The Write Time

I don’t know whether it’s the focus on time with the clocks having changed, or whether it’s from watching the changing landscape from my office window from a luscious green to a rich russet, or whether it’s because my 8 year-old wanted to choose his own clothes when we went shopping last week, but once again I’ve found myself feeling very nostalgic these past few days. I find myself staring wistfully out of the window, my mind wandering back to days gone by, to my childhood – to that time of magical wonderment when life was lived for that day. I know it’s a cliche, but it feels like only yesterday and suddenly I’m a thirty-something woman and I’m thinking, ‘God, it’s nearly Christmas again. Where does the time go?’

As a child I lived in stories. I read, I made up stories, I kept written stories in my secret box. I recently came across a report I wrote for my end of year ceremony at sixteen. When asked what I wished my future career to be, I had simply said ‘anything to do with writing.’

After graduating in English, this notion did flicker momentarily in my mind, but was swiftly swatted away. One day I’ll write, I said to myself. For now, I have to get a ‘proper’ job that will pay me money. I therefore settled on teaching as a profession and life just kind of trundled along. I devoted every spare minute to my job in the early days, wanting to be the best teacher I could possibly be. I met my husband, we started a family. I juggled work with being Mam. There was just no time to write. It was never going to be the right time to start writing.

And that is my biggest regret. Years of not writing. I can’t believe that I’ve let so much time flitter past without writing nothing more than lesson plans and shopping lists.

Writing makes me so incredibly happy. Yes, it makes me feel tremendously low at times too when good old self-doubt is sat on my shoulder. But I write through it and get myself out of the misty murkiness into bright sunshine again. Why has it taken me so long to re-discover this? Stories were pivotal to my childhood, they were an integral part of me. So why, oh why, did I let life push my stories, my passion to the dim recesses of my mind? I don’t have an answer. It just happened. Like it has to many other writers, or people who whisper of a ‘One day I’ll …’ dream.

Since re-discovering it three years ago, I’ve grabbed it and embraced and I’ll never let it go again. And it’s not just about wanting to get my work published and realising that this is a bloody slow process and if only I’d done this a few years ago (although this is of course the dream and I still have to pinch myself that in a few months time there’ll be a real book held in the hands of real children with my name on it). It’s more about doing something that makes me happy. It’s about doing something that stops me worrying about tomorrow, because when I write, time stops ticking as I lose myself in my imaginary worlds.

Yes I still have to go to work. Yes I still have financial commitments. But I now have my passion back. I write every day, whether it’s working on a new book, or a short story, or writing my blog. I write. I live in the moment and let the words flow.

So if I was to share a snippet of advice, it would simply be not to let time run away from you. You can’t stop time but you can run happily along with it. Whatever it is that makes you happy, that lets you step away from the stresses of everyday life, just do it. Don’t be a ‘One day I’ll …’ dreamer, be a ‘Today I’m going to …’ grabber.

People always talk about when is it the right time to do such-and-such. When is it the right time to follow your dream? It’s always the right time.

Happy writing.

Hwyl am y tro x

What Inspires My Stories?

As a shy child, I devoured books. They let me escape. They let me be brave, adventurous and sometimes a little bit naughty. Enid Blyton’s books were my favourite – ‘The Faraway Tree’ series being my favourite of all. I read, re-read and read again. I never tired of them.

When I was shooed out by my mum, the solitary crab apple tree with its fairy door halfway up the trunk, that stood in the bottom of our garden, provided endless stories and imaginary play for the young me. I would scrunch my eyes closed and tap on the door three times. I would be transported to the fairy kingdom, gossamer wings sprouted on my own back. I didn’t just play being a fairy, I was a fairy.

I loved listening to traditional folktales in school. Overlooking the town where I grew up stands Cader Idris, and the tale tells of a giant who sat on the top of this mountain, guarding the town. I would gaze up at the mountain and see him, sitting there with knee-high boots.

My school reports always told of a painfully shy me who had a vivid imagination. I would write stories about fairies and giants and witches and wisps.

When I re-discovered writing as an adult, I worried that I hadn’t travelled the world and experienced a variety of cultures. I worried that without such experiences, my writing would be bland and unoriginal. But then I realised that Wales is a bubbling cauldron of tales of tylwyth teg and the bwca, drowned cities under the sea and magical lakes. It has dramatic landscape. It has as much of an abundance of stories as it has raindrops. It has magic.

My debut book, Grace-Ella: Spells for Beginners, is a contemporary fantasy story for 7-9 year olds. The story begins with the arrival of a mysterious black cat at Number 32, Ty Mynydd Close, leading 9 year-old Grace-Ella to make the shocking discovery that she is a witch. The idea for the story began when the name ‘Grace-Ella’ leapt into my mind as I was driving to work one morning. I executed a spectacular left turn into a layby and came to a skidding stop as I fumbled frantically in my bag for my notebook. With its sprinkling of spells and potion commotions, the story is one I would have loved as a child. I am currently writing a sequel and am thrilled to be back in Grace-Ella’s magical world.

My story for younger readers (5-7 years) is about a magic mirror in the back of a hat shop, which has again been influenced by my childhood reading. I have another young MG story, which has been strongly influenced by the landscape where I grew up and the folktales about giants that kept me staring in wide-eyed wonderment as my teacher read during wet playtimes.

People talk about writing ‘what you know’ and I think that this is true. I may not ‘know’ any fairies or giants or witches or wisps, and I have never been fortunate enough to find a magic mirror to transport me to other worlds, but I do know which stories I loved as a child and I do know which stories get me excited and leave me breathlessly wanting more. Three recent examples of this have been ‘Stonebird’ by Mike Revell, ‘In Darkling Wood’ by Emma Carroll and ‘The Dreamsnatcher’ by Abi Elphinstone. These magical stories kept me turning the pages and lingered in my mind long after I turned the final page.

Someone once asked me what I’ll do when I run out of ideas for stories. I just smiled. For whilst the Earth still turns, there will always be stories whispered in the gentle rustle of leaves, dancing on sparkling sunbeams, glistening on gossamer cobwebs or hidden in a crescent’s moon glowing earthshine … you just have to open your eyes and ears to the magic.

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  Roald Dahl

Happy writing.

Hwyl am y tro x

A Bad Case of The Inspirations

When I started writing a few years ago, no one really batted an eyelid. I was seen as having a rather quaint little hobby where I’d tinker about on the laptop every now and again.

When the tinkering resulted in a book written, my husband finally said, ‘Oh, you’ve been writing a book.’ My boys weren’t convinced. Pages and pages of words on the screen with no pictures was definitely not a book.

These days I manage to crawl out of bed at about 5am to write for a couple of hours before real life begins. This is great. The men of the house are sound asleep, oblivious to coffee-fuelled me tiptoeing about and tinkering away in the pitch-dark night.

But, since the wondrous moment of achieving my first publishing deal, I have known without a doubt that I want to write and write and never stop writing. I want to write the stories that bubble and brew in my head.

So this has meant trying to carve out a few extra writing hours here and there. Not so easy in a household of three rather energetic little boys who love dragging their mother onto the trampoline to bounce vigorously or using her as a target for conker catapulting or just using her slight squishiness as a pillow to curl up on and watch a DVD.

And as any writer will surely agree, writing is strangely unpredictable. Yes, I have my set time to write, but good old inspiration doesn’t always play ball, but instead, creeps up on you like those freaky spiders that lurk on your bedroom ceiling. One minute it’s just sitting there minding its own business then the next second it’s dangling in front of your nose, bold as anything, shouting, ‘Ha! Look at me being all super sleuth and catching you unawares!’ And when it does strike (inspiration not the spider), you just have to act, otherwise it’s gone, leaving a fuzzy fog that you fumble about in begging, ‘Wait! Don’t go!’

When it happens in the safety of my own home, I find myself hurtling to the office to start tapping away in a frenzied manner, often accompanied by random shouts at the screen.

My 4 year old was quite alarmed when he witnessed this attack the first time.

‘Mum’s shouting at the laptop and making funny smiley faces,’ he shouted in alarm to his older brother after I’d whizzed past him leaving him spinning on the spot in the hallway.

‘Oh, she’s fine,’ my 8 year-old called back, ‘it’s just inspiration.’

‘Oh,’ said my 4 year-old, relieved that this strange behaviour had a name. ‘Does she need Calpol for that?’

During another incident of inspiration, my mother happened to phone.

‘Mam can’t come to the phone because she’s got The Inspirations,’ said my 4 year-old very matter-of-factly.

Having rescued the phone from his clutches I spent the next 10 minutes reassuring my mother that I was fit and healthy – ish and was not suffering from any tropical strain of flu. I was simply writing.

My children have now become accustomed to these unpredictable bouts of inspiration and they no longer cause them to worry. They have learnt to recognise the itchy-twitching seconds before I tear down the hallway, or execute a sharp turn and a skidding stop in a lay-by then grapple wildly with my notebook and pen, or simply start talking to myself in public places. They just nod at each other knowingly. Nothing to worry about. Mam’s just got a bad case of The Inspirations.

Happy writing,

Hwyl am y tro x

Depression and Me

Four years ago I returned to work after my maternity leave ended, after having my second son. I couldn’t settle. I missed my sons terribly. I had so much work to do I couldn’t see an end to it. I’d come home late, rush the boys off to bed because I still had work to do. Once they had been shooed to bed, I felt so terrible that I’d crawl into my own bed and cry. I cried myself to sleep night after night. And it just got worse. On a Monday morning, I couldn’t see the end of the week … I couldn’t see the end of the day … I couldn’t see how to get out of the house in the morning … I couldn’t see how to get out of bed.

I would drive the 30 minutes to work crying, my distress visible on arrival in the red streaks and puffiness around my eyes. I’d get angry with myself, tell myself to get a grip and snap out of it. The crying did eventually stop and was replaced by a nothingness. I felt nothing. I worked, I went home, I crawled into bed. All the time feeling nothing.

Then the anxiety started. I worried about everything. A simple trip to town with the boys would cause my heart to race, my palms to sweat, my skin to go clammy. I felt like I was suffocating. I felt like I couldn’t breath. I’d rush us back home and crawl under the darkness of my duvet where I didn’t have to ‘be’ anymore. I avoided every staff night out, I kept away from friends.

I lived like this for three years. It took three years for me to say to myself this isn’t right. This isn’t life. It took several attempts to pick up the phone to make an appointment with my GP. When I finally walked into her room and sat down, she took one look at me, handed me some tissues and said, ‘It’s ok. Take your time.’ And out it all came. I will be eternally grateful to my GP for that moment of sheer understanding. She knew. There was something wrong because she could see it. She could see the invisible blackness in and around me. I wasn’t making it up.

That was on the second of January this year. With her continuing support I am living again. I’m not better. There is no cure. But I’m learning how to live with this debilitating thing … depression. I am so lucky to have a handful of close friends who I’ve opened up to and who are amazing. We meet for coffee, we chat, they listen. I’ve joined a running club, something that I could never have done a year ago. Most days I’m happy.

There are still triggers and bad days, but I deal with them. I curl up with a book, I write. I started writing three years ago and it’s the one thing that lets me escape. As my imagination takes over, I’m not me. And that is why I will always write. Stories bubble and brew in my mind and sitting at the laptop with twitchy fingers is thrilling.

My three boys are my world. They are my very own sprinkling of magic.

Work is still a problem, I think that’s partly to do with how teaching has become. The constant pressure, the negativity, the workload – it’s difficult. The teaching part is great – that’s what keeps me there.

Why have I written this blog? I don’t know. Maybe for someone to read it who’s suffering to realise that it’s ok to go and ask for help. It took more courage for me to go to my GP than to stay hidden under my duvet. Maybe because I don’t feel like I have to pretend anymore. I can say it out loud. I battle with depression. I can’t ‘snap out of it’ as I’ve been told to in the past. I don’t have to worry anymore about those who say, ‘What have you got to be depressed about?’ That’s their ignorance, not mine.

Depression’s a part of me but it doesn’t define me. I’m me – Mam, a children’s writer, a teacher.

Hwyl am y tro x

My Writing and Me – What Now?

When I signed my first publishing deal with Firefly Press earlier this year, I spent weeks floating around grinning inanely at everything and everyone. I’d wake up in the mornings and the thrilling rush would flood through me like a tidal wave of sunshine-happiness. I’d leap out of bed issuing ‘good mornings’ like they might go out of fashion – ‘Good morning me, good morning bed, good morning floor … ‘

Once this neurotic response subsided a little, there came more of a gentle calm with the realisation that I really, truly had fulfilled my dream. This realisation would strike at any moment, causing me to stop statue-still with a rather silly faraway look on my face. It was a bit of a problem when it happened in the street and a busy shopper would ‘doof’ into my back and tut-tut at me, or at the doctor’s surgery when I completely missed my name being called which resulted in the GP having to come into the waiting room and practically haul me from the seat.

And just like the calm before any storm, there followed this gentle peacefulness, a period of horrendously crippling self-doubt … ‘Oh my god, what if I never write another book?’ ‘What if the publishers change their mind and throw me and my manuscript into the back of a dustbin lorry, doomed for the dump?’ ‘What if no one reads my book ever?’ ‘What if I run out of what if questions?’

Now it was during this period of ‘what ifs’ that my 8-year-old son came into the office one sunny afternoon.

‘What are you doing?’ he asked, looking at me peculiarly.

‘Wailing and sobbing,’ I replied, quite distressed that I clearly couldn’t even wail and sob correctly.

‘Why are you wailing and sobbing?’ he asked.

‘Because … because … I’ll never be a children’s author,’ I replied flinging myself across the chair dramatically to ensure that my distress was clearly visible and was unmistakably real.

‘Um … yes you will because you write books,’ he said, crouching down to peer up at my faced-down face.

‘But I’ve only written one book,’ I said, wanting to add ‘woe is me’ but thought that might be taking it a bit far.

‘Write another one then,’ he said.

I froze in my hanging off the chair state. I straightened up.

‘What did you just say?’ I asked.

‘I said, write another book then,’ he said slowly, starting to back out of the door as he spotted the manic glint in my eyes.

Because there it was, the proverbial pot of rainbow gold. I leapt off the chair and launched myself at my son, enveloping him in a suffocating hug and smothering him with kisses (really not the thing to do to your ‘cool’ 8-year-old son, but hey, it was so called for at that precise moment in time).

Having wriggled free and gulped in air to re-fill his lungs, he ran off to play football in the garden, leaving me gazing out of the window, quite in awe of my surroundings and my son’s geniusness. Write another book. Amazingly, gloriously, fantastically wise words. Write another book.

So, having taken my son’s wisdom on board, I wrote another book. To be writing again was so liberating. I wanted to shout out loud, ‘Look! Look at me! I’m being a writer. I’m writing.’

Book finished, critiqued and polished, it was sent off. It is, at present, nestled in the laptop of another publisher, awaiting sentencing. To be published or not to be published?  And me? Oh, you’ve nothing to worry about there. I’m almost finished with another story which I’ll then leave to rest before I get going with the sequel to my debut book, which I can’t wait for. And when that’s done, I’ll write another story. There’s one already brewing in the pot.

So does this mean I no longer behave like one of Jane Austin’s heroines around the house? Good grief no. There’s a lot to be said for dramatic bouts of arm-flailing, wailing and self-pitying sobbing. It’s rather therapeutic … helps get things into perspective I feel.

Happy writing.

Hwyl am y tro x

An Authorly Strange Encounter

Quite by chance, last Saturday, I stumbled across an author’s book signing event. I had simply entered the shop for a lazy browse at the books. As I was heading towards the books a gentleman pounced at me from behind a small table, quite hidden from view behind a display of football cards.

‘Thank you so much for coming to support my book,’ said the gentleman, thrusting a copy of his book into my hands. ‘And it’s wonderful to see you bringing your children to meet me.’

Now the top half of my 8 year-old was, at that precise moment in time, buried deep in the tub of ‘Match Attax’ football cards. My 4 year-old was busy straightening the chocolate bars into neat rows on the shelves and my 1 year-old was grinning inanely from the pushchair.

‘This book,’ continued the gentleman, ‘will be the best book you’ve ever read. I can guarantee you that.’

‘Oh,’ I replied, a little surprised by the amount of self-confidence that was sprouting from his every pore. ‘And getting children to read is the most important thing a parent should do.’

Now this, I happened to agree with.

‘Absolutely,’ I said. ‘Unfortunately, my eldest is what we might call a ‘reluctant reader’.’

‘Once he’s read the first line of my book,’ said the gentleman, ‘he’ll be a reader for life.’

Another rather grand guarantee. I was starting to feel like I was listening to a market vendor trying to sell the latest cleaning gadget, guaranteed to make your house sparkle and gleam whilst you sit watching telly.

‘Now who should I dedicate the book to?’ he asked. ‘I’m sure you’ll be happy, just this once, to allow me to dedicate it to your boys here.’

He snatched the book from my hands and asked for my sons’ names. As I watched him write, I thought I’d venture into some polite conversation, after all, there didn’t seem to be a surge of readers heading his way.

‘Um … I write for children too …’ I said. ‘Um … my first book is coming out next year.’

The gentleman stared at me in a ‘is she crazy?’ kind of way for a few seconds, before painting on a tight smile and saying,’Well, good luck … you’ll never write a book as good as this one.’

With that, he handed the book back to me and gave me a gentle shove towards the tills.

‘You pay here, dear. And once more, thank you for your support.’

He then disappeared once again behind the football cards display (from which my son had finally emerged).

In my rather stunned state following this rather bizarre encounter, I paid for the book (along with five packs of football cards and two chocolate bars which I hadn’t notice being passed to the cashier’s hands).

Outside, my eldest son said,’ Who was that man you were talking to?’

I looked at my son and said, ‘I have absolutely no idea.’

Driving home, I couldn’t help but ponder about the afternoon’s events and I started thinking about author etiquette at book signings. I imagined that if I’m ever in the privileged position to be invited to a shop to sign my books, I would most certainly feel immensely proud and quite in awe of the kindly reader(s) who may come and meet me. I most certainly wouldn’t claim that my book could perform miracles. I’m a writer, not Jesus and the Bible.

I would love to hear any ideas from writers about the dos and don’ts of book signings. Thank you.

Hwyl am y tro x

An Autumn De-Cluttering

As it’s the first day of a new month and crisp autumn mornings are upon us, I have decided to take stock of my life – an autumn de-cluttering if you like, rather than a spring clean.

Since returning to work last month, life has just got the better of me. I have let myself slowly drown in the amount of work I have to do. I have ended up being completely overwhelmed and back to having anxiety attacks.

As a result, my writing has suffered. I’ve managed to get up at 5.30 most mornings to write, but have been so stressed about my ‘to do’ list at work, I just haven’t been writing productively. I’ve stared at the screen unfocussed, the words like military lines of ants swarming before my eyes. I’ve battled through against the voice in my head screaming ‘lesson plans, assessments, wall displays, tests’. I’ve simply ended up on a very fast road to nowhere, a quivering wreck.

So this morning, I sat down and knew I had to de-clutter my head. I had three questions I wanted to try to answer:

  1. What am I doing wrong?
  2. What do I want to do?
  3. How am I going to do this?

The very simple answer to the first is that I’ve been trying to do everything at the same time and it just doesn’t work.

So …

The reality – I have to work to pay bills etc. I teach, it’s a stressful job, the workload is humanly impossible to keep on top of … but I enjoy being in the classroom with the pupils and the pay is decent enough.

The dream – To be a writer.

And of course, my most important role is being Mam to my three amazing little boys.

I have had an epic battle going on between Reality and Dream and it has finally dawned on me that neither is going to win. The only way for me to keep my sanity is for both to slot into my life and exist side by side. I am not a super-human, there is only so much I can do.

So with this new month, comes a new me (hopefully). I’ve cut my work hours down to three days. On these three days, my teaching workload has to take precedence (I stay late after school, I work through lunch – whatever it takes to keep afloat in the sea of paperwork). I focus solely on work.

My non-working days are my writing days. I’m not being paid to work on these days therefore school work has to be left alone. Whilst my youngest naps, I’ll write. I won’t think about anything else. To help keep this focus I’ve set myself three targets for this month:

I) Finish my current WIP

2) Edit a short story and enter it in a competition

3) Start on the sequel to my debut book

Being Mam is of course, my number one priority. Not just the mechanics of this role, but having fun and enjoying being with my boys. This comes first and foremost.

And that is where I’m at. Writing this blog has helped – I can and will do this. Others do. By the end of this month, I hope that my equilibrium will be restored and my writing targets met. As to that endless mountain of school work? I’m a teacher. My role is to teach. And if I get that part right, that’s what matters.

So here’s to a productive and happy October.

Hwyl am y tro x