Tag Archives: illness

Stuff I’ve Been Reading

Life, my friends, is getting in the way again. I’m busy, distracted, not altogether in the peak of health, and struggling with tiredness like nothing I’ve ever struggled with before.

I’m fine, of course. All will be well. But my own work has ground to a crushing halt (which I deeply regret), and I don’t have any pithy advice to dispense, and I am all out of clever ways around writers’ block (unlike these guys), and I certainly don’t feel like much of an authority on anything these days, besides self-pity.

So.

This is a post about some stuff I’ve read lately which I’ve found particularly inspirational, interesting and/or useful. Not all of it is about writing – some of it is just about life. But it’s all good. Put the kettle on, relax, and share a cuppa with me, won’t you? Good-oh.

Aaah. Lip-smacking good! Photo Credit: markhassize11feet via Compfight cc

Aaah. Lip-smacking good!
Photo Credit: markhassize11feet via Compfight cc

On Being a Fat Bride

Some of you who’ve been around these parts for a while may know about my struggles with body image, weight and self-esteem. It’s something I take a huge interest in, this cultural obsession with thinness, and particularly the ‘health trolling’ which can surround commentary about women (in particular) and their bodies in the media. People feel it’s their right to treat those with weight issues like they were less than human, sometimes, and worthy of nothing but disrespect and ridicule. I hate that more than I hate almost anything else in the world. I am a person who struggles. I am a person who has struggled all her life. Most importantly, I am a person, and I deserve to be treated as such – not simply as a person who is fat. Sadly, this is so often not the case.

Several years ago, I got married. I felt great on the day, but I had trouble finding a suitable dress in the weeks and months leading up to the event itself. I had to think about things like covering myself up, pulling myself in, camouflaging things I hated about my appearance, and making sure the gown I chose was ‘flattering’. So, when I read this article by journalist Lindy West, about her own wedding day and how she was a happy, joyous, celebratory – and unapologetically, unashamedly fat – bride, it made me well up. Like Lindy, I loved my wedding day. Unlike her, I didn’t have the same sense of freedom around my appearance. I regret that I didn’t allow myself the space to enjoy my body, and that this is something I generally have trouble with. The article inspired me. I loved it. Have a read. But if you come across any comments, either relating to this version of the article or any of the numerous versions of it which were reprinted in other media outlets, do yourself a favour and skip those. Trust me.

On the label ‘MG’ and what it signifies

I love Philip Reeve. He’s a creative powerhouse and a central figure in the world of children’s books, both as a writer and an illustrator. He wrote a blog post in recent days about the label ‘Middle Grade’, or ‘MG’, and why it gets attached with such alacrity to children’s books outside of the United States, where the term ‘middle grade’ is meaningless. This is something which has bothered me, too, for a long time, but I could never articulate it quite the way Reeve has done. Perhaps his take on the issue is rather contentious, and somewhat divisive, but I largely agree with him. And, for once, the comments are ace and well worth reading (probably because most of them are written by children’s book professionals!)

On Illustrating, Illustrators, and the Hard Work of Being Creative

Sarah McIntyre (who has, incidentally, regularly worked with Philip Reeve) is another children’s book professional whom I admire hugely. She is an illustrator and a creator of picture books, and for a long time now she has been building a campaign online under the tagline #PicturesMeanBusiness, which aims to ensure illustrators start to get the recognition they deserve. I will hold my hands up and say that before I came across this campaign, I was a typical ‘text-fixated’ type; illustrations (whether they were on the cover or dotted inside the book) were, for me, an added bonus, but not something I thought about too deeply. That has all changed now. Before, I used to make sport of finding the illustrator’s name (usually in tiny type somewhere on the back of the book, or in the copyright/publication metadata at the front, and sometimes not included at all); now, I’m not happy unless illustrators get full credit, whether it’s online or in clear font, somewhere visible on the book jacket. I hope more people will get on board with this, and that we’ll see a change beginning in the world of publishing. For more, see Sarah McIntyre’s recent blog post on the process of producing illustrations, and how it’s a lot harder than it looks.

On Being a Weirdo (and Why it Rocks)

I’ve never read Laura Dockrill’s books, despite the fact that she seems like a fascinating person with a unique voice. This article, which she wrote for the Guardian during the week, might make me take the plunge into her wacky imaginary world, for once and for all. In it, she talks about the importance of being yourself, no matter how weird you might be – in fact, the weirder the better, it seems. This is one of the reasons I love books for young readers; they have such power to shape thinking, to alter the course of a life for the better, to influence and affect and make a difference. Not only do children’s books possess some of the most imaginative world-building, language use and characterisation in literature, but they make the children who read them feel part of something bigger, comfort them in times of challenge, make them see they’re not alone, and (hopefully) help them to be happier in their own shoes. And what could be better than that?

Nothing. That’s what.

And finally there’s this great list of reads from some of the contributors to the site (gasp!) Middle Grade Strikes Back, which details what people are bringing off on holiday with them to keep them company by the pool. I’ve read several, but most are new to me. Maybe they’ll inspire you, too.

Au revoir for now, poupettes. Stay well. I hope I’ll be back soon – and that there’ll actually be some writing news to tell you!

The Deathbed Chronicles

You know, in classic novels, when people are described as ‘invalids’ – lying about on couches looking sort of wasted and pale, possibly covered in blankets, snapping at the servants and insisting on keeping the curtains closed because they can’t even be dealing with the outside world – and how you always thought it sounded a bit, well, dramatic?

Yeah.

Photo Credit: tpholland via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: tpholland via Compfight cc

I did, too, until I developed the Ague That Will Not Go Away (No Matter How Hard I Beg Of It), and I realised how close this depiction is to reality. All I’m short of is the laudanum drops and the strategic application of leeches to my person. I had a break from feeling ill for a few days, which lured me into thinking I was back to optimum functioning again, but over the weekend it struck once more like a hammer-blow from the heavens. No exaggeration. So, yesterday I spent most of my time in a semi-conscious fog. barely able to summon the strength to get to the corner shop for essential provisions. Today, luckily, I’m a bit better – well enough to be upright and typing, at least – and we’ll see how the rest of the day goes.

It’s no huge surprise, then, that I don’t have much to report on the writing front. I did complete a draft last week (in a strictly technical sense, as it’s one I’ve been working on for a very long time), though I don’t feel it’s really up to much. I have a reasonable beginning to another draft floating around in the ether which I need to get back to. I’m about to start edits on The Eye of the North, which should be terrifying and exhilarating and may, quite possibly, push me right over the edge into full-blown loopiness. All in all, it’s the wrong time for me to be feeling less than functional. Whatever brain cells I can muster, I need ’em now. (If you have any lying about that you’re not using, by the way, feel free to package ’em up and send ’em my way. I’ll wash ’em and return ’em as soon as ever I can, Scout’s honour).

So, I don’t have any servants to snap at (nor, in fact, very many curtains to keep firmly closed; we’re a Venetian blind-sort of household around here), but I have the long-suffering look down pat. I am, however, blessed with the robust colouring of my peasant ancestors and so the ‘pale and wasted’ thing isn’t really working for me. I am continually a fresh and healthy shade of pink, no matter what my internal reality might be, so I give the impression of being as healthy as a horse, albeit one which looks rather put out at its lot in life. This was a problem when, as a kid, I was continually suspected of pretending to be sick so that I could bunk off school.

(Fools. They should have known I was a dyed-in-the-wool nerd who actually enjoyed school. Why would I want to bunk off? Anyway).

So. Let’s hope for a return to good health for one and all, a speedy turnaround on my edits, and fresh inspiration for my new writing projects. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Remix

Fwish fwish! Fwish-fwish!

That’s the sound of me mixing it up around here, just in case you weren’t sure what you were listening to. I’m aware, of course, that this is a Tuesday, and that it has become my habit to blog on Mondays, but yesterday I wasn’t feeling one hundred percent well. So, my blog had to fall by the wayside, just once.

It wasn’t the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had, but it does give me the chance to use this nifty mixer-upper tool. Fwish! I could get used to this, you know.

Think of me like Zorro. Except female. And short. And prone to toppling over unexpectedly.

Photo Credit: armadillo444 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: armadillo444 via Compfight cc

In fact, actually, don’t think of me as Zorro. That was stupid. Let’s start again.

Right! Hello! How’s your week going so far? Mine’s going pretty fairly well. Now that I’ve recovered somewhat from feeling woeful, that is. I’m writing again – it’s going slowly, but it’s going. I think *crosses everything* that I have the bones of a fairly decent story beginning to form, but in writing you never really know whether your story is going to work until you write it. What might seem shiny and bright and fantastic in the planning stages may turn out to be rickety and rotten underfoot as soon as you put any weight on it. Of course I hope this won’t happen, but (as I never tire of reminding myself) in this game, there are no guarantees.

This is the thrill, and the risk, and the heart-crushing sorrow, of trying to create something from nothing. It’s a feeling I’m all too familiar with. For whatever reason, during this year so far almost everything I’ve started has ended before it was supposed to – in terms of writing, at least. Ideas have sputtered out and stories have whittled away, fading down to an embarrassed throat-clearing noise as the universe reshuffles, hoping nobody noticed the big enormous failure that has just happened. I feel a lot like everything I’ve tried to do this year has been akin to fumbling in a darkened room, where there are scary, nasty (and quite possibly dangerous) things hidden in the murk, lurking beneath dusty sheets. Sometimes discovering these things can be good – once your heart rate returns to normal – and sometimes they can be bad. Sometimes, they can be the death of your tiny storylet, and that’s a dreadful feeling.

So, I’m fully prepared for this new story to go the same way. But I’m also hopeful that it won’t. On the plus side, I think I have mastered one important thing, which is the voice of this tale; once I have that, I think the rest of it will slot together, eventually. Finding the right register for your characters is, for me, a prerequisite to telling a tale – you want a tone which expresses their individuality, hints at their world, seems to ‘fit’ them and their personality, and it’s much harder to do than you’d imagine. Often, the first ‘voice’ you start writing in isn’t the right one; I’ve had this happen more often than I want to remember. Also, once you’ve begun a story in one ‘voice’, it can be really hard to see your way through to writing it in another, and your desperation to get it ‘right’ can sometimes be its undoing. And then sometimes, as with ‘Emmeline’, the voice hits you right away and the story practically tells itself. I’m not expecting that to happen again (I think what happened with ‘Emmeline’ was a once-in-a-lifetime thing), but it would be amazing if I could just keep going long enough to build a firm foundation for this idea, something which grows stronger with every addition instead of more tangled and confused.

Let’s hope for the best.

Fwish! I’m off. Have good Tuesdays, all y’all. Feel good. Try to keep your eyes on the happy stuff, for without it we are all lost. Create something. Give something. Share your brightness with another. That way, maybe there’s a chance for everyone to rise.

A Note, on a Stressful Monday

By all accounts, today has been – and will continue to be – a challenge.

Firstly, my husband has gone on a work-related trip.

Secondly, spiders have taken over my house, and my only weapon against them – the vacuum cleaner with a pair of old tights stretched over the intake pipe – is banjaxed. (This may be because I accidentally hoovered up a pair of tights while trying to catch a spider, but I can neither confirm nor deny such rumours).

Thirdly, I was supposed to begin the second pass of edits on Emmeline today, but chances are high it won’t happen now. Because…

…fourthly, and most importantly, one of my dearly loved family members has been taken to hospital with a serious illness, and I am waiting anxiously for news.

If you’re the praying type, please remember my family in your petitions today. If you’re not, a handful of good vibes strewn in the wind will do instead.

And I hope you’ll be able to forgive me for not posting a proper blog today. For all these reasons, some more than others of course, I am not in the right place to do it justice.

So, here’s a photo of a tiny baby hedgehog in what looks to be a purple toilet roll holder for your enjoyment instead. It brought a bit of levity to an otherwise stressful morning for me, at least. I hope it’ll do the same for you.

I hope to be able to talk to you tomorrow; until then, may all go well for you and yours.

Creaking into Monday

Boy, oh boy. It has been a slow old morning this morning.

It seems almost too cruel to be under the weather on a Monday – as if the day wasn’t hard enough, you have to carry the extra burden of ill-health, too? – but one cannot choose these things, of course. I’m exhausted, and shaky, and my head is doing that weird swooshy thing that makes you feel like you’re on a roller-coaster*, and I’d love to be able to press ctrl+alt+del and begin again, but it ain’t happenin’.

So, what are you gonna do? Keep on keepin’ on, of course.

I was away from my desk this weekend, off doing happy things with my family, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have words on my mind. (Perish the thought!) I made contingency plans and arranged my work around my life – which, were I to be engaged in anything besides writing a book, would be a dreadfully bad idea, of course.

I'm not normally an advocate of bringing your work with you, but...

I’m not normally an advocate of bringing your work with you, but…

On Friday, before I embarked upon my weekend road-trip, I printed out my WiP, equipped myself with an array of writing implements and got myself ready to carry out an edit. I knew I’d have a few empty hours which I needed to fill, and I couldn’t think of a better way to occupy myself than ripping the guts out of my own work. I felt the book (even though it’s only partially completed) was substantial enough to stand a touch of dissection, and luckily I was right.

On this point, though, it’s useful to print out your WiP for several reasons; one of them, of course, is that you can bring your red pen out and slash it to ribbons (tough love, and all that), but another is that printing your book-in-progress allows you to see how much work you’ve actually done. It does a lot for your self-belief when you feel a little like you’ve run out of steam. My WiP – ‘Web’ – is only a little over halfway written, but I had been wondering whether what I’d managed to do had any value, or held together as a story. Printing and reading it as a whole allowed me to see it as one ‘thing’ instead of a random string of disconnected chapters (which is how a book appears when you’re creating it); it’s far from perfect or ready, of course, and most of it will probably end up either being junked or changed beyond all recognition before I’d consider it ready to submit to anyone, but at least now I know it does have a reasonable flow and it’s pretty much functioning as it should.

Which is more than can be said for my brain, today.

Another benefit of reading your work as a whole is that it can help you to sort out, even in outline, where you want the rest of the story to go. I was having a slight problem with ‘Web’ insofar as I knew, broadly, where I wanted the story to end up but the practicalities of getting things from A to Z weren’t entirely clear. Having an opportunity to read it through without interruption gave me a chance to map out a loose plan for the rest of the story; it reminded me of the small details and hints I’d planted in the tale’s foundations – little sparkling shards of story designed to flower into larger things as the book went on – which I’d forgotten about or had lost track of. So, in teeny-tiny handwriting, I now have a Plan for the rest of the story which I will begin as soon as I can. (Handy tip: perhaps make sure to use a different coloured ink for your planning notes in order to distinguish them from your editing notes. I know that in the heat of the moment, inspiration-wise, you don’t always pause to check your tools are present and correct, but it really is a good idea).

So, it’s shaping up to be a busy week; nothing for it but to creak on and get stuck in, I guess. Good luck with whatever’s on your plate today – I hope it goes smoothly, successfully and well.

Image: curiousweekends.blogspot.com

Image: curiousweekends.blogspot.com

*speaking of which, did you check out my story ‘Tiger and Turtle‘ which was published on Saturday as part of Flash Flood 2014? Feel free to share it around and/or leave a comment, if the mood strikes you…

Clang, Clang, Clang…

…Bring out yer dead!

Image: fishandbicycles.com

Image: fishandbicycles.com

I’m never going to take being able to swallow without pain for granted again. This morning the glands in my neck are so swollen that I look like I’ve had my head inflated with a foot-pump, and every movement from the shoulders up has to be conducted with extreme care. I’ve had more paracetamol in the last three days than ever in my life before, and I’ve spent most of the past 48 hours feeling dizzy, and I hate every irritating second of it.

Also, I am the worst patient in the world. Fact.

This is a pretty accurate representation of me right now... Image: krank.ie

This is a pretty accurate representation of me right now…
Image: krank.ie

Plus, my house looks like it’s been ripped out of the ground, shaken around a bit and replaced upside-down, and there’s three days of dishes to be done, and a pile of laundry as tall as myself…

Sigh.

But it will all get done, eventually. I have to keep reminding myself that you don’t have to do all the things, all the time, but somehow I find myself trying, anyway. Since I got sick I have proofread two chapters of a thesis (which was very interesting, and satisfied my inner pedant so much), and written nearly 3,000 words of a new novel idea – and all this on top of trying to keep this blog going as best I can.

Yes. Yes, I am insane.

I probably shouldn’t have started working on a new book idea, really –  I still have work that needs to be completed on ‘Eldritch’. In fact, who am I kidding; I have loads of work still to do on that story. But, for whatever reason, an idea I’d had years ago, which I’d shelved, popped back into my fevered head the other day, and – strangely – a character came with it, and a backstory, and a suitably intriguing supernatural/creep-tinged motivation for the baddie, and a complicated relationship between my character and her mother, and I just had to try to pin it down on paper.

Now, I haven’t re-read my work yet. It may be that I’ve written 3,000 words of garbled nonsense, which will leave nobody in any doubt that they burst forth from the brain of a person with an elevated temperature. At least I was ‘with-it’ enough to make notes on my new plot and story arc, and with any luck they’ll be workable. It’s exciting – I haven’t worked on something new for a while, now.

But, as many before me (whose shoes I am not fit to untie, or whatever that saying is) have said, the first rule of creating art is: Finish It.

Run, Bilbo! Run! Image: lvl1.org

Run, Bilbo! Run!
Image: lvl1.org

So, perhaps what I should do is make some notes on the new project and leave it be for a while, until I’ve had a chance to redraft ‘Eldritch.’ Then, when that’s done, it’ll be time for the new, shiny project again. And the one after it, which is already taking shape in my brain. And after that – who knows?

Right now, though, I think it’s time for dishes and laundry. Oh, what a glamorous life we writers lead, eh? Yeah.

So, send me all your good-health vibes. Force my throat to shrink by sheer power of will. Meditate upon my plight and pray for my shakes to dissipate.

And, if you fancy dropping over and giving me a hand with the housework, that’d be awesome.

Yuck. Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Yuck.
Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Wednesday Write-In #85

Apologies for not only the lateness of this week’s post, but also the fact that this story may make sense only to me. In my defence, I have had a high temperature, sore throat and quaking, shaking limbs for the past two days, and have been mainlining Paracetamol for the last twenty-four hours. If the story sucks, let’s blame it on the flu. Cool? Cool.

This week’s words were:

porcelain  ::  flex  ::  shadow  ::  strawberry jam  ::  frozen

Image: aicsa.com.au

Image: aicsa.com.au

The Clause

‘Well, of course, we’ll have to divide up the estate,’ droned my uncle Philip. ‘I think the porcelain should come to us, naturally, and I was promised the oak dresser years ago. It might be sensible to start moving the heavier objects now, in advance of the Will -‘

‘Oh, Philip! Do shut up!’ yelped my aunt Teresa, and Philip stared at her as though she’d slapped him. I watched his fingers flex as he, no doubt, fantasised about wrapping his hands around his sister-in-law’s neck. ‘Mum is still warm, and you’re already divvying up her things!’

‘I beg your pardon – ‘, he began, before the frozen tones of my aunt Tracey filled the room.

‘You shan’t speak to my husband in that manner, Teresa,’ she said, and it was like a shadow had fallen over the sun, or a dark hand had yanked the lightbulb out of the ceiling over our heads. ‘I simply shall not stand for it.’

‘But he’s being mercenary about Mum’s property!’ protested Teresa. ‘We’re all entitled to our fair share. Don’t you think so, Trudy?’ she said, turning on my mum, whose jaw dropped.

‘I – um.’ Her mouth snapped shut again, and she shrugged.

‘Eloquent as always, dear,’ sniffed Tracey.

I rolled my eyes. Enough’s enough. ‘He’s being an ass –

‘Pauline!’ gasped Mum, whirling around to face me.

‘Well, it’s true!’ I licked my lips as I flicked my gaze from face to face, one pair of eyes more crazed and incredulous than the next. ‘You sure know her stuff well, Philip, but what year was Granny born, tell me?’

‘Well – ah. Well. Nineteen twenty one… no! No. Wait. Nineteen twenty four. I clearly remember -‘

‘Nineteen twenty six,’ I snapped, ignoring Philip’s muttered Poppycock! ‘And what was her favourite colour, aunt Tracey?’

‘Purple,’ she crowed. ‘I gave her a beautiful purple brooch for her seventy-fifth birthday – which I’ll have back now, of course – and she told me it was quite her preferred shade.’

‘Nope. Green,’ I said.

‘But, I -‘

‘Now. Aunt Teresa. What was Granny’s favourite thing to eat? In all the world?’

‘Well – ah. She was partial to roast lamb, I’m sure, and there was something about rhubarb – wasn’t there? I’m certain she liked rhubarb.’

‘Well, maybe,’ I said, in a small voice. ‘But her very favourite thing was strawberry jam.’

The silence that followed this was deafening. Even Philip, for once, said nothing, and the four of them spent several long moments avoiding one another’s eyes. Clever girl, Granny, I thought, swallowing hard. You had the measure of them, right enough.

‘Come on, then. Plenty to do. The undertaker’ll be here soon,’ I said, levering myself out of my chair.

Nobody moved as I walked across the floor. I stood in the doorway looking in at them, each wrapped up in their own cold little cocoon, and Granny’s face washed over my memory like a sweetly remembered dream.

‘I’d love to see their faces when this is read,’ she’d said, signing on the dotted line with a flourish. ‘Philip, particularly. He always thought he was in the money as soon as he put a ring on Tracey’s finger.’ She grinned, rather grimly, as she folded up the large document in front of her. ‘The fool.’

‘Are you sure about this, Gran?’ I’d asked, but the look she shot me left me in no doubt.

‘Just remember the clause, girl,’ she’d said, her eyes sparkling. ‘Say one word about this – one little brag, just the barest hint, and you get nothing. Just let them all believe they’re getting everything they’ve ever wanted, and more. Do that right, and it all goes to you.’

She’d be so proud of me, I thought, as I turned and made my way out of the room. As I passed the mirror in the hallway, I spent a few seconds practising my ‘surprised’ face, so I’d be ready when the time came.

Like my Granny before me, I was a gifted actress.