Writing on in spite of it all

It’s fair to say this has possibly been the worst month of my life.

My previous blog post began with some ramblings about this being a year of change. Little did I know how much it would change for me when on April 11th I lost my Mum to cancer.

She had been feeling ill for a few weeks but only received her cancer diagnosis 6 days before she passed away. It’s an understatement to say it was a shock and it all still feels surreal to me. Due to reasons I shan’t go in to, I have had to (again) be the responsible, level-headed one of my very small family, balancing the grief of watching Mum slip away with the handling of the practical arrangements that follow a sudden death.

We are now in the lull between the death and the funeral, in which time me and the better half are going on our pre-planned holiday to Whitby for the Tomorrow’s Ghost Spring Goth Festival. I am of course looking forwards to the break and to catch up with friends but as the main point of contact for everyone, from family to funeral directors, I will no doubt be called (or called upon) at some point over the extended weekend to answer some question or finalise some detail or other. Needless to say, my writing effort over this period has dwindled.

I did find time to do a little editing over the weekend and am pleased with the rewrite of what was previously called Chasing Shadows (new title pending, shortlist being compiled as inspiration strikes me). I also received a rejection from Jo Fletcher Books but they did include an encouraging note that the market was tough at the moment and that I may find success with other publishers. In between this post and the last one I have written and submitted a short story to Writing Magazine for their character-driven short story competition, and I’ve also done a lot of reading (and some reluctant savaging of bestsellers on Goodreads – if A Discovery of Witches can sell in the millions then there’s hope for us all!)

Prior to April descending on my head like a ton of bricks, I had started work on a writing-related non-fiction project that I’ll be self-publishing later in the year. I’m also currently studying to become a certified Counselling Practitioner, partly because I’ve a massive interest in psychology and counselling, but also because the protagonist in my Hexen series (of which not-called-Chasing-Shadows-anymore will be the first novel) will eventually be going down that route herself.

So that’s it for now folks. I shall endeavour to enjoy my break in Whitby (weather forecast: rain and wind for the entire time we’re there – surprise), and tackle my writing afresh next month.

TTFN     )O(

The sound of silence, goth weekend comedown, and please can I have a new shoulder?

 

“But my words, like silent raindrops, fell…”

As a scribbler who needs near-as-dammit total silence in order to write productively, I covet peace and quiet. As an introvert who values her ‘alone time’, this is doubly true.

However.

The vacuum I am currently enduring is excruciating. It’s been weeks since I subbed Chasing Shadows to a handful of carefully-selected agents and publishers, and whilst I’m aware that it’s going to take months for these crazily busy folks to get to my baby, it doesn’t make the waiting any easier. I’d like to say work has continued apace with the planning and plotting of the follow-up novel, but then I’d be lying (not through lack of ideas or enthusiasm, thankfully – other things, as you’ll see shortly, have just gotten in the way). I have written 3/4 of an Infernal Kindred short story that takes place between the first and second novels, though, and I’ve already found a market to sub this to (deadline of December so I’d better hurry up).

Speaking of subbing stories, if you haven’t already seen the update, I have a reprint of ‘A Dish Best Served Cold’ in the Halloween edition of The Siren’s Call, which you can download for free by clicking on the link. If ever you’ve fantasised about murdering a work colleague, then this may be for you. As for me, I couldn’t possibly comment 😉

Update on The Riley Pope Case Files – a friend asked me recently when no.5 was coming out, and the answer is… when I’ve written it. I know, I know, get your finger out, Lowe! The good news is that the title and the cover are pretty much sorted (but yet to be finalised), so here’s a sneaky preview:

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The story will see Riley trying to solve her latest case whilst dealing (or not, as is the case with Miss Pope) with the emotional fallout from Stepacyk’s assault in Blue Ben. I can’t promise a release date yet but I will certainly get to work on this before the end of 2018, failing body and other distractions allowing, of course.

The particular part of my failing body I speak of is my shoulder, which I damaged whilst attempting to perform some ridiculous backwards crab manoeuvre (and they say exercise is good for you) about two years ago. Something substantial tore, and when the pain and burning in my shoulder eventually subsided, the agony and limited movement in my neck began. After 6 weeks of perseverance, I accepted it wasn’t getting better on its own and went to see the doctor, who told me to give it four weeks (I had already allowed for six, don’t forget) and – I kid you not – to ‘Google some neck exercises’.

As you can imagine I was not particularly impressed with this advice and so I spent some of my meagre savings on a course of chiropractic therapy which involved stretching, massage and manipulation and, after about a month, it was a whole lot better.

But then it got slowly but progressively worse again, to the point that I can no longer look to my left without turning my entire body. I’m in constant pain, it’s impossible to get a decent night’s sleep and the only exercise I can do without wanting to cry is moderately-paced walking. Sitting at a computer all day only makes it worse, except that is what I do to pay the bills, so I have no choice in the matter. Luckily I can work on plotting the next novel (which goes by the working title of Telling Secrets) via my corkboard / sticky note system, but I can’t avoid the laptop completely. Needless to say, productivity, both writing- and reading-wise, has dropped. An NHS physiotherapy self-referral appointment is pending. They told me the waiting list was four weeks. After seven weeks of nothing I rang to politely enquire if they’d forgotten me, only to be told I was two weeks away from the top of the list. That was three weeks ago. I’d wearily shake my head if my neck would allow it.

The other distraction from writing was our recent jaunt to Whitby for the goth weekend. We arrived on a sunny Thursday and left on an equally clement Monday, and the weather inbetween was…

You remember that scene from Mary Poppins where all the other nannies are swept up and blown down the street? Well it was something like that, but with rotund men in top hats and women in varying degrees of outlandish Victorian-esque garb being blown into the Esk (the actual goths were in the pubs out of the way of it).

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This was me and the windswept better half after a particularly perilous journey from the Metropole to our cottage after attending another outstanding Marquis Masquerade on Friday night:

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Saturday evening brought the very sad news of the Leicester City helicopter tragedy. It was also the first of two Fields of the Nephilim gigs we would be attending that week, so my usual joy at witnessing my heroes play live was tinged with sadness at the loss of Khun Vichai, who made the impossible dream come true. To be amongst that insane crowd on Victoria Park is an experience I’ll remember for a lifetime.

Sunday brought slightly better weather, and a shopping splurge (occult-esque earrings, Poison of Dracula plum brandy, a Nosferatu glass chopping board – because who doesn’t need one of those babies?), and then it was off to a Joy Division tribute, followed by a night of goth classics, to which we danced our little socks off.

And then we came home, and have spent the days since mourning how quickly it all went whilst chopping things on Nosferatu’s face.

Thanks to the shoulder / neck thing, I haven’t been reading as much as usual, and so my Goodreads challenge of sixty books for 2018 is starting to look somewhat unachievable. I’ve recently finished M.R. James’ collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary though, which you can download for free from Project Gutenberg, and I both thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it. Nobody tells a horror yarn quite like M.R. James! Currently on my ‘to be read’ pile is Brief Cases by Jim Butcher (which I’m devouring as quickly as my stupid neck will allow – man, I’ve missed Harry Dresden!), and Lee Child’s new Jack Reacher novel, Past Tense (my first author-signed book!).

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So that’s all for now folks. Have a great weekend. I’ll leave you with a video from (in my humble opinion) the best damned goth band of all time, Fields of the Nephilim. Take it away, Carl McCoy…

Walking All Over Cancer this June!

Hi folks.

This month my blog posts will be slightly off topic as I’ve signed up to Cancer Research UK’s #WalkAllOverCancer campaign and will be posting about my progress right here.

The aim is to walk at least 10,000 steps each day, every day, for the whole of June. For the average person, that works out at about 5 miles a day, or 150 miles over the month, which just happens to be the approximate distance between my house in Leicestershire and my spiritual home of Whitby, North Yorkshire.

To add a bit of fun to proceedings I’m going to be charting my ‘progress’ on a map, plus posting regular updates, photos and occasional calls for sponsorship on my blog.

As of 2pm this afternoon, my FitBit tells me I have walked 2,580 steps.

Woeful, isn’t it? The perils of having a nine-to-five desk-based job, and a six-to-the-small-hours desk-based passion (I hate calling writing a ‘hobby’). But the challenge of walking a little bit further each day is nothing compared to what cancer sufferers, their friends and loved ones, have to deal with. I doubt there’s a single one amongst us who hasn’t been touched by this awful disease in some way, and I’m proud to be doing my bit to help fund vital research in the quest to put an end to cancer once and for all.

You can find out about the fundraiser here and sponsor me here.

In the meantime, Whitby calls…

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Available NOW! Books 1 – 3 of The Riley Pope Case Files!

Woohoo! I’m officially a published (indie) author!

Books 1 – 3 of The Riley Pope Case Files are now available to download exclusively from Amazon, or if you’re subscribed to Kindle Unlimited you can read them all for FREE! I’ll be running a free book promotion on ‘The Case of Walutahanga’ from tomorrow which lasts for five days, so please spread the word and drop me a review, good, bad or indifferent. Here’s a little overview…

The Case of Walutahanga

Riley Pope inherited her talent for cryptozoology from her father. As for her penchant for vice and a weakness for dangerous men, well, she can’t blame that on him. Now that Riley is young, free and single, she’s determined to clean up her life and make amends for the sins of her past; if her past will let her.

When a small English town is beset by unusual weather, Riley’s employers, the enigmatic Firm, despatch her to investigate. She soon discovers that a cryptid is involved, but the creatures holding it hostage won’t give it up without a fight, and thanks to a charming but deadly fallen angel, Riley isn’t sure how much fight she has left…

 

The Case of Ahuizotl

Riley Pope has seen some strange things in her life – as a cryptozoologist, it comes with the territory – but this could be her strangest case yet.

When the bodies of two naked men wash ashore on the sands of Whitby harbour – both missing parts of their anatomies – Riley is despatched to investigate. The only scrap of evidence of cryptid involvement is the drunken account of a local trawlerman – who quickly disappears.

Riley finds herself in a race against time to identify the cryptid and save it from the murderous intentions of The Firm’s hired kill squad, but Agent Mulhoon, commander of Alpha team, has other ideas, putting Riley in the kind of danger she’s been trying to avoid since escaping from her fallen angel lover. Bastien Cort is never far from Riley’s thoughts; but this time he might be even closer than she fears…

The Case of the Brollachan

Cryptozoologist Riley Pope is used to tracking down otherworldly creatures: from serpents to shapeshifters, boggarts to Bigfoot, she’s pretty much dealt with them all. But this time, it isn’t a cryptid she’s hunting…

Riley’s employers, the clandestine Firm, have received reports of terrifying creatures frightening the children of Castlebay, Scotland. Sent to investigate, Riley confirms the presence of a malevolent spirit of the otherkind that preys on its victim’s worst fears… and Riley has a lot to be scared of.

Out of her depth and in fear of what’s lurking in the hills beyond Castlebay, Riley does her best to contain the situation – only to draw the attention of Mulhoon, commander of Alpha team, who ends up putting his life and that of his team in mortal danger. Faced with leaving the reckless Mulhoon to his fate, or confronting her own private fears, Riley must make a decision… whatever the consequence.

Who are these people and how do I apply to become one?

Firstly, a Blessed Samhain to you all.

I’m fresh from a weekend at the Bram Stoker Film Festival in Whitby and a damned fine time was had by all. Sadly, I returned to the news that my mother is in hospital – entirely self-inflicted but we won’t go into that, and no sooner was through the door with my suitcase and jar of garlic chutney from Transylvania than I was turning around with my car keys in hand, off to drive my father to the hospital. My parents can’t drive, and I’m the only child, so ever since passing my driving test ten-or-so years ago, I’ve become the family taxi. I returned from the hospital four hours later to find that the hubby had unpacked the cases and done all the washing (no, you can’t have him), so I put my feet up for an hour and settled down to wade through the last three issues of Writing Magazine that I haven’t yet found the time to read.

I’ve moaned about WM before and have wondered on occasion if I shouldn’t just sack off my subscription. On the other hand, I do find some of the articles useful or inspiring, I’ve discovered new authors in their pages, won a competition, not won many others, and He Who Shall Be Served finds my giant stack of back issues pleasing to sit on.

As I read through the August issue, I once again found myself gritting my teeth with a mixture of annoyance and (yes, I’ll admit it) jealousy at all of these authors who seem to just breeze through their days with little or no sleep, minimal distractions or commitments, and manage to knock out a novel every 6 – 9 months whilst sharing such  original advice as, ‘Write every day!’ and ‘Learn discipline!’. Just as an example, here’s a piece of advice from the issue: ‘Try to write every day, whatever your mood and whatever you write. This is the professional approach.’ And then further on: ‘Life is full of challenges and you need to learn the willpower necessary to produce words every day no matter what’.

I accept this advice; it’s good advice. However, life is full of challenges, and sometimes, no matter how hard you try, hours in the day and gas in the tank are finite quantities that no amount of good advice can alter. Out of curiosity, I visited said author’s website to see if it included a bio. From it I gleaned that he lives with his wife and teaches an MA novel course at uni. All of his previous jobs are writing-related too: teacher, bookseller, editor, copywriter, journalist – a wonderful career for anyone with a passion for writing. I can’t of course comment on his personal circumstances and wouldn’t presume to do so, but none of what I read on his website surprised me; the tone of his article suggested exactly the professional background he hails from. It’s also why I don’t believe his article will resonate with much of the magazine’s readership.

In contrast, I hail from a working class background, chose an NVQ over further education, purely because it provided me a wage and my family were hardly well off. I’ve had various uninspiring admin jobs and now spend eight hours a day, five days a week, on my arse in front of a computer screen, trying not to stab my colleagues in the face with my letter opener. By the time I get home I’m mentally exhausted, but then have to force myself to exercise, and mostly I manage it. Then I have to eat, and shop, and clean, and run around after the family when required, which is often. Sometimes I even get to sleep.

There are days when I don’t write.

There.

I said it.

But according to the article, that makes me a bad author. It means I’m not ‘professional’. It means that I’m just not dedicated enough to find the willpower required to follow my dream.

No, Mr Article Writer Who Shall Not Be Named, it does not. But that’s how I felt, for a moment. Guilty. A fraud without commitment to the passion I’ve held since I first sat down and wrote ‘Once upon a time in a land far away…’ (I just checked the Novel That Shall Never See Daylight, and the first line is actually, ‘I grasped the iron bars so tightly that my knuckles turned white with the strain…’ – poorly written, but not a bad hook for a writer who knew diddly-squat about writing – at least we’re in the middle of the action from the start).

I think what I’m trying to say is that everyone is different. We all have varying commitments and lifestyles. Some of us write for a living full time and some of us work in offices, factories, supermarkets, hospitals, whatever pays the bills whilst we squeeze in the writing in what little time is left. Some of us come from a publishing background: journalism, teaching, editing. If you read through the pages of Writing Magazine you’ll find a host of authors from just such a background. Can they accredit some part of their success to their knowledge of the business, their contacts, or did they just naturally gravitate towards those kinds of professions through an early love of writing? Does that put those of us outside the bubble at a major disadvantage? I have read articles in Writing Magazine from authors without a university education, authors who have worked as bank clerks and cleaners and drivers, folk with a pure love for literature that drove them to sit down and open up the laptop or pick up a notebook and pen and start scribbling, despite a lack of formal education or a knowledge of ‘the craft, but they’re few and far between’. As part of this circle I’m obviously biased, but it’s articles from these kinds of writers that I find the most honest; they’ll freely admit to having days where they don’t write a thing, and don’t pretend there’s anything wrong with it, or wrong with you for allowing yourself a break.

But hey, Mr Article Writer, I just sat down after an eight hour shift where I caught up on a two day backlog of emails thanks to my holiday, and thrashed out a 1000 word blog post, get me! Now I’m off to go and buy some food to fill my pathetically empty cupboards, not before doing another hospital run, and then I might fit in an hour on the treadmill, and then I might fall into bed. I hope that’s quite enough willpower for you, but if not, please feel free to write another article condemning me for it. I may not read it, though. I don’t think I have the time.

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