#52weeksofnaturepoetry, Poetry

#52weeksofnaturepoetry Week 23 – Old Timers

In return for appreciation of its rays, the sun

bestows cloaks on everything it touches.  Swishy

cuts of darkness, lengthening or shortening

depending on the gift giver’s fancy.

But what of those it rarely touches, beings

which get only the sparsest sprinklings of gold, or

are shunned by it altogether, existing within

those cloaked spaces?

Are they ever considered by anyone?

Patches of green everywhere,

ranging from

vast and feathered ferns

to mosses and liverworts

with minute leaves and ruffles,

often wet to the touch and covered in curious

craters and mini umbrellas

rising like antennae.

All of them survivors

making the most

of their surroundings;

reproducing via spores,

not seeds or pups.

They’ve endured for eons, needing to evolve little

compared to many species.

So, exactly how much thought do we give these primitive old timers?

Barely any

unless

they’re messing with the neatness

of our preciously manicured gardens.

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, ‘traditional’ 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!

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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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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.

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I’m going to be doing some fundraising! #52weeksofnaturepoetry

Hearing about the effects of climate change and deforestation has long played on my mind — I’m at my most comfortable when I’m outside in nature, away from cars and sirens, bright lights, crowds, and the myriad of other things that often overload me — and the idea that everything I care for so deeply will be gone one day if we don’t stop wounding our planet is utterly terrifying.

Like many people, I wanted to do something to protect the wildlife around me. It means too much to me to simply give in and let things happen. But as I struggle when I’m around other people, and my mental health (I’m talking about you, anxiety) is not up to allowing me to physically volunteer somewhere or write long, detailed letters to organisations and MPs to encourage them to do better, I wasn’t sure what I could do.

Fundraising was in the back of my mind, but as I tried it some years ago and didn’t really get the response I wanted (and some even insinuated that I was wasting my time — talk about a hope squasher), I was scared that if I tried again, the same thing would happen. However, having recently listened to interviews with Diary of a Young Naturalist author, Dara McAnulty, along with other authors writing about their own love of nature and using it as a way to encourage and educate others, I thought perhaps I could do the same with my own writing.

Though narrative non-fiction is difficult for me, I adore writing poetry and often use it to explore what I’m feeling. So, at first, I simply considered writing a poetry collection and having all the proceeds go to my charity of choice (RSPB – they’re UK based like me and do some great work), but then I thought of a better idea. Or rather, I improved upon that one — what if, for a whole year (or 52 weeks), I wrote a poem about some of my favourite wildlife, and with each one, encouraged readers to donate to the RSPB and/or share and reblog? And, at the end of the 52 weeks, I could still publish all the poems together in a collection and have all the proceeds go to the RSPB, just like I originally planned.

The sharing and reblogging part is particularly important, as I know lots of people wish they could donate to things but can’t, and that way they can still help bring awareness to the wonders of the UK’s wildlife and thus encourage more care and protection for it.

So, after contacting the RSPB’s fundraising department and getting the go-ahead, I’ll be starting my #52weeksofnaturepoetry next month, and as the name suggests, it will run until this time next year. (You may already have noticed the new menu option at the top of this blog, all poems under the hashtag will appear there for easier reading.)

I’m still rather worried that this will turn out like my last fundraising attempt, but if I manage to encourage just one person’s love for nature, then I’ll be happy.

(Oh, and for anyone wondering, I’ll also be writing my usual, unrelated posts alongside this project.)

Also, if you’re curious about the RSPB, their website is here.

And if you want to take a gander at the Just Giving page I’ve recently set up in order to do this, it’s here.

Poetry

Emerging from a fortnight-long hyperfocus on manuscript revisions.

My eye sockets are deeper than they were before,

I’m peering out from the backs of tunnels that are so long

it’s a wonder I can see at all.

The screen and its grey words (the font colour may state black,

but it’s never as black as the type on a printed page)

have attempted to stamp themselves into my pupils

for hours every day over the past two weeks.

I’ve seen them in my sleep, within a blink

and those frequent moments staring into space.

Think the code in the Matrix films, but horizontal –

only after intense study does it form a picture.

But I think I went beyond that

and started picking up the letters and rearranging their parts

while at the same time

they were rearranging me.

And now I’m awake again

attempting to shift back to my usual self.

It’ll probably take me a week to find all the misplaced parts.

Perhaps I put them in the teapot; seems as good a place as any to start.

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Updates!

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I spoke about any writerly stuff, so I thought I’d share a few things I’ve been working on.

I’ve just finished going through the edits I received from my publisher for my upper middle grade/YA fantasy, Nekromancer’s Cage (which is coming out in June!). I had to rework the first chapter and fill in a few little details here and there, as well as approve the changes made during proofreading.

As editing goes, it was quite a light one, but I had a tight turn around time, so it still took a lot of energy and concentration to get done. And, of course, the moment I sent it off once I’d finished, I discovered a typo in the first paragraph. I quickly addressed it and sent the fixed version off straight away, so in the end it all turned out fine!

I’ve also started work on a new middle grade novel featuring witches, trapped spirits and a stroll into death, though as I’m a very light outliner, many of the details are still hazy. But for me, that makes the writing process much more fun, and I’m looking forward to continuing with it.

Last month, I set myself the task of illustrating one of the picture book stories that have been lounging idly on my desktop for far too long. It was definitely a challenge, as I haven’t spent any significant time drawing since I left school, and as lockdown was put in place mid-way through, I was short on a few tools that I probably should have used. The results aren’t spectacular, but I’m still pleased with myself for sticking to a project like that — normally, if there’s little writing involved in a project, I lose my drive for it after a week or so and it gets put on hold indefinitely. Not this time, though! I’m not sure what I want to do with it now, so I’ve put it away for a while so I can come back to it later with fresh eyes.

It was definitely a learning curve, as I quickly realised that my text didn’t leave as much room for the illustrations as I’d thought, and so the story had to be reworked and worded more succinctly. Even if nothing comes of this particular story, at least I have that lesson to take away from it.

That’s all from me for now. I’ve decided that I’m not going to talk much about lockdown unless it’s directly relevant to my work, as I’d like this blog to be an escape from all of that (even if I do post infrequently). I also believe that there are people far better at discussing things like that than me, so I’ll leave it to them.

Happy reading/writing/querying!

P.S. I forgot to mention, a few weeks ago my publisher released the Italian edition of my middle grade portal fantasy, The Door Between Worlds. It’s the first time one of my books has been translated, which is exciting.

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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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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.

Short Stories, Uncategorized

Local Halloween Short Story Competition Entry – Tumbleweed

During October, my local library ran a short story competition on the theme of Halloween. Having had the beginnings of a ghost story on my laptop for over a year, I decided to work on it some more and enter it into the competition. It was just a bit of fun while I’m in the throws of editing, and having never won a writing competition before (I’ve always been runner-up), I never thought I’d win. So I was very surprised when I actually did.

I have very mixed feelings about winning, as I know most people who enter only write as a hobby, and because I’m technically an author, I had the sudden thought that entering was unfair to everyone else, as really, writing is something I’m supposed to be good at. Yet I am also delighted, as I don’t usually write ghost stories or much aimed at adults, so winning did give my imposter syndrome a much-needed kick.

I also wish there were more people in attendance when the winners were announced on Halloween night, as the library had obviously gone through a lot of trouble to make it a fun event – all the staff were dressed up and they read out all the winning and running up entries for everyone to listen to, before giving out prizes (my own was a lovely notebook and quill set). My favourite story was actually the winner of the children’s category, which featured creepy porcelain dolls.

Anyway, I thought I’d share my entry here for anyone interested. It’s rather silly, being inspired partly by The Frighteners and Stardust, but I had fun with it:

Tumbleweed

‘I think this one might have a chance.’

‘Oh?’ Alphonse said, glancing at his brother. ‘Looks like an idiot to me. No different from the others.’ He shifted his buttocks into a more comfortable groove on top of the bookshelf, staring down at the rest of the detective’s office.

The detective himself was busy reading through pages of notes about the case, oblivious to Alphonse and Wesley watching his every move. They were hardly there by choice, though. For some reason, they couldn’t leave the block where they’d died, so it was either observe the investigation or float around aimlessly in the hope that the gateway would open again. Which they knew it wouldn’t, until their murderer was found, and they had even less of an idea of who it was than the police did. Which was saying something.

So far, all the detectives put on the case had gone crazy after only a few days, regardless of how determined or level-headed they’d appeared to be. Word around the department was that the case was cursed.

Still, this detective had taken the case without so much as a tremble.

‘I think this guy’s strange in the head. He doesn’t look like a detective – if it wasn’t for the badge on his desk, I’d have thought he was nothing but a nosy caretaker. He’s even wearing overalls,’ Alphonse complained.

A knock sounded at the door, startling the man so much his flailing hand caught a cup of half-drunk coffee and sent it cascading across the desk, soaking every sheet of paper it could.

The sergeant who appeared a second later was hit with a barrage of profanities and scarpered before she’d uttered a word.

‘You know, brother, I’m not sure I even know the meaning of some of those,’ Wesley said, scratching his translucent chin with an equally translucent hand.

‘Well, you were always naïve. I doubt having your head chopped off improved things much,’ Alphonse jibed.

‘I was trying to save you. It was the right thing to do.’

‘The stupid thing, more like. I was already dying when you got there. You had every available chance to get away. But no, you decided to stay and play hero. Now look at you.’

‘At least I died wearing trousers,’ Wesley pointed out.

Alphonse glanced self-consciously at the strawberry-print boxer shorts he was sporting. ‘Had I have known some maniac would plant an axe in my spine while I was in bed, I would have dressed for the occasion,’ he countered. ‘And as I recall, you were done in from behind without even a glimpse of our attacker. No use at all!’

‘Shh!’ Wesley said as the detective stopped mopping up the mess on his desk and turned to stare right at them.

‘Relax, you know Bloods can’t see us.’

‘What about psychics?’

‘What about psychics? They’re notorious for making up nonsense. Praying on the bereaved and tricking them into emptying their pockets. There’s not an ounce of supernatural ability among them.’

‘Are you sure?’ Wesley pressed. ‘This guy is certainly acting odd for someone who can’t see us.’

The detective was now moving towards them, his expression curious but reserved. Standing next to the bookshelf, level with their legs, he jumped up and plunged his arm straight through Wesley’s stomach.

‘Ha, so that’s where you were hiding all this time!’ he declared, holding a thick file triumphantly in his hand. He returned to his desk to flick through it.

Shaken, Wesley vomited ectoplasm into the air. Alphonse wafted bits of it away in disgust. ‘Can’t you control yourself?’ he snapped.

Wesley jerked as if he was about to vomit again, but clapped his hand to his mouth just in time. There was a pause in which he made a thick swallowing sound while tears grew in the corners of his eyes, then replied, ‘I’m sorry, but he just violated me! It felt—’ another judder ran through him, and Alphonse floated away through the wall before more ectoplasm could assault him.

Wesley slumped over. Losing ectoplasm was a tiring experience. ‘Why does it always happen to me?’ he murmured, putting his head in his hands.

From the desk came a thump as the detective suddenly collapsed onto it, followed by a whitish haze leaving his body and vanishing.

‘Well, that was the quickest ascension I’ve ever seen. He must’ve been in a hurry,’ Wesley said, hopping down to take a better look. As he got closer, Alphonse’s head popped out of the detective’s back. Wesley swore. ‘Please tell me you didn’t?’

‘Didn’t what?’ Alphonse said innocently, stepping out of the body altogether and shaking himself off. ‘I only spoke to his soul, that was all. Apparently, he’d bored the poor thing to a husk of itself, it was only too happy for me to help it get away. Besides, the idiot was getting on my nerves. He’d never have solved it. We’re better off doing it ourselves.’

‘We already tried that. You ran into a paranormal investigator and got caught on film, and I ended up being shredded by a lawnmower when you pushed me out of the way as he was running after you. We’re not doing that again.’

‘Spoilsport,’ Alphonse replied. ‘At least we can watch the rest of the Bloods scramble in and panic. It’s always fun to watch them make fools of themselves.’

‘Oh, yes. Terribly fun,’ Wesley said, pinching his nose as the body released an enormous amount of gas.

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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.