Tag Archives: nerves

Approaching the Event Horizon

April is nearly over. May is nearly here. That means a few things, of course, not all of them scary and new; it means there’s likely to be more of this sort of thing, which is good:

Image: paleohappy.com

Image: paleohappy.com

And people will, more than likely, start to wear stuff like this (even though, in Ireland, just because the sun’s out doesn’t actually mean it’s warm, but we’re eternally optimistic – a sort of ‘if you wear it, summer will come’ thing):

Image: lukitaslittleworld.blogspot.com

Image: lukitaslittleworld.blogspot.com

Sadly, it also means a lot of people will be going around looking like they’ve been dipped in boiling oil, too, because – while the sun’s not particularly strong here, unless things are exceptionally warm – the Irish pelt just isn’t equipped to cope with anything much beyond a vaguely bright afternoon.

But, on a personal level, the approach of May means a few different things.

Firstly, it’s going to be a busy month for me. As well as attending two conferences (at one of which I’ve been given the opportunity to pitch my book to an agent), I am also going to be giving a reading at a book festival. On top of all that, I’ve decided that now would be a good time to branch out into a new business venture. It’s official. I’ve ordered business cards, and everything.

What’s that silence? Oh, don’t worry. It’s just my quietly controlled panic.

Secondly, it’s a month full of new stuff. I’ve never given a reading before, for instance – the very idea of it seems slightly ridiculous, as if someone, somewhere, has made a terrible mistake and is expecting Sinéad O’Connor instead of me, or something.

FYI: not me. Image: thetimes.co.uk

FYI: not me.
Image: thetimes.co.uk

Actually, there’s an idea. Perhaps if I pretend I am Sinéad O’Connor, it might make the whole thing easier – and more enjoyable for the audience. I’m sure I could belt out a few verses of ‘Mandinka’ before being manhandled off the stage.

The next challenge is to write and memorise a ten-minute pitch for my book. Delivering this in front of a mirror, or my mother, will be scary enough. Delivering it in front of a top-notch literary agent, however – that’s a whole new level of terror. What if I forget how to talk? Maybe my mind will become a field of pristine snow, unblemished even by the tiny pock-marks of foraging birds. Perhaps my teeth will chatter so hard that everything I say will come out all chopped up, like baby food.

Maybe I’d be better off printing the whole thing out on laminated paper and giving it to the agent to read. You know, in her own time.

Image: emeryruth.com

Image: emeryruth.com

Yeah. Or maybe not.

The second conference I’m attending is less nerve-wracking, mainly because I don’t have to do anything, per se; I just have to be outgoing and friendly and approachable and all that other stuff that sounds easy (and which, in truth, I’m good at, once I stop tripping myself up). When I’m surrounded by people I consider important, though – in the sense of ‘oh my God look it’s a famous published author I must scuttle out of her way forthwith’ – I find it difficult to be my happy-go-lucky self. I think I need to take a large dose of ‘Get On With It’ before I enter the room, and go in wearing my widest, brightest smile.

Easier said than done.

And finally, the business venture. Well, calling it that probably lends it an air of importance that it doesn’t really deserve; it’s not like I’m going to be appearing on ‘Dragons’ Den’ looking for funding for my ingenious invention, or anything like that. If you’d like to find out more about it, there’s a website over here – you can even sign up to follow it, if you like – and there’s a Twitter feed over at @YellowRoadEdit. It’s extremely early days yet, but maybe – with a bit of luck – I’ll be able to use my talent for words to help those who don’t find it easy to pick just the right phrase to express what they mean, or who aren’t as clear on the rules of apostrophe usage as I am.

Or who aren’t as pernickety about the rules of apostrophe usage as I am, maybe.

So, I have a lot going on. By the end of this month I’ll have neither fingernails nor a strand of hair left, and I’ll probably be living in a vat of caffeine. If you have any good wishes knocking about that you’re not using for anything else, it’d be brilliant if you could send ’em my way.

Welcome to a shiny new week, everyone. May it be fabulous for one and all.

Image: hellogiggles.com

Image: hellogiggles.com



Occupational Hazards

As a writer (for, even though I have not yet been paid to do it, that is what I consider myself to be), I spend a lot of time alone. I focus intently on a screen for hours on end, and I am – most of the time – lost inside my own head. A lot of the people in my life do not actually exist.

This, while wonderful, can lead to a few problems.

Actually, if you think about it, there are loads of drawbacks to having an active imagination. One of these drawbacks is that you see things everywhere. By ‘things’, of course, I don’t mean things like tables and chairs and spoons, and so on, or any of the detritus one might expect to see in any normal house; I mean things like the flicker of shadow in the corner of your eye which could be a) next door’s cat, b) an errant eyelash, c) a serial killer hiding behind the ironing board, d) a vengeful ghost or e) your own addled brain trying to drive you crazy. Perhaps all of the above. When this happens on a daily (or, perhaps, regular) basis, it is enough to fray one’s nerves, just a little.

Telling myself that bad stuff doesn’t happen to people in their houses doesn’t help much, either. Proof to the contrary abounds.

Image: movieramblings.com

Image: movieramblings.com

I tend to be a jumpy sort at the best of times. I’m a terrible person to watch any sort of frightening film with, even one which is only mildly scary, because not only do I spook easily but I also tend to scream and/or weep at the most inappropriate places. Scenes in a movie which would make a normal person laugh with derision will have me under the sofa, gibbering in terror. When one combines this with my, frankly, overactive imagination, then things can get a little hairy. It also doesn’t help that I’m on my own a lot; when I’m with other people, I can control my irrational fears out of a sense of propriety. When alone, my terrors have full rein.

I’ve been convinced, so many times, that I’ve seen the reflection of someone sneaking up on me in my computer screen. Imagine my embarrassment, then, when I whirl around in a karate stance ready to thump my ‘assailant’, only to find nothing there. Nearly every time I pass our kitchen window I tell myself there’s someone in the garden, but it’s just the shadow cast by the shed; whatever way it falls, it lands on my eye like a marauder, waiting to pounce. Most times when I pass the spare room, I am convinced there’s someone sitting in the chair – but there never is, of course, because it’s impossible. Every creak is someone breaking in; whenever the phone rings, I hit the ceiling.

It’s ridiculous. Being aware of it makes it seem even more ridiculous, if that makes sense.

Having said all this, I don’t mean to paint a picture of myself as some sort of Victorian-era lady, living on her nerves, clutching her scented handkerchief to her powdered nose, and spending every day in a paroxysm of horror. When I’m totally absorbed in what I’m doing, and when a story has me gripped tight in its claws, I tend not to let anything distract me – not even reflections which could be stranglers creeping up on my unassuming back, their fingernails dripping with blood, or strange dark shapes in the corners of my vision which could be an intruder lying in wait (but which are, most likely, a bag full of old clothes which I haven’t got around to recycling yet, or something similar). Perhaps, sometimes, when I’m tired or my focus is not quite right or something isn’t working in the story, I allow myself to get dragged out of my fictional world, just a little; my imagination is still on overdrive, though, and so I see and hear and smell things that aren’t real, for a short while.

At least, that’s what I tell myself.

Image: spectrumculture.com

Image: spectrumculture.com

All this is another reason why it’s important for us solitary workers to get out and see the world a little every day. If I’m going to be talking to myself and muttering at shadows, I might as well do it outdoors and get some fresh air at the same time.

Happy Thursday. I hope your day is slightly less neurotic, and equally as productive, as mine!


Adventures in Podcasting

It’s a bright and sunny Monday morning here, and all is good with the world. I was up with the sun, ready to go outside and water our garden plants before the day grew too hot, and it was beautiful. The grass was thick with dew, and the air was already warm. I watched the water sparkle on the leaves of our plants (the rose we were given on our wedding day, and the lilies my father grew and gave to us when we moved into the house), and I gave silent thanks for all the love in my life.

Then I stood and soaked up a bit of the early sunshine for a few minutes before the dew started soaking through my unlaced trainers, forcing me to go back indoors. Finally, I sat at my computer, full of the joys of life, ready to write my blog, only to find that WordPress wouldn’t work. So, all the gentle, sun-dappled peace that had settled on my soul got flung out the window as I sat, fuming, at my desk.

Image: buzzle.com

Image: buzzle.com

After a cup of tea, and a time-out, though, all’s good again. WordPress appears to be working once more, and I’m Zen. Actually, it was a good opportunity to practice my mindfulness. Or whatever it’s called when you sit, impatiently, waiting for something over which you have no control to start happening the way you want it to.

Sounds a lot like life, right?


How was everyone’s weekend? I hope you all did at least one amazing thing and managed to cram in as much relaxation as possible, too. As for me – well, I got to do something really cool on Saturday. Two of my stories, ‘Killer Ink’ and ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ – neither of which have been published in print – were recorded in a podcast, which is fantastic. I owe this honour to ‘Number Eleven Magazine’, the editor of which organised the recording session in the beautifully-appointed Civic Theatre in Tallaght, in Co. Dublin. I can say now that it was a wonderful experience, because it’s all over and I survived it; at the time I was so nervous my knees were literally knocking. I did think that was a literary device, you know, until Saturday morning. It’s really not.

So, what’s it like to record a story for a podcast?

Firstly, we arrived in the foyer of the Civic Theatre to be greeted by an array of muffins and scones and chocolate-covered rice cakes and (thankfully) bottles of water. The first thing I learned was this: if you’re going to record a story, bring water with you. That’s probably something I should’ve remembered all by myself, but the nerves wiped my brain. Graham (Number Eleven’s editor) did his best to put me and the other recordees present at our ease, but we were all a bit skittish and scared. One of these other writers is a proper published novelist, and everything, so I immediately felt a bit better – if someone of her calibre felt daunted by the whole thing, then I immediately gave myself permission to be nervous, too.

What’s to be nervous about? All you’re doing is facing a microphone and reading a story without making too many mistakes. Nothing to be nervous about, right? Well. Yes – technically, all that happened was I was ushered into an empty theatre, faced with a large red microphone, encouraged gently by the two lovely people from the podcast website, and then I just read my stories in my best slow, intelligent, grown-up voice. But it was more than that, mentally. It was sharing a story with strangers, and you’re physically there to watch the boredom film over their eyes or the distaste creep over their faces, and you’ve got to stand there and take their criticism and disdain on the chin, and you’ve nothing but some flimsy sheets of paper to shield your head with as they run towards you, flailing fists at the ready…

Of course, I’m not being serious. The lovely podcast crew were so nice, and supportive, and encouraging, and enthusiastic – they’re genuinely interested in new Irish writing, and want to do their best to support literary magazines like Number Eleven, and that’s an amazing thing. But, in my head, I felt like I was squirming on a giant petri dish beneath the lens of a mighty microscope, being examined and prodded and poked and, eventually, discarded. I felt, truly, that my stories weren’t good, that they weren’t strong or compelling, and that everyone else would be miles better than me. I almost felt like apologising for wasting the podcast crew’s time.

One of the stories I recorded was less than seven days old. I wrote it last Monday, and spent the week tweaking and twisting and trying to perfect it. I made changes to it right up until Saturday morning – the typescript was covered with handwritten edits as I faced the microphone, so I’m amazed I could even read it – and, perhaps, it’s no wonder I was scared it wasn’t any good. It’s tough to give life to something so new, something untested and something which you’ve not listened to out loud until the day you’re recording it for a podcast (also, not something I’d recommend! Lesson two: make sure you’ve read the stories you’re recording through at least once, to check for tricky pronunciations or clunky sentences, and to ensure you’ve got space to breathe in every line. Word to the wise.) Also, both my stories were SF-lite, speculative fiction with a dystopian twist, perhaps, which is a genre I’m only easing myself into. I had a feeling most of the other stories would be beautifully observed, gentle meditations on life and love and eternity – and then I’d come in like a clanging bell, blaring on about overpopulation and euthanasia and genocide and psychotic, vampiric tattoos (for, dear reader, those are the topics covered in my tales). So, really, it’s no wonder I was a bit uneasy.

But it all went well. I read clearly, getting it all in one take, besides a few flubs which I’m assured can be edited out, and Sinéad (the lovely podcast lady) told me she enjoyed listening to me read. I’m sure she says that to all the recordees, but still. It was nice of her to say so. Funnily enough, too, it was ‘Ne Plus Ultra’, the story that was barely a week old, which I felt was the better of the two. But when the podcast is live, you guys can be the judge of that. I’ll let you all know when the stories are ready to be listened to (well, maybe. If I’m brave enough!)

Happy Monday, everyone. I have big plans for this week, writing-wise, and I hope the week that’s facing all of you brings you happy, shiny things.

So, we can all look like this!  Image: denisewymore.wordpress.com

So, we can all look like this!
Image: denisewymore.wordpress.com



Dangerous Dreams

The world is frozen today. Everywhere I look, all I see is whiteness – the sky matches the ground, and there’s a quiet layer of frost over everything. I feel like the only living thing in a hundred miles.

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Image: commons.wikimedia.org

Today I’m thinking about dreams – not so much the visions that dance behind your eyes when you’re asleep, but the hopes and plans you build for your future, which you work towards and focus on. They might be gentle, private dreams, ones that nobody else knows about, or they might be dreams you’ve chosen to share with your family and friends, or perhaps with the world at large. Whether everyone knows about your dream, or nobody does, the struggle to make it come true belongs to you, and you alone. Letting people into your dream means you have a wider support network to draw on (though you’ve bound to get some detractors, too.) Usually, people who love you will be behind you all the way, ready to help in whatever way they can. However, the thing with having a dream, one you’ve cherished and treasured all your life and hugged close to your heart, is that it becomes a part of you. No matter how many people stand around you cheering you on, working towards your dream can still seem like the most personal struggle you’ve ever faced.

I’ve posted before about how ready I am to face rejection and knockbacks. Of course, it’s one thing to have yourself steeled and prepared to go through rejection, and another thing altogether to actually go through it. I’ve never really gone through it because I’ve never allowed anyone to see anything I’ve written, with the exception of this blog. I can only hope I will manage to negotiate the difficult waters of rejection when it’s time for me to go through it for real. But over the last few days I’m realising how terrifying it can also be to meet with success, or at least the hint or possibility of success. Being longlisted for the competition I entered some time ago was wonderful, but also scary. It’s like having a crush on someone when you’re not completely ready to enter into a relationship with them, I suppose. Having feelings for someone which you keep to yourself, while treasuring the pain of your unrequited love, feels a lot like having a dream that you wish you could share with the world but which you’re afraid to even talk about with other people. If you do pluck up the courage to share your dream with the world, and you’re met with the merest hint of acceptance, it’s like the sweet horror that greets you when you tell your crush you love them – and they reciprocate.

I’ve been thinking about writing all my life, and I’ve been dreaming about writing for nearly as long. I’ve always wanted to do it professionally, but I never thought I actually would. I thought I’d keep it as ‘the great unattainable’, the tantalising thing just out of reach. I thought it would be a treasure just for me, and that I’d keep it safe inside my heart. And then life handed me the opportunity to give my dream a chance to set foot in the outside world, and I didn’t have any excuses any more. It was like someone telling my greatest crush exactly how I felt about them, spilling my secret love all over the place for everyone to see, and laugh at. But instead of my crush walking away from me, joining in the ridicule, he gazed at me and said, with a smile, ‘let’s give this thing a try’. And so, I’m starting to feel the terror now. The terror that maybe it might all work, it might all happen. Will I be good enough? Will I have what it takes to make it? Will my writing – my secret love – meet with approval?

Image: tradebit.com

Image: tradebit.com

I know that being longlisted for a competition isn’t the same thing as meeting with success. Things might still come to nothing, and I may yet have to pack my dream back up into my heart-coffer, and keep it for another day. But it’s a hint, a ray of hopeful light, a suggestion of what it might be like to make it, and I’m surprised to find that I’m scared by it.

It’s normal to be nervous of the new. Isn’t it?