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.

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My ADHD diagnosis

In my last update I mentioned I was waiting for my adhd assessment. Well, as the title of this post suggests, I got the diagnosis – and I’m so relieved that I did.

However, the assessment wasn’t easy, there were many tough and deeply personal questions asked, and though I was prepared to answer things about my childhood and school life, the ones that hit hard were actually nothing to do with those topics. I mean, I did cry when talking about my primary school teacher bullying me; for some reason, whenever I explain that to a doctor, the tears always appear. But I expected that, so after the influx of emotion passed, it was fine.

What got me was attempting to explain how, if I had ADHD and thus my concentration was so bad, did I manage to write books. Not only this, but the doctor (a psychiatrist specialising in neurological conditions) went on to ask how successful a writer I was, including how many books I’d sold. And considering I’ve had high imposter syndrome recently and have been questioning whether writing to be published is something I should even be pursuing still, it cut me deep.

Other questions that hurt were why I still had my birds when their sounds were distracting, why I don’t want kids, and how I knew I had something close to an eating disorder when I was younger (I didn’t have any diagnosis or records of one, but gosh did I have the mindset and sadly could slip back into it easily if I’m not careful). So, ouch, on all fronts, to the point where I completely broke down after the assessment was over.

But – as I’d also provided lots and lots of notes beforehand explaining my brain – I got my diagnosis then and there at the end of the session. Quickly, abruptly (as to my mind, things really hadn’t been going well. I’d been rambling and getting flustered, so it felt like my responses weren’t particularly coherent), and without much extra explanation. I was asked if I had any questions, but my brain was fried at that point, so any I had promptly left.

Fortunately, after emailing the head ADHD nurse, who I’d been in contact with during preliminary screening, I had a good conversation the next day with full permission to explain my feelings and rant as much as I needed to to get everything out. After that, she went through reasons why certain questions were asked, and went on to detail all next steps and options open to me.

Though I’ve been hesitant to try medication before, on the grounds that if I’m to have it, I want to make sure it’s the correct type for my neurodivergent brain and won’t simply cover up the symptoms of an underlying condition (untreated ADHD can often cause anxiety and depression, both of which I have), I chose to be put forward for ADHD medication. After a few tests at my GP surgery, which included blood pressure, pulse, height, weight, and an ECG, I received my first prescription of methylphenidate, which is a slow-release stimulant.

Now, medication isn’t for everyone, and there are lots of treatment options for the parts of ADHD that interfere with daily life. But, for me, I’m really pleased I made the choice I did. Within an hour of taking the first dose, a subtle, yet tangible change occurred to my thoughts. Usually, my brain runs off at top speed on anything and everything, flitting from topic to topic. But, though I still had the thoughts – meaning, I was still very much myself – I could choose to follow only the ones that were relevant to what I was doing at the time, and go back to the others later. When I explained this to my partner (who we also suspect is ADHD), he came up with a great metaphor: instead of everything being dumped in a box that I have to sift through to find something, I’d been given shelves where I could see everything individually and just select what I needed.

As of writing, I’m on day six of being medicated, which admittedly, isn’t very long, but it does appear that my ability to maintain focus on writing has definitely increased (the very fact that I’m writing this, after not posting an update for so long due to lack of energy and motivation, is good evidence of this). And the thing that’s most surprising is the realisation that the fatigue I felt from doing any kind of task was caused mostly by my chaotic thoughts, and now they have (slightly) more order, that fatigue is nowhere near as bad. I can feel it, but I’m not completely crashing anymore.

Sadly, my laptop battery is now fading, so I’ll have to wrap this up. Getting confirmation of my full neurodiversity (I’m autistic too, and yes, you can very much have both conditions), has allowed me to understand and accept how different, yet cool, my brain is. Even though I struggle with things on a daily basis because of it, I can see my creativity and ability to notice things few others do all stem from it and make my world brighter.

This process has taken, well, a lot of processing, but I’m getting there. And taking medication, despite all the controversy surrounding it, is no different to when I wear my ear defenders or sunglasses to help lesson sensory overload when I’m outside. It’s an aid to help me, and it’s not a bad thing. (I will point out, though, that I’m taking my medication exactly as prescribed by my doctor and I’ll be having strict, regular reviews with them to make sure it’s still doing what it should and nothing else.)

Lastly, for those interested or considering pursuing diagnosis, some key details. I’m in the UK and went through the NHS, so the process may differ considerably in other countries, but here’s the route I took:

In mid 2019, I spoke to a general GP at my local doctor’s surgery, explaining that I wanted to be referred to the ADHD service for diagnosis. I had a few notes with me on traits I resonated with so they could easily see my reasoning.

After that, I had a very long wait (possibly made worse by the pandemic), but eventually got sent some screening questionnaires to complete and send back. After that was done, a phone call was arranged with the ADHD nurse for an hour long further screening conversation, in which I had to answer a lot of personal questions about school, family, work, social life etc.

Determining that I was eligible for a diagnostic assessment, I was then given a virtual appointment and completed the assessment I’ve spoken in detail about above, and as mentioned, after diagnosis, I was offered options for treatment, which included various therapies and medication. I received very detailed leaflets on the option I chose, so I could thoroughly research before finalising my decision.

So, there we go. I hope this essay of a post has been interesting and/or helpful. Thank you for reading!

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Querying, rewriting and ADHD

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything other than my fundraising poems, which, though I’d appreciate you all having a read of them and sharing, aren’t the sole purpose of this blog. I like sharing my writing journey and the struggles I have, in the hope that others currently struggling with writing (or anything, really) don’t feel so alone.

And wow, have I been struggling.

Last year, I did quite a few edits of older projects, drafted a new book — something I try to do every year — and starting querying literary agents for the…seventh time, I think?

Meaning that come New Year, I was quite worn out. Add to that a broken laptop, and work became rather hard, to put it mildly. (I’m currently still using my partner’s laptop, which I’ve grown used to and he’s more than happy to let me use for as long as I want, so I got over that hurdle pretty quickly). My focus, however, has been particularly bad.

I wanted to rewrite a project that, from feedback I got from agents, was about 15,000 words too short for the genre. As I never know how to relax and get bored between projects, I actually tried to start the rewrite just before Christmas, but then my laptop failed and it got put on hold until I could grab the files from the hard drive. (I’m usually good at backing up my stuff, but as I’d only started the rewrite about three days beforehand, I hadn’t gotten round to it. Naturally, the one time I delayed, ‘disaster’ struck.) When I did manage to get back to it again, despite engaging with the story and characters, it took hours to go over four double spaced pages. I tried repeatedly to go faster, to try and be more productive with my time, but it simply wasn’t working. By the time I reached the half-way point in the book, working on it felt comparable to digging a trench with a teaspoon, and I’m incredibly impatient with certain things.

Now, here I’m going to jump in with the ADHD part, as it’s likely relevant. I’ve been on the waiting list for assessment since mid 2019. I knew it’d be a long wait, just like for my ASD one, and when the pandemic happened, I resigned myself to an extra long wait. Several times I considered getting it done privately, but it does cost a lot, and as I get imposter syndrome, one week I’d be convinced I needed a diagnosis, the next I’d be unsure — I’ve heard this is common regarding ADHD in adults, particularly as it can present quite differently depending not just on age, but gender too. That aside, I was then super surprised when I got a phone call last month saying in-person assessments where I live were no longer supported due to costs, so the people in charge had decided to go with online assessments and mine wouldn’t be too far off. After another phone call and some screening questionnaires to make absolutely sure I’m eligible, I was finally given an assessment date. It’s early next month, and I am nervous as hell. But I already sent them extra notes, so hopefully it’ll go smoothly, whether the conclusion is ADHD or something else.

Anyway, back to writing talk. I’ve always struggled with focusing on and maintaining projects, but I’m stubborn and refuse to quit. So I ended up giving myself a tight deadline and marathoning the work until it was done. It worked, but as always when I do that, I ended up exhausted as it’s really not good for me. That’s the main reason I haven’t posted much lately. All my energy has gone to rewriting, recovering, or writing poetry. (I am happy with the way the rewrite tuned out though!)

As for querying, this round is going better than past attempts in that I’ve actually had a couple of full and partial manuscript requests, but not as many as I’d hoped. Which is disheartening and has led to many hours of ‘what if I never get an agent?’ thoughts. Of course, there are many options, one of which I’ve already pursued for my previous books — finding indie publishers. But the rejections piling up still hurt.

On a side note, though, my publisher recently informed me that two of my contracted poetry books are moving to the editing stage, so that’s something to look forward to (and also be anxious about. You may be thinking I’m anxious about a lot of things, and you’d be right. That’s just my brain.)

So, to bring this ramble to a close: if, like me, you’re a creative struggling with current projects, I see you and I understand. My family keep saying productivity shouldn’t be linked to self-worth, and while I get the idea of that sentiment, I haven’t yet found a way to make it stick. Even writing this post, which I could have left until I felt better and had more energy, is part of that. I didn’t feel like I’d done enough today, so words had to be written. But maybe someday, I’ll have a healthier approach to self-worth.

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My work caught up to me (as always).

It’s been a while since I posted something other than one of my #52weeksofnaturepoetry poems, so I thought I’d rectify that with a ramble about what’s been happening lately.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’ve been busy with various writing projects this year – drafting, revising, going through major edits, most of which came back to back. In early November, I finally managed to finish the ‘final’ revision for the book I wrote last year in order to get it ready for querying (which I’m currently doing).

Shortly after completion, the weight of all the energy I’d used up doing everything hit me hard: my sleep, which has never be good, got worse, and I couldn’t handle much physically or mentally. I probably should have seen it coming, because it’s happened before, but even if I had, I’m not sure what I could have done about it. I’m terrible at taking breaks and resting. I’m not even sure if I know how to rest – no matter how hard I try, my brain won’t stop chiming in with all the projects I’ve got lined up, and if I don’t have any, it ‘helpfully’ comes up with some.

The thing is, the longer I put off resting, the worse my energy levels will be affected when I do get to it. So I had to force myself to slow down, because my body was telling me I had to. So I spent a while playing games, which I rarely do otherwise despite how much I enjoy them, went out for more walks, cared for and added (substantially!) to my houseplant collection, and only worked on my fundraising project.

This did work for a while, but then I got a few emails about being part of a story festival, which meant I had another project to prepare for. And it seems that, if I have any sort of deadline, no matter if it’s ages away, my brain will not let me settle until whatever it is is done.

I ended up doing it all as fast as I could so I no longer had to think about it, and I felt so much better afterwards that I even managed to do some small festive crafty things (I like the idea of making things, but generally I’m too impatient and get bored halfway through, which then means I end up resenting it while being too stubborn to give up. Conundrums, conundrums.)

But then I got the itch to rework an older book, and though in some ways, I probably would benefit from taking a few more weeks to recover, when I started taking a look at the story and began tweaking, I felt like I was achieving something again. It’s an odd headspace to be in – I’m tired as I’m still not sleeping well, and I can’t really handle more than one activity a day (I disregard general cleaning, as that’s part of my morning routine, and I get so badly thrown off if I don’t do it that it’s just not worth skipping it. Also, I have birds, and their care comes well before mine). Yet if I don’t have some sort of work on the go, apparently I feel unfulfilled.

I do wonder if other creatives, especially those who are neurodivergent, have the same problem?

#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 4 – Layers

On the surface, she looked healthy.

But a gentle prod revealed the bruises underneath.

It was time to peel back the layers,

time to aerate the spiralling thoughts within.

Scarf wrapped tight and fingers gloved,

she trekked out into the crisp, late autumn air

leaving breath-ghouls behind her.

Down to the river, taking the quieter fork:

stray buddleias, some woody giants, others only pups,

lined the roadside. Escapees from fenced houses nestled by the bank.

Ivies stretched out to take her hands, while

nettles lifted their serrated leaves

to reveal the delicate white blooms hugging their stems.

Robin, that friendly chap, popped up

once the path diverted to the trees.

He tolerated her pleasantries, then both

went upon their way.

The air was fresh in her lungs now,

its sweetness already working the rot away.

Her strides grew more confident

as the song overhead bloomed;

blue tits and blackbirds adorning bare branches in place of leaves.

Closer to the river, coots eyed her, as did moorhens –

the ducks would have too, had they been awake.

Attempting to walk the same path as before,

she found the tide had all but swallowed it.

Try a new adventure, the water lapped, don’t look back.

About turning, chance caught her:

a snow-white egret, ankle deep in a puddle,

pausing for fan photos

before taking to branch, displaying its golden feet.

Delicate green erupted from the seeds of wild

within her heart,

evoking a rare feeling. Calm.

Her thoughts had settled.

Yes, that was definitely it. Calm.

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.

Poetry

The Monster Inside

The monster inside is restless.

It’s been kicking around all day,

talking to itself and grumbling, never wanting to settle,

never wanting to stay calm or focused,

refusing point blank to relax in any way.

 

The monster inside is doing handstands.

Climbing the walls, the door, the frame!

One minute it wants to scream and shout,

the next give up and lie on the floor, staring at the ceiling.

Oh, how I wish it would end this game!

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The IW Story Festival and my anxiety

On Friday, I had the pleasure of giving a workshop on writing poetry about dragons at the Isle of Wight Story Festival.

However, as I have quite severe social anxiety and get easy overloaded by sensory stimuli – some of the more negative things about being autistic, I was dreading being at the festival and talking to people while I waited for my turn (I went a few hours early, as my partner’s brother was giving a talk on butterflies, which I’m really glad I attended as it was utterly brilliant, but also meant that I had two hours spare until my own workshop).

I ended up hiding in the green room, with other authors and illustrators in there with me, and though they were lovely to meet and listen to, I was so unsettled and not sure what to do that I didn’t feel comfortable enough to say much or eat my lunch until they all left. I also had to wear my ear defenders as the kids attending the festival were shouting excitedly and running around – not a bad thing, as it meant they were enjoying themselves, which is what the festival was all about, but the sound was a little too much for me to handle.

Still, I had a decent amount of kids attend my workshop and they all wrote some brilliant poetry. I wasn’t sure if they were enjoying it much, as it was a quieter workshop than some of the earlier ones, and was very much based on their own creativity, but when we finished, most of them came up to me and said they did. The parents did too, which was nice, and I was even asked to have my photo taken. I also did a giveaway of some of my books, so I was able to sign those, along with some of the bookmarks I had on hand.

Part of the workshop was making a group poem, where I asked the kids to write a single line of poetry, which I then wrote down and, while they were busy coming up with their own individual poems, I used those lines to craft a complete poem. We also voted on a title for it, too. So below is a photo of the completed group poem, made entirely of parts from the lines they gave me. (Apologies for my handwriting, it’s always terrible.)20200223_111600

I’m not sure if I’ll take part in the festival again, as being there has completely drained me (I expect for the next week, as it usually takes a while to recover from events like this), and it weighed so heavily on my mind during the few weeks before it that I couldn’t focus on any other work. But listening to the poems the kids wrote was a really wonderful moment, so I do feel greatly privileged to have had that opportunity.

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My first author visit at a school

This may be a brief post as I’m so worn out I can barely stay awake, as my energy was taken up entirely by the day – and by the absurd levels of anxiety I’ve had for the past few weeks leading up to today – but it was a great experience and so I wanted to share a bit about it.

So, in partnership with the Isle of Wight Literary Festival Story Festival, which will take place in February 2020, I was invited to go into two schools and visit years 4-6. Lots of other children’s authors were invited to do the same, both local and from the mainland, and everyone I spoke to about it was very excited.

I was too, but as my anxiety runs riot with anything new that’s going on, and knowing my energy often gets spent very quickly when around people, I was terrified. To help ease some of that terror, I ended up scripting out what I wanted to do (even my introduction of who I am) and rehearsing it in my living room a few times until I was fairly confident that I wouldn’t forget any of the major points I wanted to make. I also made sure I had a copy of said script with me in case I lost my train of thought or my words decided to cease up.

I was very pleased with myself when neither of those actually happened, and I didn’t have to refer to my script once. And though I was nervous at the start of every class (I met with a total of five classes), as I got into what I was saying and my reading, my confidence came back. I also taught a mini workshop on where to get story ideas and how to progress them, and I was blown away by the level of creativity the students had, along with their enthusiasm.

I had a lot of fun, and the day really enforced the reason for why I write –  to share my stories and inspire people as other authors have inspired me.

Now, I may not be able to leave the house for a few days while I recover, but I have to say that all that anxiety and uncertainty was worth it, and I hope I get the chance to do it again next year.

Poetry

It’s not always winter

I take the knife and carve away a slither.

The exposed skin reddens at the touch of cold air

and regrows its protective casing.

I try again, carving away another slice,

yet still the ice seeps in and forces retreat.

Moons change and the casing grows thin,

I cannot depend on it for support much longer.

The crushing air outside is still strong…but wait!

Is that a warm spot approaching in the distance?

I can last just a little longer. A fraction more.

I reach out

and it takes me with it.

The memory of warmth becomes real,

I shed my casing without worry.

Poetry

A likely story

Ursula stole my voice, though

I made no contract and wasn’t singing.

She latched onto my legs with her tentacles,

tripped me into the deep

where I drowned

despite breathing.

The last bubble of air popped into a scream

that people mistook for a siren’s call

and left its echo to die in my chest.