Monthly Archives: April 2015

Taking stock

I’m in a bit of a ‘non-writing writer’ phase at the moment, and I’m not sure I like it very much. There is only so much time and energy left over from parenting a toddler, and at the moment most of mine is being spent on campaigning in the run up to election day. I’ve been grateful for my way with words as I’ve developed the campaign on social media and in local meetings, but it is giving me a little bit of an identity crisis.

The two manuscripts I have written are still out there in the ether, and I’m feeling guilty for not giving them enough attention. They are to some extent in the hands of my agent, but I’m getting the niggling feeling that I really should be doing something more…

I am a writer. A novelist. But my novels have not yet been published. And at the moment I’m not actually writing anything.

Not exactly confidence-inspiring is it?

Hmmm…

On the upside, this impasse I have found myself in has prompted me to find the time to read more. When my days are filled with writing or editing I find it hard to shift my brain into the different world of someone else’s novel. So whilst the last few weeks have been ridiculously hectic, leaving no time at all to write, I’ve been grateful for the snatched moments where I have been able to lose myself in prose.

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I loved the twists and turns of I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. The first half of the story is powerful enough, a woman rebuilding her life after a tragic accident. But then revelations are shared which cut through everything you thought to be true. And then it turns out that even that new understanding of the character is deeply flawed. There was much in the central theme of a woman being undone by a manipulative man that resonates with me and the novel I’m (hopefully) close to submitting to publishers, and it definitely gave me food for thought where that’s concerned.

Then there was The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. A devastating exploration of mental health and how our society deals with it, told through the layers of grief which follow the death of the protagonist’s brother. The protagonist himself is utterly compelling, despite (or maybe because of) his tenuous grip on reality, and whilst his journey as a psychiatric patient is central to the novel you cannot help but reflect on the arbitrary definitions of ‘normal’ that so much of our world rests on.

This theme was strong too in The Girl with all the Gifts, a zombie story with a difference by M.R.Carey. An increasingly small cast of characters takes us deep into a post-apocalyptic world which, like most good science fiction, questions many of the facts we take for granted.

And now I am onto The Children Act, the latest novel by Ian McEwan, the arrival in paperback of which I have been eagerly awaiting. I’m close to finishing it actually – and as much as I was tempted to do precisely that (instead of writing this) during Arthur’s nap I am just as happy to draw out the pleasure of reading it for a little while longer. I love McEwan’s prose, casual and yet important in its tone, easy to read and yet dense with emotional truth and careful observation.

It is his body of work that I aspire to most, though I know that is setting my bar absurdly high.

There are baby steps to be taken first. The steps that will let me discover if the two novels I have written so far can find a home in the publishing world, and through that home the readers I long for. I have been thinking about those novels a lot this week – both the latest one and my first, Lili Badger. I still think they have an awful lot going for them, but this period of inaction is making me doubt their potential in the marketplace. I’m beginning to wish that, as a writer, I was drawn more clearly to a particular genre. Although really that’s absurd – I never have been as a reader so to attempt to create something for the sake of marketability alone would surely be doomed to failure.

So I will keep on going on with the words and ideas that are mine, and together I’m sure we’ll get there sooner or later. In the meantime I really should carve out a little bit of space to write something new this week I think, if only to satisfy that part of my identity that knows, deep down, I am a writer.

 

Writing Bubble

Green fingers

For a few weeks now, Arthur has been desperate to get out into the garden whenever he can. He’s had a very particular mission: spotting his little watering can has triggered memories from last summer, and now every day without fail he asks “Arthur water plants please mummy?” image

Naturally I can’t refuse – not only because of the extreme cuteness of his polite enthusiasm but also because I am RUBBISH at remembering to keep plants watered, so this would be an extremely handy tendency to foster. It has all seemed a bit pointless though with the state the garden’s been in, and I found myself cringing as I’ve watched him water the weeds that had usurped the vegetable garden and the dry husks left from last year’s herbs. But this week we finally did something about it. image

The weather has continued to be glorious, and we seized the opportunity to go to the garden centre. Arthur was utterly enthralled by the huge variety of plants, and it was all I could do to keep up with him as he darted between them. image

We decided to focus on edibles – Arthur really enjoyed picking dinner from the garden last year, and I’m hoping it might help with his increasingly ambivalent attitude to vegetables. So we got a courgette plant, and a variety of lettuces. And more herbs. And, most excitingly of all, some strawberries, with a special pot and everything. image

There’s definitely space for more, but I figured it was best not to get too ambitious straight away…

And in between another hectic week of campaigning we managed to get it all planted. Clearing out the raised beds was the hardest bit, though Arthur was thrilled by the worms and woodlice we discovered. We kept the kale as it seems to have a bit of life in it yet, and now just have to wait for our new specimens to catch up…

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Arthur loved getting his hands dirty, and whilst his efforts were perhaps more hindrance than help in the planting stage he was back on form with his watering efforts and had made sure I haven’t forgotten our responsibilities as the week unfolded. I’m keen to get some more plants in before my enthusiasm passes – maybe some sweetcorn? Or peas? I had my eye on a miniature apple tree too which I think Arthur would really enjoy… image

What would you recommend for a green fingered toddler and his decidedly novice mummy to get started with? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

My word of the week this week is planting.

The Reading Residence

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

The campaign continues

This week, I have mostly been writing tweets. Facebook posts too. I have been working on how to convey my message as clearly and succinctly as possible to support and promote the #StandUp4Brixham campaign – and generally it’s working pretty well.

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There’s been lots of work on the ground as well – since my leaflets were completed last Wednesday  afternoon my iPhone estimates I’ve covered about 30km going door to door with Arthur in the sling. There was a meeting last Tuesday evening that Arthur also had to come to, and on Saturday we had a hustings event to talk to members of the public. It’s been nerve-wracking getting out there and speaking up, but I’ve enjoyed it too.

The social media side of things is an attempt to engage with people who might not normally be interested in local politics. The campaign has a growing Facebook page and twitter account with nearly 200 local followers between them. I’ve appreciated the support of local businesses with more established accounts sharing and retweeting my posts. And one of my tweets attracted the attention of my local MP and ended up in the paper. So far so good as far as profile-raising goes.

But there has, perhaps predictably, been a less pleasant side to putting myself out there.

It started with the comments at the end of articles on the local paper’s website, where amongst other things I was labelled a ‘rather sad individual who spends all of her waking hours gratuitously criticising [the leader of the Abolish Brixham Council group]’. Other commenters leapt to my defence, but it was a strange feeling to be insulted and accused of something I haven’t done by a total stranger.

Twitter has been even more intimidating. There are four accounts that have repeatedly targeted me through replies to my tweets, with exchanges like this one:

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(BRATS, incidentally, is a group of local residents who campaigned against a Tesco development in the town centre. I have had no involvement with them despite numerous suggestions to the contrary.)

The tweet which sparked all this off  – and more besides – was a link to a letter which had been published on a local news website. I really wasn’t expecting it to be so controversial.

There’s a lot that is strange about the accounts in question – the similarity between their names and the lack of followers for example. Were these exchanges happening on my personal account then I would not hesitate to block and report them. But I’m not sure exactly how I’m supposed to respond in my current role as council candidate – I am obviously very keen to engage with interested Brixham residents, but I have to admit that these communications are beginning to make me feel uncomfortable.

I realise as well though that, on the grand scale of things, there’s not really anything desperately offensive going on here. Twitter does seem to be a place where some people hide behind a mask of anonymity to behave in a way that they never would face to face.

So I will soldier on, draw on my years of experience working with challenging teenagers, and try not to take it too personally. One of the things it is clear could be improved about our local council is the quality of its communications and its transparency in working with people in its community. And I refuse to be intimidated out of my attempts to do just that.

 

Muddled Manuscript

Home Sweet Home

This time last week, I was feeling a little sad to be home. We’d had a wonderful holiday with some much-needed quality family time, and I had once again been infected with the wanderlust that makes me want to see all of the corners of the world that I can.

This week, though, we have accidentally had the most wonderful time in our little town, and it has left me wondering why we need to travel at all when we have such a glorious place to call home.

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There is Berry Head, where we went last Sunday with my parents, my brother and his fiancee. Arthur was thrilled to see everyone after our trip away, and he had great fun flying his kite, doing impromptu yoga with Uncle Ash, and just enjoying the view.

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Then there is Breakwater beach. Our local beach. I honestly never thought I’d be able to say that! With the spectacular weather we’ve had this week it’s felt a little like a corner of the Caribbean at times. Arthur has continued on his mission to get every single stone from the beach into the sea, and we’ve enjoyed a picnic with friends as well as a sneaky takeaway, just the two of us.

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I’ve really become aware this week how many lovely people we’ve met in this town. It’s taken a while for us to really feel like we belong here: the first 18 months when both Leigh and I were working in Plymouth didn’t help, and even once Arthur had arrived and I began to spend a lot more time in Brixham settling in to a new town wasn’t easy. But this week both Arthur and I have had social calendars almost full to bursting, and I have realised that we both have genuine friends here now. Which is nice.

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Of course my latest venture – standing for election to Brixham Town Council – has made me feel even more as though I belong. It’s been brilliant getting out and about seeing people and places that are new to me, and so far the reception to my election campaign has been really positive. Mostly anyway – but that’s a topic for another post.

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For this one suffice to say that I have had a week which has left me loving Brixham even more than usual. Ten days post-holiday when I still lived in London I would have been yearning for escape, but right now nothing would pull me away from the place I am proud to call home.

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My word of the week this week is home.

The Reading Residence

Also linking up with this week’s prompt of ‘travel’.

mumturnedmom

Standing up for my community

With the London Book Fair this week the latest draft of my novel is, I imagine, languishing somewhere near the bottom of my agent’s to do list. Which is fine by me – having been so deeply embroiled in the edit since the beginning of this year I’m happy to allow my brain to wander elsewhere.

It has been dancing around the edges of my next project, one which I’m really excited about but can’t quite face throwing myself into when I don’t know where I’m at with the current one. It has also enjoyed a bit of a break, getting lost in other peoples’ novels with the gentle sound of waves lapping against a Cretan beach. But it is now time for some action – and what better than the adventure of standing as a candidate in my local town council elections?

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Regular readers of this blog will know that I love my town. Brixham has been my home for the past four years, the culmination of a lifelong dream to live by the sea. It is a vibrant, creative, complex and inspiring place to live, and the more people I get to know here the more happy I am that this is where we ended up.

There is a huge swathe of positivity at the moment, lots of people keen to make the most of the town with independent shops and new restaurants opening up and a real buzz from locals and tourists alike. But beneath this there is something more sinister simmering – a spat between longstanding members of the town council that threatens to undermine the sense of community and the growth that Brixham has enjoyed in the past few years.

A group has been set up with the sole purpose of abolishing Brixham Council. They claim it is a waste of money, that it doesn’t get anything done. But my experience of living in this town says different. I don’t believe that we can rely on Torbay Council to stand up for Brixham. We are smaller than Paignton and Torquay, and very different in character. Historically there have been issues with withheld funding and a lack of understanding of the needs of our town. I believe we need our own voice.

It is against this background that I have decided to stand with a group of independents as a candidate in the upcoming council elections. And with that decision has come a new type of writing for me – my election campaign leaflet.

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It is hard to convey on a single side of A5 everything that I would like to achieve for Brixham, let alone knowing how to present myself in a way that will persuade people I have never met that I am worth voting for. I am not an expert in local politics. I have had a keen interest for years in what it is that makes a community great, but I do not pretend to know the ins and outs of exactly what has gone on in the Brixham Council chambers that has led to such disgruntlement.

What I do know is that people find it tough to engage with democracy, and with every layer of that democracy that is stripped away they will find it even tougher. I would love the opportunity to speak up for the people of Brixham, to give them a voice within the town council and further afield, and to work to grow and celebrate everything that is great about our town.

So I may be a little preoccupied between now and May 7th. No doubt there will be updates here, and if you’re interested you can follow the Stand Up For Brixham election campaign on Twitter too. Wish me luck!

 

Writing Bubble