Some Life, Somewhere

I love the idea of chapbooks. Those small, cheap pamphlet-type books that are produced purely because the writer just wanted to get their work out there. Because they felt they had something important to say, or they wanted to express themselves through poetry or prose, or to record some part of their family’s history or values. Those writers very bravely put their work out for people to read without thinking (much!) of the bigger picture, of getting an agent or a publisher or what happens if people don’t like it.

There’s a whole lot of discussion at the minute around e-publishing and self-publishing and should you hold out for a deal or do you do it for the money or the recognition, or do you just want to say something. I think, personally, and I doubt I’m very original here, that this is the age of the ebook, and it’s the perfect medium for a chapbook. People have short time spans available in the pressures of the modern world – even people who don’t ‘work’ like me but care full time for children or other loved ones. At the same time the explosion of the kindle, smartphone and ever-cheaper ereaders means that there’s huge potential for buying cheap publications and carrying them round easily for those moments when you do have some precious leisure time to read. I know, for example, that there’s a massive market for iPhone reading apps, whether it’s the classics, the kindle app or iBooks; I’ve had my own little bit of success with Ether Books who produce specifically for the iPhone (branching into other smartphone operating systems later in the year – hint hint) and who published my short story a couple of weeks ago. Without knowing the specific numbers involved, I know it’s been popular because my story has been in the Bestseller list since it was published (ok, bragging over now).

That small success has given me a much-needed boost. Family upheaval lately has meant that my writing has very much taken a back seat and I’ve lost direction. The email from Ether gave me a proper kick up the behind and I’ve taken up my pen again. Well, pencil, actually, since I’ve rediscovered a love for working through ideas with pencil and notebook. That, combined with that admiration for chapbook writers I mentioned above, has led me to a little project of my own.

I proudly present my own e-chapbook, Some Life Somewhere. It’s a collection of seven short stories told through dialogue, and touching on the big questions – life, death and the tricky bits inbetween. I’ll be publishing it on kindle and through smashwords later this week, and I’ll put a link to the Amazon listing on here and my website and facebook page. My very talented husband has done my cover and I love it. I’m really excited about the whole thing  -even if only my mum reads it, it’s me taking a big brave step and it’s what I need to do to pick my feet up and run along my own path as a writer.

All About April

April is set to be a busy month for me and mine. I guess there’s a good deal of Spring syndrome; already the trees are getting their summer frocks on, and the weather has suddenly gone from Big Winter Coat to Light Summer Jacket and Shoes. There’s a bunch of stuff boxed up for a boot sale (and a part of me that wants to clear out even more) and I’ve done my annual bathroom clean (not really. I do clean it AT LEAST twice a year. I’m not a total scruff).

April’s also Easter time. The last few years this has taken on new meaning for us. A few years ago Andrew’s grandad died just after Easter and it was the most closely involved I’d ever been in a death. My own grandma had died years before that but I was much younger, and didn’t see that much of her in the last few days. Over the last couple of years the months leading up to Easter have seen more bereavements, including this year. And for the last five years we’ve celebrated as Christians so there’s the extra dimension of the death and resurrection of Jesus and the salvation of mankind. Y’know, just to keep things interesting.

Last year, Easter came to mean life for us as well as death. Emily was born in early April and she’s brought so much extra life into our home. It’s more than just another person – it’s the completeness of our family; she’s an extra dimension to all of us and Daniel and her are without doubt what bring the most meaning to our lives. We’re looking forward to celebrating her birthday with joy as well as the sadness that some loved ones won’t be able to share it with us.

There’s also other reasons for hope & excitement this April. Both Andrew & I are working on different things (more of which at a later date) and it’s a beginning in more ways than one. I’ve got a massive confidence boost from the positive experience I’ve had with my first publication with Ether Books, and I’m really going to push myself with writing over the next few months.

To celebrate this April, I’m going to try and take part in the A-Z blogging challenge (quick swig of strong drink here). This is a brilliant idea which I saw over at Talli Roland’s blog, where you blog every day except Sunday throughout April, conveniently working out at roughly one post per letter per day. I’m not sure how this will work out. Probably a couple of posts will be pre-written and scheduled; I imagine several will be a bit contrived to fit the day’s letter! But it should be fun and I might get to cover some of the big questions weighing me down at the minute.

So keep a look out – I’m hoping to be a busy blogger for a while!

Beggar at the Feast

So, to continue my current love affair with Les Miserables, I’m borrowing the title of a song for this blog post although the link is extremely tenuous. Towards the end, the villainous Thénardiers gatecrash the wedding of Marius and Cosette and enjoy the experience of being at a posh do.

Ain’t it a laugh? Ain’t it a treat?

Hobnobbing here among the elite?

…Here’s me breaking bread with the upper crust!

I love Twitter. One of the reasons I do is the way you can ‘meet’ so many different people, from all sorts of backgrounds. When I first joined (and still to an extent) one of the big things was to follow Stephen Fry. Throughout the day you could get to know little bits of how a real celebrity spent his day and how he felt about random topics; now, he has so many followers it’s highly unlikely you’d get a reply from him, but many celebrities are using Twitter and do interact. If you follow the lovely Maria Duffy, you can read her blog for Hello! magazine in which she interviews celebrities on that exact topic. Now, pay attention, as it’s my chance to drop a few names. I’ve had replies from Paula Abdul and Hugh Bonneville, Steve Balsamo (who plays Jesus on the most recent recording of Jesus Christ Superstar – now that was a jawdropper. How many people have had private messages from Jesus?!) and some literary celebs like Katie Fforde and Joanne Harris. Once I tweeted about a rejection that particularly stung, and got a lovely encouraging message from Katie Fforde. The next day we were in Waterstones and I spent about ten minutes showing my husband the shelf full of Katie’s books and repeating the tweet I’d received. A couple of days ago I was thrilled to be followed by Joanne Harris and have had a few exchanges with her, especially about Les Miserables. To be honest, this to me is like being the beggar at a feast full of A-list movie stars.

I’m also very happy to have frequent chats with Real Authors. When I say chats, I usually mean trading friendly insults. One of my favourite books is by Gillian Philip, and I love chatting to her, both on Twitter and facebook. You know what though? It’s good for me. Especially Twitter – I’m learning to communicate concisely and (hopefully) wittily with intelligent, witty people, some famous, some not. My confidence is developing by leaps and bounds as a result. Someone said to me the other day that I don’t come across as shy online – I think perhaps a year ago I would have done. I would never have had the confidence to suggest to Joanne Harris that I insult her (I mean, come on! The woman has written a book that’s a Johnny Depp film, for crying out loud) or argue with a Carnegie Medal-shortlisted author about the banking crisis or ask the author of one of my all-time favourite books how her new hamster is settling in. And I’m learning that Real Authors are, like, y’know, normal people with regular lives and highs and lows. And they don’t have two heads. Who knew?

I’ve blogged before about some of the amazingly good friends I’ve made on Twitter – you know who you are, Jane, Nettie, Ciara, et al. But this is an aspect of Twitter that has taken me totally by surprise and I love it. And maybe one day, some complete unknown will be blogging (or whatever, I’m sure technology will have moved on somewhat by then!) about how they’ve had a message from a Real Author, Rebecca Brown.

Out of the Ivory Tower

Over the past couple of months, with the general busy-ness of Christmas, work at home and vile weather outside, I haven’t been out much. I used to go to playgroup, but since Daniel started nursery it’s been one of those things I’ve been meaning to do. I haven’t met up with friends much, for the same sort of reason.

I’ve had human contact, with family. I’ve had fairly constant contact with people around the world, on Twitter. But on the whole, I’ve been kind of shut away from the world in my little tower with my family. This is very much a double-edged sword.

For one thing, with Andrew being off work for Christmas we’ve had some much-needed time together. We’ve been able to help each other rest when nights have been bad; we’ve been able to back each other up. We’ve had peace and protection from the rude interruptions of the outside world. It’s been precious, wonderful time.

On the other hand, this time has warped our perception of some things. When the only three year old you really see is your own, the tantrums are unreasonable, his behaviour is unacceptable, no other mother is so put-upon. But then that’s not so bad, because your three year old is also a genius, an artist, a prodigy. Your baby is streets ahead of everyone else’s, which is quite astonishing since no other baby in the world sleeps as little as she does.  Your home is probably the messiest place on the face of the earth, the ironing is an insurmountable mountain that is probably hiding the Marie Celeste in there somewhere.

This week I came out of the Ivory Tower. I finally took Emily to playgroup, and she took off. Her face was breathtakingly beautiful in its reactions – the world was her oyster. But she was one of many, just another baby crawling around, taking life at their own pace. Today I had lunch with a friend, then went round to her house and spent a couple of hours chatting. Talking about the children’s behaviour (her daughter’s the same sort of age as Daniel), talking about our church (we’re in the same house group), talking about nurseries and holidays and husbands. And what did I get reminded about? Daniel is not the most unreasonable child in the world, nor the cleverest – he’s just a three year old. A house with two children in it has stuff lying around – that’s the way it is. Laundry dries on radiators – it doesn’t get sorted by the Magical Laundry Fairy. My life is average – no better, no worse than anyone else’s.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what’s going on in the Ivory Tower. Of course your own home, children, family are absorbing, it would be worrying if they weren’t. But I need perspective. And for that I need actual, face-to-face human contact. It’s hard when you’re shy; you don’t want to impose, you get stressed about social situations, you worry about what you’re going to say, if you manage to say anything. The Ivory Tower is so much safer. Unfortunately, it’s not all that healthy. It’s not good for writing – what kind of material can I generate when the person I spend most of the day with can’t even talk yet? It’s not good for my grip on reality. Give it much longer and I’ll be sitting in the cot sucking on a rusk. So I am going to try coming out of the Ivory Tower, in tiny baby steps, and squinting at the sunshine of the real world.

I give it two weeks. 😉


Back in January I wrote a post about The Year I Turn Thirty. I talked about some of my thoughts about turning thirty and a kind of forecast for the year. Do pop over and have a look, it is (as you’d expect from me) extremely wise and witty. Ahem.

The Big Day is next week (all gifts and cards accepted, form an orderly queue) and to be honest, most of the expectations in that post are not far off. The biggest change has obviously been Emily’s birth – it seems very strange that I am revisiting a blog post written only  a few months ago yet Emily wasn’t anywhere near born. The experience of becoming a mother of two, by the way, was completely different from how I expected it to be. If you’re the parent of 2 or more kids, you know what I’m talking about. It’s a whole other blog post in itself.

One thing that is more or less how I expected is Daniel going off to nursery. I’m enjoying the mornings, although I’m still getting the hang of making the most of the time, and he is thriving amazingly well. He’s a clever, happy, confident little boy who I am very proud of. And Emily fits into our family perfectly – she really completes it. I have become more relaxed about some parts of parenting and more stressed about others. I’m probably as sleep-deprived as I expected, disappointingly!

As far as writing goes, tangible success isn’t yet mine – no book contracts, agents and publishers beating my door down, prize money and world recognition of my genius. But I am a different writer to what I was ten months ago. I’m more confident, I’m more willing to try stuff. I now have a respectable number of rejections under my belt, and a shortlisting in a competition (Writing Magazine, back in the spring. Yey!). I’ve been submitting my first work – a picture book that wasn’t even written when I did that post. I’ve got a novel in progress and am planning to attack NaNoWriMo with gusto, fun, and in the spirit it was intended. I have subscribers to my blog – yey you people! – and have tried cool things I never envisaged. I’m talking reviews, interviews, short stories. One month with well over 800 page views – that wasn’t even a dream in January! More importantly, I have made the most amazing friends, and chat with really inspirational people who are fast becoming heroes of mine. I’m not published, but I’m slowly gaining the confidence to think that one day I will be.

Personally, it’s not been the totally optimistic year I had hoped. When I wrote that blog post in January, my husband’s Grandad was feeling under the weather with shingles and had had a fairly miserable Christmas. By the end of February, he’d died and the following month we learned that his wife had cancer. A month later, I found out my own Grandpa had leukemia. They’re ok at the minute, just playing it step by step. It’s been hard in that respect, seeing people you love suffer in all sorts of ways. We’ve had some tough times ourselves in our immediate family unit too, although I think we’re out of those for now. We’ve had some real foundations put down in our faith too, which is stronger and more real than it’s ever been, and I know now as well what my vocation is. If you’re interested, look at Isaiah 65:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
…to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,

…to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

I’m pretty much convinced that my long-term vocation is to care for people who are suffering, to reach out to them in love and comfort.

Anyway, now my birthday’s nearly here, I’m even more excited than I was then. I’m not having any pre-mid-life crisis or anything, quite the opposite. I’m actually relieved to be coming out of my twenties. I never fitted in as a twenty year old. I was never young or hip or fun or confident enough, and I always felt like I was trying too hard to fit in to that. As I approach 30, I’m growing into myself day by day, and feeling happier to be me than I’ve been since I was a child. So next week, I’m not celebrating presents, cards (although you will note I’m not turning them down. That would be silly.), balloons (yes, balloons, Husband of Mine, hint hint) but I’m celebrating being me. And, I almost forgot to mention, being four years married too! Do join me and raise a glass!