some more when they tell you what sucks, feel like giving up, bang your head against the wall and do it all again, and again and again until you know it is done.

Then you try to find a publisher because you’ve heard how hard self-publishing is. You’ve heard that it costs money to edit, create a cover and get it marketed. You don’t know how to do all that stuff, so you want a publisher. You want someone of authority and experience to grab your book and demand to publish it. You want that recognition that all that hard work was worth it. That your book is worth it. That you are in fact, really and truly, a writer.

Next, you face rejection. You get sorry not for us, right now. You keep going because you know how many times Stephen King and JK Rowling got rejected, but eventually, you realise that self-publishing may be your only option.

If you are made of tough enough stuff, you don’t balk at this. You want to be published and decide to grab onto this adventure with both hands. So you start doing your research, network and make contacts, maybe go to workshops or events and you start to feel good about this. You can do this. This might even be fun! It’s a challenge!

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You read articles and secure a cover and pen a synopsis and do everything the best you can, although you will always harbor a sneaking feeling that it all could have been much better with more money and experience behind it. You plan a book launch. Exciting, indeed.

Exhausting too. This was me the last few weeks, months even. Reading up, reaching out, building hope. Sending the book out to agreeable ARC reviewers, which is something I have not done before. I decided to focus more on reviews than sales with this book to see what difference that makes. Because everything with self-publishing is experimental and trial and error. No one thing works for sure. What works for one person will do nothing for another. You have to keep trying different things.

As I got closer to launch day, I panicked. I panicked that the book was not good enough. Two people found a few typos, so there was panic in getting these amended in ebook and paperback, and in both cases, I managed to mess up the formatting and had to ask for help to fix it all again. In the nick of time, all was well for release day. In a negative mindset by then, I decided that no one would come. No one would join in. Most of my FB friends had ignored it. What was the point? It wasn’t worth it. None of this was worth it. I was well and truly down about it. And feeling down about self-publishing is not a new state of mind for me, it’s a pretty regular one. I have down days and then something happens to lift me up again. It’s a good old fashioned roller coaster of a ride, all right.

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I spend a hell of a lot of time on this. Writing and crafting the books, keeping my social media and author platform engaging and consistent, reading and absorbing new trends and information. The list goes on and on. This is not a game for the faint hearted or the easily dissuaded. This is also not a game for anyone banking on instant success, money or fame.

Nevertheless, I persevered.

And launch day reminded me why.

Launch day reminded why self-publishing is worth it.

Launch day kicked off with 6 instant reviews on Amazon, courtesy of those amazing ARC reviewers. By the end of the day, I had 12 glowing reviews. One review was the longest I have ever had for any book! The reviews left me in no doubt that these readers had got the book, enjoyed the book and been affected by the book. Over the moon does not go close to revealing how this made me feel. I believe reviews are fuel to writers. They feed us and warm us and keep us going when we feel like quitting. These reviews will fuel my journey for some time to come.

Launch day saw my online Facebook party start at 1pm and end at 11pm. I managed to juggle this with childcare and domestic duties, and though I had been dreading it and wishing I hadn’t started it the day before, I ended up really, really loving it.

I shared news of my release in a Facebook group called Book Connectors, and had a great response there with a few people buying the book and coming over to join in the party. I’ve already had a great response from bloggers in that group for this book and some of the others. It’s been a brilliant group to be part of.

Feeling more confident, I launched the party and to my surprise, things really took off. Lots more people started joining, loads of people shared the event and each post and giveaway got a really great response. It was tremendous fun!

I sold some books, gained new likes and followers, enticed discussion, gained reviews and had a great time. A few days later and I am still selling books and gaining reviews. I keep telling myself to enjoy it while it lasts, and prepare myself for a slow down or a stall in sales. I am sure there will be another down day, another ‘this is not worth it day’, but until it comes I am determined to bask in the glory of the now and let people know how much I appreciate their help and support.

So, going back to my original question; is self-publishing worth it?

Yes.

Will you ever make back the money you spent?

Yes. One day you will.

Will you ever feel like you are worthy after the rejections of traditional publishing?

Yes. Given time, patience and increased work and attention to both your craft and your promotional activities, you will. Not all the time. But enough to keep you going.

Because self-publishing is one thing above anything else. It’s an opportunity. It’s a chance. It’s not easy, and it does not guarantee sales, reviews, recognition or respect. You have to earn all those things and yes, in time, they do come. It’s an opportunity to get better. To become a better writer with every book you produce, to become a better promoter, to improve your author platform, to network, to keep trying, to work harder and harder.

 

What do you guys think? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject! Have you tried self-publishing? What are your thoughts on how easy or hard it is to succeed?

 

 

 

Growing Your Own; A Positive Rebellion

Gardening is a lot like writing. It starts with a seed, and with love, care, attention, commitment and imagination, it grows into something much, much more. For me, gardening and writing are similar because they both involve creating something positive and injecting it into the world. They both make the world brighter and better. They both involve hope, love and rebellion.

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I’ve always been attracted to gardening. My parents grew vegetables when I was a kid, and so did my grandparents. I have fond memories of sitting on cool concrete steps with a plastic bowl on my lap, popping peas from their pods. There is nothing in this world quite as divine as the pungent scent of a full grown tomato plant. As soon as I had my own place, I started growing my own. There is something so deliciously simple and satisfying about planting a seed and growing it into a plant, from which you can pick and eat food. If you’ve never had the pleasure, I can assure you it’s an incredible feeling. Like all is well with the world. Like you’ve just solved all the world’s problems, by tugging out a handful of carrots and shaking the dirt from their roots. It never fails to make me smile, the sight of home grown food, picked and ready to eat. It just makes you want to sit back and go ‘ahh’.

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We live in tumultuous times. There are many days when I want to avoid the news, for fear of what will dismay or horrify me next. I sometimes wish I could turn the clock back for all of us, back to a simpler time, where we all grew our own food, worked the fields, and reaped what we sowed.

When I am feeling distraught, just like writing, gardening will make me feel better. I forces me to take a deep breath, it forces me to get on with things, to get on with life, and to do something positive. Getting my hands dirty, feeling the soil under my finger nails, pushing seeds into the earth, it all helps me to feel grounded again and more in control. Being outside, kneeling in the dirt, choosing what to plant, putting my back into turning over the earth, it helps me remember where I come from, where we all come from. Gardening is therapeutic; I keep telling people this. I get my little man out there with me, and I want him to feel the earth and take care of the seeds, and tend them and watch them grow. Right now, I can’t think of anything more important for him to know and understand.

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Gardening grounds me, calms me and satisfies me. From the beginning, it is a labour of love and good intentions. I have the old adage of ‘you reap what you sow’ in mind nearly always, for I know I will get back what I put in. The seeds are the hope, you see. Like new life, bursting with potential. A freshly dug and turned over plot is like the womb, spongey and fresh, eager to provide and sustain. It’s exciting from the first moment you plant the seed. When it rears its head, it’s like birth. You care for it, water it, protect it and finally, you are rewarded with food. The cycle of life right there. And around it goes again, the plant itself providing the seeds from which to start the whole process again.

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When I’m in my garden, I’m calmer and happier, but I am also filled with grit and determination. For I am taking back control. Working the land, growing our own food used to be the norm. It was how we survived. But over time the food industry grew into a monstrous thing, delivering us convenience, but taking away so many other things. What have we traded, what have we compromised on in order to be able to do all our shopping under one huge roof? We’ve not only handed over control of the food chain to massive faceless corporations, we’ve compromised on animal cruelty and environmental damage and destruction. We’ve increased waste massively, through packaging, delivery, and distribution. We’ve lost contact with what is put into our food, what it actually is, where it comes from, and what or who has suffered in order for us to have it exactly as we demand it.

When you try to grow your own food, you remember how it used to be, how it could be again, how important it is to get back that control and to reconnect our roots with the earth we walk on. We have no respect for nature when we are removed from it. When all the hard work is done for us, when we have no idea how foods are made or what is in them, or what damage has been done to the planet in order to obtain them. I believe it’s crucial we teach our children where food comes from. Reconnecting them with the earth and their own wild roots is going to become increasingly important.

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It’s not easy for everyone to grow their own food. Not everyone has the space and barely anyone has the time. But in years to come, I truly believe it’s going to become imperative to learn how. We are going to struggle to feed people on this planet for many reasons. Climate change may be the biggest challenge of our generation, endless war, struggling economies and falling wages will all take their toll. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that food prices are rising.

Growing your own food, planting a vegetable patch, may be just about the most positive and rebellious thing we can do right now. It’s two fingers up to the establishment, it’s a break away from slavery to the supermarkets, and a refusal to be complicit in animal cruelty, environmental destruction and the taking from those who have less.

Growing your own is saying, go away, I don’t need you, I can do this on my own. I’ve got a new motto this year in my house. It’s ‘I won’t buy it, if I can make it myself.’ Now this only applies to food so far, and is a work in process, but a good intention heading in the right direction. I’m digging my heels in and saying no. I don’t need to buy supermarket naan bread when I make a curry, because I can save the packaging and make my own. I don’t need to buy pizzas, or jam, or pastries or pies, sauces, breads, cakes or biscuits, because I can make my own.

I need to be outside right now. This world is breaking my heart and filling me with terror. I need to be planting things, growing things, nurturing things. I need to be responsible for new life and hope and potential. I need to believe that good things can happen if you are a good person. I need to believe that there is a possibility for a greener, brighter future for my children.

When I am writing or gardening, I am reminded that I still have power.