NaNoWriMo Check In – Days 3 & 4

Day 3 of #NaNoWriMo and #wrimohero’s prompt was #calltoadventure – how do you generate ideas? I get a lot of my ideas from the environment around me. Places, found objects, the weather – my imagination spots the most random and insignificant things as I’m going about my day and runs riot with them! I collect these scraps of ideas, along with words, quotes, and anything else that takes my fancy, in my commonplace book. When the ideas are ready to become part of my story, they worm their way back out of the pages and into my writing.

Day 4 of NaNoWriMo is behind us and the prompt for #wrimohero was NaNoCheckIn – 6,668 words? The answer is yes! And more! I’ve had the best start to my first ever NaNo and have managed to bash out over 11,000 words so far! I’m glad to be getting ahead of the word count goal because, by all accounts, things get tough in weeks 2 and 3! So far, though, I am truly enjoying getting this story out onto the page. I was worried that I didn’t know where it was going to go but really, the story is writing itself, I’m just tapping the keys. I’m super excited to see where it goes.

Fellow NaNo-ers, how’s it going?

#NaNoWriMo Check In – Day 2

Day 2 of NaNoWriMo is here and the prompt for #wrimohero is ‘Ordinary World: What’s your setting like?’ This is the beautiful building that inspired the first seed of my story: it’s the incredible John Rylands Library in Manchester. A key part of my setting is a stunning gothic library. I’m also going to be sneaking in a few of my other favourite Manchester places and Peak District haunts, all alongside and mysterious other-world where ideas manifest and thrive with none of the restrictions of our human world.

NaNo Word Count: 5,448

Taking The Plunge

I wasn’t going to do this. I really wasn’t going to do this. Why would I? November is ALWAYS one of the busiest months in my year. Extra intervention programmes to run at work means increased workload and longer working hours. My birthday (Yay!) means fun outings with friends and family. Drawing closer to the big C the following month means there’s shopping to be done and family to be visited. It’s entering theatre season for us which means we have tickets booked for multiple shows. And on top of all that, this year we’re still at the tail end of our DIY/home renovation adventures, which we want to have finished before Christmas. Plus, we now have a dog who needs walking and playing with, and even if she didn’t NEED those things I’d do them anyway because she’s far too cute to ignore.

So why, oh, why, I hear myself ask, have I decided to sign up for NaNoWriMo? Why have I decided to take on the, already ridiculous, challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, when I’m clearly too busy to do so? I can feel me giving myself accusatory glances and hear my brain muttering things like “always taking on too much!”…well maybe it will be too much, maybe I won’t manage it, but do you know what I realised? I am always going to be too busy to write a book. There will always be other priorities. I will always be busy with work and swamped with housework. But if writing a book is something I truly want to do (and it is) then one day I’m just going to have to sit down and make time to write the damn thing. And why shouldn’t ‘one day’ be now?

There is no reason why it shouldn’t be now. No real reason anyway. No reason that won’t still exist next month or next year or in a decade.

So, lovely readers, here I go. Plunging in at the deep end. I have set myself the traditional NaNoWriMo target of 50,000 words in 30 days. I’m going to do my damnedest to hit that goal. If I do, brilliant! If I don’t, I won’t beat myself up about it and will try again. And hopefully, in the meantime, I’ll have written more than I would have done normally.

I won’t be writing anything for the blog, aside from, potentially, the odd NaNo update to chronicle my progress (or lament my lack there-of…). I will be putting any writing energy I manage to muster into this mysterious and as yet unknown story.

Wish me luck! See you on the other side…

If you’re a NaNo-er and want to add me as a writing buddy, you can find me under the username Bookwormdancer.

Autumn Mornings

Last September we got a puppy. She turned our lives upside down (mostly for the better – who can resist a happy puppy face in the morning and when you get home from work?) but probably the biggest change she made is that I now actually HAVE to get up when my alarm goes off in the morning. No more snoozing. No more lying awake but savouring the warmth of my duvet. I am not a morning person but I have actually found that, once I’m up and out, I genuinely enjoy my morning walks with the pup. Hubby and I alternate the morning walk so we both get alternate days where we can be a tad more lazy/slow to wake up. But on my walking days, even when it’s raining, it’s nice to start the day with some fresh air. I can listen to my audiobook or some season or mood appropriate music to set me up for the day. Sometimes I blog as I walk (like I am now) with breaks, of course, to throw a stick or chase my playful not-quite-a-pup-anymore, or just to watch her revel in the general joy of being a dog off the lead. It’s lovely.

But…

Now we are getting into autumn proper and winter is creeping it’s way toward the northern hemisphere, our morning walks are happening in the pitch black. I’m not so much watching the pup playing as I I am watching a disembodied LED collar trace circles round the park. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this time of year – the boots! The scarves! The autumnal food and music! It’s my favourite. And I still enjoy stepping out into the crisp morning air. But, this morning, as I walked, I couldn’t help but pen a realistic portrait of how I felt…

Ode to Another Week

Monday yawns and

Lifts a lazy head.

Time for coffee…

Or five more in bed?

Tuesday insists that

It’s Thursday already –

I’m work worn and

Emails just might overwhelm me.

Wednesday declares that

The worst is behind us

But lengthening to-do lists

Push next order of business.

Thursday is buzzing –

The weekend’s in sight –

But then, deadline looming,

Works late through the night.

Friday arrives with

Dishevelled relief.

Just sod the unfinished

Let’s dance! (Or let’s sleep…)

Saturday stretches

With languorous delight

And hours to fill

However they like.

Sunday awakes,

Good intentions so steady.

With a smile and frown

Sighs ‘Nearly Monday, already.’

Wild & Improbable Tales – Hope in Invisible Prisons

Suspended inside iridescence, she watches the world pass by. It is beautiful. But she cannot reach it.

Rainbows ripple across the surface of her invisible prison, distorting the view: the hopeful land morphing into looming, shadowed threats; the lilting sound of laughter and music ringing hollow in her ears. She knows those terrors are lies but still her heart races in fear. She knows there is wonder and joy to be felt, but her head echoes with emptiness.

Some shadows loom larger and nearer than others and occasionally their undulating forms resolve into something familiar. Comforting. Her heart contracts with hope and love blooms somewhere deep in the pit of her twisting stomach, as a hand reaches out and penetrates the walls she has bloodied her fists trying to break.

They do not shatter, even now, but still the hand is there, holding hers.


“You’re a storyteller. Dream up something wild and improbable,” she pleaded. “Something beautiful and full of monsters.”

Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Inspired by Erin Morgenstern’s Flax-Golden Tales, I have decided to embark on my own creative writing blog series, “Wild & Improbable Tales”, as a way to write more freely and more frequently. At least once a week, I will choose a card at random from The School Of Life‘s ‘Small Pleasures’ box and use the image and/or writing on the back to inspire a short piece of creative writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

The Sacred Everyday

Some time ago, I discovered the Harry Potter And The Sacred Text podcast. This was a wonderful discovery. HP and the Sacred Text takes one of my (and the world’s) most beloved series of books, and engaged with them in a thoughtful and inquisitive way, exploring the lessons and ideas the story has to offer us and providing tools for treating any text – and I would argue any part of life – as sacred.

Here’s how the founders and hosts, Vanessa and Casper, explain what they are trying to do with the podcast:

This podcast creates time in your week to think about life’s big questions. Because reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.

On this podcast, we ask: What if we read the books we love as if they were sacred texts? 

Each week, we explore a central theme through which to explore the characters and context, always grounding ourselves in the text. We’ll engage in traditional forms of sacred reading to unearth the hidden gifts within even the most mundane sentences.

Vanessa and Casper are so thoughtful and engaging in their exploration of Harry Potter and I have taken great joy and great comfort in approaching these much loved books in a new way.

I am also intrigued by the idea of viewing those things that might be considered ‘everyday’ as sacred, especially in light of my recent musings on my experience of religion and the church. When I was actively involved in the Christian church, one of the things I loved most about it was the chance to take a more considered approach to reading a text. I enjoyed the opportunity to explore deeper meanings and ideas and desperately wanted the change to question those ideas. The sacred practices shared on Harry Potter and the Sacred Text allow me to do just that.

On a recent episode, Vanessa beautifully broke down the elements they believe are necessary for applying this kind of sacred practice to wider contexts – not just the reading of any text but to things like writing or running – and I loved the simple clarity of it so much that I wanted to share it with you today.

  1. Faith – you must have faith that the more you do or engage with something the more gifts you will receive from it. If I persistently dedicate time to reading, writing, running, cooking or any other thing, then those things will reward me more and more.
  2. Rigour – the time you give to these things will be more rewarding still if you approach them with rigour. By ritualising the processes you use, the time you spend will be more focused and valuable. If I want to approach the reading of a text in a rigorous way, I can take notes and I can research or discuss the ideas that arise. If I want to approach my writing in a rigorous and sacred way, I can switch off my phone and focus my attention, I can carry out a mindfulness meditation before I begin.
  3. Community – find others to share the process with. By engaging in these practices alongside like-minded individuals – or even very un-like-minded individuals – you open up more opportunities for questioning, exploring and sharing ideas. If I share ideas about a text with people in my community, their ideas further enrich my own and open my mind to new perspectives. If I share my writing with other writers and readers, I will better understand the impact of my words and will be able to share the struggles and triumphs of the process.
  • I love the possibility that anything in life can be treated as sacred if we only give it the right attention and approach it with intention to do so. This is something I hope to explore and experiment with, especially with regards to writing.
  • I’d love to hear if you decide to give it a go (or decide to listen to the podcast!) too.
  • In This Moment

    Outside my window… the sky stretches wide and blue overhead, streaked with wisps of white. The air is warm and still. The street is quiet. A summer weekday morning lull has settled over the neighbourhood. There is a white butterfly flutter past, stark against the red brick of the house across the road.

    I am thinking… that I should probably get on with the work I have to do but I’m enjoying taking a moment to relax so I’m going to ignore that nagging should, just for a little while.

    I am thankful… for the school holidays and the opportunities they give me. For the incredible friends and family I have around me. For the opportunities that are presenting themselves and the support from those around me to take them.

    In the kitchen… there is currently complete chaos as the whole room is about to be ripped out and rebuilt! That’s the work I should be doing…finishing packing it up…just a little bit more lazy time first.

    I am wearing… black treggings and a rust t-shirt – comfy clothes for a mooching round the house kind of day.

    I am creating… a novel, a blog series, a collection of poetry and short stories, bookstagram content – so much of my creating these days is in writing form. It feels new and exciting and I love it.

    I am going… to get around to packing up the kitchen…really soon…honest…

    I am wondering… if I can squeeze a nap in somewhere today.

    I am reading… Notes On A Nervous Planet, The Summer That Melted Everything, A Wrinkle In Time, Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince…this list goes on and on.

    I am praying for… for calm.

    I am hoping… for a smooth kitchen installation over the next couple of weeks.

    I am looking forward to… a trip to Gladstone’s library with my mum in a few weeks time.

    I am learning… that sometimes we have to accept uncomfortable truths and unpleasant feelings in order to deal with them and move on.

    Around the house… it’s all very chaotic! The kitchen is in disarray, the dining room is piled high with boxes containing the new kitchen, the lounge currently has old furniture we’re getting rid of waiting to be collected later today, the main bathroom is tile-less and covered in plaster dust ready for its own makeover…I’m trying to focus on how fabulous it will all be when the work is done.

    I am pondering… the direction I want to take.

    A favourite quote for today… (I’m cheating and using a whole poem…)

    One of my favourite things… is curling up under a blanket with a good book or a good film and forgetting the world for a bit.

    A few plans for the rest of the week:

    Finish packing up the kitchen.

    Take some photos for bookstagram.

    Watch some TV.

    Read some books.

    Nap.

    A peek into my day…

    This Is My Church

    I have had a strange and convoluted relationship with religion. It was not a particularly prominent part of my upbringing; we went to church at Christmas for the carols and that was about it. It was only when I was in my final year of secondary school that I began to give religion and the idea of God any real consideration. I made a friend to whom faith, religion, and a relationship with the divine was very important. She invited me into that world. A place I had never explored or even considered before. I quickly felt it to be my home.

    I went from being someone who had always felt a little on the outside, never quite fitting anywhere, to someone who felt warmly accepted, even loved, and who was surrounded by friends. It was a dizzying experience. Being with those people felt so different from what I had grown used to. Don’t get me wrong, I had had friends but I never quite felt like I had found my people, never quite felt like I fit comfortably within my friendships groups. And here, suddenly, I felt a sense of belonging that I don’t think I had even realised I was missing. Not only did I meet a whole host of people who were friendly, welcoming, and interested in me, but they gave me space to ask big questions: questions I didn’t even realise I wanted to ask! A whole new realm of possibility, not just for my own immediate life but for what I knew of the world, opened up before me.

    It was exhilarating and I immersed myself in it entirely.

    I joined worship groups, I went to church every Sunday – sometimes twice – I spent all my free time with this new group of people, I started reading the bible hungrily, I went to Christian camps and festivals and I volunteered with my local church. I attended regular bible study with the youth group and within a few short months I was preparing for confirmation. When I look back at it now it all seems to have happened so quickly but at the time I was so swept up in the feeling of acceptance, that everything I was doing felt right.

    Shortly after this whirlwind introduction to the world of the Christian church I entered a difficult period of my life. I was grateful for the faith I had found because it gave me hope and something to turn to. After an finishing college, a year later than planned, I began my first full time job working for the CofE administrative offices in Manchester. My relationship and involvement with the church had changed, mostly because all my friends had moved away to university and I found that I felt vulnerable attending church without them, but it was still an important part of my life.

    I spent the next six years working for the church in different capacities: receptionist, property and finance administrator, and finally Lead Youth Worker for an ecumenical project. Over that time, my perception of and relationship with the church changed a lot, as did my faith. I sadly found that the more involved I became the less welcome and accepted I felt. I found myself increasingly uncomfortable in church services, whatever the denomination, and I had more and more questions and doubts but they were met with far less acceptance than they had been when I was newly discovering the religion.

    I would like to clarify, at this point, that some of the best people I have ever known are committed Christians and/or people I met through the church and I am forever grateful for their presence in my life. I met my husband through a church youth group and if it had not been for my foray into faith through this particular path, my life would look very different indeed, and I think I would have been considerably worse off than I am now, in all sorts of ways.

    But it reached a point where I felt increasingly uncomfortable in churches and in many Christian circles. I encountered so much hypocrisy, which still saddens and frustrates me greatly because, again, I know the church as a body (or rather as several bodies) to be full of wonderful, good-hearted individuals. And yet that hypocrisy was there and it did not sit well with me at all. I was made, on too many occasions, to feel that my faith was inadequate. That my time for asking questions had passed and I should now accept and believe what the church told me, however ill it sat with my soul.

    And I couldn’t continue to do it any more.

    So I left.

    I left my church related jobs and voluntary positions, I stopped attending services, I had already stopped reading the bible except when necessity dictated and I rarely prayed anymore. I felt a mixture of grief and anger. I felt betrayed, tricked by what seemed like a false sense of security and acceptance laid out before me when I had been vulnerable with a need I didn’t recognise.

    I still felt that I had faith. I had had experiences over those years in the church that had convinced me of the existence of something far greater than myself. That unknown and unknowable force that I had felt touch my life did not fit with the God I had been told about but it felt like what I somehow inherently felt God to be, so that is what I call it. I felt like what I had thought was my faith had been stripped bare, taken back to this tiny nugget of something, fragile but full of life and possibility. And I decided to sit with it. To prod it and poke it with questions, to allow myself all the doubts I had been told to deny, and to wait. To give this little thing the time and space to grow.

    And grow it did. Into something beautiful and powerful and flexible. Something that grows and changes as I do but that holds me as an anchor. And the church in which this faith has grown? It is the world. My faith has grown in the brilliant summer sun over golden grasses swaying in the wind; in watching the Milky Way wheel over head in countryside far from city lights; in an unexpected downpour that soaks to the skin; in the crescendo of music in a darkened theatre that raises the hair on my arms; in the soft skin and milk smell of the newborn children of friends and family; in the incredible, resilient young people I have had the privilege to work with; in the sunsets and sunrises, in the laughter and the tears, in the hopes and dreams and fears of a life lived fully and to the best of my ability. It has grown in allowing myself the space to know my own mind and recognise when my heart tells me what is right and what is wrong.

    It isn’t perfect. But it’s true. This is my church. And truly anyone is welcome here.

    Being Emotionally Honest

    This week was Mental Health Awareness Week and all week I’ve been wanting and meaning to write something to share with you, my lovely readers. But I’ve had a funny mental health week and have just not quite been in the right frame of mind. I’ve felt edgy, restless and anxious, as if something is bubbling just under my surface. It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

    When anxiety starts to prickle like this, I try to acknowledge the feeling. In the past, I used to work hard to ignore it, or would make myself feel guilty about it, which only made things worse. It has taken a surprising amount of effort to reach a point where I can allow myself to just feel what I feel, without judgement. Like much else in life, there always seem to be ‘should’s and ‘must’s crowding in, making me feel bad about my feelings, wants and needs. But by acknowledging the truth of what I’m feeling, without trying to tell myself I should feel something different, I’m far more able to deal with those emotions. This is true of more than just anxiety.

    Emotions are human. And as humans we experience a full spectrum. It’s no good trying to repress what might be seen as ‘negative’ emotions. If you feel angry, be angry; if you feel resentful, be resentful; if you feel sad, be sad. These aren’t necessarily pleasant things to feel but feel them we do. If, when one of these emotions crops up, we tell ourselves we shouldn’t be angry, or we should be grateful, or we have no right to be sad, we are denying some of the truth of ourselves. And the real truth is that you can’t force an emotion away. You can pretend. You can try to bury it in falsehood. But that emotion will still be there and, if you let it, it will fester.

    Like a festering wound, a festering emotion can make you very ill indeed. You have to let the ‘bad’ stuff out if you ever want to heal. One of the things that I used to worry about a lot was how my emotions might make other people feel. When something or someone made me angry, I didn’t want to be angry with them in case it upset them, especially if that person was someone I loved, who loved me, and who I knew probably didn’t mean to make me angry. When something or someone made me resentful, I didn’t want to behave resentfully towards them, and when something or someone (or often nothing) made me sad, I didn’t want to show that sadness because I thought my privileged life meant I had no right to be sad. But by being so focused on what other people might feel in response I put myself in some really dark and painful places. And the thing is, allowing yourself to feel what you feel isn’t about rubbing it in someone’s face. You don’t have to take the festering wound and smear it on the person who accidentally gave you a paper cut, or whose success distracted you from what you were doing so you accidentally gave yourself one.

    It takes a conscious effort but I will now (most of the time) deal with those emotions in one of two ways: I will acknowledge it out loud or in writing, just to myself; or if it’s really eating at me, I will speak to a friend or family member who is outside the situation and, as honestly as I can, explain what I’m feeling. These acknowledgements are usually prefaced with lots of ‘I know I’m really lucky to have X, Y and Z, BUT…’ or ‘I feel like I’m being a bitch/ungrateful/overreacting, BUT…’. With the effort of being honest about my feelings, to someone else in particular, comes the need to qualify that I know I speak from a place of privilege. The process at the moment is still partly one if seeking approval for what I’m feeling, which I hope to move beyond eventually. But this has been a huge step forward for me because I used to keep everything I considered vaguely negative bottled up inside. I would not allow myself to be imperfect in my emotions. I would not allow myself to be human.

    What I have found is that once I have acknowledged whatever it is out loud, I either feel better immediately and am able to move on, or it gets me to a place where I can then address the person/situation with a greater degree of honesty and clarity. My feelings will usually have subsided to a point where I can express them in what feels like a reasonable and healthy way. It’s a work in progress and sometimes it still takes me a while to realise I’m letting something fester, but I can feel the difference this has made to my emotional life.

    I’m also getting much better at self-care and making time every most days to check in with myself and have a moment of honesty. Some of my favourite ways to do this are by reading, listening to a podcast, taking photographs, writing and journaling. Here’s what that looks like currently:

    Reading:

    The Self Care Project by Jayne Hardy

    Reasons To Stay Alive by Matt Haig

    Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

    Circe by Madeline Millar

    (I know, I know, four books at once seems a lot. I always tend to have a lot of books on the go because I’m such a mood reader!)

    Listening To:

    The Happy Place

    The Guilty Feminist

    Harry Potter and The Sacred Text

    The Quibbler

    Made of Human

    Photographing:

    Books

    Nature

    My dog!

    Writing:

    Poetry

    Blog posts

    A young adult fantasy novel…

    Journaling:

    Quotes

    Doodles

    Tracking sleep, mood, steps

    Daily gratitude

    This Mental Health Awareness Week, and beyond, I encourage you to be emotionally honest with yourself, make the time for self care, and help continue the conversation about mental health, whether online, with friends and family, or even with strangers.

    What do you think is important for maintaining mental health?