Life

sanctuary

Moldova, March 2019

My bed is pushed up so that the headboard is against the window. I leave the blinds open. At night, if I crane my head, I see the stars. Perhaps the moon too. 

But the mornings are delicious. I wake up bathed in sunshine, in a pool of warm light. Perhaps the sky is very blue, perhaps a cloud or two drifts across its face.  

Eight o’clock is the sweet hour. Eight to nine and afterwards the sun slowly drifts up and away. My room is pink. It steals the light and keeps it safe and stored within its walls. 

The rest of the apartment may be gloomy, slightly cast in shadow … but my room? With its curved walls dotted with post it notes and chapter sheets marching along the ground? With the books heaped on the sturdy little drawers and bags piled up in a corner? With white bedsheets which have caught spring blossoms and a faux brown fur that surely was once a fierce bear? 

It’s light. It’s comfort. It’s a secret place where stress retreats just a little. It’s where daydreams are made and fears are kept at bay. It’s where I lie with headphones and listen to songs of hope, full of melody and wishes. It’s where a book and a tune and a cup of tea are the closest things to heaven I have and where prayers are told and heart-secrets whispered. 

In here, I am at peace. 

In this pocket of happiness, I find sanctuary. 

There are other places – a stretch of road where the sun always shines and the bark on the trees is slowly peeling, leaving pure white beneath and a belief that surely, surely they are from another, more mystical world. A kitchen table when it is just I and a window and perhaps a cup of tea – not English Breakfast, but I’ve learned that there are other delights which can fill a cup. A carpet, on which I dance – not elegantly, never that, but with a feeling that youth is fleeting and I must grab it and rejoice in existence, in the life that flows through my veins. In a mirror in which I peer at my face and pretend that she and I have hidden jokes that we must always laugh at. 

There is sanctuary everywhere. Hidden. Between the here and now and the hereafter. 

(In the heart. That too. In the relief that truth brings. In the peace that follows. In the words written in the only book that is living. In the prayer whispered. In the burden shared. )

Sanctuary. Peace. Contentment. Joy. 

Life will try to drench us with worries, numb our bones with cares, and steal our breath with anxiety … but there is always sanctuary. If only we look

Life, On Writing

writing when there seems to be no time

I’ve learned a truth: you’ll never get around to doing anything unless you make time for it. Do you want to organise your bookshelves according to tropes? Do you long to become ambidextrous? Investigate the lifecycles of newts? Have regular conversations with your local oak tree? (Don’t. You’ll receive several bemused looks.) (Or do.) Do you want to write a book? 

Make time for it. 

You don’t need a study overlooking the sea. You don’t need a smoking jacket or a typewriter or a special sort of paper or a desk shaped like a whale. (Though … that would be amazing and if anyone has one going SIGN ME UP!)

BASIC REQUIREMENTS:

  • You
  • Something to write with (ink/a functioning computer/word processor/paper etc etc)
  • Determination

You’ll very rarely have a perfect afternoon to while away in a different world, or an entire weekend free of worry with brilliant weather just right to write with.

Writing can be done in a spare fifteen minutes tapping away at the keyboard. Writing can done scribbling away on your lunch-break. Writing can done when you’re tired, when you’re stressed, just before bed, just before breakfast. 

It can be ten words, a hundred words, perhaps even a thousand (or two!). It isn’t always magical, it’s not secretive and it’s decidedly not glamorous.

It’s the simplest thing which is somehow the hardest – setting down one word after the other. Planting your bottom in a chair, stretching your hands over the keyboard, taking a breath, and diving into the words.

Five minutes. Ten. Or heck – even half an hour. It doesn’t matter for how long, the important thing is: you’re doing it.

Waiting for the perfect time, the perfect moment, and the perfect day doesn’t work. They don’t arrive. They’re stuck in the pipeline. Caught in the ever elusive ‘tomorrow’.

Make time. Cram words into the cracks and little pieces of the day you’d otherwise fill with reddit, youtube, Instagram, or a thousand other things.

Make time and the words will pile up.

happy writing!

Life

how to have adventures

I am an adamant supporter of the having of adventures. They are crucial to life. Cr-u-cial. Just because there is a dearth of dragons, quests, and hobbits doesn’t mean it’s impossible to go on one. Let me expound …

BE PROACTIVE SEIZE THE DAY. OR HOUR. OR MINUTE

Adventures don’t always hand themselves to you on a platter. You have to snatch at them as they whiz by, or spin them out of thin air. It’s all down to you. Do you have an afternoon free? Plan an outting. It doesn’t have to be expensive: buy some snacks, grab a book or a friend (with their permission. Of course) and go.

An hour? Go for a walk. Explore your neighbourhood. Travelling home from an appointment/work/saving the world from killer penguins? Choose a different way home. Branch out into a different genre of book. Go to the cinema and watch a film you wouldn’t normally watch.

BE READY TRY TO BE SLIGHTLY ORGANISED

I know – a little ironic, huh? Adventures are often spontaneous things … only. If you have an organised life, a marginally organised life, it means your brain is free from distractions. You don’t have to waste time cleaning/booking appointments/sending emails/folding laundry if you’re on top of things.

This might be just me, but I do better when my personal life is organised. My brain is like a terrible phone with limited data – I’ve got to keep some memory space free for important stuff. So uncluttering is a must.

Do I sometimes jam stuff out of sight? Shove it under the bed or in the wardrobe? Yes.

I am but human after all.

BE BRAVE ONE STEP AT A TIME

When I was teaching in Eastern Europe, day to day life didn’t always feel like the easiest thing. Go down to the shops? Where they don’t understand a word I say and I can’t understand anything they say either? I do words – I write them, I read them, and I taught about them. To not understand anything? That felt terrifying.

One memorable occasion, after a long day of teaching … I couldn’t quite face it. I had to do the shopping (you’ve got to eat) but I withdraw into myself, wrapping myself with a bit of numbness and a lot of ‘put your head down, don’t draw attention to yourself.’ That kind of sucked and I felt like I was a complete failure of an adventurer …

But here’s a secret: being brave doesn’t always mean doing big huge things. It can be little things too. No one but you knows just how much effort it takes to smile at that stranger, to step onto the bus, to attempt something in a different language.

Bravery – like adventures – comes in all shapes and sizes and every little bit should be celebrated. Being brave doesn’t mean you don’t feel afraid or a little bit cowardly – being brave means you do things in spite of those feelings.

Keep going.

You got this.

BE BRIGHT-EYED IT’S ALL IN THE MIND

Adventures come in many forms. Big. Small. Medium. Tiny. Ginormous. And it’s all down to your mindset. You could view doing the weekly shopping as a chore OR you could view it as an opportunity to slip a pun in when speaking to a cashier, decide who among your fellow shoppers is a secret agent or a shapeshifter or is secretly addicted to growing peppers, make multiple words out of advertising, or buy an item of food you’d never ordinarily touch.

Perspective – it’s powerful. Choose to see the bright side of things. Choose to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. Choose adventures – in whatever way they come.

Life itself is an adventure and it’s a big one.

Choose to see the beauty. Choose to see the fun. Choose, and find joy in it.

Books, Life

i want to sniff my book

Listen. I’m nearing the end of Project If (as yet, still untitled) and Project Unicorn Poop is shaping up okay – I’ve just figured out what was wrong with one of the characters (he lacked conflict, if you must know) and I can’t wait.

I just cannot wait.

I can’t wait for draft one to be over and done with. I can’t wait to plunge into the editing, the butchering, the going over everything with a fine tooth-comb, the polishing, the looking for an editor to do the job for me, the second edits, the line edits, ALL THE EDITS and then the front cover and then the publishing.

It isn’t that I want to be famous. It isn’t that I want to make pots and pots of money through this – though, I’m sure, I wouldn’t refuse if you really insisted.

It’s just that I want to sniff my book. I want to see it done, in the hands of the person it was written for. I want to hold it and stare at it and admire it and tell people I wrote a story that I wanted to read and I wish – oh I wish – you’ll read it too.

I want to have something that I’ve birthed. (Not literally birthed. I mean, maybe that will come in the future but not right now.) I want to see a beautiful book and pick it up and be surprised that oh this is something I wrote – something I wanted to read but couldn’t ever quite find.

It isn’t for pride, it isn’t for fame, it isn’t for anything except a single thing: I want to take joy in what my imagination has produced.

Right now it’s in my head and imperfectly on a page. Right now it’s rough – like a block of marble that hasn’t been shaped and chiselled. Right now, not even a proud mother could come up with a positive adjective to describe it.

And when it’s finished, it won’t be perfect. I’m no Heyer, no Sutcliff, no Sayers, no Wynne Jones, no Wodehouse.

But oh – if it’s a tiny bit beautiful, if it’s a little funny, if it’s moving, if it’s a wondrous adventure, if it makes you see a glimmer of something you can’t quite name, or startles you into a laugh; if it’s something that I can be pleased with then, I would like to share it with you.

Books, I think I just rambled, Life

books and movies and entwives

Let me regale you with the adventures I’ve somewhat recently taken between the pages of books, thundering away at a keyboard, and – memorably – in a cinema seat.

YOUNG ADULT NOVELS AND I STILL DON’T GET ALONG

I DNF’d A Curse So Dark and Lonely – it wasn’t my cup of tea, andI forgot that YA novels and I aren’t always the best of friends.

ALSO I HAVE THINGS TO SAY ABOUT IT but they might have to hold until another time.

LORD OF THE RINGS – I’M READING THEM! LE GASP!

Though I have watched the movies, I hadn’t read the books. But now? I’ve read the first two and have almost finished with the last. Reader, I cried.

Just … Sam … Frodo … the bittersweet scent of change that permeates everything … the lore … the world … the friendships … ugh!

Also, I love the Ents and WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ENT WIVES I ASK YOU. WHAT. HAPPENED?!!!!!

TOLKIEN – THE MOVIE

I watched it. I thought it was pretty okay. I was confused for a bit because there was a man named Chris and I only worked out that it wasn’t C S Lewis near the very end of the movie. The actor did a fabulous job as Tolkien and though I enjoyed it, I thought that it lacked a wee bit of substance.

Like a cream tea without the tea. Scones and jam and cream without the jam. A body without bones. That sort of thing.

ENDGAME – MY EYES AND HEART ACHED

I went twice. My heart hurt. My eyes hurt. My soul ached at some points. And though part of me questions the treatment of one of the characters (Thor, FYI), I am – as a whole – satisfied with the ending of an era that has had a part in shaping my life.

I can’t help listen to this without a lump in my throat.

ROMANOVS – THANKS, I HATE IT.

I’ve been reading a book about the Romanovs – and though it’s wonderfully written and fascinating – I’m just about ready to throw in the towel. (Trowel?) I feel very done with them. I had hopes for one Tsar – that he might be a decent fellow. But then … UGH. A ranting entry in my diary, and (if I recall correctly) a rambling conversation with my sister (or was it a friend? I’ve blocked the memory. It was a terrible time.) later and I feel quite finished.

History is wonderful but I’ve only so many hours and I’ve got a hundred other books which are all clamouring to be read. I think I might give it a pass.

Also – my bookmark got knocked out and I can’t bring myself to go through it all again and find my place.

^VERY valid reason. Also an actual reason.

My next factual book will probably be On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society which looks incredibly interesting.

WRITING: FREELANCE, THE LARGE PROJECT, AND OTHER THINGS

I was doing some freelance on fiverr – it was an adventure, for certain. I’ve found that there isn’t enough time to complete freelance work AND to write my own projects. Honestly?

Procrastination + deadlines = sleep deprivation.

So I’ve called it a day on most freelance work.

Here’s something that I’ve recently discovered though: word sprints. Do them. It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, knowing that there is someone else writing and comparing word counts etc is enormously invigorating and words are always added. It’s great. Find someone who writes. And do it.

So far, I’m just over half way through IF – a project that was supposed to be an action packed mash of a Jackie Chan + John Wayne sort of adventure.

… it hasn’t ended up quite that way. I’ve ended up with a man bogged down in paperwork who then hurtles off on an accidental and reluctant adventure.

And then there’s Operation: Unicorn Poop which is tickling my funny bone.

BOOKS I WANT TO READ IN THE FUTURE

I want to reread my Georgette Heyers. Desperately. I’ve got a book on the Spanish Inquisition which I wasn’t expecting.

… but very much would like to read.

And then there’s The Poison Maiden by Paul Doherty which looks amazing and I want to read it straight away and My Plain Jane which I SWORE I wouldn’t read but … GUESS WHAT ARRIVED TODAY IN THE POST?

Also: a thousand other books but *sigh* life.

ALSO: expect a blog post about the MOST excellent ‘The Emotional Craft of Fiction’ and ‘Steal Like An Artist’ and ‘Keep Going’ because those three books are the bomb*.

*metaphorically speaking.

ALSO: LIFE

I haven’t yet saved the world or slain a dragon, but that’s alright. We can’t all be heroes but we can be kind to each other. It’s more achievable.

Happy Reading!