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

Corvids by the Sea front – #52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 27

Daisy-like blooms hug the cliffside,

neighbouring thicker bushes and brambles.

Roaring nearby, the ocean leaps

onto the wall, spittle flecks

dousing passers-by,

including ink-cloaked crows and rooks

scanning the area for nibbles.

Affronted by the water’s threatening stance,

these birds take wing,

flapping energetically, gaining hight,

                                                                                          soaring.

Gliding like delicate ice-skaters.

(Except their ‘lake’

is the gusting open,

limitless save for the air’s thinness

and cool touch

if one ventures too high.)

To save energy, they clutch

at ridges on the rock face

with their capable feet,

used to perching

in rough, uneven places.

There they wait in silent council

until the ocean quietens

and the footfall of tourists returns,

dropping stray chips and ice-cream cones

as markers of their passage.

Eagerly, the corvids dive,

snatching what they can

before the gulls gobble up the rest.

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.)

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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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Isle of Wight Story Festival 2021 17th – 20th Feb

Hi everyone, just a short post to say I’m part of this year’s Isle of Wight Story Festival. I’ll be giving a reading and mini workshop based on my book Nekromancer’s Cage, and reading some of my #52weeksofnaturepoetry poems.

The festival is completely online this year, as most other literary festivals have been, which means it can be enjoyed by everyone. Along with myself, there’s plenty of other authors taking part plus oodles of fun stuff going on including shadow puppetry, story telling, arts and crafts, nature themed workshops and much more.

If you’ve been home schooling, tuning in to the festival would be a great way to keep kids excited about learning during half term!

All events can be found on the festival’s Youtube channel here, and below is the complete programme:

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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?

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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It’s World Book Day! Here are a few of my favourite books and series of all time!

These aren’t in any particular order, but I will say that Howl’s Moving Castle is probably my favourite book. It’s utterly marvelous. (Plus my partner and I have a long standing joke that I’m actually Sophie Hatter.) I’ve treasured my copy for many years, and will treasure it for many more. The rest of the books in this list are ones that have sucked me in so completely that I had no idea what was going on in the real world at the time, and I often had dreams about them too.

Howl’s Moving Castle (there are actually two sequels, written many years after it came out: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways):

HMC

“How about making a bargain with me?” said the demon. “I’ll break your spell if you agree to break this contract I’m under.”

In the land of Ingary, where seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, Sophie Hatter attracts the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste, who puts a curse on her. Determined to make the best of things, Sophie travels to the one place where she might get help – the moving castle which hovers on the nearby hills.

But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the hearts of young girls…

 

The Crisanta Knight series:

Crisanta

The next generation – the children of Snow White, Cinderella, and others – have lives and stories of their own. And not just long ago and far away but (sort of) here and now! Enjoy!

I was going to be a great protagonist. At least that’s what my mom, Cinderella, kept telling me. I, however, had my doubts. Unlike most main characters at Lady Agnue’s School for Princesses & Other Female Protagonists, I was opinionated, bold, and headstrong. Moreover, for a princess, I had a lot of issues. I’m talking vicious nightmares about people I’ve never met, a total stalker prince, and a Fairy Godmother for an enemy.

But I digress. Because here’s the thing about living in an enchanted realm of fairytale characters, crazy junk you never planned on happens all the time. One minute you could be practicing fainting exercises in Damsels in Distress class, sword fighting in a field, or flying on a Pegasus, and the next, BAM! Your book has begun and you’re saddled with a prophecy that changes everything.

I still don’t know if I will be a great protagonist one day. But I know one thing about my fate, for certain. Despite what The Author and the antagonists have in store for me, whatever it costs. . .I’ll be the one taking charge of my own story…

 

The Abhorsen/Old Kingdom series:

Sabriel

Sent to a boarding school in Ancelstierre as a young child, Sabriel has had little experience with the random power of Free Magic or the Dead who refuse to stay dead in the Old Kingdom. But during her final semester, her father, the Abhorsen, goes missing, and Sabriel knows she must enter the Old Kingdom to find him. She soon finds companions in Mogget, a cat whose aloof manner barely conceals its malevolent spirit, and Touchstone, a young Charter Mage long imprisoned by magic, now free in body but still trapped by painful memories. As the three travel deep into the Old Kingdom, threats mount on all sides. And every step brings them closer to a battle that will pit them against the true forces of life and death — and bring Sabriel face-to-face with her own hidden destiny.

With Sabriel, the first installment in the Abhorsen trilogy, Garth Nix exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rising star, in a novel that takes readers to a world where the line between the living and the dead isn’t always clear — and sometimes disappears altogether.

 

Lockwood & Co. series:

Lockwood

When the dead come back to haunt the living, Lockwood & Co. step in . . .

For more than fifty years, the country has been affected by a horrifying epidemic of ghosts. A number of Psychic Investigations Agencies have sprung up to destroy the dangerous apparitions.

Lucy Carlyle, a talented young agent, arrives in London hoping for a notable career. Instead she finds herself joining the smallest most ramshackle agency in the city, run by the charismatic Anthony Lockwood. When one of their cases goes horribly wrong, Lockwood & Co. have one last chance of redemption. Unfortunately this involves spending the night in one of the most haunted houses in England, and trying to escape alive.

 

The Legendeer trilogy:

ShadowMinotaur

“Real life” or the death-defying adventures of the Greek myths, with their heroes and monsters, daring deeds, and narrow escapes–which would you choose? For Phoenix it’s easy. He hates his new home and the new school where he is bullied. He’s embarrassed by his computer geek dad. But when he logs on to The Legendeer, the game his dad is working on, he can be a hero. He is Theseus fighting the terrifying Minotaur, or Perseus battling with snake-haired Medusa. It feels as though he’s really there. The Legendeer is more than just a game. Play it if you dare.

 

The Karmidee trilogy:

otto

Otto is our endearingly bewildered young hero whose world suddenly becomes very odd. Going with his father, Albert, to the FireBox Launderette, Albert is called to help with ‘failing machinery’ and is seen by Otto calming a purple dragon in the back room. When his baby sisters start to fly, his grandmother becomes a unicorn, and street waifs fly along the street at night on magic carpets pursued by the new Normal Police force, life becomes odder and scarier. Otto learns – often riotously – that his city and his family are very special indeed. Here the last remaining magical people – the Karmidee – are living as an underclass of pedlars and tinkers, known as the ‘magicos’. But legend tells of a King, birthmarked with a butterfly, who will save the Karmidee from extinction. Particularly from the new Minister for Modernisation, Councillor Eifina Crink. With her Impossible List and Normal Police, she is determined to stamp out the Karmidee spirit. As repression intensifies, the Karmidee and their powers go underground, but their magic bursts out in the most unexpected places as a bid for freedom, with surprising, hilarious and extraordinary results.

 

The Wind on Fire trilogy:

wind singer

In the city of Aramanth, the mantra is, “Better today than yesterday. Better tomorrow than today.” Harder work means the citizens of Aramanth can keep moving forward to improved life stations–from Gray tenements and Orange apartments, upwards to glorious mansions of White. Only some families, like the Haths, believe more in ideas and dreams than in endless toil and ratings. When Kestrel Hath decides she is through with the Aramanth work ethic, she is joined in her small rebellion by her twin brother Bowman and their friend Mumpo. Together, they set the orderly city on its ear by escaping Aramanth’s walls for an adventure that takes them from city sewers to desert sandstorms. Guided by an archaic map, they know that if they can find the voice of the Wind Singer, an ancient and mysterious instrument that stands in the center of Aramanth, they can save their people from their dreamless existence. But the voice is guarded by the dreaded Morah and its legion of perfect killing machines, the Zars. Are three ragtag kids any match for an army of darkness?

 

The Belgariad series:

belgariad
Long ago, so the Storyteller claimed, the evil God Torak sought dominion and drove men and Gods to war. But Belgarath the Sorcerer led men to reclaim the Orb that protected men of the West. So long as it lay at Riva, the prophecy went, men would be safe.

But that was only a story, and Garion did not believe in magic dooms, even though the dark man without a shadow had haunted him for years. Brought up on a quiet farm by his Aunt Pol, how could he know that the Apostate planned to wake dread Torak, or that he would be led on a quest of unparalleled magic and danger by those he loved – but did not know? For a while his dreams of innocence were safe, untroubled by knowledge of his strange heritage. For a little while…

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The Origin Stone…Cover Reveal!

Hi everyone, I’ve had another update from my publisher, Next Chapter, about the re-release of The Origin Stone (for those who don’t know, the publisher who had it previously closed down just after Christmas, and as Next Chapter have published all my other books, they were pleased to give it a new home).

I don’t have a release date yet, but they did send me the new cover design – and it took my breath away. It’s simply an amazing piece of design work, and the image of Emily is exactly how I’ve always pictured her. I also love how she’s positioned at the entrance of a tunnel; I really feel it signifies the journey she has yet to come, and oozes atmosphere.

Honestly, I was almost in tears when I saw it, I was so impressed and overwhelmed. I’m hoping such a wonderful cover will finally give it the attention I (and my publisher) feel it deserves:

image (57)

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Keeping up hope

Trying to find a literary agent can be a long process for many authors, and I’m no exception. I’ve been querying agents with different manuscripts for about four years now, and though I’ve eventually found homes for those books with a small publisher, it still gets me down that none of them fit with the lists of the agents I queried.

Rejection after rejection can make authors numb to it after a while, and the hope that each query or submission sent out is a potential offer of representation dwindles until it starts becoming something done out of habit rather than real intent.

I start out querying a project with all the enthusiasm in the world, but six months later when the answer has still been no, self-doubt creeps in. My usual method to combat this oppressive feeling is to simply get on with the next book, but this year something else happened that re-ignited my hope.

A writer I know, who’s also been querying for a long time, finally found representation with an agent. (And they’re raving about how good her book is on Twitter, which is awesome to see.)

I was so happy for her that it was almost as if it’d happened to me, and the reason why I think I felt that way is because I knew how hard she’d worked to get there, and all the rejections she’d faced. It was like someone had plastered a sign on the wall in front of me, saying ‘See, it is possible!’.

So now when I feel that imposter syndrome trying to take over, all I need to do is think of that, and I know I’ll pull through.

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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.