The Chaotic Joy Of Co-Writing A Series

About a year ago my business partner and fellow indie author, Sim Alec Sansford, messaged me asking if I had ever considered writing a book with someone else. The answer was no. It had never occurred to me and I have always wondered how on earth writers manage collaborative writing projects. It just seemed far too complicated and not at all something I would ever want to try. Sim had an idea for a book and wondered if I would consider writing it with him. I think if anyone else had asked me I would have given an instant no. But Sim and I get on really well as business partners at Chasing Driftwood Writing Group and feel the same passion for writing and for our characters. I’d read some of his work and he’d read some of mine, and I had to admit, it felt like we could possibly pull it off.

So, I agreed. I figured, at the very least it would be an interesting experience and one I could learn from! Little was I to know how Sim’s tentative request and fledgling book idea would snowball!

Roughly a year later, we have completed two books in a paranormal YA series and we are currently racing towards the finish line of the final book in the trilogy. We never set out to write a series, but we soon realised that’s exactly what it was becoming.

I’ll probably blog again when the books are finished and I’ll spend more time telling you about them, but for now I just wanted to write about how the whole process has worked. Because it’s worked in a really strange and unexpected, dare I say, chaotic way!

So, as you probably already know, I have a certain process when I write a book. It goes a bit like this:

I get a character in my head who grows and grows until they get so real and so noisy, I have to start writing it down.

I start a notebook and start adding the ideas for a story, and it’s the character suggesting the ideas, not me.

When I’m able to start the book, I plan out a certain amount of chapters, write all my character bios, and get going.

I do any research along the way, as and when I need to. The first draft normally takes me about three months then I will spend probably about a year doing further drafts, edits and rewrites. By about draft 5 or 6 I will send it to beta readers and then do another rewrite/draft depending on what they said. Eventually it will go to my wonderful editor and proof-reader, then back to me for another round and then finally I will start to organise the publishing process.

Everything goes in the notebook, so I can have it there handy as I write and can jot down future ideas for chapters and scenes, character info and more. In my head at least, it’s kind of an organised process. It might look messy to anyone else, but it works well for me.

Writing books with another author has been so different!

We started off with good intentions and I even started a little notebook of ideas and character bios so we could keep track of who was who and so on. I also started writing chapter outlines to send back and forth so we could keep an eye on what we had written and ideas we had coming up.

All of this fell by the wayside though as the story took control!

Somehow, and I am really not sure how, we have managed to write almost three books in a year purely by swapping messages with each other on Facebook!

Initially Sim had a vague idea and we started creating a character each. He wanted to write the female character, Darcie and I wanted to write the male, JJ. I’m not sure when we decided that they would have super powers, but we did! I wrote the first chapter purely by instinct and luckily it seemed to be what Sim was thinking too. He quickly responded and off we went. Mostly it has been a really fast process, with us swapping chapters most days or every couple of days. We both work and write our own books too, so I am surprised we got so much done. We did keep each chapter fairly short and snappy and ended most on cliff hangers to set up the next chapter, so I guess we helped each other out a bit there! We really didn’t get too stuck too often.

Every time we read the other’s chapter, we would send a message asking what ideas would work in ours so we didn’t mess up the flow of scenes. We would both suggest stuff that could happen and with every chapter we wrote, more and more of the story unfolded before us. We got really excited and our messages reflect this! Once we got going, there was really no stopping us. We whizzed through the first two books and inevitably our original ideas grew more complex, we introduced more characters and storylines and sub-plots.

I think it’s fair to say that we are both totally in love with these characters we have created and the world they live in. We have created a strange little town called Fortune’s Well, which is loosely based on Sim’s childhood home of Dorchester. I recently visited Dorchester and was so excited to see in person some of the locations we have used in the books!

To start with we were both a bit nervous when writing the other person’s character into our chapter. But as the story grew and the characters evolved, we both felt we knew JJ and Darcie equally. Now I think it just feels natural to write both characters and we don’t feel we have to check with each other that we got their mannerisms or speech right.

So, the usual way I write books kind of fell aside and our original plans for writing these books also got left behind. Somehow we just muddled our way through using messages. I’m surprised it worked but there you are, we are nearly at the end of the trilogy and both of us are so excited to share it with everyone when it’s ready.

It’s been a really refreshing and fun addition to my writing life. Most evenings I work on my current WIP, but if I get sent a chapter from Sim, I will read it, digest it and then respond as soon as I have an idea. This way we have both managed to carry on with our own work as well as our co-writing project. Our series is so different to anything I have written before (paranormal, kids with super powers!!) and that’s been really exciting as well. We both love YA but I normally stick to gritty realism, so to dip into supernatural/paranormal/super powers territory has been the best fun ever. I really love this series and these characters and it’s inspired me to try these genres more in the future.

It’s been crazy, unexpected, exciting, challenging, messy, and above all else chaotic, but I have loved every moment of it. So much so, that we have already decided to work on another series together when this one is finished. This time its based on an idea I had that came from a short story I wrote. I think that if writing together worked once, there is every chance it will work again!

I will post about these books another time but for now, here is the blurb Sim came up with!

In the town of Fortune’s Well a dangerous storm is brewing, and two unsuspecting teenagers are standing right at the heart of it.

For JJ Carson, life has not been easy. His father is dead, his mother arrested for the murder, and he has been forced to live on the farm with his alcoholic uncle, Henry. Just when things could not get any worse, JJ discovers his living situation is not the only thing that makes him different from the other kids. A dark, swirling mist has made itself at home inside him and it is slowly changing him from the inside out.

Enter Darcie Duffield. Beautiful, popular, and incredibly misunderstood. Darcie is sick of the status quo and wants to make a difference. After a chance meeting with a strange boy at the river she becomes tangled in a web of lies and deceit as she tries to help save him from the darkness lurking within.

Why is this happening?

Where has it come from?

And why is Darcie the only one who can see it?

Guest Post #8 Dreaming Of Another World

Dreaming of Another World is a new feature on my blog where I welcome a fellow writer or blogger on to talk about their hopes for the future, post Covid-19. During lockdown, I wondered whether other creatives felt like me – like another world was possible and could just be glimpsed once we were forced to stay still. I’ve had a great response and each week I will be publishing a post written by a guest – sharing their thoughts, feelings, experiences and hopes during this strange time. How have they coped during lockdown and has it changed their lives in any way or made them yearn for a different kind of world? Today please welcome fantasy author Fiona Phillips.

DREAMING OF ANOTHER WORLD

Like many people, I watched the news on the Covid-19 outbreak in China with an initial ‘oh, that’s interesting but it doesn’t affect me’ attitude. China was way too far away and remote to make any difference to me and mine. Wasn’t it?

Of course, that wasn’t true. In what seemed like no time at all, the UK went into lockdown. Life, in many ways, came to a halt. Workplaces closed their doors, as did high street shops, bars, and restaurants. Schools sent their pupils home. Colleges and universities followed suit.

Personally, I was in shock – I don’t think I was alone in that – and scared. I checked in on family and friends, gathered my husband and teens around me, and waited.

Weeks turned into months. Shock turned into acceptance, and even a little joy in the new, pared-down, quieter world. And then, like so many other people, I began to wonder what our new world might look like.

Community

To my parents, community was everything. Their community included family – near and far – and friends. It included neighbours and the local shops. It even included the people they worked with, and the faces they chatted with at the bus stop or in the newsagent each day. Community was just a given. It was there.

Changes to the way we live nowadays though has gradually chipped away at that community, or at least that concept of community.

What became increasingly obvious during lockdown was how many of us re-connected online and through video-calls. Our family visits to see my mother-in-law, for instance, have been replaced by regular video-chats, with her dog and ours joining in with their own yip-yapped conversation in the background. Friends have taken advantage of group video calls to ‘meet up’ for quiz nights or cocktail parties. Even TV programmes like Staged have followed the trend.

Whether it’s by phone, video-chat, email, or plain old letter, most of us have realised how important it is to check in on each other.

I hope that the ‘new’ normal will see that continue, not so much face-to-face community being replaced by online community, but the ongoing communication lines we’ve established during lockdown. I hope we continue to care about and stay in touch with the people we know, even if we don’t see them every day.

Lifestyle

Pubs, clubs, cinemas, and theatre.

Visits to the park, team-jogging and walks in the countryside.

High-street shopping, coffee shop meet-ups and restaurant date nights.

All of those changed during lockdown. The things that I missed the most were not being able to meet up with friends for a coffee, no family cinema trips, and the end of meals out with my husband.

But then, as human beings do, we adapted. Our local theatre – the Story House in Chester – started a streaming service and held a drive-in film viewing. Our favourite restaurants turned into take-away services. Netflix and the like saw a massive uptake as film nights out became film nights in.

With so many children at home and workplaces closed, families had extra time to spend together. One of the mums on the estate where I live spent time crafting with her two young daughters and set up a treasure hunt, leaving hand-painted pebbles and pine-cones created by her girls for other local children to find.

With only the necessary shops opens – supermarkets, corner shops – the ritual of retail therapy on the high street ceased for the most part. Of course, it was replaced by online shopping – Amazon has never had it so good – but with incomes reduced or at threat by the lockdown, a lot of us buttoned our purses and relied on the necessities to get by.

The lockdown made me consider what I needed, rather than what I wanted.

Work

As a work-from-home author and copywriter, you might have thought that my work-life wouldn’t be that different during lockdown. What did change was the balance between my two roles. My copywriting clients either shut up shop during the lockdown or decided that they couldn’t afford to outsource their blog posts and social media content.

With little work on that side, I found I had a lot more time to spend working on my novel. By the summer, I had emailed off the first draft to my publisher and started to plan a non-fiction book.

My husband is employed but works remotely from home. The main difference he noticed was the growing number of his colleagues working from home too.

Flexible working, including remote working, has been an increasingly popular approach to work over the last few years. Or rather, it’s been popular with employees. Businesses have generally been less eager to jump on-board. 2020 may well have changed that.

Businesses can’t ignore the fact that many of them have been able to operate during the lockdown with a remote workforce. As a result, employees may now be able to prove that they can do their job perfectly well from home. 2020 was their dry run.

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

During the lockdown, it was easy to feel powerless and that you couldn’t make a difference. That didn’t stop some people though.

From the high school boys who began a free food delivery service to the elderly in their community, to the ‘shop’ set up in a garage by the locals on my estate for residents who couldn’t get out or afford supplies, ordinary people have shown how wonderful they are.

I was lucky enough to be invited to contribute to an anthology to raise money for the NHS Charities Together Covid-19 appeal. 2020 Together: an Anthology of Shorts has to date raised over £500 and is still selling.

My Writing

My debut novel, Haven Wakes – published by Burning Chair last year – is set ninety years from now in a world that has overcome global warming and rising sea levels and is assisted by a plentiful supply of robots.

This summer I finished the follow up novel in the series – as yet untitled – and I extended the effects that environmental concerns had had to that world. For instance, to guard against rising sea levels, most cities built up, raising their skirts to a safe level. But what about villages and rural communities – what would they do to survive?

The lockdown got me thinking about how writers might reflect the pandemic in their novels. There’s no denying the fact that if your novel is set in our world in 2020, it’ll be difficult to write about school-days, picnics in the park, or big, lavish weddings.

I haven’t mentioned the pandemic in my latest novel, but that may change in future edits. The effects of the Covid-19 lockdown may be relevant in other books in the series too.

Any author writing novels set in the 2020s and beyond will have to factor in the pandemic if they want to keep their readers’ feet in this world.

Dreaming Of Another World?

2020 has been a challenge, but at no point have I wished for another world. This world is what we’ve got and if the pandemic has proved anything, it’s that there is a lot to be grateful for right here.

We just have to remember what we’ve learnt through the lockdown and keep it going.

Thank you so much to Fiona for coming on The Glorious Outsiders and sharing her thoughts on lockdown and the future. If you would like to know more about Fiona and her books just follow the links below!

Fi Phillips is a fantasy author and real-life copywriter living in North Wales with her family and a cockapoo called Bailey.

She likes to write about magical possibilities.

Connect with her online:

Website – http://fiphillipswriter.com/

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/FiPhillipsWriter

Twitter – https://twitter.com/FisWritingHaven

Other links:

                Haven Wakes on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Haven-Wakes-Chronicles-Book-One-ebook/dp/B07WJ4YFNX

                2020 Together on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/2020-Together-Anthology-Tracy-Hutchinson/dp/B08D4T84BF

Indie Author Of The Month; Mick Williams

Welcome to another Indie Author of The Month post! At the end of every month I will be interviewing and generally drawing attention to a fellow indie author I have come across on the internet. For April, I welcome Mick Williams to the blog. Mick is an author I have had the pleasure of knowing online for a few years now. I’ve read a few of his books and he has also read a few of mine. Mick is a very versatile author who writes in multiple genres. He really does have something for everyone! His books are fast-paced and full of adventure. Read on for more.

1. Tell us about your latest release. What is it about and who is it aimed at?

My latest book is called Hope’s Game, a story about a man named Charlie who has lost everything and is offered the chance to earn £10,000 by taking part in research for a new Artificial Intelligence project. Of course, he has no choice but to take part and goes on a life-changing, sometimes harrowing journey. If I had to categorise it, I’d say it’s a little like the Black Mirror TV show… it seems like it should be sci-fi, but it really isn’t, it has all kinds of things in it. Based on that, it’s aimed at pretty much anyone, although I wouldn’t want younger readers to see it, Charlie goes through some tough times!

Hope's Game by [Mick Williams]

2. Tell us about your publishing journey so far.

I’ve been writing forever, and it wasn’t until I attended a conference in America that I plucked up the courage to go for it! My first book, A Reason to Grieve, was self-published and, if I’m to be honest, was written as a dare since I’m a fan of action and it’s more of a romantic comedy! Something must have worked, though – it’s still my best reviewed book and people still mention the characters to me and demand a sequel! After that, I finally wrote an action/adventure book called A Guy Walks into a Bar. When it was completed, I printed out two copies (old style, at home!) and handed them to two people who had offered me a ton of advice. One of them was the wonderful author, Tony Acree. Little did I know, he also ran a publishing company. We met for lunch, where I expected some nice food, company and advice, and I walked away with a contract! I now have four books published through Hydra Publications.

A Reason to Grieve

3. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?

At junior school. I’ve always written. English Language was my favourite subject at school and it followed me home every day. I made my own comics, short story books, magazines – you name it, I tried it. I can’t begin to explain the feeling I had when I opened the box that contained my first ‘proper’ book, and it still gives me chills after a further five!

4. What is your typical writing day like?

Ha! I would LOVE to be able to say that I have a typical writing day. Unless I’m on holiday, no two seem the same. I work a full-time job, so I have to MAKE time to write, otherwise it doesn’t happen. As I write this, we’re (hopefully) in the middle of the Coronavirus pandemic. Out of all the horrific negatives that come with it, the first positive I considered was that I might be stuck at home with the entire day to write but, no, my company has me working a full week from home! So, I set the alarm for as early as I dare and write before I get ready for work. It can get frustrating, since my brain never shuts off and I usually get my best ideas when I can’t do much but jot them down.

5. What is your writing process? (how do you plot a book, come up with characters, find motivation etc)

The honest answer is that I don’t really have a process! In terms of plot, I think I’ve tried something different for every book I’ve written. I do TRY to put together an outline (Reason to Grieve, Exodus and Hope’s Game were done on an Excel spreadsheet, Whatever it Takes and A Guy Walks into a Bar were a bunch of handwritten notes, and Callie’s Eyes was a pile of research and a ‘wing it’ approach!). I’m currently playing with the corkboard feature in a program called Scrivener for the sequel to Exodus, which is cool since I can swap, shift and change things as I go and see the whole picture, but I’m also ‘winging it’ on another story, AND writing random scenes for the sequel to A Reason to Grieve!!

Exodus: An Old Farts Club Story (The Old Farts Club Book 1) by [Mick Williams]

Characters are everywhere! Some are people I know, or see when I’m out and about. I sometimes ‘cast’ my characters as if they were in a film, then I can play their scenes in my head and have an idea of who they are and how they’d react to different situations. A couple of the characters in Reason to Grieve were based on characters from a show called ‘Coupling’, and the lead character in Whatever it Takes is based on a customer who came into the store I worked in when I lived in Kentucky. He loved to hunt and was a perfect Cory Keller!

Since I normally know my characters before I start writing, a lot of the time their actions are dictated by what that their personalities would actually do. I have an idea of where I need them to go, but I let their actions take them there… it seems much more natural to let them take over than have me try to force them. If they sometimes surprise you when you read them, you should have them in your head when you write them!!

I remember an author friend saying ‘vomit your first draft onto the page and then sift through the chunks’… I struggle to do that. I normally write a chapter, then go over it and nit-pick it to death. It slows me down but, by the time I’m ready for the next chapter, I’m fully immersed in that world and those characters. It also helps with continuity. Once I’ve completed the first draft (in my fashion), I’ll go through it again and flesh it out with description and emotion. Then, I’ll go again and check it for grammar, punctuation and the dreaded typo. Typos ALWAYS slip through, so then I’ll send it to trusted readers who’ll send back their thoughts. I’ll go through it yet again and either make necessary changes, or decide that what I’d written originally is still the best way to say what I want to say. After that, it’s about as good as it can get at the time, and it’s time to let go and send your story into the world.

6. What has been the most positive thing about your publishing journey so far?

Two things. Mainly, the people. I’ve met some amazing people on this journey. Writers are, for the most part, incredibly supportive of one another. More so, I think, than in most other professions. I have a ridiculous amount of writer friends who are always there for support, encouragement and, as importantly, honest criticism. I’d be lost without them. I’ve also gained some really cool readers who stay in touch to see what I’m up to and, again, offer support and encouragement.

Then, there’s the writing itself. Some days it’s easy, others it seems impossible, but it’s always there. Being able to sit and tell stories is something we’ve done since time began – I get to do it whenever I can. The feeling of opening a new completed book, of seeing a review on Amazon, of writing a particularly satisfying scene… they’re all incredible feelings and something that never gets old. To be able to transport someone from this world into another, even if only for a short time, is fantastic. We read books so that we can check out different worlds without moving. What a gift to be able to supply that world!

7. What has been the most negative thing about your publishing journey so far?

That’s easy – marketing! I love to write but each time I release a book, with the exception of my loyal readers, few people see it and it vanishes into the ether with the tens of thousands of other books that were released at the same time. I love the writing process, but really struggle with advertising and pushing things about me and the fact that I have a new book out (just so you know – I HAVE A NEW BOOK OUT… the link is here somewhere!). I’ve signed up for so many courses and programs, and have so many books on the subject but, when I release a new book, I’m so eager to get stuck in to the next one that I neglect to let folks know about it.

8. What can we expect from you next?

Scarily, three things!! I’m working on a sequel to the award winning Exodus, an adventure/thriller series about a group of army veterans called The Old Farts Club – think of an ‘up-to-date A-Team’! I also started to write a first-person story about a guy who works in retail and gets tired of the abuse the public throws at him – so he embraces his dark side to deal with it. That one came to me after binge watching ‘You’ on Netflix! And, after so many requests, I dipped back into the world of my first book, A Reason to Grieve, to carry on the story of Tom, Emma and their friends; a complete contrast since it’s a romantic comedy. I have enough words between the three of them for a complete book, but my publisher has suggested that I concentrate on one at a time, so Sarge and the rest of The Old Farts are currently engaged on an adventure and have flown from Kentucky to deepest Scotland to save a friend’s life

9. Who is your favourite character and why?
That’s a tough question!

Doris, from A Reason to Grieve, is the only character that I’ve shed tears over, so that must mean something. I truly love her spirit and her blunt way of giving advice to the younger characters. If i can be like Doris when I’m approaching seventy (but without the blue rinse!), I’ll be a happy man.

I do also love Paul Howard from A Guy Walks Into a Bar – he’s just an average man who finds himself in an extraordinary adventure. He’s resourceful and witty…and he gets to hang out with the other cool characters.

Then there’s blind Callie from Callie’s Eyes, and Hope from Hope’s Game…did I mention this was a tough question?

Callie's Eyes: How do you convince someone you can see the future, when you can't see at all?



10. Where do you get your ideas from?

Everywhere! News and magazine articles, people watching, overhearing things people say (not eavesdropping, mind, overhearing; apparently, there’s a difference!) and, in the case of Callie’s Eyes, a dream. Most of the story, including Callie’s name, happened in a dream and it was one of those fortunate times when I woke with it still at the front of my mind. I jotted it all down on a Post-It note and picked it up in the morning. Hope’s Game is based on a screenplay from a very good and talented friend of mine, Craig Ostrouchow. Whatever It Takes came out of a conversation with a hunter in Kentucky. A Reason to Grieve came from an old workmate who’d browse the obituaries every morning before work to see if he found anyone from his old school in there. A Guy Walks Into a Bar came from people watching – in a hotel bar, and Exodus came from a holiday in Jamaica when we visited Bob Marley’s compound and got to drive through the Jamaican townships and countryside.
So, like I said…everywhere!

Whatever It Takes

11. Tell us three fun facts about you

Haha – what was I saying about pushing ‘me’?? Erm… okay –

1. I LOVE music. Alongside reading, writing and family, music is everything. Genesis are my favourite band, and Jude Cole is my favourite artist. If it wasn’t for Jude Cole, I would not have met my wife (if you’d like the full story, join my FB page ‘mick williams author’ and message me and I’ll tell you, it’s a long story!). Truth be known, there isn’t much music I don’t like, I go from punk and pop to rock and reggae and everything in between! MP3s and streaming mean that music is everywhere now. The only thing I miss is the album format. Now that we can stream everything, music seems to be piecemeal where, before, a good album was constructed to flow and have peaks and troughs. Just like books.

2. I have two very cool cats name Thud and Crash. Thud adopted me when we lived in Kentucky. My American brother and my adopted second wife have a house that overlooks a golf course. One cold winter, after a Mexican meal and one or two (or five or ten) drinks, we were hanging around in the kitchen when my wife heard a noise outside. I went out to check it out and was eventually ‘ankle-bumped’ by a dirty, freezing-cold kitten. The end of his tail was broken, and his ears were riddled with mites. At the time, I wasn’t really a ‘cat person’, but our option was to either take him home or put him back into the cold. When we found that he’d been dumped, we had no choice but to adopt him, and now he’s my writing companion (he’s actually on my author pic on A Guy Walks into a Bar!). I call him the OC (Original Cat) since we also adopted another furry fella from the animal shelter to keep Thud company. This ginger tabby is the most lovable animal I’ve ever met and has a habit of nuzzling against you and then falling over to let you fuss him. We had to call him Crash. I should really put their pictures on my FB page and website!!

3. I’m not an army brat, but I’ve lived (I think) in thirteen different places, on either side of the Atlantic, and I’m getting ready to move again once restrictions are lifted! I think this time, once we find somewhere, that’s it! I’m ready to sit still now!!

12. What is the best advice you could give to aspiring writers?

Write what makes you happy. I read a lot about ‘writing to market’, but a) markets seem to shift constantly and b) that seems too much like work! I love to write, and I write what’s in my head, not what I think people might like to read. I’ve been fortunate to find people that like to read what’s in my head which, I suppose, makes them as crazy as me! It won’t ever fund my retirement, but it’ll make my retirement a lot more fun.

Read. A lot. Reading is writer homework. See how the books you enjoy actually work. Why did that scene make you smile? Why is your heart pumping a little faster after finishing that chapter? Good writers don’t hide how they make their magic, it’s right there on the page. Love or loathe him, but no one creates worlds better than Stephen King. How? Description and character. By the end of a SK book, you’ve lived in that town and you know those folks. They’re as real as you and I… that’s why it bothers you so much when he does nasty things to them! Learn from the best.

And, remember that rules are made for bending. While there are definite do’s and don’ts, no one will write your story the way you will. I remember reading somewhere that sentences should vary in length (which I agree with 100%), but that they shouldn’t be overly long. I’ve just finished the latest number one bestseller by Lee Child. There’s a sentence in there that runs at over ONE HUNDRED words (his previous best was 81 – I counted!). This breaks every rule under the sun, but it worked. And Reacher still had time to get the job done

And, finally – just enjoy it. If no one else reads a word of what you’ve written – you have. And I’ll bet it felt great.

Thank you so much to Mick for doing this interview! If you would like to find out more about Mick and his books (and I highly recommend that you do) you can follow him here;

Get in touch: Website – http://www.mickwilliamsauthor.com

Facebook – mick williams author

Twitter – mickwilliamsauthor

Email – mickwilliamsauthor@gmail.com

Writing, Running, Habit and Obsession

I was once a fat kid obsessed with writing. Back then, real life was just about tolerable if I had my imaginary one to escape to. For I had discovered a magical and powerful thing. Writing could do anything. Writing could take me anywhere. And I was in control. I could have whatever fun I wanted; invent new friends adventures, create whole worlds if I wanted to. If I look back now I can see that need for control was a big factor. A shy fat kid in the middle of a dysfunctional family does not have much control, if any. A shy fat kid at school has even less. But in writing? The shy fat kid can do whatever the hell she wants, because she owns this! It’s liberating, I can tell you. And for many, many years after that, writing was my addiction and my obsession.

I’d endure school and then run home after, up to my room to write. I’d carry notebooks everywhere so that given the chance I could vanish into another world and write. I’d write past my bedtime and first thing in the morning.

Writing was all I ever wanted to do and anything else was just an annoyance and a distraction. Including exercise. I hated PE as a kid. I was chubby and awkward and shy and despised having people watch me fail at something. At least with other subjects at school you can thrive or fail in private, but PE is kind of cruel because your failures are obvious for all to see.

Chubby kids who like reading and writing and being alone shun exercise for obvious reasons and in return what happens? Yep, they get chubbier. Which makes them even less likely to exercise in front of anyone and even more likely to hide in their room with a notebook and pen for as long as they can get away with. What you have is a vicious circle that as a child, you have no idea how to break out from.

And self-loathing builds and builds. I’m not sure what finally made me embrace exercise. With no money, I was limited for choice, so running seemed the best option. I’d always hated running! Though to be honest, it was more the thought of anyone seeing me that was the problem. The estate I grew up on had a horseshoe sized ‘green’ enveloping one side of it. I could access this from the back gate and run around the backs of the houses in a loop. I think I set myself a goal of three times a week but when I started to notice the results, I soon upped that to daily. And I developed a habit, much like my writing one, that benefited my mental health as well as my physical.

They say that to form a habit you must do something every day for 30 days. What started as a habit with running soon became an obsession that I started to view the same way I viewed writing. I had to do it. If I didn’t do it, I didn’t feel good. It would ruin my day. I felt like bad things would happen. I’d lost a lot of weight, between that and some very silly eating habits at the time that haunted me into adulthood, and I really, really, really did not want to risk ever putting that weight back on. I’d been fat and life had been hell. I never ever wanted to be that girl again.

I sometimes wonder where I would have ended up had I not become a mother at the age of 24. I think my obsession with running and my growing fear of food would have got worse. I think I would have carried on writing and possibly would have got published a lot sooner than I did. I don’t think I would ever have let either of my obsessions go.

But motherhood changed everything and rightly so. I was now amazed at my body and in awe of what it had done. When one little girl became two, I had my hands full at a young age, and I also knew that I shouldered a huge responsibility here. I did not want my problems with food and weight and body image rubbing off on them. Writing fell by the wayside. Hard to believe that now, but it really did. I was far too exhausted, overwhelmed and obsessed with my new life as a mother. I was in love and there just wasn’t the time or the energy.

Over the next decade, I had a third child and I sporadically forced myself to run and write. I tried and failed and tried and failed to develop those habits again. I told myself I did not have the time or the energy for either. I told myself I was wary of getting obsessed with them both again, because that wouldn’t be good for my children. And this all went well for a while. I was too busy to consider anything else.

Writing came back to me, or I came back to writing, I’m never sure which way around it was, in the summer of 2011. My then youngest child was due to start school that September and at the time there was no plan to have any more. I suddenly felt horribly afraid and set adrift. I didn’t want him to go to school as not only was I losing my last baby, I was losing the identity I had spent the last decade carving out. Chantelle, the mother.

I hadn’t forgotten about the old me…I just didn’t think she was relevant anymore. I still remember the moment my writing whooshed back into my head, and it was kind of blunt, terrible and painful. I was reading a book and the young character in it reminded me of a character I had created and believed in when I was just 12. I’d written and rewritten his story many times over the years…could I do it again? Could I write again? Was I a writer? As a child and teen that was all I had identified as, but it had been gone so long, did I have any right to try to reclaim it?

I started writing again after finishing the book that had reminded me of my long lost character. I was so embarrassed at first, I wrote in a notepad and hid it if anyone walked in the room. I didn’t dare tell anyone what I was up to because I was suffering badly from imposter syndrome! And I wrote every day, without fail and that built the habit back up and the habit soon became an obsession again. It devoured me. I started writing every evening without fail and any other spare moment I had. I started this crazy, up and down writing and publishing journey and the arrival of a fourth child did nothing to slow me down and I have not looked back. I could never, ever stop writing now. I still can’t believe I let it go for so long…

“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.”

— Franz Kafka

But what about running? Could I claim that obsession back too and was it healthy or sensible to even try? Over the last year or so I’ve noticed major fluctuations in my mood which I am now blaming on the perimenopause. If you’ve not heard of the perimenopause, don’t worry, neither had I, and I will be blogging about this another day. In short simple terms, its the period of time before the actual menopause and women start suffering from a variety of symptoms that for a while, they probably won’t attribute to anything other than life stress.

I don’t want to go into it too much in this post but the way I had been feeling for no real reason, was very, very similar to how I felt as a teenager. That intensity of mood and emotion that can shift at the slightest thing. Intrusive thoughts about how rubbish I am, cruel thoughts about how pointless my life is. Lovely stuff like that. Incredible anger. Deep sadness. And most of all? Just wanting to be alone. The worrying thing was the effect on my mental health, particularly before I did some research and found out about the perimenopause. I was feeling horrible, to put it mildly. I was crying a lot for no reason. I was focusing on body image more than I had done in a very long time, and given my past issues, this was not a good thing.

One night I was sat writing and crying when I suddenly felt the most powerful urge to move. To get up and run. It was like my mind telling me to get the hell out of there and move. It seemed stupid and my other mind tried to talk me out of it. I was too tired, it was nearly dark and so on. But I ignored that one and I did it.

Now, what normally happens with me and running since I became a mother almost 17 years ago, is I can keep it up for a bit and aim for 3 times a week, not be too hard on myself etc, but that’s not enough to build a habit. Inevitably I miss a few, and that turns into missing a few weeks and the weeks turn into months, just like what used to happen with writing.

This time? I have decided to run every single day without excuses. I do have the time. It’s 20 minutes usually. I have managed to stick at this for over a week now and the difference in my mood is astounding. I have not felt down, sad or angry once this week. I have felt more energetic, more motivated, more rational than I have in a long time. I feel proud of myself too. And we’re not very good at that are we? But I am proud of myself. It feels good. It feels right.

We all know that exercise is good for our mental health, and most of us know that writing is also good for it. Very good, I’d argue. If I can manage to hold onto both of these habits (yet try to stop them becoming obsessions) then I will be very happy indeed and heading in the right direction. I just might be able to get through this perimenopause thing unscathed and have the energy and mind power to deal with the actual menopause!