#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

A Swift Tale – #52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 30

Grassland melts into rock, sand:

a cocktail of pollen and seaweed

churning with the waves.

Splitting the heady air, bullets

of sooty brown feathers

zoom overhead,

changing direction with speed and accuracy

like no other.

I have an inkling

of who these daredevils are,

with their scythe-shaped wings and forked tails,

yet it takes a second sighting,

snatching up as many details as I can

in the split second

it takes for them to pass by,

to be sure.

Swift in nature, not just name;

never lingering, rarely settling –

lives lived on the wing.

Eating, sleeping: all of it

performed while facing the wind.

Yet there is one thing

incompatible with flight,

and it is this

which called them from Africa

back to our blustery shores:

nest building season.

Days filled with locating safe sites,

or returning to spaces

already trusted and true:

eaves of old churches,

hole-riddled roofs, sea cliffs, and crags.

Then, time for building and spring cleaning;

no preparation too much

for new arrivals.

Developing quickly, the young

will become eager, itching

to make their first journey.

Like their parents before them,

off they’ll go days after fledging,

enjoying the company of peers.

Ready to spend months

south of the Sahara, chasing rains

that surge insect populations –

plenty of food

on which to grow strong.

[Swifts are at risk of losing valuable nesting sites due to refurbishments and modern building techniques. To help them, special nesting boxes can be placed up high – somewhere accessible from the wing, so not anywhere low to the ground. These nest boxes can be found on the RSPB website linked below]

This poem is part of a project I’m doing to raise money for the RSPB, a UK wildlife conservation and protection charity. Being autistic, nature is often my only place of solace, and I want to do all I can to protect it. As I’m not very comfortable around other people, most of the standard ways of helping out (volunteering, social fundraisers etc) were not a good fit for me, so I came up with #52weeksofnaturepoetry, where I have to post a nature poem here on this blog each week for an entire year without fail.

If you’d like to help, please share this poem to encourage others to take joy in nature, and if you have the time and means to donate, you can do so here. Let’s help keep our wildlife wild!

(You can also become a member of the RSPB and support them month to month. Members receive Nature’s Home magazine and seasonal guides for what to look out for when out and about. Details are on their website.)

books, Poetry

My two latest poetry books are now out!

Hi everyone, just a quick post to say I’ve had two more poetry collections published. Here’s a little information about each one, and if either (or both) strike your fancy, I’ll be delighted if you pick a copy up:

If We Could Hold Up The Sky (available here)

Love is malleable and comes in many forms. It can be shaped into bridges and carved into doorways. It can become a hand to hold up the sky when everything threatens to crash down around us. 

Inspired by personal experience,  If We Could Hold Up The Sky is a poetry collection revolving around the tale of two neurodivergent individuals who meet as colleagues, fall rapidly into an iron friendship, and gradually become romantic partners.

The collection also explores mental health, childhood, societal expectations, work-related stress, and how a solid foundation of support can make all the difference to overall wellbeing.

Magic! Hissed The Little Demons (available here)

Everyone has their demons.

From time to time, they’ll sneak up on us or run about underfoot. They’ll keep tripping us until we summon the one thing they can’t stand: magic. That igniting surge of self-belief that sends them crawling back into the shadows.

An imaginative and accessible collection of poetry, Magic! Hissed The Little Demons explores depression, self-confidence, friendship, and determination, blending the fantastical with the contemporary, and a hint or two of sass.

#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 11 – Secret Societies

In our hardened grey habitat, it’s easy

to paint everything the same.

Unknowingly masking

the creeping green

and zesty feathers

shadowing over our shoulders.

Plugging our noses against

the rising scent of decaying leaves

gathered on kerbsides

and stray tufts of grass.

Our ears blocked to the coo of pigeons

strutting around our feet

as they wear their street-cool metallic hoods.

Yes, it’s become a mantra

that the urban world is one

in which nature would never

wish to enter.

Yet the beady eyes nestling

in overgrown bushes by driveways,

the scaled, vibrating wings

sheltering within garden sheds,

all the webbed feet

hopping into various paddling pools

(long since forgotten and swollen with rain)

quietly, quietly

whisper:

we’re here, we’re here, we’re here.

This poem is part of my #52weeksofnaturepoetry project to raise money for the RSPB . To find out more about the project and how to donate, please visit my Just Giving page here.

Sharing is also much appreciated, as I’m trying to raise as much awareness of our local wildlife as possible. The more people who appreciate nature, the more likely it can be successfully protected.

(Apologies if this one gets posted oddly, my Internet has been disrupted so I had to make do with posting this via my phone)

#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry, Uncategorized

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 5 – Night Walking

Sounds of the road niggle at our backs,

shaking the illusion that we’re in the wild.

But I can ignore it, for a time.

Tonight, eagerness fills me:

We’re out after dark! What creatures will we see?

New torch in hand, I creep along,

ears honed to each whisper of leaves,

each disjointed splash

from the regular gurgling of the stream alongside us.

Light swings to the area; I temporarily summon the sun.

Feathered ferns sprawl from the ground, young maples at their sides.

Bramble, ivy, a fallen oak with spindly fingers of fresh growth.

And everywhere, single strands of glossy spider silk

stretching up, up,

like Rapunzel’s hair if she were given a sudden electric shock.

Too thirsty to care that our heads are turned its way,

a rat breaks through the foliage to sip its fill.

Yet aside from that, nothing else ventures near.

Nothing calls. Nothing chitters.

Have we walked into a void?

Is the fog, inching in so quietly,

dampening the area’s breath?

Or is the traffic hum, with its heart-thudding sirens,

too much for all but the boldest to come?

My fingers stiffen in the cold, clutched around the torch handle.

Massaging them awake, the light shifts position

and momentarily decorates my vision with spots.

I click the thing off.

Ink moves in around us. The night sighs

and spills with life.

This poem is part of my #52weeksofnaturepoetry project to raise funds for UK wildlife charity RSPB and to encourage an appreciation for nature. If you enjoyed it, please consider sharing it and/or donating to the RSPB via my Just Giving page here.

Help keep wildlife wild.

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Querying — why I’m now nervous about it

I’m no stranger to querying literary agents — I’ve been in the ‘query trenches’ on and off for nearly six years now, I think.

It started with naive, three line query letters that told agents hardly anything about the book, sent to one agent at a time. And I’d wait, and wait, and wait before sending off again because I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the agency’s submission guidelines — which not only stated it was fine to query multiple agents at one time (at other agencies) but also that if I didn’t hear back within the stated time, I should consider it a pass. Sometimes I did get responses, polite rejections that it never occured to me were simple form responses.

I wasn’t too upset, because I had other books to work on. And the more I worked and improved my craft, the more my desire to one day see them in print grew from dream to goal. Quite suddenly, it seemed, I realised no agent would take me seriously unless I was serious. Partnering with a literary agent is a business partnership much like any other. Sure, they love books and want authors to succeed, but they’re not there to babysit. So I researched the querying process as much as I could. Through books, Youtube channels, agency websites, talks by agents at literary festivals and many other resources. And I’m still doing it.

Now, I’ve queried at least seven different manuscripts over the years, and my query packages (letter, synopsis, writing sample [usually the book’s first 3 chapters]) have gotten better over the years, as have the responses. I’ve had a few full manuscript requests on some, and most recently, I got a revise and resubmit. And though they eventually resulted in passes, I feel that I’ve upped my game enough that getting an agent is definitely achievable. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of other querying authors who have put in just as much work as I have, with every bit as much drive. So the competition is very real.

Which is why, having polished one of my most recent projects and prepared my query letter and synopsis ready for submitting, I’m more nervous about it than before. I have huge faith in this book — not only do I love the characters and story, but it’s my first ownvoices (I know I mentioned some of my characters in previous books are autistic, but this is the first that outright states it and is set in the real world). I’ve also been very strict with myself not to send it out too early, which has been one of my biggest mistakes with previous books. Usually, I’m too eager to get them out there without taking the proper time over them, so they’re rejected on things easily fixable.

I’m not convinced there’s really a point to this ramble, other than to express my jitters. But I’ll end by saying going the traditional route in publishing takes a lot of time and drive. Each rejection hurts, some more than others, and have kick-started bouts of depression. But I’ve seen other authors achieve the things I want to, so I’m not giving up. And I think that’s the key to breaking into this industry: the people who do keep pushing, no matter what.

Poetry

The pleading of characters in my books

[From a book under edit]

I’m hidden under the print,

reaching, reaching

clawing for my right to show on the page

and not just in the channels of your brain.

Hints and likenesses are what I have,

yet I yearn to be presented as I am.

Clear a path for me, I’ll give the depth

you’re seeking, I promise.

 

[From a book currently being drafted]

Ah, but at least she already exists,

life laid out for her paragraph after paragraph.

What have I got after me?

The empty whiteness under the last sentence.

Hurry up, author, her story is done.

I’m the one you want to work with,

spend time with me and we’ll see where we go.

 

[From the author, weary from juggling]

That’s enough, I won’t have any arguments.

You’re both important, both of you will shine.

Her story isn’t done, there’s more of her I can show

regardless of our knowledge of where she’ll go.

And as for you, I’m doing the best I can.

I’m crafting out time and space for you to grow,

to ink away the white until you’re satisfied.

So let me carry on as I am and stop moaning.

I’ve got work to do, you know.

 

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Getting into a new WIP

It’s been difficult choosing what project to do at the moment with all the changes in place. Change is hard for me in general: I like to stick to my routines because I know what I’m doing, and if something happens that means I have to alter them even slightly, it can leave my brain completely unfocused for the rest of the day.

That’s why I decided to leave one project for a later time and try something easier. My original project was a YA speculative fiction with many threads weaved into the narrative that I’d have to keep track of, which I knew would drain my energy too much, so after moving away from it I went into full pantser mode (if you don’t know, a pantser is a writer who does little plotting before writing the first draft, so makes things up as they go along, and it’s my preferable way to write) and pulled together several ideas I had written on a sticky note.

I’m now just under 20,000 words into this new work in progress, and as it’s a middle grade book, that equates to  near the half-way mark, and I’m enjoying it. I know there’ll be lots of fixes to make to the beginning when I return to it after it’s finished, but that’s all part of the process. I’m only setting myself the goal of writing 500 words a day as I am having a hard time concentrating, as a lot of people are at the moment, but though it seems like it’ll take forever, I keep reminding myself that I’m not in a rush. I want to enjoy the process and get lost in it as much as when I’m reading a story, so a little bit at a time is plenty. Plus, when I get carried away and write more than that, it feels like a real achievement.

The main thing is that I’m enjoying all the turns it’s taking and how the characters are developing. So I’m sticking to the goal I always have when I write, and that’s to write what I want to read.

I hope telling you this gives you some comfort if you’re also getting stuck with a creative project. Many creatives are having the same difficulties, so you’re not alone. Do what you can, not how much you think you should be doing.

 

P.S the audiobook for my short story collection, When The Bard Came Visiting, is now available. Get it here.

 

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Thoughts on the past year

Hi everyone, as it’s that time of year when many people take a moment of reflection on the past year and think about the future, I thought I’d take a moment to do the same.

Last year was a mix of good and bad. On the personal side, I had a long bout of depression and autistic burnout, had frequent meltdowns and shutdowns, and suffered from intense imposter syndrome regarding my work. But I also learnt a lot about my neurology, began implementing coping strategies to reduce meltdowns and shutdowns (like using ear defenders, sunglasses and fidget toys to help with sensory overload and not doing too many tasks in one day) and celebrated a year and a half with my partner and, in November, actually moved in with him.

I also realised that I’ve achieved an awful lot with my writing, too:

  • I did my first edit of my YA sci-fi, Unsung.
  • I put together my short story collection, When The Bard Came Visiting, which comes out this February.
  • I re-edited my Half-Wizard Thordric trilogy to catch all the continuity errors that had slipped through.
  • I wrote a middle grade fantasy involving time travel.
  • I edited two poetry collections and submitted them to my publisher.
  • I did my first author visit at a school.
  • I did another edit on Unsung, and prepared a query and synopsis for submission to literary agents.
  • I put together a poetry pamphlet and a children’s poetry collection for submission to an independent press.
  • I wrote (and illustrated) a bespoke story that the client had won at a local school fair.

Writing it all down in a list like this gives it a lot of substance that I can’t ignore, because it wasn’t until I started writing this post that it fully hit me how much work I completed. When I think about how unmotivated I felt for most of the year, it’s incredible that I managed to do so much. I suppose it does make sense though, because no matter how hard writing can be, it’s the one thing I’ve always known I’ve wanted to do, and is the way in which I express myself best. I know a lot of the poetry I wrote released a lot of frustration and helped me to accept who I am, and writing fiction let me live an adventure I’d otherwise never know.

For this year, I haven’t made any strict resolutions. I simply intend to keep the same goals I always have: to keep writing, appreciate the small things and (this one is slightly newer) ask for help when I need it. I’m sure there will be times when I get distracted, overwhelmed and stubborn, but as long as it’s not too often, I know that’s all okay.

So, here’s to a new year full of self-care, appreciation for those who support us, and determination for whatever it is that we wish to achieve.

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In case the New Year brings that dastardly task of editing your novel: Kathryn’s Guide to Editing Fiction

Knowing what to do after you’ve *finally* finished the first draft of your manuscript and have mopped up all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it can be a bit of a mystery if you’re new to the game. You know editing comes into it, and you may have heard about beta readers, but what comes first, and more importantly, how do you go get started?

To help with the cacophony of questions littering your head, I’ve made a general guide to help you get going. This is very much based off my own experience, and is not an exhaustive list:

  1. After you’ve written that last word on your manuscript, put the whole thing away somewhere and leave it for a good amount of time (I personally leave it for about three months, but others leave it for longer) and get on with other things. Start a new project; finish any others lurking around; if you’re thinking about publication, research which avenue might be best for you and what that entails; basically, anything to keep your mind stimulated but doesn’t involve that first draft. This is to make sure that when you do eventually go back to it, you can view it with fresh eyes – meaning that plot holes, weak characters or lack of world building will jump out at you and therefore be easier to fix.

 

  1. Don’t focus on spelling or wording on this initial edit. Look at the big picture instead. Are there any holes in your plot? Do your characters feel flat or serve no purpose? Does the story start in the right place, or are the first few chapters unnecessary? What scenes work, and what don’t? If you’re finding it hard to tell if certain points of the story are unnecessary, try removing them and see if it affects the overall plot. If the plot still flows, then those scenes (however beautifully written they are/despite how much you personally love them) have to go. Nothing ruins a good book more that scenes that jar the pacing by adding nothing.

 

  1. Once you’ve fixed the big issues with your manuscript, you can either put it away again, or continue on to the next stage. Again, I personally leave it for a bit because I know I get far too close to my work.

 

  1. Now it’s time to really focus on your characters and world building. Your characters need to feel like real people – give goals and dreams, flaws and bad habits, and don’t hole them up into stereotypes. If they’re from very different backgrounds/circumstances to you, make sure you do your research – not only to make them realistic, but to avoid being insensitive to readers. (If you’re worried about your representation of people from different walks of life to you, you can always hire a sensitivity reader at a later stage.) When working on world building, think about the social structure of each place, use all five senses to describe things and make sure you don’t fall into the pit of info dumping. Also, in dialogues scenes, look out for ‘white room syndrome’, when no description about where or when the scene takes place is included.

 

  1. Next, we get in to the more technical aspects of writing. Tense, point of view and grammar. (If you feel your manuscript is shaping up nicely, you can start looking at spelling, over-use of words and continuity, but I would leave that until last.) It doesn’t matter what point of view you use, or what tense, as long as you keep them consistent throughout the manuscript – unless you have a very good reason not to, like an intentional stylistic change to illustrate a certain point. If you struggle with grammar, there are a lot of helpful books and forums, as well as YouTube guides. (I have a book on grammar that’s actually written for kids, but the language and examples are so clear that it’s the one I go to most.)

 

  1. The stages of editing can get a bit murky here – some writers have to repeat steps until they’re happy and end up with a good number of drafts, others breeze right through and end up with relatively few. However, whether you’ve done a lot of back and forth on your work or not, this part is important. Read your work aloud. I’ll say it again: READ YOUR WORK ALOUD. From start to finish, until you’re sick of the sound of your own voice. This is so you can clearly see problems with sentence structure, missing words, typos, continuity, repetitive description and all that jazz (as readers we’re always pleased to spot others’ mistakes, but are far less pleased as writers if someone kindly points them out in our own work).

 

  1. Finally, when you are happy with your manuscript and can’t find anything else to work on, it’s time to send your work to beta readers. These can be other writers, friends, family or simply people you know love to read. What is important to note, however, is that it’s far more helpful to send your work to readers who readily consume books in that genre than ones who have never read/rarely read within your genre, as the feedback you receive will be more relevant. When you do receive feedback, look for trends in what people are saying. If eight people say a scene isn’t working, then it’s probably wise to take another look and see if it truly does need revising. If one beta reader hates a character but the others love them/make no comment, then perhaps that’s just their personal taste. Consider all feedback, but remember that it is still your work, so you have the final decision on what to change.

 

So there you have it. Where you take your work from there is completely up to you. Whether you opt for traditional publishing, self-publishing or somewhere in-between (be absolutely sure you don’t head down the path of vanity publishing – an old but good rule on how to tell a vanity publisher from a real one is that money should always flow to the author, not away) make sure you do your research.

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Exciting news! (And some background before I get there)

When I was about seven, I came up with a simple story idea about strange creatures living in the woods. My dad took this little snippet and made it into something much more – the beginnings of a book.

Unfortunately, due to his mental health, he struggled with finding the motivation to keep going with it, and was always undecided about how old the main character should be. You see, his idea was to have the main characters based on our family, but as the years passed, my brother and I got older, so the main characters had to age too. Finally, his work on it came to a stand still, despite the fact that we all loved the chapters he’d written so far.

Skip forwards ten or so years, to when I started thinking about properly writing my first book. (I always wanted to write, I just hadn’t really had time with school and college, and I kind of had my dream stomped on a bit by an older relative who said there was no point in writing as there was no money in it.) Dad approached me and asked if I wanted to try writing his story, but in my own style. I didn’t really have my own story yet, so I thought about it, and once I’d finished college, decided that I’d do it.

My progress was slow, as I was in to many different things at the time and writing was only one of them, but after a year I had a completed first draft. And boy, was it bad. I was pleased to have finally finished, but I knew it was a very poor adaptation.

It took me a long time to realise why: it was still too much his story. I hadn’t made it my own yet, and using his characters was hard for me, because where he’d based them on us, I was too close to them.

So, being my usual stubborn self, I overhauled the whole thing. I changed the characters completely, making them very individual and unlike my own family (okay, one or two traits might have stuck, but there will always be a bit of those you know in any character), and I dived deep into their history to find out what made them tick. I also added characters, and removed others, until finally I had a cast that I could work with. A cast that I liked.

And it was hard. Hard to disregard so much of what I’d enjoyed of my dad’s story, but just wouldn’t work for me. Hard to knit the plot back together and make it strong, solid, enjoyable.

There were times when I was so stuck on a scene or frustrated with it in general that I wanted to throw the whole thing away and just give up. But I didn’t. I made it work, and at the end I had my story. Inspired by my dad’s, definitely, but truly, distinctly mine.

Over the years of visiting and revisiting, I’d worked on other books, including my Half-Wizard Thordric series, but once I’d found my writing voice and adjusted the manuscript once more, I decided to find a publisher.

So, the news I’ve been building too, and am so, so proud to say, is that now I have. The Origin Stone, as the book is now titled, is set to be published by the lovely Nuff Said Publishing in March 2019.

Out of all the books I’ve written, The Origin Stone is definitely the one that’s made me work hardest. It’s so wonderful to announce that it finally has a home!

Kat out.