Skinny Jeans and Writing Dreams

I have never been able to squeeze into a pair of skinny jeans. I want to breathe easy and therefore find leggings and joggers far less distressing and sweat and tear inducing. And the same is the dilemma when it comes to my writing.

I work as a Primary School Teacher and am a mum to three young (very busy) boys. I have to squeeze in writing when I can. It took me 12 months to write my debut children’s book, which is publishing next year – whoop!! 12 months of getting up at 4.30 am every morning and squeezing in two hours of writing before my real life began for the day. Evenings were just no use –  I was so exhausted by the time the boys were in bed and I’d done the preparation for the following day, that I couldn’t even utter goodnight to my husband, let alone write a story. But at the end of those 12 months, I had a completed manuscript and I was elated.

This past year I’ve been on maternity leave and have been spoilt with having the freedom to write during the day – squeezing has been but a distant memory. I still write early in the morning, my body clock has become set on this and I find myself at my most productive. The difference has been that I haven’t felt the panic of having to get something done in those two hours, and not feeling devastated when I have slept ’till 7 on the occasional morning. I’m close to completing two new manuscripts and have tinkered with a couple of short stories. It has been bliss.

But real life is biting at my heels once more as I’ll be returning to work in September. I’m already feeling the panic of having to go back to squeezing my writing in. I don’t want to, but I’ll have to. I have a mortgage to pay, bills to chase away and three little boys to spoil. I certainly won’t give up on my dream of writing – I write because I love to write therefore I’ll suffer the squeezing and hope that one day, I’ll be able to make writing my career.

As to squeezing into skinny jeans? Forget it! Give me my joggers any day.

Hwyl am y tro x

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Magpies, Teabags and Skipping Ropes

There’s nothing quite like that feeling of clicking send and sending your writing off to cyber-space. For me it’s a few seconds of elation and excitement, quickly followed by nausea and a panic attack. What have I done?

But of course, once clicked, it’s too late. Not like the good old days of snail mailing submissions and being able to camp out by the mailbox until the postman comes then beg him to hand back your envelope before it disappears into his sack. Yes, I have done this. Luckily I live in a small village and there were only a handful of letters for collection on that day. The poor postman shook his head pityingly as I clutched my brown envelope to my chest like a long lost friend.

‘Maybe you should get out more,’ he said.

These days, as my submissions fester on a cyber slushpile, it’s all about staring fuzzy-eyed at my inbox, holding my breath when (1) pings up then sighing miserably when it’s another offer on one of my store royalty cards.

So last week I made the momentous decision to act on Mr Postman’s gem of wisdom. I had to get out more.

Only this has become a tortuous experience. A few days ago, as I was filling the car with petrol, I said to myself, ‘Right, if I can stop the pump on £30 exactly, I’ll hear something about my submission today.’ You can only begin to imagine the devastation I felt when it stopped on £30.01.

Driving home a magpie flew past and I almost drove straight into the hedge as I frantically searched the sky for another, muttering, ‘Please don’t let there be just one.’

At home, I have taken to throwing a teabag into my mug from across the kitchen. If it lands in the mug, I’ll get news about my submission. Ok … if it lands in 3 shots … 5 … 10 … you get the picture (I will just add a warning here – this is slightly addictive). Once my mug of tea’s ready, a quick look at my inbox, saying, ‘I won’t have a biscuit if there’s good news.’ I think I need to buy a share in rich tea fingers, the way I’m wolfing them down.

Yesterday, I bought myself a skipping rope, deciding that a good dose of old-fashioned exercise will do me the world of good and stop this silly nonsense of sitting at my desk and staring wistfully at the screen.

So once I’ve dropped the boys off at school this morning I shall be bypassing the kettle and biscuit tin, picking up my skipping rope and spending ten minutes having a jolly good skip before I sit down to work on a new manuscript. Of course, one eye will be on my open laptop … you just never know what will happen if I manage to skip for 2 minutes without stopping … then 3 … then 4 …

Hwyl am y tro x

Shooting out answers like peas from a pea-shooter

The other night I stumbled across #ukmgchat on twitter, being hosted by the wonderful @moontrug and @RevellWriting. And boy what a stroke of luck to have stumbled across it. In a whirlwind 60 minutes, Abi Elphinstone and Mike Revell gave really insightful comments on being a debut author – shooting back answers like peas from a pea-shooter; a stream of thought-provoking ideas flowed like sparkling droplets of water from their fountain of knowledge (ok, over the top I know. I’ll never be a poet).

Back to the point … during this hour, I gleaned a lot of handy tips and more than that, comments that just really struck a chord with me. Here’s a quick summary of what I personally took from their fabulousness:

i) Authors are bloody hard-working.

ii) Authors are incredibly friendly.

iii) Not many can make a living from writing, but who cares? Your name is on the cover of a book that a child (children hopefully) is going to pick up and read.

iv) Self-doubt never goes away (here’s to you and me growing old together then, buddy).

v) Authors have to be proactive when it comes to marketing and promoting – be brave and get out there – which is a terrifying prospect if, like me, you love hiding away in your writing hole, living life in a made-up world.

vi) Being part of the online writing community is fantastic – supportive people who share the same passions and frustrations.

vii) It’s ok to think I’m rubbish and will never be able to write anything again – this will pass (loved the way Mike Revell referred to this as ‘you remember word by word, page by page’.

viii) A good editor is worth his/her weight in gold (my editor at Firefly has been wonderful by the way).

ix) Never give up … repeat, never give up … repeat, never give up … repeat

x) Did I mention – authors are bloody hard-working fabulously great people!

And there it is. Above all else, when I finally shut down to go to bed, I couldn’t wait to get back to my WIP the next morning. Their enthusiasm and positivity cyber-travelled to my core and re-ignited my smoking embers and I woke up spitting lava. So a massive thank you to both authors and I wish them every success with their books and future books – a success that’s richly deserved.

Keep writing … who knows what’s around the corner.

Hwyl am y tro x

Christmas Concert Joy …

Tomorrow night is my children’s Christmas concert … an evening to sit back and beam teary-eyed with pride at your little cherubs dressed as a star/shepherd/tree/donkey/angel (delete as appropriate) … if you’re lucky enough to get one of the few unreserved seats that allow you to actually see the stage (the school governers, members of the PTA and sponsors quite rightly having the best seats reserved for them).

When my eldest started school, I quickly learnt that timing is crucial if you want a good seat. The first concert I went to, I felt quietly confident that I was being super-organised and arriving at the venue 30 minutes before the concert was due to start. To my utter disbelief, my arrival was met with a trailing snake of parents waiting for the doors to open. Joining the back, I decided that the next time, I would make sure that I arrived an hour beforehand. Ha!

The second concert arrived and arriving all of 60 minutes early … I was greeted once again with the long slithery snake.

‘You’ve got to come straight from school,’ whispered a kindly Mum standing in front of me, ‘if you want the best seats.’

‘But the concert doesn’t start ’till 6.30pm,’ I said exasperated.

But who am I to change the rules? So the third concert rolled in and that’s when I noticed. When the flood of children emerged through the school doors, hands were grasped tightly, quick goodbyes were uttered with tight smiles followed by a swift power walk to the car before roaring off in a cloud of fumes.

Naturally not wanting to miss out, I followed in hot pursuit. Pre-planning meant I had my children’s change of clothes in a bag and a packed picnic.

On arrival, I beamed as I was faced with an empty hallway and literally skipped through the double doors of the hall to hand pick one of the best seats … only to be faced with a sea of coats draped across chairs in a kaleidoscope of colours.

‘What’s the matter Mum?’ my eldest son asked looking slightly worried at my bulging eyes and the silent opening and closing of my mouth.

Disgruntled and despondent, I knew that I had to beat the best at their own game. Three years I had waited for a good seat. Three bloody years of watching my boys’ eyes dart around wildly at the start trying to find me somewhere in the daunting sea of faces before them, and never succeeding. Well, there would be no more sitting behind pillars or ending up with a stiff neck from craning at an awkward angle to catch a glimpse of my boys. Oh no.

So to last year’s concert. Days of careful planning left me feeling slightly smug as I dropped the boys off at school in the morning, giving a cheery ‘Morning’ to fellow parents.

At home I kept a watchful eye on the clock. 1.30pm … it was time.

I parked at the venue and loitered rather suspiciously as I watched the cleaners make final preparations to the hall. When the coast was clear, I grinned at my partner in crime (my then 6-month old son) and tiptoed into the hall, arms piled high with coats. I made a quick dash towards the seats … just as a young sound technician entered through the other door. I froze, the two of us locking eyes. I couldn’t back down now, my mission was almost complete. The sound technician’s head twitched … was he winking at me? Flattered, I smiled back, with raised eyebrows. Another jerk of the head towards the balcony. I turned slowly and to my horror, up on the balcony (thankfully with their backs to me) was the headmaster and deputy head.

In panic I glanced quickly at my new ally who mouthed the word ‘quick’. I flung the coats over the backs of the seats and without making a sound, ran out of the hall. And I kept running till I got to the car, my 6-month old delighting in the bumpy ride in his pushchair.

Once safely in the car, I let out a long breath as sweat trickled down my back. I’d done it, mission complete.

3.30pm, the boys and I meandered home, had a relaxing bite to eat, got changed, picked my husband up from work and made our way to the concert. We breezed in 10 minutes before it was due to start.

Very hot and bothered Mums chatted as they supped the last of their coffee.

‘I can’t believe the doors are locked,’ one very angry looking mum said. ‘We came straight up from school and we’ll end up with seats on the balcony.’

When the start of the concert was announced, we made our way to our front row seats to looks of disbelief and astonishment from the lucky few who nabbed some good seats a few rows behind us.

‘How on earth did they manage that?’ came the whispers.

Sitting back, I enjoyed every second of the concert and could have burst with pride seeing my two boys grinning back at me from the stage.

So, will I be as successful tomorrow? You bet I will!

Hwyl am y tro x

The Bite of Self-Doubt

I’ve always been my own worst enemy. Nothing I do is ever quite good enough – I suppose you could say I’m a glass half empty person. So when it comes to my writing, I doubt I’ll ever come across a crueller critic than myself.

I started writing 4 years ago, when my second child became very ill at 6 weeks old. It made me truly appreciate how precious life is and I decided that I would dust off the cobwebs from that old ‘I’d love to write a book’ dream and give it a real go. I started with writing a short story and sent it off to a competition with a critique and waited to be told that my writing was rubbish and to get back to the day job pretty sharpish. To my utter disbelief, the story was placed second and was published in Writers’ Forum magazine. That first success felt like the first flickering of a flame from a pile of dying embers – maybe I could do this.

A few more successful short stories followed and kept the fire roaring. I knew that I wanted to write for children, so I started writing my first book. When it was finally complete I had it critiqued then sent it off to a publisher before I could convince myself that it wasn’t good enough. Then I waited. And waited. The publishers eventually got in touch to say they loved my story and would love to publish it. The euphoria that followed has lasted for months and I still find myself giving a jaunty little skip every now and again when I’m walking down the street. When the book is published next year, I have warned my family that I may well humanly-combust with excitement.

So why is this blog about self-doubt? Where does self-doubting come in now that I’m a ‘published’ author? Well, the story doesn’t end there. I write because I love to write and I can’t honestly imagine a time where I won’t write. I recently finished a new manuscript, closed my eyes and clicked send. Now it’s out there, festering away on a slush pile. I torture myself with checking my inbox umpteen times a day to find nothing, after which I sigh dejectedly and say, ‘Of course there’s nothing. It wasn’t good enough.’

I’ve learnt that publishing is a very slow business which leaves so much time for the crippling self-doubt to creep up on me. And that will never change. I’m working on a new manuscript and have had to put it aside as I’ve become so hung up on thinking that it’s not good enough, that it has become the enemy. I’ve become so convinced that no one else will love it that I haven’t been able to write another word of it.

So how do I get rid of this self-doubt? I have no idea. But I do know for certain that it won’t stop me from writing. With the new manuscript placed aside for now, I’ve really been enjoying writing short stories again. And when I’m ready to go back to my manuscript, I know that I’ll see it with fresh eyes and those dying embers will alight once again as my excitement and love for my story are re-ignited.

I’ll never get rid of my self-doubting, it’s a part of me. But I can live with it. And when it bites, I set that work in progress aside and work on something else until the pesky thing has had enough and decided to lie dormant for a while. It may slow me down a little, but it certainly won’t stop me.

So I’m off now to submit a short story to a competition, take another sneaky peak at my empty inbox, then get back to my long-rested story – I can already feel the bubbles of excitement and my fingers are starting to twitch. When that first draft is done, I’ll start plotting my next story.

Hwyl am y tro x

Weekend lie-ins? Are you joking?

I can’t have lie-ins. My body is tuned to waking up at 5am to write and that’s great. That’s the time when I write my best. This morning I’ve managed to edit a short story I’ve been working on and I’m almost feeling happy enough with it to send it off to a short story competition.

My eldest son crept into the office at 6.45am.

‘Can I get up?’ he asked.

‘Don’t you want a lie-in? It’s the weekend,’ I said.

‘Are you joking? There’s no school so we get to play,’ he beamed.

And it’s that simple. Weekends are fun – why spend them in bed?

As a first time mum, weekends made me break out in a panicky sweat. What could we do? We had to ‘do’ something. My son had to have something to tell his friends on Monday morning. Where were we going to go? We couldn’t possibly just stay at home and ‘do’ nothing.

It took me a long time to realise that actually yes, we can just stay at home and still ‘do’ things. Things that don’t cost money or involve packing bags and rushing around to get everyone ready for a day out. Yes, days out are important – these are our special treats. What’s so special about doing them every weekend?

My son summed it up this morning – ‘There’s no school so we get to play.’ And what’s more fun than playing? I believe it’s so important that children can use their imaginations and entertain themselves. Have fun.

So what’s in store for our weekend?

Well, the boys are busy building the Taj Mahal at the moment with their wooden blocks. It’s looking impressive, I must add.The weather’s not too bad so a bike ride this afternoon looks promising. Oh, and we’ve got some tomato seeds that need planting and the stones that we collected on the beach last weekend to paint. The list is endless.

So here’s to a fun-filled weekend. Enjoy.

Hwyl am y tro x

A Cheery Morning

Got up at 5.30 am and had a good hour and fifteen minutes of writing. Children got up at 7 and in my cheerful state I happily dressed and breakfasted them and got the school bags ready. Just for the fun of it, being one of those mornings, I emptied the washing machine, put the clothes out to dry, emptied the dishwasher and cleared away the breakfast dishes.

When husband decided to surface at 8.10am we were brushing teeth and ready to go, earlier than usual as eldest was off on a school trip this morning and needed to catch a bus (which I had reminded my husband of several times last night).

‘Nice lie-in,’ I said in my (slightly sinister I admit) cheery voice. ‘Come on, boys. In the car. Chop, chop.’

The words ‘chop, chop’ were accompanied by clapping of hands, which was followed by snorting sniggers from 7 and 4 year old and squeals of delight from 10-month-old who clapped his hands in solidarity. Left husband standing nervously in hallway and literally saw him jump as I tooted the horn and waved exaggeratedly from the car.

Note to self: Cheery me far more effective than moody-moo stomping around banging cupboard doors. I foresee a lie-in heading my way tomorrow.

Hwyl am y tro x

Morning nap time …

Now here’s the thing. I like routine. It keeps me sane. Every morning, my youngest has a nap from 10 ’till about 11.15. Great. In that hour, I write. Or rather re-read what I wrote at 5.30 am and edit the whole lot, but that’s besides the point. Why then does some automated lady insist on phoning me at 10.15, waking up my baby, to tell me that there is blah-di-blah amount of money owing to me following my serious accident? I mean, the last serious accident I had was when I broke two bones in my arm at the age of 7. Well, other than breaking my finger a few years ago trying to show my then boyfriend that I would make a fantastic farmer’s wife and ending up falling from a bale of hay and smashing previously mentioned finger (we’ve been married 8 years in case you’re worried that it all ended horribly wrong). So I seriously doubt that there is money owing to me and to be honest, that free hour in the morning is worth more than a hefty sprinkling of gold dust. Therefore, if any automated phone people happen to stumble across my ramblings, please spare a thought and time your calls better – 3.30pm when I’m on the school run would be delightful :). Now I’m off to make lunch for my very grumbly and grouchy nap-deprived son.

Hwyl am y tro x

Hello world!

Now that I’m finally gaining the confidence to call myself a ‘proper writer’, I thought I should start a blog of sorts. It’ll be my usual daily ramblings juggling life as a (often stressed out) mum to three young boys, writer and primary school teacher. So, I’m off to read up on how on earth to run a blog and hope that I get the hang of it pretty quickly. Look forward to my blogging adventure!

Hwyl am y tro x