Tag Archives: friendship

book launch!

It’s funny the twists and turns life takes. When I began this blog a few years ago it was with the dream of becoming a published author, yet this weekend when I finally found myself holding a novel bearing my name, it was as an illustrator!inside cover

As you can see in the photo, the book is The Mystery of The Disappearing Underpants by Nikki Young. It’s aimed at 8 – 11 year olds and centres on Harry, his best friend James and neighbour Stacey who form a spy club and spend their summer holidays solving mysteries. The premise immediately appealed to me because my brothers and I often pretended we were spies when we were kids and I loved the way the story started off light-hearted but ended up with a real mystery that’s genuinely exciting.

The book was released last week and on Saturday I went to the launch party! The journey down to Kent from up here in Northumberland was a bit of a trek – especially with a  two and a half hour train delay which led to me arriving rather more than fashionably late – but it was worth every moment. The launch was brilliant with pink fizz, book signing, cupcakes with my illustrations on them and conversations with some really lovely people. I’m so impressed with Nikki for all the hard work she’s put into the book and really happy to have been able to work with her to add that little extra something.

book launch

I left the launch full of optimism, cupcakes and bubbles and, as if that wasn’t enough, then went immediately to London and met my oldest friend for a meal. A night away by myself is a rare treat indeed – with no kids tea or bedtime to have to think about, I was so giddy I could barely find my way to the restaurant, but I got there in the end and we had a wonderful evening. I then went to check-in to my hotel, was told I’d had a free room upgrade and found myself with this view:

kings cross at night

Wow. It was a little louder and brighter than the moonlit fields of home but for the one night it was totally perfect! The next morning I had a leisurely breakfast (avocado and scrambled eggs on toast, freshly squeezed orange juice and not a child in sight – not my usual experience!) and then strolled off to meet my writing friends for lunch. And when I say ‘lunch’ I mean a six hour long food and drink fest where we utterly put the world to rights. Ah, bliss.

What I'm Writing meet up May 17

Finally, on the train home I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen for years and had a really good catch up. It was the perfect end to my weekend way. I arrived home and was able to give my sons a copy of Nikki’s book each. My middle son was so excited he’s now cleared a shelf of his bookcase for “Books illustrated by Maddy Bennett (my mum)”. If that’s not a reason to keep on drawing in every spare moment, then I don’t know what is. I fully intend to make sure he ends up with some books written by me on that shelf too. One day.

You can find out more about The Mystery of the Disappearing underpants (and buy it!) here.

books illustrated by Maddy Bennett

a wonderful weekend

what-im-writing-meet-up

Some of my wonderful #WhatImWriting friends.

You know the sort of weekend that’s so good that regardless what Monday throws at you, you keep smiling all day long? I’ve just had one of those. And I don’t mean just smiling a little bit either, I mean like, huge cheshire cat grins often accompanied by little chuckles at random moments and even the odd guffaw (when passers-by least expect it). Oh yes, I’m talking a properly stonking good weekend.

It began with a plan of military precision involving leaving my eldest son with my husband up in Northumberland on Friday and my younger two with my parents in Yorkshire on Saturday and then leaping on a train all by myself (that is BY MYSELF, alone, no kids, on a train, on my own and did I say I was by myself?) and going down to London. I got there at 12.56 (a not entirely pointless detail) and immediately went to meet up with some of my wonderful #WhatImWriting gang.

And what a meet up it was! There were eight of us. We met for lunch. Lunch went on for eight hours. It was awesome: I can honestly say these women are soul food to me – proper, hearty, ‘eat as much as you like and you wont ever get sick because it’s too tasty’ soul-food. They are all intelligent and creative and strong and brave and brilliant and beautiful and being in their company made my spirits soar.

It also made me *rather* drunk. Oh yes. The sort of drunk where you text your husband from the loo to tell him how much you love him and how much you love everyone and then you realise later that what you sent looks more like ‘I higglibley fulsip ve’ than the message you were really aiming for but never mind because he knew what you meant. The best kind of drunk, then.

Anyway, we well and truly put the world to rights and then just to top it off, straight afterwards I went out for a meal with one of my friends from my university days who I don’t get to see nearly often enough. And he came and met me where we were having our epic lunch (The Parcel Yard at Kings Cross – this isn’t remotely a sponsored post but we had such a good time there, they deserve a mention) which somehow made it even more lovely because it was like a bit of my history (18 years of friendship and counting) intersecting with a much more recent part of my life. Not quite sure why that felt so lovely but it did.

And, AND just to top it off even more than it was already topped off, the next day I had brunch/lunch with one of my very oldest, bestest friends (39 years of friendship and counting – we met before I was born… ) by the end of which my spirits were in the stratosphere and my heart was bursting all over the place with love.

I then caught the 12.56 train (see – I like a bit of symmetry) back to Yorkshire, picked up my younger two boys (who’d had a brilliant time with my parents) and drove back home to Northumberland in time to babble joyfully and semi-coherently at my husband, find out that his time with our eldest boy was ‘pure joy’ (I shed a little tear at that description) and then collapse into bed to dream of… well, we decided that what happens in The Parcel Yard stays in The Parcel Yard so I couldn’t possibly divulge any more…

xxx

Writing Bubble

art and healing

sheep-at-sunriseSo, phew, how are we all doing then? What’s that you say? Am I still enraged, horrified and saddened? I know, I know, my recent posts have been fairly emotionally-outpoury and heavy haven’t they?

Well…

In answer to your question – yes and no. Yes, because that’s my honest and human reaction to what’s going on in the world at the moment… and no, because if I stayed permanently in that state I’d lose the plot. I’ve actually had some lovely times recently: mornings and afternoons and lunches and dinners and drinks with friends that have fed my soul and given me a huge boost in the happiness stakes. If there’s one big positive to come out of this awful year it’s been those friendships that have grown and strengthened in the face of everything or simply remained resolutely fantastic. They’re better than the cosiest, warmest, fluffiest blanket in front of the crackliest, brightest, toastiest fire with the biggest, crumbliest most delicious plate of mince pies, my friends are. And all the chocolate in the world – they’re better than that too.

So yes, as I write this, I’m feeling calmer than I’ve felt in weeks.

But I have been thinking about those feelings of outrage and horror and the proper place for them. Because I don’t think such feelings can be dismissed – not when they are legitimate and not when people’s rights, freedoms and even lives are at risk (or worse). However, they’re also not something that should be used to further negativity or hate or violence – I think they need to be used to combat those things. Channelled in the right way, I think horror and outrage can be powerful and positive.

I’ve read loads of articles recently about positive actions that can be taken by people feeling shocked or sad or powerless. There are many different options, whether its volunteering or donating or speaking out or up for others or peacefully protesting or being a friend – the list goes on. And I think we each need to pick the course of action that works for us – the action that will heal us and hopefully help others.

For me, I’ve decided that the way forward is art. I read a blog post earlier this year by Chuck Wendig called ‘It is art that will help us survive‘ (read it as long as you don’t mind sweariness). In it he talks about how art – in its many forms – can soothe and heal but also excite and agitate, how it can help us understand ourselves and each other. How art can lift us up and, by sharing it, lift others up too. And how it can bond people across all sorts of personal and political and cultural divides. So, while it might seem a bit, I dunno, ‘fluffy’ in these troubled times, it just isn’t.

An artist friend and I had a big chat about this the other night and we’ve come up with a plan. It’s about creating art and sharing art and hopefully creating opportunities for others to do so too. It’s about being able to respond to events that upset us in ways that create empathy and promote feelings of togetherness and hope. And it’s also (if all goes to plan) about helping causes close to our hearts: making sense of the world while having a genuine positive impact.

It’s only a little idea – it’s not flashy or bold. But I think – we both think – it can make a difference. That it can channel outrage into healing.

And that’s just what we need right now.

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shock, fear and hope for the future

seagull in the stormI’m struggling to find the words right now. Finding out the result of the EU referendum last Friday was like a punch to the guts. I was already reeling in the climate of hate and vicious rhetoric and violent action that had built up over the preceding weeks, and had hoped against hope we would vote for togetherness and stability. That the lies of the leave campaign (which have emerged so clearly since the result was announced) would would be revealed in time. That hatred of the political elite (who, honestly, I can’t stand either) wouldn’t lead people to vote against membership of a union which affords us so much protection in so many areas and in so many ways.

But it happened. Britain voted leave. And I still can’t get my head round it. Despite my usual positive outlook, I’ve been struggling to say ‘never mind, move on, look to the future, think positive’ or any of that. Because the future is so uncertain and the repercussions are already scaring me. The racism that the vote has legitimised, the jeering ‘We won, so get out of our country!’ mentality that is bubbling up all over the place makes my blood run cold. And the leave camp is already going back on pledges like ‘We will give £350 million a week to the NHS’ and major campaign issues like putting an end to free movement of labour (which personally I have no issue with at all) that people based their votes on. Some leave voters are already disillusioned and angry. Many remain voters are distraught. What’s going to happen next? Where’s it going to lead? I worry for all of us, I really do.

But. BUT…

Amidst all of this, you know what makes my heart sing? The wonderful, thoughtful, compassionate people that appear left, right and centre in my life. My family and my friends, the people I bump into in the playground, or at soft play parties or in muddy fields (well, I do live in rural Northumberland). The people who fill my social media feeds with understanding and love. All of them. All of you. That’s what gives me hope.

I said today on Facebook that I was stepping back from it for a bit – just to give myself some space. I am exceedingly lucky that – despite what I’ve heard about the bile that’s been spouted on social media – my personal feed is full of kind, empathetic people. But there’s so much information being shared and so much worry and so much pain – grief even, at this result. And I can’t face it all. I can’t take it all in. I’m like some kind of overused sponge – it’s exhausting me.

So, like I said, I updated my status with a little ‘I’m taking a break but I want you to know you’ve all provided me with so much solace these past few weeks’ kind of thing. And then something lovely started happening – I started getting direct messages and texts from friends. Little “I hope you’re ok’s” and “I know what you mean’s” and “I feel that way too’s”. Wonderful, warm, genuine messages of solidarity and hope. Man, they made me smile. I’d been sending some of my own over the past few weeks but after receiving these ones, I thought I’d up the pace and let more of the people I care about know that I care.

And it’s started to make me feel better. It might not be much, but it feels like something I can actually do. A way of looking to the future with something other than fear. Because it means something, doesn’t it? – to be loving. To be loved.

That’s what I’m focusing on now.

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on sticking to decisions (mostly, kind of)

Last week I made some big decisions to do with blogging (and writing, drawing, parenting and life in general, really), one of which was to only blog once a week. My plan for my post this week was to finally get round to summarising what I learned from the London Book Fair back in April. But now I’m tired and my notes from the day are in disarray (and if I’m honest I can’t really be arsed) so that’s going to have to wait a week or two. I think, instead, I’ll just write about what sort of week I’ve had trying to stick to last week’s decisions. So grab some tea/chocolate/beer/toast (depending on time and taste) and I’ll treat (!) you to another mind splurge. Ready?

flying pig

Sticking to my decisions – pigs might fly?

Right, one thing I can say is that my ‘one post a week’ plan, along with the ‘no linkies’ move, has made a huge difference. I only spent one evening last week on blog commenting (with a few other comments here and there) rather than four, leaving me with SO MUCH extra time for doing other stuff – what a relief!

Also, knowing I’m only going to write one post has removed all the superfluous, ‘oh I could write about this… and that and, ooh THIS’ thoughts from my mind so I’ve felt less overloaded. I do feel slightly removed from the blogging community without the linkies but all my blogging friends have been so lovely and supportive (you guys totally rock) and I know it’s the right move so I can’t really regret it.

I’m also pleased with my decision to not pressure myself to write for a while. Funnily enough, having more breathing space has given me more thinking space and thus new ideas, and I’m brewing a new idea for a novel… so maybe I’ll write something this month after all. But, in general, not constantly thinking ‘I SHOULD be writing! What am I doing?!’ is another relief.

Instead of blogging and writing, my aim this month was to focus on my illustration course, and I made a plan to draw every day – and I have! I set myself a new creative challenge (another one!) called #GuessTheFilm where I’m working my way through the alphabet, drawing a picture a day to represent a different film starting with that letter. I’m really loving doing it. I’ve been posting the results on Twitter and Instagram which, as I’ve said before, I find a really useful way of defeating the self-doubt. Here are my first few drawings:

#GuesstheFilms

I have to admit, I’ve not got much further forward with my actual illustration coursework (I’m trying to do an assignment at the moment) but I figure all and any drawing is taking me in the right direction so I’m not sweating over that particular detail at the moment.

The other intended use for my free time was reading – I decided I would read one book a fortnight for the rest of the year (which shouldn’t be a stretch really). This week I’ve read most of the soon-to-be-published Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith, which I’m thoroughly enjoying and will be reviewing shortly. I’m also champing at the bit to read Claire North’s latest book (I had ALL the love for her first novel, and enjoyed her second too), and Susan Cain’s ‘Quiet’ (about introverts) so things are chugging along nicely there.

And I’ve been pretty sociable this last week! That’s another excellent side effect of feeling less pressured to blog – extra time for the lovely people in my life. My friends are really important to me so they’re always a big priority anyway, but today I had a bit of child-free time and spent it on a huge ramble through the fields with a friend rather than hunched over my computer banging out a blog post as I would have done previously. Much better for the soul.

drawing in a pub

Another bit of friend time – drawing in the pub with my best mate while putting the world to rights.

So that’s all good.

Where I am utterly failing though is with my social media goal. Half an hour a day in the evening, I said. Hahahahhahahhahaha. I mean, just hahahhahahahha! Spectacular fail there. One problem is that I’ve rediscovered my social media apps on my phone. “Oh, but I thought you said you deleted them” I hear you say. Well yes, so did I, but apparently I didn’t (think it’s some kind of app witchery – they don’t want to be deleted) and now I’ve found them. They’re not quite so easy to access but still, with a few simple swipes I can check FB and Twitter again. Bollocks. Actually, it’s not really FB that’s got my attention it’s Twitter and Instagram because I’ve been putting my #GuessTheFilm pics there so it’s totally justified…

Oh, except it’s not because I keep catching myself looking at my flipping phone when I should be interacting with my kids. Since that was the first and most important decision I made last week I’m going to have to give myself a hearty telling off for that one.

But I’m not losing faith in myself yet – I’m just going to have to try again, and not post any drawings (or photos) till the evening this week. It must be doable. I mean it’s only social media – what’s so great about that?! I don’t really need the constant input and affirmation. *twitches and dribbles at thought of life without constant input and affirmation*. I can but try.

So that’s me at the moment. I think I’m going to grab a beer and draw a picture now. :)

Writing Bubble

honesty and social media

One Friday morning a couple of weeks ago – the first day of half term to be precise – my sons decided to do some baking. My eight-year-old has always enjoyed making cakes and buns but it’s become a real passion of his recently. On this occasion his younger brothers (aged six and just-about-three) were keen to help and I was told to “Sit down, Mummy or just take some photos of us or something.” So I mostly just watched them.

pretty buns... but what's the other side of the story?

pretty buns… but what’s the other side of the story?

It was so sweet – the three of them were totally dedicated to the task and worked together brilliantly. The older two read recipes together and divided up tasks. They helped their little brother pour ingredients and stir the mixture. They all had far too much (messy) fun with the electric mixer and even came up with a solution when they realised they’d added butter straight from the fridge (instead of ‘softened butter’)… which involved the six year old sitting in front of a heater for ten minutes cradling the bowl of cake mixture in his hands! An hour and a half later they had made chocolate biscuits and buns and were (justly) very pleased with themselves. I photographed the whole thing and shared the photos on my personal Facebook page. I felt so happy and proud of them.

Ten minutes later though, I felt a sudden need to be more honest with my Facebook friends… because although those pictures of sibling harmony were absolutely genuine, they only told one part of the story. In fact, the reason I had been so particularly happy to see my boys working together and enjoying each other’s company so much is because the previous day my older two had had the most horrible, upsetting argument. It was probably the worst argument they’d ever had and it had taken me and their dad ages to calm them down and help them through it. I’d gone to bed feeling like a terrible parent and woken up as member of the Walton family! No wonder I’d wanted to share those gorgeous, harmonious photos!

Perhaps it was the recent furore over the ‘Motherhood Challenge’ playing on my mind (with the idea that posting happy photos can have a negative impact on others*), but suddenly, only sharing ‘part of the story’ didn’t feel quite right. So I went back to Facebook and wrote about the argument the previous day too, along with my reasons for sharing that. I’m not normally that open on Facebook so I felt quite exposed (even though I only have a hundred-odd friends which is by FB standards a mere handful!). But I did it anyway because it suddenly felt like something I needed to do.

You see, as much as I enjoy Facebook, I’m aware of its dark side too. Personally, I can find it really draining. And although I do genuinely enjoy the majority of what my friends post, there are times when it all feels too much. A bit overwhelming. It can tap into a side of me I don’t really like so that where in ‘real life’ I would feel happy for a friend’s success, ‘social media me’ is envious and dissatisfied. On a bad day this ‘me’ sees the dream jobs, the pictures of angelic, perfectly behaved kids, the fabulous holidays etc. and compares my life unfavourably to that.

I know, I KNOW this is ridiculous because I have a lovely life with very little to feel remotely dissatisfied about. I’m also well aware FB provides only glimpses into people lives (those perfect kids probably smeared ice cream all over the sofa three seconds after that photo was taken) and besides which, I project just the same images of an ideal life into others FB feeds. I guess that was why I felt the need to set the record straight a bit on this occasion. I don’t have perfect, Disney-fairytale kids!

That honest post got twice as many likes and (lovely) comments as my post with the harmonious sibling pictures and I don’t think that was a fluke. It’s lovely to see each other’s happy times but without sharing some of the harder moments too, I think we’re missing something. The roundness of human experience, perhaps. And the real part of friendship – the part that makes us see each other as fellow human beings, all on this crazy journey together. Isn’t everything easier when we’re not alone?

How much do you share on social media?

***

*for the record, I had nothing against the motherhood challenge. I was tagged but didn’t post any photos, more due to apathy than anything else. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with posting happy photos. I certainly don’t think parents are smug just for sharing moments like these. I do think there’s a question about the impact of what we share on social media but it’s much MUCH bigger than that one challenge, it’s to do with how we adapt to knowing so many selective details about so many people on the periphery of our lives. It’s a whole other blog post!

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And then the fun began...

not reflecting on 2015… honest

It’s January, the first day of a new year and the traditional time to look back at the year gone by and make resolutions for the year ahead. I’ve read a lot of reflective posts from fellow bloggers these past few days and toyed with the idea of writing one of my own – almost felt I should write one in fact, as if it’s some kind of blogging law. After all, blogging is a kind of online diary so the task of writing some kind of summary should be so easy that, well, why wouldn’t you?

flooded flieds reflection

What’s stopped me (apart from a rather hectic diary and extremely dodgy broadband due to flooding) is feeling that, compared to others, I didn’t achieve enough last year. You see, I didn’t write an entire novel or find a publisher or an agent. I didn’t write for Huff Post, become Blog Of The Day on Mumsnet or be in the Tots100 index (honestly, I’m not even sure what that is!). Nor did I have a post go viral, gain masses of followers or have glittering associations with exciting brands. I didn’t travel the world, get a promotion at work, have a baby or, or, or… well, all sorts of things.

Which is all FINE, honestly it is. I’d probably explode if all that had happened in one year! But one of the perils of blogging is the almost irresistible urge to compare yourself to others and, while reading the posts of my lovely fellow bloggers was inspiring and heart-warming, I also found myself thinking:

Look at that! A whole book written and published! And this person’s just found an agent and that person’s written a whole novel in a month, and over here someone’s had a baby and still managed to blog nearly every day! They’re all AWESOME! How can I live up to that?!

You don’t have to ‘live up to that’ you fool! The more sensible side of me then counselled, It’s not a competition, you know.

Yes, I know that, but still, look – this person’s written enough poetry in a few months to fill a whole book, and that person’s got a massive promotion at work and…

Oh, SHHHH, didn’t I just say, IT’S NOT A COMPETITION!

Yes but..

Yes but nothing – look, all these things that people have achieved, they’ve managed through hard work, determination and being willing to put themselves out there, to take a few risks maybe…

But, I’ve been doing that too! I mean I worked my socks off on those three picture book manuscripts and I had them professionally edited and I sent them off to agents, and… and I went to my first blogging conference and a whole Writing Festival weekend which was totally out of my comfort zone…

Ah ha! See – you DID achieve some pretty cool things last year then!

I guess… yes?

No question about it… didn’t you write at least one blog post every single week of the year? AND didn’t Louise from ‘Little Hearts, Big Love’ include your blog as one of her top ten of 2015?

She did! It was totally unexpected and REALLY made me smile!

And haven’t you written masses of limericks? Weren’t you (and aren’t you still) an editor for BritMums? Didn’t you read and recommend fantastic books? Don’t you you run a linky that has built up a lovely community around it… in fact you even arranged real life meet up for that linky didn’t you?

Yes – it was fab! Our #WhatImWriting community is SO wonderful and inspiring.

Agreed! And then there’s that other work you do…

Well yes, though I’m not sure I’ve really achieved that much there…

I think you’ll find a quick look at your inbox will reveal an awful lot appreciative emails.

Yes, ok, I guess I have been of some value there too.

Absolutely you’ve been of value! Besides which, I know that one of the things you value most is your friends and this has been a wonderful year for friendship too hasn’t it?

It really has yes, you’ve got me there.

And, AND, you have three young kids! Three young kids who are clothed and fed and happy!

That’s very true…

And I know you’re thinking ‘but I could have been a better parent and I wish I never shouted’ but pah, no one’s perfect and your boys are loved. That’s the most important thing. They’re loved and happy. Trust me, you’re doing fine.

Ok, you win, I…

Wait, one more thing! it was your twenty-first anniversary with your husband just before christmas wasn’t it? That’s worth celebrating!

Oh yes, and we certainly did celebrate! I get it, I get it… thanks sensible side, you’ve made me see sense, I’ve achieved plenty this year and it doesn’t matter that it’s not exciting things like book publications, career advances and meeting celebrities (oh wait, I did do that), it’s the little things. I’ve kept chugging along, taking little risks and putting lots of time and energy into relationships which is what matter most. Now I come to think of it – 2015 was a pretty awesome year.

Totally! So… are you going to write that reflective, summary post now?

What, the one where I look back over 2015 and include links to lots of other blog posts?

That’s the one.

Nah, I can’t really be bothered. ;)

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And then the fun began...

bonfires

It’s been one of those weeks. Not an altogether bad week by any stretch, but a very full-on one that’s left me feeling wrung out with not a lot of steam left in my engine, gin in my tonic or jam in my doughnut.

bonfire

This is basically a result of all the various areas of my life requiring attention all at once. I normally juggle things (it’s the way of many parents of young kids I think) but usually it’s a case of some things needing more attention while others need less, in a kind of fluctuating dance. It might not be the perfect pirouette but it works. This week though, all the different aspects came charging at me a whirl of school engagements, kids parties, tricky work documents, long commutes, really-need-your-brain-to-function-meetings, angsty phone-calls, important decisions and various bonfire events that, while fun, meant more rushing around and an ever increasing pile of muddy wellies and soggy socks littering the house.

The only blog post I managed last week was written way too late at night (probably why it was all about ferrets), this one I’m writing right now has been in my drafts folder for days and although I’m desperate to getting going on the bajillionth edit of one of my picture books and get my plan for my limerick collection further along, I’m stalling badly.

With all that going on, there have certainly been moments when I’ve felt overwhelmed. And yet, amidst it all have been loads of lovely moments with friends who’ve scattered my week with emails, chats over over hot chocolate, funny messages and supportive blog comments. But best of all, I had two fantastic evenings this weekend that reminded me I’m right on track.

One evening was with one of my closest friends. We live over two hours drive apart but for the last five years we’ve been meeting for dinner in the Scottish borders about once a month. It does me a power of good every time. Even the drive relaxes me (the landscape from Northumberland up to Scotland is stunning) and then four hours of constant chatting with no distractions is brilliant. We almost always go to the same place – the food’s great, the people are friendly and they even have roaring fires to toast our toes by in the winter – it’s perfect. Nothing warms the soul like a good chat with a life-long friend does it?

A second soul-toasting evening involved meeting up with another old friend – this time one whom I hadn’t seen for a decade or more! We went out for a delicious meal and had a good old chat and a laugh just like in our student days nearly twenty years ago (am I really that old? Oh God, I really am). And the lovely thing was – and this I hadn’t quite expected – how immensely reassuring and kind of life-affirming it felt. To be reunited with a friend and to realise that despite everything that has gone on since you last saw each other – the marriages, kids, jobs, travel, houses, and just, stuff, that makes up life – you are both still who are you are and who you always were. And that the friendship has somehow endured.

This week seems to be taking over where last week left off – the toddler has come down with a nasty cold and simultaneously decided now is the perfect time to begin potty training, just to add to the general mayhem. But overwhelm is being held at bay: I have my friends.

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friendships old and new

I’ve just returned from a fantastic couple of days in London, meeting my ‘What I’m Writing’ blogging friends for the first time. It was only my second night away from home (without my kids) since the birth of my youngest, two-and-a-half years ago, and I think I’m getting a taste for it. Not that I don’t love being around my boys most of the time but it is fantastic to be ‘footloose and fancy-free’ for a weekend!

view of the shard

The view from my hotel window – much more impressive than I’d expected!

And what a weekend! I set off with my younger boys (six and two) after school on Friday, leaving the eldest (eight) with my husband for some father/son bonding time (good plan – they both loved it), and headed down to Yorkshire to stay with my parents for the night. First thing the next morning I left the boys with my parents and hopped on the train down south.

As I watched the beautiful Yorkshire landscape whizz past the window it occurred to me that there was nothing I needed to do that moment – no demands on my time, no small people to entertain, no deadlines to meet (or not ones that couldn’t wait) so I… *drumroll* read a magazine! A really crappy one! I learned all about Botox (it may smooth out your skin but often causes muscle wastage that hollows out your appearance thus making you look older in the long run… oh, and recent research suggests that overuse when young affects you psychologically since mirroring other people’s facial expressions helps develop empathy… interesting eh?) and also about who’s dating who, celebrity diets and whose body I’m supposed to wish was my own. Hmmm.

Anyway, before my brain was even half filled with fluff (it was a three hour trip but my head has a large fluff-capacity) my train arrived in Kings Cross and I was off to meet my gang.

What I'm Writing lunch

L-R Reneé from Mummy Tries, me, Rachael from Honest Speaks, Rebecca Ann Smith, Nikki Young Writes, Emily Organ and Sophie is…

It was SO fantastic to meet them all. It felt a weird mixture of completely surreal and utterly normal. These were people whose faces I’d only seen in FB profile pics, whose voices I’d never heard and whose lives I only knew about through words on a screen… and yet they were also people who I’d chatted with online and read and shared so much with through our blogs that I felt I knew them well. Conversation, laughter and wine flowed freely over a delicious four hour lunch and over cocktails afterwards. We talked about real stuff – who could be bothered with small talk? The only downside was that we didn’t have longer – so we’re already planning a next time!

Having had a wonderful Saturday, the next morning I rounded off my London experience with a leisurely brunch with my oldest friend. We first met before we were born (well ok, our mums met in antenatal class) and we’ve been best friends ever since, but seeing her was an all-too-infrequent treat. With my new-found freedom though I’m hoping to change that.

On getting back to my parents’ house later that afternoon I was met by two delighted boys who’d had a fantastic weekend with their grandparents. My six-year-old then gave me this story which he’d written (and illustrated) for me on post-it notes. I didn’t think he’d paid attention when I’d told him where I was going but clearly some of it had sunk in, well, the location anyway:

trip to London story

It’s rather prosaic for him (his stories usually involve castles, trolls or flying pigs) but I rather liked its blunt, straight-forwardness. He’s wrong about one thing though – this isn’t the end. It’s just the start of the story.

Writing Bubble
Little Hearts, Big Love

anticipation

Last week I was wondering about whether holding back, trying to find a middle ground and not wanting to be controversial was making my blog bland. The post seemed to strike a chord with people and I just wanted to say thank you so much to everyone who commented and for all the support – it was interesting to hear all your thoughts on the matter and very affirming too. I now feel stronger in my certainty about only sharing what I’m comfortable with and, funnily enough, I also feel that maybe I will be able to share more in future without scaring myself silly.

sparkler

Mostly though, your comments reminded me of the most important aspect of blogging to me –the connection to a community. I may not be blazing an exciting trail to blog fame, fortune and immortality but I have made some lovely friends and that means so much to me, SO much.

When I started Writing Bubble the blogosphere was pretty much unknown to me – the world of writing too. It felt like walking into a party and not knowing anyone and having to hang out by the snacks nervously sipping slightly-suspect punch.  But then I got chatting to one or two people and wandered out into the room a bit. I met more people –  lovely, like-minded people. Then someone handed me some decent wine and I chatted some more. Had a laugh. When the lights went down I even had a bit of a dance. Now I’m happy at the party and feel like whatever goes on (and unfortunately it’s not always lovely at this particular event) I have my friends. They rock. You rock.

Which brings me to now. And it’s all very exciting because this weekend the party gets real (kind of) – we’re having a #WhatImWriting meet up! It’s been months in the planning and I’m so looking forward to meeting some of the lovely people who I’ve got to know in blog-land over the past year or so. So often I’ve read posts and commented “I wish we could sit down and have a big chat over coffee!” and now, finally, we are!

I’m a little nervous too of course. This is a whole new thing. Apart from a long ago meeting with Rosie Scribble (back in my previous life when I had a whole other blog) and meeting Sadie Hanson at the Writer’s Festival last month, I’ve never met online friends. I’ve certainly never met a group of them at the same time. And it’s not just popping along for a chat over coffee either, it’s a weekend away from home and a trip to London which, for someone who lives on a Northumbrian hillside and is mostly surrounded by a herd of small boys, is quite a big deal.

But I know it will be fab. I get to talk writing with other writers: what could be better than that? Oh, I know – talking writing (and much more besides) with writers who I’ve come to think of as friends. Friends whose lovely words have inspired and motivated me over the last few years.

I can’t wait!

Muddled Manuscript