Breaking radio silence

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MISERY

I felt the need to break radio silence as it’s been a while since my last blog post. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to write anything.

The novel I completed last October got a handful of rejections from agents & publishers, most of them generic, a couple with feedback that I ought to try elsewhere. I contemplated sending it out to more agents as it was, but realised that if it wasn’t even generating the tiniest spark of enthusiasm from any of the six that I’d selected then I ought to revisit it and see what needed polishing.

Soon after making said decision, and as per my last post, I lost my Mum to cancer. The days and weeks that followed were a learning curve, an endless stream of form-filling, phone calls and funeral plans. Already both mentally and physically exhausted, I had to pick up her things from the hospital, sign my name in triplicate on this form and that form, dig out her proof of ID so I could register the death, let a million different government organisations know, make an appointment with the bank to close her bank account, visit the funeral home and pick out some flowers and a coffin and a gown and some words for the notice in the paper and some twee little anecdotes the lay preacher could recount at the funeral…

When all you really want is five minutes where you don’t have to think about what happened, in the absence of a person who is willing to share the load, you’re not allowed to think about a single thing else.

I didn’t have a clue how I would make it through the funeral, not because of how I would be feeling on the day but I hate being (excuse the crass phrasing) the ‘centre of attention’. To sit in the back of a big flashy car and have to walk behind Mum’s coffin into a church full of people, to do the same again at the crematorium and then have to be sociable at the funeral… it really was all my worst nightmares combined.  I’m sure that my Mum, being just as shy as me, would’ve sympathised.

It’s weird when the funeral of a loved one is over. You’re glad you got through it, but then, what happens next? Well you go back to living life as normal, apparently. You work and you eat and you sleep and you don’t ever talk about THE THING because it’s over now, isn’t it, and nobody wants you to talk about THE THING because it makes them uncomfortable.

I’ve discovered this is common to the recently bereaved, that you’re more than aware that there’s nothing can be done, no words to be said that can make it all better, so you go out of your way to make sure that other people aren’t uncomfortable around you. It’s bizarre!

A few weeks after the funeral, another immediate family member fell ill and was taken into hospital. Between then and now they have been in and out of various hospitals three times for different reasons. All have been extended stays, all have required regular visits. For weeks on end I was getting up early, doing an eight hour shift at a job that is doing nothing to help my mental health AT ALL, then driving an hour-or-more round trip to whichever hospital they were in. I was getting little time to myself. I was stressed. I was exhausted. I was worried about said relative. Every time I approached the hospital, I started to feel panicky. A hospital was the last place I wanted to be so soon after losing Mum, but there was no way of avoiding it. Even in the short periods when they were back at home, we were receiving regular calls for assistance. They are now at home and doing much better but I’m constantly on edge and I dread the phone ringing. Add to this the various stages of grief that I’m trying to process.

Anyway, and probably inevitably, I’ve become ill myself and have been referred for tests. The doctor thinks it’s stress-related (surprise surprise) but the tests are to rule out other nasties that I can’t even begin to think about. I’m tired, uncomfortable, on the verge of tears ALL THE F***ING TIME and quite royally fed up. I’ve forgotten what happy and healthy feels like. I keep seeing all of these productive writers sharing their stories and successes on Twitter and it makes me want to scream. I feel like I’ve forgotten how to write!  My current output is one evening a week spent editing the never-ending WIP, I spend the rest of my free time sleeping or reading (at least I’m keeping up with that — Kinsey Millhone is my new fictional heroine!). In an attempt to complete a piece of writing, I composed a few drabbles last week and submitted them to the good people at Black Hare Press for anthology consideration (yet to get any feedback so watch this space). I have never written a drabble in my life and to be honest, I don’t enjoy reading them myself, so I’ve no idea if they’re any good or not. I think I managed to convey an idea / concept in each, so fingers crossed. On the plus side, the tablets I’ve been put on seem to be helping and it’s been weeks since I’ve thrown something across the house in a rage or curled into a ball and sobbed. It’s also Gothtober and Whitby beckons, hurrah!

So that’s where I’m at. I hope normal service will resume shortly. In the meantime, here’s a picture of Tom Hardy overprinted with some well-meaning words.

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Creativity, mental health and standards that go both ways

Happy new year!

Except it’s not. Happy, that is.

After a couple of publication successes at the end of 2017, my muse has decided that it’s time for a break and has sodded off to parts unknown.

Actually, I don’t really believe in a muse. If writers sat around waiting for creativity to strike then I’m sure very little would get written.  Equally, though, I don’t understand how writer’s get through this, other than forcing it and churning out crap.

Which is what I’ve been doing these past twelve days.

That’s not to say I don’t have ideas, because I do. I started out the year recording lots of writing competitions I could enter, looked for inspiration on the web regarding plot ideas and now have a Dropbox full of plot lists and prompts.

But can I make a story out of any of them?

The answer is yes, of course I can. I’ve done it before and I will do it again. I just won’t do it this day. Possibly not the next day either, or the next. But I’m going to keep trying because whatever this is, it will pass.

Google ‘creativity and depression’ and the first thing you’ll see is ‘Scholarly articles for creativity and depression’. Apparently, there’s a lot of them. Next is ‘A little weird? Prone to depression? Blame your creative brain…’

Thanks, brain.

I’m sure there’s more to it than that. I know there is, but annoyingly, there’s nothing I can do but work through it the way that I always have: with patience and self-care and self-talk and mindfulness (and possibly ice cream), and knowing that I’ll come out the other side eventually. Even the little things, like reading the blogs and tweets of other sufferers has helped: Matt Haig in particular – if you don’t already follow him then do look him up, and then go out and buy his books like I did yesterday, hurrah! Some weekend reading for me! (I’ve also ordered How To Stop Time but that’s still somewhere in the bowels of Amazon – boooooo!).

20180112_114930.jpg On the subject of reading, my Goodreads challenge for 2017 came in at 53 books. I was aiming for 100, which in hindsight was possibly a tad optimistic. This year I’ve set it at 60, and I’m already 3 down. The first was a steampunk anthology, Gears of Brass, that I picked up as part of a book swap at the Bridge House event. You can read my review on Goodreads here, but basically, it wasn’t for me (more on that shortly). Then I (finally) got round to reading End of Watch by Stephen King (5 stars, as always), and last night (amidst a sea of tissues thanks to the annual winter lurgy) I finished reading Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough.

I knew Sarah’s name as a fellow member of the BFS but had (shamefully) never read any of her work, so when I saw BHE as part of a BOGOHP offer in Waterstones, I didn’t hesitate to grab it.

You can tell from the cover alone that it’s going to be something along the lines of The Girl on the Train, and it is. Three main characters, their lives intertwined, and someone is hiding a sinister secret. There’s a supernatural element that sets it apart from your Flynns and Hawkins, and a really good twist at the end that I only very vaguely saw coming. On the basis of this, I will definitely be seeking out more of Sarah’s work.

Going back to the aforementioned steampunk anthology, aside from the quality of the writing, which I wasn’t too impressed with, the one thing that threw me out of the book was the poor standard of editing. There were spelling mistakes and grammatical errors in almost every story. And yes, I’m a qualified proofreader so I’m more eagle-eyed and pernickety than most, but come on! This wasn’t a self-published book. I’ve looked up the imprint and they look pretty slick and professional. Surely they owe it to the authors they publish to polish their work to the best of their abilities, not least because it makes the book look amateurish.

I’ve recently had a similar experience and have ummed and ahed whether to blog about this or not. I know that it won’t do me any favours to complain about a publisher that has printed my work so I’m not going to name them. However, I did have a contract that stated my work would be proofread – TWICE – and then sent back to me for one final check, which it was, and there weren’t any errors to begin with so nothing was changed. I have to assume that all the authors in the book had the same kind of treatment, so each and every story was (hopefully) proofread by its author, then proofread / edited twice by the publisher, then sent to the author for checking…. and STILL there were errors in the final printed book. Great big glaring ones that made me a little embarrassed to hand out copies to my friends who had purchased it.

It’s a sad state of affairs but everybody knows (or should know by now) that if you’re buying self-published work, you’re taking a gamble on quality. However, if a publisher wants nine odd quid for a book they’ve produced then I expect there to be no more than a couple of minor errors (I found one in End of Watch, so I know some slip through) and the cover design not to look amateurish (which…. *flinches*…. it did). And I may well be cutting off my nose to spite my face but I won’t be submitting further work to them because of this. I like to think I keep a certain standard with my work, and standards go both ways, don’t they?

So.

Now I’ve just got myself blacklisted by everyone everywhere, I’m off to eat ice cream and write more crap stories – or not. For anyone suffering from anxiety and depression right now, there is nothing I can say to make it easier for you, but here’s some things that have helped me fight my way through it.

  1. Self-care – do something for you without feeling guilty (within reason of course!). Read a book, take a bath, watch a film, play a musical instrument, eat that tub of Ben n Jerry’s Phish Food if you want to. Above all, be kind to yourself.
  2. Exercise – this one can be hard if it’s all you can do to get out from under the duvet for a piss break, but trust me, exercise will make you feel better. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous. Just going for a walk can lift your mood. Hell, you can walk on the spot if you can’t leave the house (I’ve ‘spot-walked’ my way through the entire first season of Stranger Things and hardly even noticed). Or if walking’s not your thing then what about pilates or yoga? There’s tons of videos to choose from on You Tube, so why not have a browse? You might just find your new passion.
  3. Practice mindfulness – it really does work. There’s tons of resources on the web so get Googling.
  4. Challenge your mood – sometimes we get trapped in a spiral of dark thoughts and it’s hard to break free. Online tools like Moodscope and MoodGym are excellent at helping you challenge these thoughts and to discover a new way of thinking.
  5. Communicate – try and let somebody know how you’re feeling, even if it feels like the hardest thing to do in the world, and PLEASE seek help from a doctor if you need it. They are there to help, as are the following charities:

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.rethink.org/

https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/

https://youngminds.org.uk/

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Take care of yourselves, everyone

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