Tag Archives: creativity

The Kisses of Autumn

This morning is the first I’ve noticed where there’s a real tinge of autumn in the air. It’s cool and crisp, and spiderwebs are shining in the early light, and the sky is cloudless blue. The trees at the end of our garden are rich with leaves on the turn. It’s no wonder that this is my favourite time of year. I’m thinking towards the falling into winter, the gradual darkening and slowing down of life, and it’s making me grateful for the light and brightness that this summer still holds.

It’s also making me think towards the future. I’ve been asked to take part in a critiquing group, which is very exciting, and can only help to hone my own powers as a story-dissector; it will also be a huge chance for me to learn from others, people who are further down the road than I am. It’s a little scary to know I’m going to have to place my own work beneath their scrutiny, but that seems to be the name of the game for me, this past while: getting over, again, my fear of being read. It’s an old and primal fear, one which beset me awfully at the beginning of my attempts to be a writer and which took extreme willpower to overcome. I managed it then, and I hope I can manage it now, too.

Setting sail... Photo Credit: fiddleoak via Compfight cc

Setting sail…
Photo Credit: fiddleoak via Compfight cc

Weather, and its changing, always has a profound effect on me and my mindset. The beginning of autumn is a reminder to slow down and go with the flow; nobody is bigger than the seasons. It’s a reminder of your place in the grand orchestra – play your own note, at the right time, and let the rest worry about itself.

That’s the ideal, at least.

I wrote almost 3000 words on Eldritch yesterday, and then realised I was starting to go down a wrong path. I deleted more than 800 of the words I’d written and stared at the screen for a while, hating the flashing cursor. It took me longer than you’d think to work out it was time to leave it to one side. There’s a great saying, often quoted to me by my parents: You can only do a day’s work in a day. Often, I forget this, and I want to write the entire book in a day, or I demand of myself that I reach the 5000 word mark every single time I sit down to write.

It takes such effort to overcome your natural tendencies to want to do everything now, and move on to the next thing before you even have a chance to think about what you’re doing. It takes such work to treat your creative life with care, and to realise it’s not on a switch. It has ebbs and flows. It has the heat of summer, when things flow freely, and it has the frozen heart of winter when even writing one word is too much. It has times like this, when you have to remember to be gentle with yourself, and with your words, or risk having the whole thing fall to pieces. It’s too easy, when you’re beset with the stresses (half of them imagined, no doubt) of dealing with editorial feedback and beginning a new phase in your engagement with other writers and thinking long-term towards your career goals and navigating all the complicated, simple things that we all have to live with, like paying bills and keeping house and managing not to put your clothes on back-to-front, to let it overwhelm you and to lose the ‘control’ you’ve convinced yourself you have. Much better to realise that things will take their own time, and all you’ve got to do is keep putting one foot in front of the other.

One thing at a time. Everything in its proper sequence. Dance when the music plays, and don’t worry about the steps.

Do you find your moods and/or mindset are affected by the changing seasons? How does the approach of winter (if you’re a Northern Hemisphere-r!) make you feel? Any tips for remembering to slow down and take a step back when things start to get overwhelming?

 

Mayday!

My goodness. Is it Friday yet?

Image: sonotstraight.com

Image: sonotstraight.com

This has been a busy week. The other day on Twitter I listed out all the various accounts I now have on social media: five email addresses, three Facebook pages, two Twitter feeds and two blogs. I’m now an assistant editor with a literary magazine, as well as the ‘owner’ of my own small business (can I say ‘owner’ when nothing, on the face of it, has actually changed?), and I’m still making time to write amid all the clamour too, of course. Writing is what I do, after all. Isn’t it?

For a person who tends, in all other ways, to be cautious, I can also be rather impulsive. The more important something is, the quicker I can seem to make a decision about it. Choosing a pair of socks in the morning, therefore, can turn into an angst-ridden melodrama; deciding to go ahead and set up a proto-business, however (albeit one that’s been brewing in the back of my mind for over six months) was rather spur-of-the-moment. Perhaps this is because the pressure of an important decision tends to cave me in, and I choose a course of action so as not to remain on the precipice for too long. Or, perhaps – and this is a little more comforting – I’m allowing myself to be guided by my ‘hindbrain’, which knows better than I do about what’s right and wrong and which doesn’t see the need for delaying proceedings

Muwa-ha-haaa! I am Hindbrain! Bend before my almighty Will! Image sourced from: indigenize.wordpress.com Image copyright: Extrafeet Inc., 2011

Muwa-ha-haaa! I am Hindbrain! Bend before my almighty Will!
Image sourced from: indigenize.wordpress.com
Image copyright: Extrafeet Inc., 2011

Whatever the reason, I’ve been making a lot of decisions this week and throwing so much caution to the wind that it’s surprising I have any left at all.

It’s exhausting.

But it’s exhilarating too, of course.

Yesterday morning, after I’d completed my story for the Wednesday Write-In, I found myself doing some reading for the literary magazine (Number Eleven, for the curious, in which I was published a little over a year ago; if you haven’t checked it out before, or it’s been a while since you’ve taken a peek, go and have a look. It’s gorgeous.) Once I’d popped off my feedback to the editor, I turned to my own WiP, which has been languishing for a fortnight, read it through – editing as I went – and added just over 1500 words to it. Then, I decided to take another plunge and create a Facebook page for my new business, Yellow Road Editing Services – and, because people are wonderful, it has been ‘liked’ almost sixty times in less than twenty-four hours. All the while, I was keeping up with the Twitter feeds both for myself and for Yellow Road, and keeping an eye on blog traffic, too.

It was a lot to get through in one day, and I’ve taken away a few valuable lessons from the experience:

People are wonderful. I have had so much support and goodwill shown to me over the past few days that it would, quite frankly, bring a tear from a turnip.

Getting up early in the morning is a great habit to have. I started work yesterday at 6.30 a.m., and kept going – pretty much uninterrupted – until 4. I’m usually awake by about 6.30 most mornings, which proves that you can train even the nightliest night-owl to be an early riser with enough cold water and torture… I mean, willpower and motivation. (And yes, I know ‘nightliest’ isn’t a word. But doesn’t it sound pretty?)

Who *DARES* wake The Great Hootowlio? Image: thefeaturedcreature.com

Who *DARES* wake The Great Hootowlio?
Image: thefeaturedcreature.com

Dividing one’s attention is hard. Yesterday, I tried to do All the Things All at Once. This isn’t usually a good idea, no matter what you’re attempting to do, and despite the fact that I know this, I still try to do it from time to time. Yesterday was one of those times. I found my attention being dragged away from my WiP because I wanted to make sure I’d sent the proper Excel sheet to the editor or because I had to check one of my email accounts or because someone followed me on Twitter, or because… the list went on.

What I should have done – and what I will do, from now on – was take a deep breath and a step back, and realise that everything will get done in its own time. Putting myself into a frazzle is going to accomplish exactly nothing, and may in fact hamper my efforts to be productive. I’m going to get a wall calendar and block off the days, focusing on one thing at a time, and I think I’ll change my screensaver to a picture of the gently smiling Buddha, or something. As my sainted mother always says: you can only do a day’s work in a day. She’s right, as she is about everything.

And, of course, the more divided your attention is, the more your work – all your work – will suffer. And nobody wants that. (And yes, I know I just started three sentences in a row with ‘and’, but it was for emphasis. I can do this. I’m a professional. Don’t try it at home.)

So, in honour of May Day and its traditional association with workers, I’m going to resolve to work smarter and harder, and to love every second. Stress isn’t a nice thing, but it’s also a powerful motivator, and I’m going to try to use it as a force for good in my life from this day forth.

Really? Aren't you laying it on a *little* thick, now? Image: halliewestcott.com

Really? Aren’t you laying it on a *little* thick, now?
Image: halliewestcott.com

All right, all right. I’d better sign off here, and get on with the rest of it. Jeez, you guys are hard taskmasters.

Happy May Day!

Serendipity

You know what’s weird? Waking up on a Monday morning with something on your mind, and logging into Facebook to say ‘hello’ to the world, and seeing a post from a person you follow which is about exactly the thing you were thinking about.

That's mad, Ted! Image: quotefully.com

That’s mad, Ted!
Image: quotefully.com

it’s not like this person and I know one another (she’s a celebrity) or that we’re even in the same cultural milieu or general surroundings (we’re, unfortunately, not); it’s just one of those things. In this world of ours, one that’s all about connectivity and ‘sharing’ (a vilely abused word, these days), but wherein the actual human connection can, unfortunately, be easily lost, it’s startling to be reminded that, sometimes, other people’s minds are in exactly the same place yours is in.

And, isn’t that a wonderful thing?

Sadly, the place my mind was in this morning wasn’t exactly a happy place – this article, to which said celebrity provided a link on Facebook and about which she waxed lyrical on her personal page – will tell you all you need to know about my thought processes. I’m thinking about this topic – that of the reality of bereavement, mourning and grief in a world wherein social media is king – mainly because, in the last few years, several of my Facebook and (God love me) Myspace contacts have passed away, but their online presences remain. If a person is lost suddenly, can those left behind (or, should they) find a way to mark their social media outlets with the message that their creator has died? We are the first generation who is faced with the sorrow of seeing a deceased loved one’s name pop up in our newsfeeds every year on their birthday, reminding us to send a card or exhorting us to write a greeting on their Wall, or whatever it is. We are the first generation living with a phenomenon like ‘funeral selfies‘ – the very idea of it makes something break, deep down inside me – and it’s a reminder, once again, that the internet is such a powerful thing. It’s powerful enough to change the way we think, feel, and act. It will be the thing which reshapes human nature, in my opinion.

Or, perhaps, it will be the thing which ushers forth the narcissism that has always been a part of human nature, but which has never before had such an opportunity to become central to how we think about ourselves. I’m not sure which I find more strange – the idea that the internet is making us more self-obsessed, or simply giving us an outlet for the self-obsession that’s already at the heart of our existence.

John William Waterhouse, 'Echo and Narcissus', 1903 Image: en.wikipedia.org

John William Waterhouse, ‘Echo and Narcissus’, 1903
Image: en.wikipedia.org

I do realise that I’m writing a blog, here, and that I’m making use of the internet to put forth my ideas and my thoughts and it’s all about me, me, me… And perhaps that’s the saddest part of the whole thing. The culture in which we live is, like all cultures, all-encompassing. You’re part of it, for good or ill, and making the best of it is all you can do. It does occur to me sometimes that this blog will, probably, outlast me; if I were to die unexpectedly, this blog would remain. Nobody would be able to log in and disable it. It would be like an abandoned, creaking, obsolete space station, slowly pinwheeling its lonely way across the vastness of eternity, forever (or, until it hits a meteorite or burns up in an atmosphere or, you know. Whatever.)

That freaks me out a bit.

It also makes me want to write the best blog I’m capable of – if it’s going to be my memorial, then let’s make it sparkle, goshdarnit!

Actually, no. The ‘freaking out’ thing outweighs everything else.

I’m pretty sure that there’s an element of this self-memorialisation in all art, too. It’s not that we feel we’re such incandescent geniuses that the world needs our art to steer it into the future, but it’s more about feeling like we’ve made a difference, that something we’ve written or made or painted or sung has added to the pot of human culture. Even if nobody remembers our name, our art will live on after we do. It’s getting harder and harder for each individual note to be spotted in the clamouring mish-mash that is our humanity, but that makes the urge to contribute even more pressing; the more difficult it is to be heard, the louder we shout. But what if all that’s being created and contributed is ‘art’ which is ever more inward-looking, all about the self, focused entirely on an individual and their view of the world? We’ll have millions of tiny vortexes, all tightly bound to their own whorling hearts, none of them looking out and seeing what’s there, seeing how we can help, how we can – each of us – make the world a little clearer and easier to bear for everyone.

All art is about the self, but – I feel – it has traditionally spoken to the commonality of shared humanness, too. Nowadays, most of the creative content I see, particularly online, has a larger focus on the ‘self’ of its creator and less focus on the connectedness of its creator to their fellows. Social media allows us to make ourselves into art installations. But what’s the point of creating millions of beautiful, individual pieces of art – which are, in so many ways, our lives – if none of them are truly in conversation with anything else?

‘Sharing’ is not the same as ‘communing’; putting forth our art, our words, our social media posts, our blogs, our music is all rendered a bit pointless if we don’t listen to the contributions of others, and recognise their validity.

And yet, there are days you wake up and someone on the far side of the world is thinking exactly the same thing as you, and they’ve expressed it publicly, and you feel a connection. And – if you’re clever – you use that connection to drive forth your own art, and your own humanness, and you realise that you’re living in an age of miracles, and that all will be well.

Image: ivillage.com

Image: ivillage.com

Wednesday Write-In #39

This week’s prompt words were:

report  ::  scorched  ::  landslide  ::  dead end  ::  rosemary

Retaliation

I knew he was coming by the sound of his boots, imperious and whipcrack-sharp. I glanced at the clock – his shuttle had made good time. He’d taken our distress call seriously, which could be a good thing, or its opposite. All around me, the others raced to gather paperwork, make the final preparations for the HoloDisplay, check if the water was chilled, and, I was pretty sure, familiarise themselves with the exits.

If his boots didn’t give him away, there was always the smell – as he got closer, it got stronger. Nobody even knew where he managed to get the leaves of rosemary that he was constantly chewing. Legend had it he even had a specially designed censer in his quarters to burn them in. It was just one of the many inexplicable things about the man. I’d heard the scent of it was supposed to improve memory, or sharpen acuity, but that had to be Old-Age nonsense. Earth-bound superstition.

He strode into the room without a word. As he swept his way to the chair at the head of the conference table, the only sound was a nervous tinktinktititink; the young cadet given the task of pouring his water had an unsteady hand. It did not go unnoticed.

‘Report?’ He snapped, before he was even properly seated. The suddenness of his voice in the stillness made the young cadet jump, and she slopped water across the surface of his Viewer. He cleared his throat with unnecessary force, and she scampered away.

‘Sir,’ I said, snapping my heels together. ‘Ensign Japper Centrada reporting.’

‘Ensign?’ he said, flicking his eyes to me. ‘Is there nobody more senior who can give me an accurate picture of events on the ground?’

I paused a moment, allowing the first rush, and the second, to pass over me. When I responded, my voice was level. Cool.

‘Sir,’ I said. ‘No, sir. My senior officers were planetside when the event took place, sir.’

‘Event?’ he bit the word off at the end, like a bone breaking. His fingers fumbled to his breast pocket, and he brought forth a few dried rosemary sprigs. He crumbled them on the table in front of him, releasing their sharp, Earthy scent. I realised how long it had been since my last trip Home, and I took a deep breath, and then another. ‘Ensign,’ he said. ‘The event?’

I collected myself.

‘Sir,’ I began. ‘At approximately 1000 Earth-time yesterday, a major catastrophe took place on the surface. It temporarily knocked out our Comms, and it seems to have largely destroyed our planetside base. Sir, we have sustained severe casualties.’

‘I was under the impression that a council had been requested,’ he said. The scent of rosemary in the air grew more pungent as he crushed the sprigs beneath his thumb, almost idly. ‘Our personnel were under Sanctuary, in that case. Were they not?’

‘Sir – yes. They should be under Sanctuary. That is, if they are still living. The landslide… well. The landslide has pretty much wiped out our presence on the surface. Sir.’

‘Landslide?’ he said. ‘What are you talking about, man?’ His eyes were wide, and he’d stopped his mindless toying with the rosemary leaves.

‘We… ah. We believe it to be…’ I signalled frantically to one of the others to get the presentation primed for the HoloDisplay. Someone raced to comply. ‘Sir, if you’d care to look, just here?’ I said, indicating the heads-up unit. An image of the surface appeared, the planet’s yellowy, dusty landscape as familiar to our eyes as Earth itself. The Display took in a huge swathe of the largest landmass, which we’d named Aldrin.

‘This was the surface, sir, at approximately 0958 yesterday. Our people were stationed here,’ – I zoomed in, briefly, to show him the base. It was nestled in the hollow between two of the uncountable number of mountains in the Aldrin region. He nodded, and I restored the screen – ‘and they were awaiting the arrival of the Takasian delegation when this happened.’ The first explosion, more massive than anything we were capable of, happened on the far left of the screen from our point of view. It would have been maybe five Earth miles from our base. Rapidly, every few hundred meters, explosion followed explosion followed explosion, until the entire mountain, it seemed, began to topple. The landslide completely engulfed our base. There was silence in the room as we watched.

‘Survivors?’ he asked.

‘None confirmed so far, sir,’ I replied.

‘You have sent word to Earth?’

‘Of course. Sir.’ I cleared my throat. Several minutes passed as he examined the screen, barking commands. He wanted the screen magnified, then decreased; then he wanted to see the heat signature for the past 48 hours; then he wanted a planet-wide HoloDisplay. I watched him through all this. His colour deepened, and his breathing quickened. He took a pinch of rosemary like it was snuff, but it had no perceptible effect. He shrank before my eyes, his fingers quivering – barely noticeable, but there – as he touched the screen.

‘We must make a retaliatory strike,’ he eventually announced. ‘Here.’ He zoomed in on their main city. ‘We must implement a scorched-earth policy; cut them off from everything. Smoke them out.’

‘Sir,’ I said, hoping the edge in my voice was only audible to me. ‘Sir, that tactic is a dead end here. It doesn’t work with the Takasians. They live mainly underground, and…’

‘Do not presume to tell me how to run a war, Ensign Centrada!’ he shouted, turning to face me. ‘You have your orders. Prepare the incendiaries, and get ready to contact the Takasian command. Give them as little warning as possible before engaging.’

‘Sir,’ I said. ‘Of course, sir.’ He glared at me for two or three heartbeats, before sweeping his way out and up the corridor again. No doubt to get back into his shuttle, and leave all this behind.

The scent of rosemary hung in the air after him. I took a lungful of it, and a calm certainty settled on my brain.

I began to key a command into my CommUnit, and I waited for the Takasian response. I wondered, as I did all this, how it would feel to be back on Earth.

In prison, of course, there wouldn’t be a lot of opportunity to smell anything that didn’t emanate from a human body, so I took another breath of rosemary-scented air, just before it faded.

Lost in Music

This morning, as I sat semi-conscious over my breakfast, the radio started playing a song. It was by a band called Ash, with whom I was once obsessed; the song was ‘Girl From Mars’. The song is still very enjoyable, and I would still class myself as a fan of the band, but for some reason, this morning, as I listened, the song threw me right back to the summer of 1996. And it was a little weird.

This is the album sleeve. For those of you who know what 'album' and, indeed, 'sleeve' means. Image: coverdude.com

This is the album sleeve. For those of you who know what ‘album’ and, indeed, ‘sleeve’ means.
Image: coverdude.com

I mean, it’s not like I haven’t heard the song at any point between 1996 and now; I must have heard it hundreds of times, and it’s never had any unexpected effects. So, I can’t really explain it.

Listening to the song made me feel – just for a minute – that the years between 1996 and the present had dissolved, and I was living in a strange bubble somewhere between the two timelines.

As freaky as this undoubtedly was, it got me thinking about music. Music is a huge part of my life, and I always have music playing as I write. Sometimes it’s the radio, although if I’m really trying to concentrate I have to put on a CD instead, because the talking on the radio can be distracting. But no matter what, there’s always something going on in the background. Is this weird? Do you, gentle reader, do this too?

It also got me thinking about albums that I’ve loved, and music that has meant a lot to me at various points in my life. Perhaps, actually, it’s not so weird that music I was listening to at a particularly emotional point in my history should throw me back to that state when I listen to the music again. As it happens, at the time in my life when I was first listening to ‘1977’, the album on which you’ll find the track ‘Girl From Mars’ (over and over and over again, because that’s how I roll when I like an album), I was having a hard time. So, the music is encoded with deep pain and loneliness, and perhaps this morning my mental guards were down a little, so my brain got sucked right back to that difficult time as I listened to the familiar melody.

I was working in a very full-on summer job, back in the summer of 1996. It was hard, and the hours were long, and the work was dirty and heavy. My parents booked a holiday – they wanted to visit my mother’s sister and her family in the United Kingdom, and my brother and I were excited about going with them. My aunt and uncle, and their exotic, grown-up, tall and fabulous daughters, our amazing cousins, were lots of fun. We hadn’t seen them in years. So, I asked at work for that week off.

I was told ‘no.’ I was told ‘If you ignore this, and go anyway, you won’t have a job when you come back.’ I was heartbroken.

So, my parents and my brother had to go on the holiday without me, and I was left alone at home for the first time ever. To some people in their late teens, this would’ve been the best thing imaginable; to me, it was horrible. I was so lonely, and I felt a little afraid at home by myself (I still really don’t like being at home by myself!) The only thing which kept me from feeling completely abandoned was the soothing sound of my then-favourite band, Ash, whose album ‘1977’ was on constant repeat for the entire week my family was away. This morning, listening to the song, I was that lonely teenager again. I was afraid in the dark. I was abandoned.

So, yeah. Heavy stuff to be going through before you’ve even had a mouthful of Bran Flakes.

Another favourite album of mine is ‘Five Leaves Left’, by Nick Drake.

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Even though I first heard this album in my teens, the memories it holds for me are all tied up with the hardest days of my first ‘real’ job, which was in an office by the sea. It was a very difficult job, and I was deeply depressed at the time. I was, probably, at the most unhappy point in my life at the time when this album started to mean everything to me. I had a portable CD player (does anyone remember the Discman? Anyone?) and the first notes of ‘Time Has Told Me,’ Track One on this album, bring me right back to the first deep breath I’d take as soon as the office door was closed behind me. I listened to it every lunchtime as I walked by the sea, trying to calm down and get back to myself, and I listened to it every evening as I made my way home.

Then, there’s ‘Grace’, by Jeff Buckley.

Image: jeffbuckley.com

Image: jeffbuckley.com

This album was played, at least once a day, for the entirety of my final year in college. I couldn’t study without it; I couldn’t concentrate unless I had the soaring beauty of Jeff Buckley’s voice somewhere close by. I still feel the claustrophobia of the old bedroom in my rented flat every time I hear a song from this album, particularly ‘Last Goodbye’. I’m not sure why that song affects me more than the others, but there you have it. For whatever reason, despite the fact that I was very stressed at the time I first loved this album, I still listen to it with huge pleasure. It’s amazing.

It’s a funny thing that in the modern world people don’t listen to ‘albums’ any more. They listen to random tracks, downloaded from here and there, little snippets of music which weren’t, perhaps, designed to be heard in isolation. People record albums as a whole, to create a feeling or a mood, to fit together as a work of art. So, they should be listened to like that, I think. I’m not sure whether teenagers nowadays would have the same emotional connection to an album, the way I did as a youngster. To music, yes; to particular tracks, definitely. But to an album as a whole? I’m not so sure.

What do y’all think? Is music important to you? Can you work with music playing in the background, or do you prefer silence? Does music get tangled up with memory for you, too?

Happy Friday, everyone. Hope it’s going well for you so far.

Starting Early

Did you see this wonderful news story yesterday?

For those who don’t do clicking, or who can’t click on links, I’ll tell you what I’m talking about. Yesterday on Twitter someone linked to a story about a novelist who has just published his second book, and who is writing the final part in his trilogy about a pair of magician brothers. The books explore dark magic and the twisty intrigue of secret magical societies, as well as the complicated relationship between the brothers. The stories sounded amazing enough as they were, but when it emerged that the author is nine years of age (yes – nine), well. You could’ve knocked me down with a feather.

Joe Prendergast, for it is he, is far from being the only author who has been published at a tender age. Irish author Claire Hennessy, for instance, was first published while she was still at school, and Catherine Webb had written five books by the time she turned twenty – and all of them were brilliant.

Both Claire Hennessy and Catherine Webb are still writing, and have carved out successful careers for themselves in the literary world. Hopefully, then, if young Mr. Prendergast wants a career as a writer when he grows older, he should have no problem achieving that aim.

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself! Image: independent.ie

The young and talented Mr. Prendergast himself!
Image: independent.ie

It’s wonderful to see this young author meeting with the support and encouragement he needed to finish his series of books, and not only that, but to see them through to publication too. It goes to show the brilliant things that can happen when a person with talent, determination and a great idea for a book meets the technology to get it out into the world; Joe was first spotted by an online publisher, who championed him and made his books available through their website. There are also fantastic sites like Wattpad, used by millions of young people all over the world, allowing them to write for the sheer joy of it and share stories with one another with ease. Sometimes I wish these things had been available when I was young and at school. I’m not saying that anything I was writing at that stage was worth reading (not by a long shot!) but it would have been such a thrill to be able to publish work to a website, to see your words somewhere outside your own head, and to imagine what it might be like to be a published author.

Then again, I was a terribly shy and awkward teenager. I’m not sure that I’d have availed of a service like Wattpad, or even WordPress, as a young person; the very idea that other people might be able to read what I’d written might have thrown me into a fit of nerves so serious as to be life-threatening. I was certainly writing – prolifically – as a nine-year-old and all the way through my teens, but it’s probably a good thing that nobody ever saw a word that fell out of my fevered brain. Then, on the other hand, if I’d had the chance to share my words with the world via the internet as a younger person, perhaps I’d be winning literary prizes right now and be working on my thirty-fifth book – the earlier you start to get feedback, the stronger your work will become, of course. It’s a bit of a pain to be only beginning the whole process now, as a person in her *cough* thirties. I can only imagine how much stronger my writing would be if I’d been doing it seriously for twenty years or more at this stage.

Then, I guess it’s better late than never. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make up for lost time in the years that I have left to me. And if you’re a person who wants to write (no matter what age you are), then let this story be a lesson. You’re never too young, or too old, to get your ideas out there and share your words with the story of the world. There’s no excuse these days!

Today, April 23rd, is also an important day in the world of books, in case you didn’t know already. As well as being the birth (and death) day of Shakespeare, and the birthday of Cervantes, it’s also World Book Night tonight.

Image: mediabistro.com

Image: mediabistro.com

Designed to encourage and foster a love of reading among people who may not otherwise take up an opportunity to pick up a book, World Book Night is a fantastic endeavour. For, of course, if we’re going to encourage people to write, we’ll need to recruit a whole new batch of readers, too. I don’t think there’s anything more valuable that we can give to our children than a love of reading and a desire to create, share and consume stories. I’d love to see a world where reading, and a love of reading, came to people as naturally as breathing. I have a suspicion the world would be a happier place if this could be a reality.

So – start early, whether you’re reading or writing; ideally, do both. It’s never too late to start, and it’s always worth giving it a go.

Happy World Book Night! May your words flow.

What in the World?

This morning, we awoke to news of a further explosion in the United States. A fertiliser plant explosion has destroyed homes, businesses and lives in the town of West, near Waco, in Texas, and has caused an unspecified amount of deaths and injuries. Of course, when we hear ‘Waco’, we think of the horror that took place there twenty years ago, almost to the day; it almost seems unbelievable that an explosion would happen in the same area now. I’m praying that it turns out to have been caused by an explicable, understandable and ‘ordinary’ thing – I’m praying that it turns out to be accidental. Between the horror at the Boston Marathon, American politicians being targeted with ricin-laced mail, the war in Syria, the situation in North Korea, and so many other things… What in the world is going on?

It’s hard to keep your head on straight when the news is bursting out all over with stories of inexplicable cruelty and (seemingly) mindless savagery. When you realise that there are so many people in the world who are denied even the most basic chance to live their life as they would choose, perhaps because their country is embroiled in war, or ensnared by poverty, or both, it makes the choice to be a writer, for instance, seem at once completely frivolous and vitally important. Frivolous because I am in the fortunate position of living every day without the threat of destruction, and vitally important because if we are not creating, then what’s the point of even being here, on earth, in this time and place?

The more I hear about destruction and death, and the more news I watch about dictatorships and terrorism and war and imposition of unfair laws on a populace struggling to survive and military posturing with no thought to the safety of the people… well. The more I feel that creating something – no matter what it is – is the most important calling a person could have. How else will we fight off destruction and dark-hearted sorrow? Not with more aggression, more terror, more fear – but with light, and laughter, and song, and new life. It’s at once the simplest and most difficult thing in the world.

Image: warchild.org

Image: warchild.org

I’m not really making a whole lot of sense this morning. My flu is still not entirely gone, and I am very tired. I’m almost three-quarters done with my redraft of ‘Eldritch’, which is great, and I learned yesterday that another of my short stories has been accepted for publication; I’m also (possibly) shortlisted for another competition. My database of stories written and submitted is looking nice and fat and healthy, and I’m pretty happy with what I’ve read of ‘Eldritch’ so far. Of course, it’ll need at least one more going-over before I’ll be happy to send it anywhere, but I can actually see it happening now – it seems real, achievable, and within my grasp. I am going to query a novel with agents and publishers. Even getting to this point is a dream come true.

But, sometimes, when you turn on the TV or search the web for news, and you realise just what some people are living with and dealing with on a daily basis, you would have to stop and wonder: ‘What is the point? What difference does it make, to anyone but me, that I’ve managed to achieve these tiny things?’ But I have to believe that creating something, writing a story that might bring some laughter and happiness into someone’s life, or giving a hug when one is needed, or sending support to a friend in need, or even just caring about what happens to other people, makes a difference. If I didn’t, I’m not sure what would keep me going.

Sorry for the depressing post today. I’ll try to be all about the kittens and the sparkliness tomorrow, okay?

Image: blogs.warwick.ac.uk

Image: blogs.warwick.ac.uk