Tag Archives: writing

Crossing Places

A few days ago, while playing among our books, The Toddler pulled out a slim volume which caught my eye. It was a book – or, more truly, a notebook – which I hadn’t seen in a very long time.

A very long time.

winnie-the-pooh-notebook

Photo credit: SJ O’Hart.

This notebook was a gift from my schoolfriends to me on my 17th birthday. In it, they had each written a little note wishing me a happy birthday and how much they were looking forward to celebrating with me; some wished me a bright future, and others shared funny stories (some of the details of which, sadly, have blurred with time). Many put their first names and their surnames, just in case I lost the notebook and didn’t find it again for so long that I’d have forgotten who they were. One spent four pages insulting me in the most colourfully hilarious language imaginable and didn’t bother signing his name because he knew (rightly) that we’d be friends forever and I’d never get around to forgetting him – and his message still made me laugh out loud.

I read it with a huge grin and, if I’m being honest, a few tears too – and not just because my 17th birthday is so long ago now that you’d need a telescope to see it.

This notebook’s reappearance in my life made me think a lot about intersections and choices, the random algorithms that bring people into your life and take them out of it again. I’m delighted that most of the people who wrote in my book are still my friends; a few I haven’t seen in a couple of years, and one I haven’t seen, sadly, since we left school. But I remembered them all, even without the surnames. Each of them was important to me, and many still are – and there’s not one among them I wouldn’t be glad to see again, right now. They’re all (as far as I know) still alive and well, and though most of them still live in Ireland there are a couple who left – one for America, one for the UK – and very few of them still live at home, where we all grew up. We all entered one another’s lives through the simple coincidence of being born at around the same time and either growing up in, or moving to, the same place in time to attend secondary school together. Besides that, we are as disparate a group of people as you could find.

And yet, we are bound to one another forever.

I was thinking, recently, about the ‘quantum’ versions of myself – by which I mean, fancifully, the versions of me which exist in every other imaginable universe. Would I be doing the same things I’m doing here, in this space? Would I be the same person? Would I live in the same place, with the same people? Who’s to know. Every life has its ‘crossing places’, points at which the choices you make determine the path you take. My life has had several of those, some of which I would dearly love to relive. If it were possible, would I take different paths? Would I make different choices? I have some regrets; people I have lost whom I miss, people I loved who never knew it, things I wish I’d had the bravery to do when I had the chance.

And yet, the choices I made have led me here, to this room, in which I’m typing. My child is a few feet away, playing. John Grant is on my stereo. The proof of my first book is sitting on the table beside me. Things are not perfect: the world is far from good. I, like many, have found the last few days very hard, for many reasons. But as lives go, I can’t complain about mine. It has been circuitous and challenging, and I look back on so much of it with a nostalgia bordering on pain, but – in one manner or another – everything I have ever wanted or worked for has come to pass.

But as my child grows, these are the lessons I will impart:

  1. If you love a person, tell them. Even if they don’t love you, and you know it; even if you fear rejection. Tell them, without expectation, because regret is a far heavier burden than embarrassment, and it grows heavier with time.
  2. If you have an opportunity to travel, take it.
  3. Ditto with studying.
  4. In fact, if you have an opportunity to travel and study, take it. With both hands. And don’t worry about how you’ll work things out – you will.
  5. If offered a job you don’t think you can do, try it anyway.
  6. If you want to go on an adventure, do it.
  7. Always treasure your friends.
  8. And never stop working for what you want, fighting for what you believe in, and doing everything you can to help others, as far as you can.

Every life has its crossing places, but hopefully my child’s will have fewer than mine – and, with any luck, friends and friendship will be a big part of it, as they have been for me.

Thank you to my friends, all of them, past and present and future. I’m lucky to have, and to have had, such love.

 

Around the Bend in Eighty Days

*coughs* *blows dust off blogging seat*

So. Been a while, right? It feels like forever since I’ve swept my way around Clockwatching… towers, but it’s only been a couple of months (not quite the eighty days of the title, but c’mon. It was too good not to use). Thanks to you all for sticking with me (my stats have been booming, guys! Love to all y’all) and for being interested in what I’m doing and how things have been for me and my little family.

Well. In short, things have been great.

And terrible.

Great and terrible. I think anyone with a new baby can relate. We’ve had nights of relentless screaming, and we’ve had moments of pure panic, and we’ve had instances of utter and complete raglessness (as a friend put it, very aptly) when I’ve managed to lose my head completely. I’ve been down the road of Post-Natal Depression, and I’ve realised that I’m not as strong nor as naturally maternal as I always assumed, and I’ve learned that there’s nothing wrong with admitting that things are getting overwhelming  and you need help. I was terrible at accepting help before the baby came along. Sometimes, though, you just need to let someone else do your dishes or sweep your floor, no matter how much it pains you.

I’m very lucky to have had immense amounts of help from family and friends, and to have years’ worth of wisdom to draw on from people who have been here before me. So thank you to everyone. There are a couple of friends (no names, but they know who they are) who’ve been particularly amazing. So cheers to them both. Neither me nor baby would be in quite such good shape without my little backing crew – and boy do I know it!

 

elvis

Everyone needs their backing crew – even the King. Photo Credit: Lawrence Chard via Compfight cc

But things have begun to get back to normal. Baby is getting older, and more settled, and we are all getting used to one another. Routines are being established. Smiling has started happening – and not just the sort of smiling one gets from a baby with a full stomach, but the sort that says ‘I see you. I know you. You’re my family.’ Any amount of sleepless worry is worth that tiny flicker of love. We’ve bought a baby sling – a cloth carrier – which Junior seems to enjoy (fingers crossed) and we’re experimenting with cloth nappies, which hasn’t been going so well.

But enough about that.

I’ve been learning lots of new skills, too (as well as not forgetting my old ones; I was terrified I’d have forgotten how to type, or spell, or think – but luckily all seems intact!) and discovering that having a baby really prepares you for so many different sorts of career paths. If the writing thing goes belly-up, I feel vastly qualified already to do any of the following:

Mind reader: Because when you spend most of your time interacting with a person who is non-verbal and whose idea of a good conversation involves screaming, flailing, dribbling, fixing you with a series of intense stares, and fairly random body convulsions, you get good at interpreting thought patterns. (Or just making use of guesswork. Who knows?)

Interpretive dancer/mime artist: Until you’ve caught yourself dancing round your kitchen to ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, making gooey faces and accompanying your vocal performance with limb twitching, you haven’t lived.

Animal wrangler: Babies eat. A lot. All the time. Around the clock. This means they need to be fed at night. My baby does not like waking up at night to feed. It happens, however, despite Junior’s best intentions, and after hours of moaning and groaning and snuffling and whuffling and kicking off of blankets, eventually baby comes to and instantly – instantly – the wailing for milk will begin. Now. Trying to balance a scarily strong infant on one knee while warming up a bottle (which involves dealing with boiling water in the dark, which is always fun) and attempting to get the milk down said infant’s neck without scalding someone and/or the infant back-flipping out the bedroom window is a true skill. I feel fully prepared to take up a job as a weasel wrestler any day now.

CIA operative: Admittedly my knowledge of what CIA operatives do is largely based on watching ‘Homeland’, but it seems to involve withstanding torture a lot of the time. Listening to a colicky baby screaming for hours on end will prepare anyone for that. Believe me.

Land speed record holder: For when you’re downstairs and the baby monitor informs you of disaster unfolding upstairs, or you’re in another room (taking a Xanax, perhaps) and you hear the air-raid siren warming up in its bassinet, you run. You run. And after a while you get pretty fast.

Lip reader: When you’re silly enough to try to watch TV with a baby, you need to be able to lip read. Go figure.

Statistician: Anyone who has ever spoken to a new parent will agree on one thing: they talk about poop. A lot. How often the baby goes. How long it takes. What colour it is. What consistency it is. The sheer power of its aroma, based on how similar it smells to the Bog of Eternal Stench. And so on. We’ve taken to keeping a poop log (no sniggering down the back) where we record times of poops and what sort they are. We also have a feeding log. We like to map the data. In graph form. Don’t judge us, for we are nerds.

Somnambulist: Not that this is a job, per se. But it’s definitely a skill. I walked up and down the stairs without opening my eyes once, and didn’t realise I’d done it until I was back in the baby’s room. Sort of scary, but a bit impressive too.

Anyway. One thing you’ll note is, of course, that having a baby doesn’t exactly lend itself to writing. I haven’t written anything longer than a Tweet for many many moons. My WordPress back-end has changed beyond recognition, and I’m feeling at sea even on this blog, my safe place. However – there is light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps I speak too soon, but – here it is, whisper it – I’m getting the hang of this parenting lark.

So. Before too long I hope to be back to a semi-regular schedule. I hope to get back to work. I have ideas still pinging into my dried up little brain – not so many, and not all good, but they’re coming – and so I hope to have time, and something to write about, as the new year rises.

Until then, wish me luck. And thank you for still being here. It does this tired mama’s heart good to see it. Adios, till next time!

 

Rules are Made to be Gently Bent

Recently, a very good friend of mine started up a brand-new blog called Home Grown Heaven. Before we go any further, I’d strongly recommend you follow the link and have a snoop about; there’s not a lot there to see yet, but it’s definitely worth the trip. Make sure to bookmark and follow along, if you have any sense. Trust me: it’ll do you good. My friend’s blog is not about writing, or books, or words, or the existential angst that seems to hang around this blog like a miasma, but is instead about the challenges and joys of living ‘off the land’ and following your dream of being sustainable, affordable and ethical in your everyday existence. In short, all the things I love in life, besides the written word.

Also, it’s very pretty and full of lovely photographs of flowers and ducks and home baking. Go on! What are you waiting for? I’ll be here when you get back, and I’ll probably have just finished boiling the kettle. Right?

Don't mind me. I'm fine here, just hanging out...  Photo Credit: Allison Richards (atrphoto) via Compfight cc

Don’t mind me. I’m fine here, just hanging out…
Photo Credit: Allison Richards (atrphoto) via Compfight cc

Okay. You see? I told you it’d be worth it.

Now.

Because I’ve been blogging for a while, with varying levels of success, my friend approached me when the idea for her blog began to form. She wanted to know what this blogging thing was all about, anyway, and how to begin to go about it. And because I love feeling like an expert, I (of course) was happy to share my hard-won knowledge. However, as I tried to help her, I began to realise exactly how many ‘rules’ of blogging I have recently begun to bend so far that, essentially, I’ve broken them.

Whoops. But do as I say, not do as I do. Right?

Firstly, I used to blog every day. For a long time, I enjoyed doing that. I had plenty to say; I burned with passion and fire. Of course there were days when I wondered if the inspiration fairy would pay me a visit, but I was very rarely left high and dry. I’m not saying it was easy (and after a couple of years it began to be a burden), but it was a challenge, and I do love those. Also, because I’d begun my blogging journey by writing a new post every day, I felt as though I couldn’t possibly stop posting every day.

Until I did.

As 2015 dawned, I began to see that I just couldn’t do it anymore. I stopped blogging every day. I tried to commit to a regular schedule, but that doesn’t always work either. Some weeks I blog on Mondays and Wednesdays; other weeks it’s Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some weeks I don’t blog at all. Such an idea would have been unthinkable two years ago. And one of the first rules of blogging is: Write posts on predictable days, so that your readers know when they can expect new content. This is a good rule. It’s one I passed on to my friend. But it’s not one I keep anymore, myself. However, I have learned something important, and it is this: the day your blog begins to feel like an unbearable weight, and the idea that you have to write a blog post is like a sharp pebble in your shoe, it’s time to take a step back. Blogging should be, by and large, a joy, something you do because you’re bubbling over with stuff you want to share, and because you want to help others. When it stops feeling like that, take a break.

Another rule of blogging is: Pick a topic about which you’re passionate, and which you can see a long-term future in. In other words, don’t jump on the nearest fad and start to build a blog around it. You’ve got to ask yourself: in a year, will anyone care? This is why I blog about writing, because it’s basically the one thing I do most often; it’s why my friend chose to blog about smallholding, because that’s her passion. They are also topics which have longevity. My writing will (hopefully) form the basis of my career, and my friend’s work on her land will be the means by which she sustains her family, long-term. That isn’t to say that a blog about (say) armadillos can’t occasionally discuss platypi (or, if you prefer, ‘platypuses’) or a blog about roof tiles can’t sometimes become sidetracked with mosaics, but it’s good to keep a focus on your topic.

Sometimes, I don’t do this either. Sometimes, there just isn’t anything to say about writing. Those days are hard and scary, and they make me wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Some days, I don’t blog about writing for the simple reason that I just don’t have any news: the road to being published is long and sometimes boring (and I’m in a long, boring patch right now), and I really don’t feel as though I have anything useful to share. So my blog ends up being about feminism, or crime, or social commentary, or whatever. There’s nothing wrong with this, as such, but it’s not always recommended.

There is one rule, however, which I have religiously kept since the day I first decided to begin this blogging journey, and that is: Always write with honesty. This rule is definitely one I passed on to my friend, because it’s something I really do believe in. There’s no point in blogging if you’re going to assume a ‘personality’; you’ve got to be you, behind the words. I have always written from my heart, and because I know my friend well, I can tell you that her words on Home Grown Heaven are from the heart, too. Whatever other rules you bend or break when it comes to blogging, this is one you really should keep.

Because if you find yourself having to pretend, then maybe it’s time to stop blogging altogether.

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!

Branford Boase, and the Magic of Books for Young Readers

Today (Tube strikes and other Acts of God bedamned!) the results of the 2015 Branford Boase Award will be announced. The Branford Boase is an amazing thing: an award presented to the best debut novel written for children/YA published in a particular year, which also recognises the vital role the editor/s have in bringing stories to their fullest life, and which always attracts a stellar long- and shortlist.

This year – even though I haven’t read all the books on the shortlist! – I have no idea how the judges are going to choose. It’s a job I’d simultaneously love and loathe – love, because you’d get to read so many incredible books, but loathe because I’d love all of them equally and choosing would be impossible. (But I’d give it a shot, just in case anyone’s listening).

Image: theguardian.com

Image: theguardian.com

As this article (from which the image is drawn) makes clear, the shortlist this year is extremely strong indeed. Every single book on the list deserves, in one way or another, to be rewarded, and certainly they all deserve to be read. Lest anyone think for a minute that books aimed at readers who are teens, or younger, aren’t worth bothering with, shall we consider the sort of subject matter these books deal with?

Yes. Yes, I think we shall.

To kick off, we have a book (Bone Jack, written by Sara Crowe, edited by Charlie Sheppard and Eloise Wilson) which deals with PTSD and alienation, loneliness and confusion, ancient pagan ritual and blood-soaked legend, where forces older than humanity are seen to still have sway over modern life and the power of the land is still strong. So Alan Garner-esque. So spine-chillingly amazing.

We also have a book (Trouble, written by Non Pratt and edited by Annalie Granger and Denise Johnstone-Burt) which deals with teenage pregnancy, the bonds of friendship, and the difficulties of growing up a little bit more quickly than you’d intended, as well as family complication, bodily autonomy and the travails of having to go through the most challenging thing you’ve ever experienced while still having to deal with school, and all its stresses

Then there’s a book (Half Bad, written by Sally Green and edited by Ben Horslen) which is an excellent, pacy, gripping read about a boy who is half White Witch and half Black Witch, in a world like our own but in which magic is an accepted part of everyday life. Hated and mistrusted because of who his father was, can he overcome his genetics and magical inheritance – and does he want to?

As if that wasn’t enough, we have a book (Cowgirl, written by Giancarlo Gemin and edited by Kirsty Stansfield) which takes a look at life on an underprivileged housing estate in Wales, and one girl’s attempt to break free of the misery she sees all around her through connecting with an ‘ideal’. These attempts bring her into the sphere of the legendary Cowgirl, and embroils her in the fate of a doomed herd of cattle – if she can save them, can she save herself?

There’s also the deeply moving Year of the Rat, written by Claire Furniss and edited by Jane Griffiths, in which a young girl named Pearl must deal with feelings she can hardly process in the aftermath of her mother’s death in childbirth. Her baby sister (whom she refers to as the Rat) comes into the world as their mother leaves it, and Pearl lashes out, keeps secrets, has ‘visions’ of her deceased mother, and eventually breaks down. Here is a book about love and grief which doesn’t hide from the darkness.

I’m not so familiar with the final two shortlstees, but they sound incredible too:

Leopold Blue by Rosie Rowell, edited by Emily Thomas, is set in South Africa during apartheid, and tells the story of a friendship which crosses the divide. Taking in the social issues of the day, including the scourge of HIV/AIDS, this is a realistic and significant book dealing with turbulent recent history.

The Dark Inside by Rupert Wallis, edited again by Jane Griffiths, is a story about two wounded people finding their way forward together, both dealing with the after-effects of abuse and trauma, and of the dark ‘curse’ which haunts their steps. Sounding a lot like a work of magical realism, this is one I need to read at my first available opportunity – but then I say that to all the books.

If these sketchy synopses aren’t enough to demonstrate that the world of children’s and YA books is about so much more than angsty love triangles and sulky heroines with floppy hair, then I’ll eat my hat. The breadth of imagination here, the wealth of story, the accomplishment in this shortlist alone is enough to make me want to do a joyful jig (but don’t worry, I won’t) that the world of writing for young readers is so vibrant, diverse, imaginative and simply brilliant. It’s where it’s at, people. Get on board.

And stay tuned to the Branford Boase Twitter account later today to find out who wins…

Sidling In

So. Um. *scuffs toe of shoe*

Yeah. It’s been a while since I blogged. A week, you say? A whole week? Couldn’t be.

(It is).

I wish I could say something like ‘well, I’m terribly sorry, but when Brad and Angie call you at the last minute and invite you to their chateau for a mini-break, what idiot would say no?’ or ‘apologies for my absence, but I was abseiling down the Burj Al-Arab’, but in reality – hard as it may be to believe – I was doing neither of these things.

Photo Credit: fizaco via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: fizaco via Compfight cc

Life got in the way, folks. Simple as. I had more medical tests. I had some tiredness. I had busy stuff going on, all of which is very boring for anyone who isn’t me. It did, however, mean that I was away from my desk a lot, and not exactly in the right mindspace for blogging. I do heartily apologise. My schedule is going to be out of whack for the next few weeks, but I will try to be better – though I do beg your forbearance.

I did some reading, though, while I was away, and I also did some writing. Not as much as I wanted, but some. I had a day during the week with a lot of down-time in the middle, so I sat with a notebook in a cafe and worked through a vague-ish plan for the rest of my current WiP, gathering ideas – and in at least one exciting moment, realising that a rootless, context-free idea I’d had several months ago would now fit quite nicely indeed into my current work, with a few tweaks. You’ve just got to love moments like those, and it proves once again that no idea should ever be wasted. Even if, like this one, it comes at you out of the blue with absolutely no explanation or lead-up, like a blob of gelatinous something-or-other that just splats into your brain from on high. Write it down. Keep it safe. Let it percolate. Eventually, you’ll see something or hear something that’ll spark off a thought, which will spark off another thought, which will lead to a fully-formed idea so awesome that your heart will start to pound, and which you’d never have had if you hadn’t kept hold of that original odd little spark of inspiration.

You know you’re onto a good thing when your heart starts to pound and you can’t write fast enough to keep up with your brain. Those are the moments we live for, right?

After all this feverish inspiration, I wrote a pitch for my current WiP (a useful thing to do, fellow writers, when you want to help an idea coalesce), and emailed it off to my agent without too much thought. ‘Here’s something I’ve been working on,’ I said. ‘It’s not finished, by a long shot, but I just wanted you to know what I’m up to.’ Immediately, I regretted it; she’ll be too busy, or she’ll have far too much else on her plate right now what with judging X competition and accepting submissions for Y event and attending at least three book fairs simultaneously with the aid of holographic technology, I told myself. Really, though, I was afraid she’d email back doing the equivalent of holding my pitch between finger and thumb, looking disgusted, and saying: ‘This? This, here, is what you’ve spent months working on?’ And then she’d wash her hands of me completely.

But she didn’t do that.

‘Sounds great,’ she said, by return of email. ‘I’m excited to read the draft, when it’s done. Here are my questions.’ And she proceeded to ask me probing, useful, interesting things about the outline I’d sent, making me at once understand that a pitch I’d thought was entirely clear had, in fact, skimmed over some things to an unacceptable level and that I had a lot more thinking to do about at least one major aspect of my plot and world-building. In the course of answering her questions, I also realised something else: simply thinking about these questions and formulating answers to them was really helping me get a handle on what I’m trying to write about. (See how good my agent is? She teaches me even without trying to).

I’m closing in on 30,000 words with this draft. The going is slow, but I’m enjoying it. I’m back in a pseudo-historical fantasy setting with characters who are brave and funny and up for adventure, and world-threatening technology which must be harnessed for good, and crafty baddies, and all manner of questing and travelling and discovery, and it’s truly where my heart belongs. It took me a long time to get here, but I think I’ve managed to fetch up in just the right place.

Happy fourth of July weekend to those who celebrate, and happy weekend to those who don’t. Whatever you’re doing, remember to be good, be happy and spread as much love as you possibly can. This poor, tired old world needs it more than ever.