Category Archives: Pondering

when all the swears in the world aren’t enough

I drew this as I awaited the election results. I didn't hold out much hope.

I drew this as I awaited the election results. I know – it’s brutal. I didn’t hold out much hope.

If you read my post the other day then you can probably guess how I’m feeling in the wake of the US election. A racist, misogynistic, narcissistic sexual abuser has been elected to the highest office in the western world. It beggars belief.

And I’m exhausted. The outpouring of grief on my Facebook feed today has pretty much overwhelmed me. When so many people you love and care about are reeling in horror and pain it’s… well it’s just awful. Actually, ‘awful’ doesn’t cover it but words are failing me today.

And yet, as much as Facebook has overwhelmed me, it’s also given me hope – because there has been so much goodness on display there. So much solidarity. So many people reaching out to each other with understanding and love .

So although I can’t deny I’m feeling pretty wretched at the moment, I do know that all is not lost. The immediate future is more challenging but we’ll keep going. Things will turn around.

I’m running out of words so I’ll leave you with something I put on my personal Facebook feed earlier. This is our challenge now and we have to rise to it.

So, my friends, our task now is to make sure our kids know that racism is wrong, not only in the face of a hateful UK tabloid press but with an American President who is openly racist. We have to teach them that sexism is wrong even though the President of the USA is blatantly misogynistic. We have to show them that homophobia is wrong, insulting people with disabilities is wrong and that blaming things on minorities is wrong despite the soon to be ‘leader of the free world’ doing all these things without shame. And most of all we have to make it clear that despite the US President ‘grabbing’ women by the ‘pussy’, that sexual assault is always, always completely inexcusable (not to mention f*cking criminal). We have to show our next generation that – despite this morning’s awful message to the contrary – hate and fear can’t win over respect and love.

I’ll leave you with a picture I drew just before the EU referendum. I wish I could draw something new, something symbolic of hope, but I’m not quite there yet, so this’ll have to do.

#Loveisstrongerthanfear

Because love is stronger than fear, my friends, love is stronger than fear.

xxx

fear and anxiety

lightningSad and scared.

That’s how I’ve been feeling recently when I’ve looked at the world around me. 2016 has not been a good year. Actually, that’s an understatement: 2016 has felt like a terrible year. Sickening terrorist atrocities, a horribly divisive EU referendum, our British political system a mess, a rise in hate crime and a despicably vicious tabloid press that has sown lies and grown hatred. And bubbling along with a growing fervour, a US election that has shone a light on so much of what is wrong with the world.

I find it hard to write about Donald Trump. I find it hard to speak about him without my words getting tangled with rage. I can throw out words that describe who he is – that describe what he is: racist, misogynistic, narcissistic, a bully, a liar, an incompetent who is absolutely unfit even for the role of president of one of his (failed) companies let alone of the ‘free world’.

But those words… no matter how much truth they hold, seem weightless in the face of his march towards power.

A few weeks ago, after tapes of Trump boasting about ‘grabbing’ women, were released, ‘sexual abuser’ was added to that list of words to describe him. Sexual abuser. And his popularity dipped. But you know, pah, where’s the harm in a bit of sexual abuse? Thought no right-minded person ever… and yet, AND YET, after that dip, his popularity has grown again until he and Hillary Clinton are practically level in the polls.

I’m horrified. Just… horrified.

Like so many others, I reeled in the wake of those Trump tapes. Even more so as more women stepped forward to share how he had assaulted them too. And I felt sick to the stomach as he cast aside their accusations not with, “I would never do that because it is morally reprehensible” (I suppose he couldn’t really could he? as he’d already said it’s the sort of thing he did), or with, “I admit it and it was wrong and obviously I will remove myself as a candidate and accept a jail sentence for my crimes” but with “Look at her – I don’t think so”. Because, what? Sexual assault is something that only happens to women who look a certain way? As if sexual assault isn’t a diabolical and appalling act that no human being let alone presidential candidate should ever commit.

I read articles and stories by women around the world about how all this made them feel. How it awakened painful memories from their pasts, of how it reminded them of every abusive experience they’d ever had. Across the globe, women were united in grief and pain and fear and I knew, I KNEW:

THIS MAN CANNOT BE PRESIDENT.

Because of course he can’t. And yet, there he is. Republican candidate. Drawing ever closer in the polls to Hillary Clinton.

And you know what bothers me most? And why, despite not being a US citizen, I have such a passionate interest in the outcome of the election?

It’s not even that he isn’t fit for presidency – that he isn’t capable or worthy of dealing with the power and prestige that comes with the role (of course he isn’t. OF COURSE HE ISN’T.)

It’s not even the thought of what laws he might try to repeal or what hatred he will undoubtedly sow and the far-reaching consequences of that.

It’s not even the idea of him having his hands on the nuclear codes, though that makes my blood run cold –

It’s what it symbolises if he wins. It’s the message it sends our next generation.

That a racist, a misogynist, a narcissist,

a bully, a liar, an incompetent.

a sexual abuser.

can become President of America.

People have said not to worry. That Hillary Clinton will win. That a woman who is intelligent, competent and experienced, hardworking, dedicated and compassionate will prevail over… that.

And I’m trying to believe them. I’m trying not to worry.

Wednesday is going to dawn on a different world. Let it be a better one. Let it be one where little girls can think ‘maybe one day I can be president!’. Let it be one where it’s NOT ok to be a racist or a bully or a liar. Where we challenge misogyny rather than, too often, accepting it. And where our sons and daughters can aspire to be the best they can be in a society where – regardless of race, or sexuality, or ability or religion or gender – we are all equals.

I’ll be watching for the sunrise. And, despite my fear, I’m going to hope.

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favourite moments from the Harry Potter Studio Tour

harry-potter-entranceLast week we went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour. It was an amazing experience! We left our youngest son (aged three) with my parents and took our two older boys (aged seven and nine) down to Watford – a fair old drive from Northumberland – staying two nights in a Premier Inn so that we could spend a whole day at the studios. It was well worth it. We arrived at 10.30 in the morning and didn’t leave ’till 4pm. We could have stayed longer – there was certainly more than enough to keep us interested – but we kind of ran out of steam in the end. It was a very busy day and I reached saturation point with input!

Favourite moments

There’s so much (too much!) I could tell you about the experience but, in the interests of brevity, I thought I’d just share my highlights. Maybe I can whet your appetite and persuade you to go along and experience it yourself!

The Great Hall

There’s a particularly exciting way that this set piece is introduced, which for me made it one of the highlights. It’s also right at the start of the tour so you’re all, “Eeek, We’re actually here! It’s like being in a film! Look at that fireplace! OMG did Alan Rickman really wear that costume*?! It’s the Griffindor dining table! CAN I EAT THAT CAKE?!!”** ‘etc. etc. (Well, I was – you may be calmer). My phone was packed with photos before we even left the hall.the-great-hall

*Yes he really did.

**No you can’t – it’s plastic.

Dumbledore’s Office

I’m not even sure what was so exciting about this set piece except that OH YES I DO – IT’S DUMBLEDORE’S OFFICE! Perhaps it’s just because I liked this room in the film, and perhaps it’s because you can actually go into part of it (you look at other sets from the outside) but for me it was magical.dumbledores-office
I also loved the potions lab (it even had spoons that ‘magically’ turned in cauldrons), The Burrow where the Weasely family lived (complete with knitting that knits itself, knives that chop and irons that iron – and all responsive to your waving hand. Fun.) and the Griffindor common room and bedroom. Oh and the Ministry of Magic… and all the other set pieces really because they are the actual sets from the actual films and Julie Walters and Jason Isaacs and Maggie Smith and Gary Oldman etc. were actually in them. See that stool? ALAN RICKMAN SAT ON IT! OH YES HE DID!

harry-potter-sets
L – R from the top: Potions lab, The Burrow, Griffindor Common Room, Griffindor boys bedroom, Professor Umbridge’s Office, The Hogwarts clock.

The Hogwarts Express!

I’m not usually excited by trains but I made an exception for this one. The photo below is of the actual train that was used for external shots in the film. You can go inside it too, where each carriage has been ‘dressed’ to represent a different year at Hogwarts. There’s also the opportunity to sit in a different, open-sided train carriage (the one used for filming internal shots) which jiggles around and has images flashing by the windows. You can do a bit of acting – “There’s a dementor at the window – look terrified!”– and have your photos taken in it which is pretty fun too. Oh, and you can pretend to push a trolley through platform 9 3/4 of coursehogwarts-express

The Creature Workshop.

This was just so cool. I saw John Cleese’s fake, ‘Nearly-headless Nick’ head, Fawkes the Phoenix (I always loved Fawkes), Buckbeak the hippogriff and a tiny shrivelled Voldemort that my husband swears looks like he feels first thing in the morning. Also thestrels, Aragog the giant spider and life sized models of cast members. All awesome.creature-workshop

Diagon Alley

I loved this street, it was so cool to see all the shops – I wanted to rush into Ollivanders for a wand or Flourish & Blotts for a book. And I REALLY wanted to go into Weasleys Wizzarding Wheezes for some tricks! Unfortunately you can’t actually enter any of the shops but still, being on the street is pretty exciting!diagon-alley

Cardboard versions of the sets

These were just gorgeous – perfect miniature replicas of the sets in white cardboard. Or perhaps ‘replicas’ is the wrong word since they were made before the actual sets. They are little works of art in their own right and really made me realise the artistry that goes into set design. I wish I could have taken better photos but the models were, understandably, all behind glass (and the glass had got rather finger-printy by later in the day!).

hogwarts-card-model

The Huge Hogwarts Model

This was, without a doubt, my favourite moment of the tour and it came right at the very end. I walked round the corner and literally gasped when I saw it. It’s a 1:24 scale model of the entire Hogwarts estate and is both miniature yet huge (50 feet in diameter!). The model was used to film the aerial shots of Hogwarts so it’s totally realistic. Close-up shots were filmed not only on set, but also on location in various parts of the UK, and when you look at the model you can see that it was designed with these locations in mind. For example, some was filmed in Durham and you can see a section of the model that’s like Durham cathedral. It’s intricate and clever and just plain old stunning. It takes up a whole room and they change the lighting over it so sometimes it’s day light and other times night time. All the windows are lit so it’s like the most gigantic, beautiful, twinkling Christmas decoration ever. If I’m completely honest, I felt a bit emotional looking at it.hogwartsYou can probably tell that we had a brilliant day. My nine-year-old who is a massive Harry Potter fan was enraptured all the way round, and he was so excited to see all the places Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint had been – I’ve probably shown my age with my choice of actors to be thrilled about! (but c’mon – Alan Rickman!).

Bottom line – we all loved it and we loved it all!

 

why labels are important

starlight-illustration-sketches

Some of my sketches for a song illustration.

Do you ever find it difficult to call yourself a writer, or an artist or whatever the appropriate label for your creative niche is? I know I do, and conversations with fellow creative types has told me I’m not alone.

These days I do call myself a ‘writer’, although – as ridiculous as it sounds – it originally took considerable effort to do so. I remember the day I put ‘writer’ on my personal Facebook page – I felt really nervous and a bit of a fraud but figured I had to do it because if I couldn’t think of myself as a writer then how could I expect anyone else to? I was starting to submit manuscripts to agents so that felt kind of important. Even now the self doubt demon creeps in and tries to tell me I’m not one – not a ‘real’ writer – but obviously I kick it up the bum and wave my blog and manuscripts and pieces of published writing at it till it goes away.

But recently I’ve faced a new self-labelling question. I’ve been studying illustration since the start of this year – I’ve submitted assignments, drawn most days and, in the process, illustrated both my own writing and other people’s. I’ve studied art in the past too – dare I say it, created art in the past (some of it was once even in an exhibition) – so can I, or should I, call myself an artist? No. Surely not. That’s… just… I don’t know, it seems a step too far. And as for calling myself an ‘illustrator’ Hahahaha. No, that’s just ridiculous.

Isn’t it?

But then I had an experience last week that made me look at things a bit differently. I was on the phone to a work colleague (he works for a different company but we’ve worked alongside each other on various projects for years) and he asked if he could run an idea by me. ‘Of course’ I said. He then went on to say that his company (a human relations one) was looking at a new way of presenting some of their ‘models for ways of working’ (kind of patterns of human behaviour and interaction broken down into stages). They’re in a sort of chart form at the moment which he was thinking was a bit dry and that perhaps an illustrative approach might bring them to life more:

“… and I was thinking ‘what illustrators do I know?'” he said, “And then I thought ‘hey, I know Maddy!'”

He knows I’ve been studying illustration and said he’d seen one of my illustrations (the tea limerick one) and loved it. He then went on to outline the project to me… at least I assume that’s what he did but all I really caught was his “So what do you think?” at the end, at which point I had to admit “I’m sorry but you called me an illustrator and I got so excited that anyone would call me an illustrator that I couldn’t really hear anything much you said after that!”

Not exactly cucumber cool of me, but anyway, I did listen the second time round and the project sounds rather interesting. He’s very open about what might work and how things might pan out so I said yes I’d love to do it! I mean, obviously I don’t really know what I’m doing but I’m hanging on to the idea that I know more than I think I know and have skills I don’t know I possess, and can achieve more than I can imagine I could.

I got off the phone with a smile, warm with the knowledge that someone out there in the world, someone who’s not my husband or my best mate or my mum (lovely though they all are) thinks I’m an illustrator.

An actual illustrator.

It’s made me realise we should all seize those illusive creative labels and own them. We should say ‘Yes, I’m a writer/illustrator/photographer/modern cheese artist/whatever’ and then just get on with doing the actual creative work and living up to those titles. Because although it’s about self-belief, it’s also about accountability: after all, if you call yourself a writer, you’d better keep writing.

Speaking of which, this illustrator needs to go illustrate. :)

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writing, submitting and casting spells

sunset

Just a quick one from me as it’s half term and we’re about to head off for a few days to the Harry Potter Studios! My nine-year-old is a huge Harry Potter fan – he and I have both read all the books and watched (most of) the films. We’ve just been watching The Goblet of Fire to get ourselves in the mood. Very exciting – I’ll let you know how it goes! I may well cover Instagram with photos!

Before I go, I do have a teeny bit of news to report on the writing front. I’ve just submitted three picture book manuscripts to an agent! I really meant to send off a batch of five or six (one of the pieces of advice I heard at the Festival of Writing was to submit this way) but researching suitable agents and following the different submission guidelines takes time and I just wasn’t getting round to it. So, since I had an agent in mind who I knew I wanted to submit to, I figured I’d send my manuscripts to her first and go from there.

Submitting also meant I spent lots of time last week polishing my third manuscript (one and two were already good to go) and I’m pretty happy with it now. It’s the only non-rhyming book I’ve written and though I love rhyme, prose translates more easily, making it better in commercial terms (potential for huge international sales, see!) so I figured I should at least give it a go. The book was actually inspired by this picture I drew back in February – I had a hunch Stanley had a story so I’m quite chuffed to be right! Stanley's jumper

Oh, and on the subject of drawing, I had an inspiring conversation with a friend about all the pictures we’ve done this year. Plans are afoot – watch this space!

That’s it for now, I’m off to cast some spells.

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looking back, looking forward

autumn-walkSo, half term approaches!

I’m not sure how I feel about that really, it’s been a funny old six weeks since the kids went back to school. It’s been busy, really busy – one of those times when all the different aspects of my life need attention – and I’ve been floundering a bit trying to keep on top of everything. A feeling of mild bafflement and a low level sense of ‘WTAF is going on?’ have been my stalwart companions.

I was saying to a friend on the school run this morning that I’m only just starting to feel like I’ve got a handle on what our new daily routine is and knowing which books need signing, which homework requires parental comments and who and what needs to be where, when and why. Of course, only seconds after making this announcement I realised my son had left his P.E kit at home… then, when I went back to fetch it, I realised he must in fact have left it at school last week (all damp and muddy and festering… ) because it isn’t anywhere here. So I guess we haven’t *quite* reached a stage where we’re sailing perfectly along. I’m still prone to getting caught off guard by a gust of wind and having the boom crack me round the back of the head.

But progress has definitely been made. I mean, I made it to the school harvest festival on time (despite a dash home for a forgotten swimming kit, and a disgusting dog poo emergency), I’ve finally met my son’s teacher (middle school is so much more ‘hands off’ than first school!), I’ve written copious comments in various reading journals and even spent a very happy couple of hours yesterday helping my eldest create some 3D art for some ‘enrichment homework’ that we thought was optional but turned out not to be quite as optional as we thought!

On this basis I’m sure that after half term we’ll have all our rigging in order* and just sail seraphically along until Christmas. Because I’ve got this school thing nailed now. Oh yes. No more capsizing for me.

So I now have three more days (mornings) to try and do all the things that I can’t do while the boys are around. Then it’s a week off from the school run (yay!) during which we’re off to Harry Potter Studios! But shhhhh don’t tell the boys – it’s a surprise!

My plan is to tidy the entire house (clearing out all the junk that’s been building up for years), complete another module of my illustration course, research agents and send my picture books off to another batch, submit some work (that I haven’t written yet) to a competition that’s caught my eye, return to my novel and write another ten thousand words, write some more limericks and… oh, ok, probably none of that.

I have three mornings. I’m going to have coffee with some friends. I’m going to do some hoovering. I’m going to draw some pictures. It’s enough, I think.

I’ll leave you with a drawing I did last week as part of my course, the next module of which is on illustrating poems. One thing I really struggle with is speed – I’m an over-thinking slow coach – so I decided to have a go at illustrating a poem without any planning at all, just to dive in. This is one of my favourite poems. It’s by Elizabeth Jennings. I (re)read it then drew a picture. This is what appeared on the paper:a-child-in-the-night-poem-illustration

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*I don’t know why I’m sticking with the sailing metaphor… I don’t even know why I’m using it at all, I know NOTHING about boats!

 

blogger’s block

bloggers-blockA question for my fellow bloggers – do you ever find, when blogging, that you get paralysed by your own thought processes? Like you can’t post anything because everything you write is way too introspective and not interesting enough and who on earth wants to read that, and anyway shouldn’t you be writing about that other stuff that’s way more compelling and means much more to you?.. only you don’t feel comfortable sharing that stuff so ‘argh’ and ‘bleurgh’ and ‘what should I do?!’

Do you get like that?

I’m there at the moment – what’s in my head is not translating to words on the screen. Or not words I have confidence in, anyway. There is so much more I could share on my blog than I do, and so much of it is the interesting stuff, the different stuff, the more controversial or opinionated stuff. Or just simply the real stuff. But I don’t feel comfortable sharing it and I struggle with that feeling because it would make for a much more interesting conversation with my readers. It’s just that it’s a conversation I’m not sure I’m up to having in the wide open space of the world wide web.

At times I’ve thrown caution to the wind and written something very honest or personal, and have been rewarded with a surge in my blog stats and many lovely comments and stimulating conversations. But I struggle to keep it up. Putting myself out there like that puts me on edge. I can do it from time to time (usually when the emotion explodes and the words come bursting out,) but not on a weekly basis. Not even on a monthly basis.

And it’s ended up making me doubt the point of this little blog. It takes me a ridiculous length of time to write a post so if I’m not going to share anything of great depth, how can I justify the time it takes away from my other creative pursuits? I could have spent this evening cracking on with the next section of my illustration course but instead I’m writing this, then I’ll write the linky post for #WhatImWriting tomorrow. The evening will vanish, as will tomorrow evening on commenting.

As I’ve been mulling this over today, bubbling away simultaneously has been the question ‘What if Trump wins the election?! WHAT IF THAT NARCISSIST BECOMES PRESIDENT?!! ‘ Actually my brain is kind of freaking out over that one! Did anyone see the debate last night? Just horrifying. Part of me thinks that’s what I should be writing about. Another part of me thinks ‘what can I say that hasn’t already been said much better by someone else?’ and ‘that rant isn’t for here’… and then the words die before they reach the tips of my fingers.

All this pondering and introspection means this is the third post I’ve written today. I don’t like any of them and I don’t want to publish any of them (and, incidentally, none of them are the Trump rant). Maybe it’s bloggers block, characterised by self-doubt, squirming embarrassment at my own words and an inability to hit the publish button.

So I guess I just tackle it head on like I would writer’s block, don’t I? Force the words, squash the doubt and publish the post?

Right?

Right.

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my week in rhyme – #WhatImWriting

storysphere-2

A Story sphere I drew to represent all the different thoughts bouncing around in my head!

It’s Monday night – the time has flown, my weekly post is due,
I’ve not got much to write about…

No, wait, that’s not quite true.

I’ll tell you how I’m feeling now the new school term has started
– in truth I’ve been a mixture of elated and downhearted,
as my eldest son has taken to his new school like a pro
though my middle son has told me that he misses his big bro,
while my youngest took his first four days completely in his stride
but on the fifth day, he said “What? again?!” and clutched my leg and cried.*

What else?

Oh yes, my writing… well, last weekend was a blast,
so awesomely inspiring – my ‘to do list’ now is vast!
I’m determined to take action and submit, submit, submit
I know I’ll get rejections, but the key is not to quit.

Apart from that…

My art – I’ve nearly finished my assignment!
two pieces are completed while the third just needs refinement
(that’s really not exciting as I’m rather far behind
though thankfully my understanding tutor doesn’t mind.)

So onwards!

With my mega-plan (I’ve made an epic list)
to knuckle down and focus now on all the things I’ve missed
And that means lots of time for friends and chats and cups of tea
for drawing and for writing, because f**king FINALLY
after nine whole years of parenthood I have some time for me!

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Prose for Thought

*I sat with him and built some blocks. He recovered (probably faster than I did).

thoughts on The Festival of Writing – #FOW16

festival-of-writing-programmeYesterday I attended the Festival of Writing in York for the second year in a row. Last year I went for two days, I had a fabulous time and left with a head bursting with so many thoughts and ideas I could barely walk in a straight line. This year I decided one day would be enough and just went along for the Sunday. Once again it was amazing and I kind of wished I could have stayed for longer!

What was so great about it? Well…

  • It’s a festival all about the craft of writing and publishing. The days are packed with lectures and seminars on a wide range of subjects in these areas. Many of these are interactive too, with opportunities to practice your own writing. The sessions are lead by industry professionals (agents, authors, publishers etc.) and there are always opportunities to ask questions so you get a real insight into the world of publishing. Even just going for one day, I learned masses.
  • Lots of literary agents and publishers attend the festival alongside writers at various stages in their careers. You all get to mingle during coffee breaks and mealtimes, and, if you stay for the evening, in the bar as well. Everyone’s really friendly so it’s a great opportunity to make connections, whether you’re a networking pro and schmooze with all the publishers or simply find some likeminded fellow writers to hang out with. (In case you’re wondering, I fall into the second category).
  • It takes place at the University of York campus which is set in buildings and walkways around (and across) a lake. There’s a fountain, willow trees and gliding ducks so it’s all rather lovely. Within the buildings, of course, there are lots of people and a huge buzz, but step outside the doors and peace descends. This strikes me as the perfect setting for a writing conference – activity and stimulation within arm’s reach of peace and tranquility.festival-of-writing-lake
  • Everywhere you go at the festival, people are talking about writing and ideas and stories and literature. You sit down next to strangers and find yourself talking books in seconds… where else can you go where the standard conversation opener is “What genre do you write?”. Being around these sorts of people, and part of these types of conversations made me, just, happy.
  • Having said that, making conversation constantly isn’t a requirement. I’ve been to business conferences where networking is absolutely the name of the game and you feel like you have to be on point all the time and ‘working the room’. Exhausting. This lovely festival isn’t like that at all. I mean obviously you want to get the most out of it and chat to different people but I didn’t feel pressured to. Everywhere you go there are people sitting on their own quietly reading or writing… or putting pictures of the lake on instagram (I *may* have been one of those). It’s as introvert-friendly a conference as you can get.
  • You hear the inspirational stories of successful authors. I absolutely loved the keynote speech by Joanna Cannon at the end of this year’s festival. Jo wrote her debut novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, hunched over the steering wheel in the car park outside the hospital where she worked as a psychiatrist. She attended the Festival of Writing two years ago because some Twitter friends recommended it, read out an extract of her novel as part of Friday Night Live (where writers read to an audience on the festival’s opening night) and won. Within forty-eight hours she’d had offers of representation from seven agents. Her novel was published by Harper Collins in January this year and for its launch party, to reflect the colour of the book’s cover, the entire Harper Collins Building was lit up blue! From car park scribblings to lighting up the London skyline in a matter of months – I mean, wow. Her personal story proves that it’s worth taking risks in life, to dare to be your true self (a goat not a sheep) and that the familiar internal narrative “things like that don’t happen to people like me.” simply isn’t true. Needless to say, I’ve bought her book.
  • A final major bonus of the festival (at least the final one I’ll mention in this post) is that, with the price of the ticket come two one-on-one’s with agents, publishers or book doctors. You pick suitable people in advance (there are plenty to chose from), submit an extract of your manuscript (or in my case, two entire picture book manuscripts) to them in advance and then, on the day get to chat with them about your work. It’s an opportunity for really useful, genuine feedback, and to connect with industry professionals in a way you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to. Agents receive scores of manuscripts to consider every day so to move to the front of the queue in this way is invaluable.

Personally, I came away with some new writing contacts (having met some lovely fellow writers) a stash of useful industry insights (the rise of independent presses over the last few years is really impressive!) and a notebook full of writing tips and ideas. I also got a huge confidence boost from my one-on-one’s which were with agents and both really positive. They liked my manuscripts, said I could write well and advised me to keep at it and just submit, submit submit. One agent said “keep writing and keep sending me your work.” which I was hugely chuffed by and will certainly follow through on.

As you can probably tell, I thoroughly recommend the Festival of Writing and I certainly hope to attend it again in the future – maybe I’ll see you there?

Writing Bubble

the deep breath before the plunge

fell and waterThere’s a scene in LOTR Return Of The King where, on the eve of a huge battle, Gandalf and Pippin stand on a balcony of Minas Tirith looking out across the plains towards Mordor. Mount Doom glowers ominously in the distance and a brooding darkness is engulfing the land. “It’s so quiet” says Pippin, awestruck. “It’s the deep breath before the plunge” Gandalf responds.

I’ve always loved that line – it captures so well that feeling of anticipating something inevitable, particularly if you’re viewing it with some trepidation. There’s nothing you can do to stop the passage of time: the thing – whatever it is – is going to happen. So you take that deep breath, and you wait.

I’m feeling a teeny bit like that now. Only a very teeny bit – thankfully I’m not facing the ‘great battle of our time’ or anything even close. There is no growing shadow, menacing volcano, or hoards of Orks about to descend. But change is coming. Summer has rolled on past and is nearing its its destination. Next week school term begins and with it an end to the lazy days and a lurching jump back into the morning routine.

This September also brings with it two changes for our family – my eldest begins middle school and my youngest is starting school nursery five mornings a week. In actual fact, these changes are good. I’m pretty sure both my boys are ready for them, as is my middle son who’s going to find himself the ‘big brother’ rather than the ‘little brother’ in school for the first time. But still, they’re changes and I’ve never been one for change – it brings the unknown which is well… unknown. Anything could happen! Give me the comforting blanket of familiarity any time.

There’s another reason for my deep breath too though. I’m not looking at encroaching darkness, I’m actually looking at a beautiful sunrise. Because with the new school term comes time to pursue my creative goals – the most time I’ve had in years (and years!). Five mornings of child-free time a week! Ok, some of that will be taken up by work, and yes I’ll also need to get on top of all sorts of household stuff that I’ve let slide, and I’ve promised myself I’ll get fit, but still… all that time. I can’t help but be excited!

Right now my creativity is champing at the bit. I’ve been fitting drawing and writing into little bits of time I’ve had over the summer and am finally close to submitting my first assignment for my illustration course. Woo hoo! It’s taken me ages to get to this point so I’m hoping to be able to up the pace a bit once we get settled into the new school year.

I’ve also signed up to go to the Festival of Writing in early September where I have two one-on-one meetings with agents arranged. Eeek. I’ve been editing picture book manuscripts on and off all summer to submit to them and finally got two sent off yesterday! I’m hoping to get useful feedback from the sessions. It feels like a good time to talk to some professionals, go to some seminars (I went to some great ones at the Festival last year) and generally get my head back into my writing again.

I’m also going to get back to more regular blogging and my weekly #WhatImWriting linky after a summer off. Hopefully my productivity in all areas will improve but, at this point it’s hard to tell quite how things will pan out. Will my mornings pass in a blur of ironing and attempts to get to the bottom of my email pile? Will ‘getting fit’ steal from creativity or encourage it? Will all my boys settle into their new routines without a hitch? Will I?

Yes, change is definitely on the way and with a week of summer holidays to go, I’m standing on the balcony of my citadel (ok, sitting on the sofa in my living room) watching it approach. Chances of an eerie silence falling to herald it? In this house?! Zero. But I’ll be taking that deep breath.

And then… the plunge.

Writing Bubble