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

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

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addicted To Writing Or A Maladaptive Daydreamer?

My name is Chantelle and I am addicted to writing.

Or at least it feels that way… like a drug, a high, like something I crave for and cannot live without…

It’s always like this but its worse when a new story has truly captured me. Last week I blogged about the reasons people stop writing, and I mentioned that as a child and teenager, I wrote constantly and endlessly, before having a 10-year gap where I barely wrote at all. The way I am now is exactly the way I was as a kid and I recently discovered that it may even be a clinical condition. Maladaptive daydreaming is where people daydream so intensely that they subconsciously leave this world for one of their own creation. Within these made-up worlds, they create characters and storylines that they replay and tweak in their heads for their entire life. One person in this article https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/aug/28/i-just-go-into-my-head-and-enjoy-it-the-people-who-cant-stop-daydreaming described it as like putting Netflix on and I relate to that in a big way.

Image by Pheladi Shai from Pixabay

As a child, I was nicknamed cloth-ears by my parents because it appeared I was never listening. I was the daydreamer, the one never paying attention, the one in her own little world. At some point, around the age of eight, I realised I could write these daydreams or stories down and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I am at the mercy of the characters who live in my head and the drama that surrounds them. I identified so strongly with the people in the interview that the only difference between us was that I write my daydreams down and publish them as books! I kind of think these people are missing a trick if they don’t do the same!

I’ve blogged before about The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, and how the characters grew in my head at the age of twelve. I’d lie in my bed at night and move them around, like watching a film that I was in control of. I still do this now, every night. As that series will soon have a spin-off and a crossover book, I think it’s safe to say that my daydreams truly have control of me. I’m not sure whether I am addicted to writing, or whether I am an intense maladaptive daydreamer, but just in case you are curious, this is what it feels like:

  1. I can’t stop thinking about my story from morning until night. I wake up with an urge to write and a head load of possible scenes and conversations and then I go to bed and lie awake, dreaming up more. Every night I fall asleep with my characters in my head.
  2. I can switch between worlds with ease. One moment I will be fully submerged in my created universe, hearing their voices, seeing their movements, picking up on every facial expression or nuanced gesture, and the next I’ll be back in reality, teaching a class, paying for shopping, filling the car up with petrol. My mind seems to know when to switch back without too much disorientation.
  3. Having said that, I do sometimes find it hard to concentrate on other things and this is especially tricky when I am writing a new story that is going well. Some stories take time and patience and lots of rewriting, whereas some of them just write themselves. Those are the best but they do make it harder to switch between worlds. At the moment, my WIP is completely taking me over to the point of obsession, and I find it is all I can think about. I find myself drifting off into noticeably thicker daydreams when it’s like this…
  4. I get a nervous feeling in tummy, because I am scared I’ll not do it justice. The story plays out like a film or a TV show in my head and it looks perfect. Perfect locations, settings, characters and dialogue. Fight scenes look flawless yet realistic, dialogue is spot-on, facial expressions are just right and if I could just encapsulate it as it is in my head, it would be perfect. Yet the tricky bit is writing it and trying to make it how it is in my head so that the reader can see what I see. I am never sure I am up to the job and this can make me feel quite anxious at times.
  5. It feels like having a movie on pause when I’m not writing. When I’m not writing, I feel quite torn away from it, quite lost. It’s like I’ve been forced to put a good book down when I am dying to find out what happens next,. It feels like leaving a movie on pause. They are all just frozen until I can think about it or write it again.
  6. I can’t wait to get back to it. The frustration I feel when I cannot think about my stories, or write them, is quite awful at times. I don’t really want to live in this world, but I have to. Because of this, I am constantly longing to get back to my world, constantly pining for it and missing it when I’m not there.

Whether I am addicted to writing or just an intense daydreamer who writes them down, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Writing has saved me time and time again and without it I know I would struggle. What about you? Were you nicknamed a daydreamer as a child? Do you still daydream? Do you write them down? Feel free to comment and share!

What’s Really Stopping You Writing?

Writing.

An interest, hobby, past-time or career pursued by people who like telling stories. Isn’t that the main thing that motivates us? The stories in our head. The desire to put words together until they make sense and hopefully even entertain.

Yet so many writers don’t write. Or at least, not as much as they want to. This always makes me curious because I can’t think of anything I would rather do. Writing is an addiction. It’s not always easy, the words don’t always flow, sometimes it goes horribly wrong and sometimes I get blocked as much as anyone, but none of that stops it being the most joyful and exciting past-time I can think of. Not much stops me writing, but does that make me weird?

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

Maybe, or maybe I’ve just gone through the struggles and have managed to come out the other side. Below you will find the most common reasons people give for not writing. These are all things I have experienced myself, so I’ve included advice on getting past each one.

  • Not enough time – I think this is the most common one I hear and it is something I used to tell myself too. As a child and teen I wrote endlessly, but it faded out at university and when I became a young parent it stopped altogether. I spent ten years not writing anything! It was all in my head but I just didn’t think I had the time to write it down. One day I woke up to the fact that there would never be time unless I made time, carved time out of my day, grabbed it and guarded it. I started by writing in notebooks whenever I had a spare minute, and I still do this now. It made me realise I did have time! Maybe only five or ten minutes here or there, maybe while cooking dinner, maybe while waiting in the car to pick up a child, or maybe last thing at night. The writing bug grew stronger once I allowed it just those few stolen moments. I also gave up evening TV completely. As a parent, I was sitting on the sofa once they were all in bed, turning on the TV and feeling exhausted. I realised the TV had to go and shut myself away every evening to write instead. That became a habit I still live by now. Although, these days I do allow myself a bit of Netflix each night before bed!
  • Not enough energy – another common one, and one I can truly relate to, even now. Life is tiring, whether you’re juggling work, kids or both. Our brains and bodies can only cope with so much. We look forward to relaxing and grabbing a bit of me-time, but if you are serious about writing, the me-time has to become writing-time. Feeling genuinely tired is a tricky one, but just like forcing time out of the day for writing, I get past this by pushing through. Some days I might only manage a paragraph before nodding off gets the better of me, other days I might write a whole chapter while yawning constantly. I always do something, even just a sentence or some notes.
  • It’s too late, I’ve missed my chance… – I felt like this during my 20s when I was busy working and raising my children. I thought about writing all the time and my stories were always in my head, but I truly thought I’d waited too long and missed my chance. I’m not sure where this idea comes from but apparently it is quite common. But it’s ridiculous, isn’t it? I told myself it was now or never and why waste another year, or even another minute? I started writing again with a vengeance when I was 33, and now I am 44 and have published sixteen titles. What changed my mind? I think questioning why I wanted to write, and realising it was mostly just for me. Not for publication, fame or fortune, but to finally get these stories out of my head. Of course, writing them only made way for more ideas!
  • Self-doubt and imposter syndrome – These are a horrible but inevitable part of being a creative person. When we are surrounded by greatness, whether it’s in TV, film, music, art or literature, we wonder why we should bother trying to add to it. We compare ourselves to others, usually those at the height of their success, and fall short. Imposter syndrome is when we don’t really feel like a writer and maybe even feel embarrassed to call ourselves one. I felt like this too. When I was a young writer it never crossed my mind. I was full of confidence then! But in my 30s the self-doubt was massive. When I started writing again, I kept it secret to start with. I used a notebook and hid it under the sofa or the mattress if anyone walked in. I was shy – I didn’t want to admit I was trying that writing lark again. I was scared people would look at me funny or ask too many questions. I got braver though, and it wasn’t until I created this blog and started sharing little snippets of work online that I started to believe in myself again. Sometimes you just need time and space to develop that courage, but feedback and positivity from others can be a real boost too. I’d always suggest joining a writing group in real life or online! As for imposter syndrome, all writers get it, even the famous ones, so don’t let that stop you.
  • Fear of rejection and other’s opinions – I think this is another big one. It certainly was for me. The first time I shared my work online or with friends, I felt sick. The first time I submitted to agents and publishers, I felt even worse. Think of it as a rites of passage. It means you’re a writer to have been rejected at some point. The good news is, these days rejection doesn’t have to mean the end of the road. There are so many ways you can get your writing out there so you shouldn’t let the rejections stop you. Instead, let them make you stronger. Listen to the feedback and try to get more by offering work out to beta readers or within a writing group. Other people’s opinions can be upsetting too. Sadly, writers are greatly unsupported by friends and family, a topic I have blogged about before. There are many reasons for this but the main thing to do is reach out to other writers and readers themselves. That’s where you will build your support network. Often, family and friends just don’t get it. If they’re not creative, it just won’t mean much to them, and if they are creative a bit of jealousy and resentment can rear its ugly head. Whatever it is, don’t let it stop you. Despite them, write anyway.
  • It’s too hard – I see this a lot on the internet. There is a lot of negativity around writing and being a writer. The stereotype seems to assert that writers are all crazy, introverted people who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to their writing desk, where they then procrastinate for hours and stare at a blank screen. I actively dislike this stereotype. It is not true of all writers. I know many writers who are dedicated to their work and write every day, sticking to a rigid routine, whether they are in the mood or not, whether it is going well or not. They don’t seem to get mentioned much though. People would rather laugh and nod at the memes suggesting writers moan about not having time to write and then stare into space when they do have time. That’s just not how it works. If that were true, no books would ever get written. Writing is hard, sometimes, but it’s also wonderful, exciting, exhilarating, joyful, magical and therapeutic all at once, but we don’t see that splashed around as much. It almost feels like these negative posts are trying to put writers off even trying! Don’t let them. Yes, it can be hard. Finding the right words, devising characters, organising a timeline, editing, revising, proofreading, marketing, finding the time, finding the energy, not getting distracted by other ideas; these are all things writers battle with but it is still worth it!!
  • Losing interest, getting bored, running out of steam…. – These are all similar to writers block in that they come along and derail your work-in-progress. But only if you let them. This happens to me too, of course it does. Some of my books have practically written themselves, some have felt totally addictive, and others have been a real struggle from start to finish. I always prioritise the one that is closest to being finished, but this doesn’t mean I don’t work on other things. One book is always ahead, always closer to being ready for publication and that is the book I will make myself stick to every night, whether I feel like it or not. Because I know that if I don’t, I will never come back to it and I will keep jumping from story to story and never finish anything. If it’s hard work, I will set a target, maybe writing a chapter of the tricky one each night and then allowing myself to mess around with a new idea. I do the same with editing and proofreading. If those books are that close to publication, then they take priority. I’ll do maybe four chapters of editing first and then allow myself to write something new. This way I am nearly always having fun with new ideas, but I am strict with myself about getting a book finished.

I suppose the question you have to ask yourself is, how much do you want this? What does writing really mean to you? If you want it badly enough if it is important enough for you, you know what you need to do, so do it. Push through the blocks, the exhaustion and the self-doubt, ignore imposter syndrome, do it despite your loved ones not caring, find the time, make the time, demand the time and accept that it is and should be hard.

These are just some of the reasons people don’t write, and I have experienced them all. I am sure there are many others though, so please feel free to comment and share. What gets in the way of your writing and what to you do to get past it?

August Writing Challenge: Face In The Crowd

At the end of July I asked my Facebook page followers to give me some more random writing prompts to respond to and I had a great selection to choose from. I ended up blending two together for this weird little story. Author Paula Harmon suggested a story set within a crowd and author Sim Sansford posted a creepy picture of a faceless woman with faceless masks hanging on the wall behind her. I also played around with second person POV which was great fun! Please note, this is only a second draft and I will definitely be rewriting this story at some point, maybe even making it a bit longer.

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Face In The Crowd

You won’t see her coming.

Except maybe out of the corner of your eye…

And by then it will be too late anyway.

She seems to know who she wants; you see. She is a predator, stalking you, and you are the prey. Nothing more, nothing less.

Let me take you back to the last crowd you found yourself in. Heart already pounding faster than it should, prickles of cold sweat erupting on the back of your neck, while something tight and spiky curls into a hard ball inside your guts. You’ve felt it before. Bad things happen in crowded places. A human is never so alone as when lost in a crowd. You remember them all. Different types of crowds, none of them safe.

School assembly, remember that? Trapped on a hard varnished floor with your knees tucked up under your nose so that you don’t touch the people on either side of you. Not your friends. Never your friends. To the left, to the right, in front of you and close behind, surrounded, fenced in, unable to breathe. Always too hot. No way out. Panic beating its small wings inside your chest as your outward face insists that nothing is wrong here.

Supermarket queues… Not as hemmed in, but still, the heads bob too close before you and one glance over your shoulder reveals a horrifying snake of people behind you. You swallow fear and bite back the urge to run, because how weird would that be? Suddenly barging through, shoulders crashing into backs, pushing, shoving, running, running. You’d never be able to go back if you did that.

Christmas crowds: the hopeless horror of a shop wedged tight with angry, entitled bodies. You give up and go home and shop online. You don’t like crowds. Never have. Festival crowds. You gave those a go. Outside, fresh air, music thumping through your veins, alcohol and friendship spurring you on. You thought, I can do this! But then you made the mistake of looking behind you, seeing the impossible volume of human life, jumping, shoving, screaming, living, too fast, too hard, too close. You stumbled when they pushed and the pushing didn’t stop. You tried to pick yourself back up, breathless with fear, but they kept coming, trampling, not seeing you, because you had ceased to exist.

Remember, that was the first time you saw her?

Weaving her way through the herd with feline eyes, swivelling to take in every view; hunting someone down. She was tall, you remember that. Towering above the revellers yet hunched over to disguise it. Her neck swanlike, or snakelike. A small mouth, or no mouth. She pushed through them, not touching anyone, moving like oil, her pupils gliding eerily from side to side, until she reached out with a long hand, longer fingers, nails curled over and mottled grey. You saw her touch someone but you didn’t see what happened next because the crowd surged and you almost died.

That’s why I don’t like crowds, you tell anyone that will listen, I am not antisocial, just emotionally scarred from nearly dying. Broken ribs are nothing to laugh about you remind yourself when that chilly fear settles across your shoulders, telling you to turn around and go home.

Today the crowd bustle before you. They have taken over the entire square. It’s market day; you should have known. You shake your head at your own stupidity and lack of foresight. But you did the best you could – remember that – moving to a quiet seaside town, dead in the winter, smells faintly of salt and vinegar – humming with tourists in the summer but that’s when you stay home or go out on your boat. No risk of a crowd out on the water.

Today, market day, the crowd moves like a messy unified thing, a squirming mass of warm bodies and haircuts, small lives, red faces, sweat stains. You hate it. But you need to go to the post office, right on the other side. You sigh heavily, dramatically, your annoyance with these people’s existence out of proportion to their right to exist just like you. You’d fire a rocket launcher at them if you could. You still remember being trod into the mud. You shudder.

But you move. You have to. You can do this. They’re just people.

You step forward and before you are even ready, before you have taken the obligatory deep breath and shaken out your limbs, pulled your bag closer across your chest, the crowd sweep you up and take you.

This is what you resent.

This makes you wish you had a grenade in your coat pocket.

The inescapable claustrophobic nature of the crowd. Of people.

Just people, you tell yourself, but you know that’s not true. They’re not just people, not just this or that. Never underestimate them. Never expect the best. Instead, always prepare for the worst. For sickening body odour and hairstyles freeze dried into place, for sharp elbows and fat shoulders. For feet that trample your own. For bags that whack you out of your space. For bodies, thick and long and selfish and demanding, all moving, and moving you whether you want to be moved or not.

You grit your teeth put your head down and push through.

And then you see her.

Like you did when you were down in the mud.

Tall, hunched, otherworldly in her movements, she glides along, coming for something, someone. Lank pale hair hangs over her shoulders. She has her back to you, every bump in her elongated spine visible through the thin colourless dress she wears. Her arms are at her sides, the elbows jagged, the forearms raised and at the end of the wrists her long thin hands hang, fingers dripping, nails curled.

Your breath catches in your throat and you freeze, unable to breathe or move. Your scalp seems to contract and tighten under your hair and your entire body floods with ice cold fear. It feels like the world has stopped but it is just you, frozen while the crowd moves and circles around you. Unbelievably, they seem oblivious to the strange, hunched form who hunts among them. She doesn’t touch them as she glides between warm bodies and not one of them looks at her or senses her dark presence.

You want to scream out, do something. You open your mouth but nothing emerges except a cold puff of air. You stare in agony as the colours of ordinary life swirl around her and then slowly, you see her reaching out. For she has chosen someone, a woman. A small petite woman with bright red hair wearing a spotty blue and white raincoat.

The hunched woman reaches for her, claw like hand sinking into unwilling flesh and there is a small, awful moment when the woman with the red hair stops and turns and stares in haunting clarity up at the collector. But it is fleeting, a microsecond of agonizing helpless horror and then it is over.

The red-haired woman walks away unscathed, slouching through the crowd with her bag on her shoulder, none the worse. Until she passes you and you see that she no longer has a face.

But no, maybe you imagined it. You are seeing things. Panicking. It’s all this stupid claustrophobic fear that you have no control over. You find yourself moving, pushing through, determined to make it to the post office, determined to brush this off, brush it away.

But as you move through the crowd, you see her again. She is still hunting. Still collecting faces. She towers over the people, glassy eyes swivelling in hollow sockets until another catches her eye. Not you, not you, no, thank God. She does not look at you because if she did you know you would be helpless, unable to run.

This time she makes her way over to a young man chatting on his mobile phone. He is powering through the crowd in a hooded jacket and black jeans. He is smiling, laughing as he focuses only on his conversation. He is easy prey, too distracted to feel her sliding towards him. He freezes when she touches him and you see the same dull dawning horror explode behind his eyes before it’s over. His face is gone and he moves on, still talking.

You make it to the post office and shove your way, sweating, through the doors. You can’t get out of that crowd quick enough. You cower at the window, behind shelves of envelopes and pens. You peer out, determined to hide until the whole thing has dispersed. You won’t go out there again, not with that many people, not with her out there stealing faces.

‘Are you all right?’ a worried voice asks from your shoulder.

You glance at the little man who wears a tight expression on his weathered face. ‘Yes,’ you swallow hard and reply shakily. ‘I’m sorry but I’m not good with crowds. Do you mind if I wait in here for a bit until I feel a little better?’

He nods and smiles in sympathy and leaves you alone.

You peer back out at the ever moving, swirling, humming crowd of life. The shoulders and heads, the hats and coats, the faces and the faceless.

I will be needing more writing prompts for my September challenge so feel free to post any here!