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.
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.
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.
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…
After a brief, unintentional hiatus, I’m back and trying to figure out how on Earth to balance a busy day job and a more-hectic-than-usual home life with the writing life I crave. During the summer lull, I had managed to start to create time during my days to write or at least play with ideas for writing. I had been posting regularly on the blog and creating regular content for my bookstagram account, both of which grew in followers and engagement. I was loving having the time to enjoy my creative life. And then the new term started. I was utterly snowed under within a matter of days and, even on the evenings when I wasn’t having to bring work home with me, I was so shattered and anxious from the accumulated stress of the work day and then the waiting housework that I had no energy for writing or taking photos, even when I could have found the time. So all of my creative pursuits fell by the wayside. My journal pages stayed empty. My notebook gathered dust. My latest blog post aged slowly in its corner of the internet. My bookstagram started to stagnate. And I felt guiltier and guiltier for not managing to summon the energy for these creative pursuits; for not managing to do it all.
I’ve still not managed to pull myself out of that particular guilt rut and I’m starting to realise it maybe runs a bit deeper than I’d thought.
It’s frustrating to feel I’ve lost the momentum that I had started to build – it all feels a bit ‘one step forwards and two steps back’. But I can’t deny that my brain – which is doing all sorts of unpleasant things right now – needed a break. Juggling all the many aspects of life (wonderful though most of them are) is exhausting sometimes. Occasionally, some balls are going to slip and fall. Sometimes it will take a while to recover them. And most of the time I know that’s ok.
I did manage a little flurry of bookstagram posts last week which I actually wanted to share here as well.
Last Thursday was National Poetry Day and, as I’m a huge poetry lover, I wanted to take the chance to share some of my favourite poets/poetry collections. So following my pause and my ponder, I present you with some poetry recommendations:
First up is the fabulous Nikita Gill whose poetry is a poignant reminder that though we may be inconsequential in the grand scheme of the universe we are each as miraculous as the stars. Beautiful, lyrical, empowering poetry.
Next up is Nocturnal by the oh so talented Wilder – I absolutely ADORE this collection. Not only is the poetry thought provoking, moving and beautifully written, but the book is exquisitely designed with accompanying illustrations by the author. I devoured this when I first got it and turned back to the first page for a reread as soon as I’d finished. Simply gorgeous.
Another favourite poetry collection of mine is Chasers Of The Light by Tyler Knott Gregson – simple and elegant, these appealingly presented typewriter poems show the power of poetry to capture poignancy in the smallest moments.
I fell in love with Amanda Lovelace’s poetry with her first collection – the princess saves herself in this one – but for me, her second collection – the witch doesn’t burn in this one – is something truly remarkable. Raw and empowering, Lovelace uses not just the words but the form of her poems to raise a call to arms at the same time as inviting you into the embrace of the sisterhood. This collection raised the hairs on my arms with its power and the connection it offers.
Last but certainly not least in my poetry favourites is this exquisite book from Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris – the illustrations are absolutely stunning, seeming to live right off the page, and combined with the wonderful collection of acrostic poetry celebrating the natural world bring back all the wonders of a childhood spent in the garden and exploring the woods. Filled with nostalgia, hope and marvel this collection is the antidote to our hectic digital lives. You’ll want to wander in the great outdoors from the first page.
Do you have a favourite poem, poet or collection of poetry? If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comments as I’m always on the look out for new poetry to enjoy.
The ever so lovely tiggsybabes shared this image on Instagram earlier this week and oh how I laughed…and laughed and laughed and finally cried. It rang so true for me at the moment! My mind is definitely an overloaded internet browser right now, with poor connectivity, multiple network errors and more frozen screens than I care to count. I’m also pretty sure there are some secret tabs open in the background somewhere, all running important programmes that I’ve forgotten about.
Inspired by Tiggsybabes post to try and have a little fun with my current chaos, here – for your amusement – are my many brain tabs:
- I would like a nap.
- Why aren’t Time-Turners real?
- If I could do magic I would be able to clean my house without getting up off the sofa.
- Shoot…I was supposed to…that thing…nope, it’s gone.
- I really need new boots.
- I still haven’t read Lord Of The Flies
- Oh, that book looks good!
- I should really stop buying books.
- I need to plan my reading interventions.
- Did I pick my printing up? Where did I put it?
- I’m going to make a real effort to eat more healthily…I wonder if there’s any chocolate in the house.
- I wonder what my daemon would be…
- Note to self: kitchen roll doesn’t go in the fridge.
- What day is it?
- How is my meter reading lower than last month…?
- Autumn is the best. Look how pretty the leaves are!
- Wearing jumpers makes me happy.
- I’d like a nap.
Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.
Sing me a song of a lass that is gone,
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
We’re up in Scotland for a break away from all the building and DIY chaos at home. A little cottage in a little village, nestled in the midst of the Machar peninsula is just the ticket after weeks of plaster dust and builders in the house.
I had the Skye Boat Song (specifically the Outlander theme arrangement) in my head for the whole journey up here.
Scotland and I have a long and beautiful history. Many of my childhood holidays were spent in various Scottish locales and my memories of this beautiful country are filled with joy and wonder. It has always felt like a magical place to me. Even more than that, it somehow feels like home.
I love the wildness of the landscape.
I love the Celtic history, culture and folklore.
I love that it feels like a world away and coming home at the same time.
I’m so happy to discover a new part of Scotland with my love and our happy little pup. It was a fair drive up so for now we’re curling up in our cottage with books and food and nothing to worry about.
Happy Monday and ‘merry of soul’ indeed.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
A peek into my day…
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.
For a long time I have been saying that I want to write. And for a long time, I haven’t. There are all sorts of reasons for that but mainly I never had the time. Which actually means I never made the time. I never made the time because sitting down to write felt like such an indulgence; there were always other things that I ‘should’ be doing. I never made the time because I was convinced I wasn’t actually any good at writing and so what was the point. I never made the time because I was scared: here was a thing I wanted, badly, to do well at. A thing I would love to make at least part of a career out of. But what if I tried and failed? By never actually doing it I could hold onto the daydream, writing odd snippets here and there, but never risking the possibility of discovering it was never meant to be.
You’d have thought I’d have learnt by now: dreams are worth the risk, and sometimes we should try just for the joy of it.
So I have started writing. Not quite daily at this point but more than ever before. I found the key was to let go a little of my fears and doubts; actually, not to do it in the hope that it would come to anything. Not to do it for anything or anyone. Just to write for me. Because I love it. I love the feeling of creating something that wasn’t in the world before. And when I approached it like that I found that the seeds of things that had been rattling round in my head started to grow. I wrote so many poems I stopped counting. And, even more joyfully, I started to write the story that has been in my mind for more years than I care to count.
I had an outline, written and rewritten over several years, and I had an opening to the story, which I wrote about a year ago, but nothing more. Because I stopped. I even liked what I had written, although it needed some editing, but in spite of my outline I just didn’t feel I knew what the story was, so I abandoned it. It was actually my students, and a couple of lovely friends, who encouraged me to pick it back up.
I run a creative writing class at the secondary school where I work (I know, a writer who doesn’t write teaching other people how to write…the irony is not lost on me) and for some time now my students have been asking to read something I had written. So one day I decided to be brave (and yes, it did take a lot of courage to do this – teens are nothing if not direct and, sometimes, brutal with their feedback) and share that opening chapter with them. I did it as part of a session on how to constructively critique other people’s work.
Firstly, I read some of their pieces and, as I always do, gave them feedback, this time trying to demonstrate my thought process: What did I really like and why? Tell them. What did I think had potential and how could it be developed? Tell them and make suggestions. What didn’t feel right in their narrative, why and what might make it feel better? Tell them but also enquire about their choices (as this might change the reading of it), explain why it didn’t feel quite right for me and work in partnership to see how it could be developed. It’s a lovely, collaborative process and the young writers I work with are so full of enthusiasm for writing, and so want to improve, that they are genuinely open to it and take on board feedback with interest and commitment to developing themselves, and their skills as writers. It’s inspirational to watch.
Next came the part where I had to be brave. Enthusiastic though they were to receive their own constructive criticism, they are often reluctant to give it to each other, usually deferring to me to do that part, purely because their class mates are also their friends and they were afraid of hurting one another’s feelings. Hence why I offered my work up as a guinea pig. I did tell a little white lie and assured them I was very used to receiving feedback of all kinds, positive and negative (not the case because I rarely share my writing other than what I post on here) and told them they should be very honest. I promised them my feelings would not be hurt if they didn’t like it (mostly true) and that their honest opinion was more important to me as a writer than any false praise they might want to give me. That was the truth. With a deep (internal) breath I gave them my opening chapter and pretended not to wait on tenter hooks as they read it.
The first person to finish looked at me and said possibly the best thing I could have been told: “It sounds like you, Miss.”
Now something sounding like me is not necessarily praiseworthy but what that meant to me was that she felt it was authentic. And that IS praiseworthy. Some of my fear fell away. Even if they didn’t like it, whatever I had written was true enough to myself that this student recognised me in it. I hadn’t even known that was important to me until that moment. As others finished reading they said they agreed, one commented that it “read like the colour red” – she couldn’t quite explain what she meant but it felt like a compliment! In fact the compliments came rolling in along with requests for the next chapter, please, and I had to steer them back to our critiquing framework. Flattering though the positive feedback was, I wanted their honest and thought out opinions. I wanted their ideas for improvement. And I got them. Tentatively, at first, but eventually with growing confidence they pointed out turns of phrase that resonated with them and ones that didn’t; they suggested alterations to vocabulary choices; they discussed certain sentence structures and whether they flowed as well as they could; they generally proved themselves to be the perfect first readers of my long locked away opening pages. (Well, not quite the first: my mum read them too.)
I made the alterations they suggested and since then not only have I shown those pages to two other people (both adults this time and one of whom, it turns out, is writing a book of his own – we did a pages swap!) but I also picked the story back up with gusto. I now have nearly ten thousand words of the story that has been tucked away for so long. On top of that, I also got up the courage to submit four of my poems to a publishing house, for consideration for an anthology. I have no idea if anything will come of that but it doesn’t matter, because I did it. I wrote the poems for me and I took the chance to share them. That is enough.
I am under no illusions that I will be the next J.K.Rowling. I have no idea whether any of my work will ever be published. But it turns out that it’s not the publishing that makes you a writer. It’s the writing. Just for the joy of it.
Any writers out there: what’s your work in progress? What stops you writing and how do you get over it?