Category: life

Two Years of Blogging & an Escaped Octopus

Two Years of Blogging & an Escaped Octopus

Happy blogiversary to meeeeee!

Actually, no. Not really. I was just looking at my blogging files and suddenly realised that they go all the way back 2016. 2016, you guys.

Okay, it’s not that long. But really – who knew I had that many words in my head? Well, coherent ones, anyway. I did not.

two years blogging
This is still much tidier than my mental desk, people. Much, MUCH tidier.

So, I’m not sure when I actually started my blog. Ahem. I started it on Weebly, because it was just so easy, before realising that I was going to have to switch to WordPress if I wanted to be able to do anything fancy with it. I’m still not sure I’ll ever actually do anything fancy with it, but, you know. I could if I wanted. Anyhow, when I switched I just got really fed up with the whole importing blog posts and re-jigging images and everything, so not all my blog posts made it across. And the old website’s long gone. And because I can be very organised, but often choose not to be, I appear not to have saved any of my original blog posts. Which means the oldest blog post I have is from when I started using Novlr writing software to write them, which was in April of 2016. I actually discovered that I have a load of blogs and short stories over on Novlr, and I don’t use that any more either – I couldn’t even remember the password to get into it. I feel like a small child, scattering debris behind me and not picking it up again, even though the odds are I’m going to want it again.

Adventures in blogging with a cat
Of course I’m more popular than you, human. Look at me.

So, my blogiversary was actually sometime before April 2016, but it’s close enough. Plus, I like that first blog post I found, so I’m going to inflict it on you below. It’s about an octopus.

And what have I learnt in two years of blogging (ignoring the few months where I ignored the blog entirely)?

  • The blogs you like the least always seem to be the ones everyone else likes the most.
  • It’s okay to be personal. In fact, it’s necessary.
  • No matter how many times you spell and grammar check, you won’t catch everything – particularly really blindingly obvious mistakes.
  • The cat is more popular than I am.
  • Dragons are more popular than anyone else.
  • Bloggers are, by and large, wonderful people.
  • Save your damn blog posts somewhere you can find them again.
  • If all else fails, interview the cat or the dragon.

 

two years blogging and Beaufort Scales birthday
There really will need to be a most lovely tea party for Beauforts anniversary…

I think that’s pretty good going for two years of blogging. And it’s also reminded me that later on this year it’ll be two years since Beaufort made his grand, barbecue-festooned entrance. I did manage to find his first story hidden on Novlr, but I can’t find the date. It may have been November. Or maybe October. Either way – I’m going to have to think of something special for his birthday. As befits the High Lord of the Cloverly Dragons.

But for now – a blog about an octopus escapologist.


Two years of blogging and octopus escapologistsOctopus Escapologists

(April 17th, 2016)

There was a fantastic story that popped up this week, about Inky the octopus’ great escape from a New Zealand aquarium. I cheered him on – I mean, who wouldn’t? It’s not like he’s a large, hungry polar bear, or an enraged banker, is he? He’s not likely to wreak havoc on the local chippie, or with your grandmother’s pension plan. He’s just a small, multi-limbed being who had had enough of being pointed at by small children and manhandled by aquarium workers. Or octopus-handled. I’m not sure of the exact terminology, here. Person-handled? Be that as it may, I love – love – the fact that he didn’t make a break for it during the day, but instead waited until the middle of the night to clamber out of his tank, sneak across the floor, and head for the outside world.

Two years of blogging and octopus escapologists
FREEDOM!

But those poor other fish, though. They would have all been shouting: “Inky, Inky, come on! Just open the tank? Please! We won’t slow you down…” Then again, they’re fish, so opening the tanks probably wouldn’t have been any help at all, except to the other octopus in residence, who goes by the unfortunate name of Blotchy, and apparently wasn’t as intelligent or as personable as our hero. That I can see: “No, Blotchy, you’ll only slow me down. Besides, I never liked you much anyway.” And then our brave cephalopod vanishes down the drain and is away for the cool green waters of Hawkes’ Bay.

The whole story was wonderful – not least the description of Inky as being a bit of a “surprise octopus”, which had me imagining him hiding behind coral heads to shoot ink at aquarium workers, while yelling “Gotcha!” Well, it must get boring in a fish tank. But it also got me thinking about freedom, and captivity, and about how we carry our own prisons with us. Some of us inherit them, some of us are given them, some of us build them for ourselves, and we’ve become so accustomed to them that we barely notice they’re there. Often, we’ve been carrying them since childhood.

two years blogging and life in captivity
I’m fine. This is fine. *sigh*

They come in lots of forms, some of them so cleverly constructed that they’re like safari parks – we think we’re free even when we’re not. We even look free to other people. But there are limits to our freedom. And I don’t mean big limits – don’t do this because you’ll get arrested/die/be disowned by your great-aunt Alda. (Assuming you like your great-aunt Alda, and that this is an undesirable outcome). These are smaller, more insidious confines – if those are the zoo walls, these are our artfully designed enclosures. Beautiful, looking like freedom, but prisons nonetheless. And, unlike Inky, we don’t set ourselves the task of testing the limits of our enclosures on a regular basis. If we notice them, we accept them. Hey, we think, they keep us safe. They keep all the other stuff out (and the other stuff is always scary). They’ve always been there. Everyone’s got them.

All of which, of course, are pretty rubbish reasons for staying in a fish tank when there’s an ocean at the other end of the drainpipe.

two years blogging and freedom
Testing those limits.

Maybe we should be channelling a little octopus bravery and testing the limits of our captivity. Maybe it’s as simple as talking to the neighbour we only nod at but think we might become friends with, given the chance; or as complex as packing the job in, selling our stuff and stepping out on the road to somewhere else. Maybe it’s saying no when you’d normally say yes, or having hot sauce instead of mayonnaise. Maybe it’s joining a sports team or going to a restaurant on your own or reading a book you wouldn’t normally read. Little things, right? (Well, other than the quitting your job and heading off into the sunset one. If you do that, I absolve myself of all responsibility. This is a blog post inspired by an octopus. Don’t get your life advice from a blog that takes inspiration from such dubious sources.) Our confines are so often created by our fears and reinforced by our behaviour, and sometimes it doesn’t hurt to shake the bars a little. Maybe you’ll decide that actually, no, this is more than enough room, like a reef fish cruising his own little domain, with all the clean water and good food and reef fish nookie he needs. But maybe you’ll find you need to expand things a little more, a moray eel that has her home but roams the reef at night.

Or you might just go, bollocks to it. I’m an octopus.


I may need to rethink my previous statement regarding coherent ideas. It has only the loosest relationship to the facts. Although I do stand by my directions not to take life advice from a blog that gets its inspiration from escaped cephalopods.

two years blogging
Ribbons and things, because blogiversary.

How about you, lovely people? What were you writing and reading at this time two years ago? (Or, you know, what other stuff were you doing? I do realise that some people have a life outside writing and reading. Understand, no, but realise yes. 😉 ) Let me know below!

6 Quotes About Writing (plus one I made up)

6 Quotes About Writing (plus one I made up)

This being a writing website (although, if I’m to be entirely honest, there seems to be little enough writing going on around here at the moment *stares at self sternly*), I thought I would share some of the time-honoured nuggets of writing wisdom that I have come across along the way. Obviously this will not be an exhaustive collection, as there’s far too much of it to contain in one blog post, but these are some of my favourite quotes about writing from other people, plus one of my own.

Hopefully by the end of it, one of us will be ready to do some actual writing.


So this is doubly (triply?) wonderful, because it contains three of my favourite things in the world – cats, creativity, and Ray Bradbury. But it’s the sense of the quote that I love so much – the idea that ideas are sneaking all about you on soft little feet, never quite close enough to grab. And, in fact, it’s very important that you don’t grab them, because they’ll only scratch and bite and vanish under the sofa, from where they’ll launch sneak attacks on your feet, leaving you bloodied and alarmed by the whole encounter.

Yes, ideas do this. Don’t argue.

But, if we’re quiet, and respectful, and most of all ignore the ideas – well, then they’ll come curling around our legs and snuggling into our laps, so we can take all the time we want to examine them and pet them and set them on paper. Work is non-negotiable when it comes to writing. We’re going to have to put time in at the keyboard, like it or not. A lot of time. But finding ideas is another art form entirely, and we need to let them grow accustomed to us, to sneak closer and closer until they trust us enough to offer us their ears to scratch. (Not the belly, though. That’s a trap).


But everyone wants to tell you what they are, I notice. So I think the best thing is to make up our own. Because the truth is that, just as no two people see the world in quite the same way, none of us write it in quite the same way, either. Sure, our techniques may have some certain surface similarities, and there are certain things we probably agree on (using words, perhaps. Maybe even having stuff happen in a semi-logical sequence. Although even that’s not a given), we still won’t come at the story in the same way. So while the plotters are sniffing at the pantsers, and the first person-ers are glowering at the third person omniscient-ers, we may as well ignore them all and just go write the story. I think, in fact, that there may be only one rule, and that’s it. Just go write the story.


I adore Amy Poehler. Yes, Please is an odd book, some of which is a fairly average celebrity autobiography, and some of which is full of lovely little observations that make you feel both inspired and warm and fuzzy – like your favourite aunt just gave you a hug and told you how wonderful she thinks you are. And I love this. I love that reminder to set aside all the other stuff. To understand that you just need to go on and write the book. Talking about it and worrying about it is neither going to get it done nor make it easier. If you want to write it, write it. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t like the first draft? That’s what the re-writing’s for. We write because we love it, so just go do it. Don’t worry about the rest.


There are so many good Neil Gaiman quotes that it’s hard to pick just one. But this speaks to everything. All those moments and days and hours of uncertainty, where we pour ourselves into our writing, then take what we’ve made and hack it up and put it back together again, polish it and examine it and pull it apart to start over, never knowing if anyone’s actually going to like it. All the risks we take when we put ourselves out there. All the doubts and fears and insecurities – we have to believe in what we’re doing. Otherwise we may as well take up lizard husbandry. It might be more rewarding.


Yes, and yes. There’s nothing more to say, really. Write that horrible first draft. Keep writing horrible first drafts. Write slightly less horrible second and third drafts, then get someone else to tell you what you can do to make them even less horrible. I believe this is something called The Process, which sucks but, hey. Better that than foist your first draft upon the world. *She says, shuddering and looking sideways at her first draft folder, which she’s trying to figure out how to set to auto-destruct if anyone else opens it*


I could pretty much pick up any Terry Pratchett book, open it at random, and find something quotable, but this one always makes me giggle. The fact that it’s true only makes it funnier. You know, like that slowly rotting tooth you’ve been ignoring, hoping it’d fix itself. That funny.


I don’t know if reading this has done anything at all to help you feel more motivated, but writing it has certainly reminded me that if I’m going to have a writing blog, I should really be doing some more actual writing. Because I do miss it. Blog posts are fun, short stories even more so, but some ideas are just too big to fit. And there’s never enough room for the really silly stuff in blog posts, I notice. Really silly stuff requires more room to grow.

On that note, I shall leave you and go get my notebook. Happy writing, lovely people!

But before I go, I did say I’d include one of my own nuggets of wisdom, didn’t I? Okay, here we go:


Okay, lovely people – over to you! What are your favourite quotes are about writing or life in general? Let me know below!

Courage for Creatives (or, a love letter to my online friends)

Courage for Creatives (or, a love letter to my online friends)

Courage, my friends.

I know I say this as if I’m some brave adventurer, standing atop a convenient outcropping with one hand on my hip and the other either shading my eyes as I gaze dramatically off into the uncharted distance, or waving a sword around in a vaguely threatening and assertive manner.

I don’t feel much like an adventurer or a swordswoman.

Although the pen is apparently mightier than the sword, so there is that.

And I don’t think there’s too much danger of being marauded by barbarians, devoured by non-Beaufort-type dragons, or lost in unmapped and surely monster-infested wilderness this particular evening. Unless there’s a sudden reality shift, but so far so good.

Which begs the question: what, exactly, am I talking about? Why am I wishing people courage like some deluded explorer?

Well, life.

The creative life in particular, but also life in general.

That stuff’s scary.

This was the first image that stock photos had for ‘writer’. Really. This is why we need other creative friends.

And I have so much, honest-to-goodness, hand-on-heart, sword-presented-hilt-first respect for all of you, whether you think you’re nailing it or not.

Because you’re doing amazing.

I mean that.

Some of you are so on top of this life thing, looking after little people and running businesses and having your clothes on right-way-round, and somehow not even wanting to murder anyone – you’re amazing. You also scare me, and I’m not sure you’re not at least a little bit magical, but you’re amazing all the same.

Some of you are debating the wisdom of getting up today, let alone showered or dressed – and some of you will decide that the only course of action is not to. You’re amazing, too. You’re getting yourself through this illogical confusion of life the best way you know how, and that’s something to be proud of. Incredibly so.

Some of you are alternating between days that make no sense whatsoever and others where things seem to be coming together (only to fall apart again by 4pm the following day), and I’m right there with you. You’re amazing, too. You keep pushing through the what-the-hell days, and making the most of the almost-making-sense days. That’s not easy. You rock.

Life is hard. It’s complicated and confusing and scary and wonderful all at once, and we don’t all have the same armoury to deal with it. Sometimes we gain weapons as we go along, and supplies, and companions to help keep the monsters back, but sometimes we lose them, too. Sometimes we don’t have anything except ourselves and our own small voices, walking unpleasant roads alone.

How it feels when you first start putting your work out there. THEY’RE ALL LOOKING AT ME.

But isn’t that amazing? That we keep walking anyway? Sometimes it’s very slow, but we keep going.

And then, on top of all that, people quietly put themselves out into the world, with writing and drawing and painting and music and so much beautifully honest creativity. And they bear the fear of it, the anxiety of what others will think, not just of their work but of them, because what are our creative efforts but parts of us, held out for others to see? And they take the knocks, the sneers and the condescending advice, the being ignored and the being noticed by people that have nothing good to say to anyone. But they persist. And they find each other.

I find it astonishing. I’m reminded of this over and over as I lurk about the place on social media. All these amazing people that are not only finding their way along the paths of their own lives, arming themselves against the monsters as well as they can, but who are forming bands against the darkness, communities of other travellers that wash up against each other in the depths of twitter and discover common goals. And how wonderfully supportive they are, these people that shout back the monsters for each other, defend each other and share firesides (and often a very peculiar sense of humour).

Or friendship, which is the same thing 🙂

Anyone that thinks online friends can’t be real friends should spend a little more time in the creative wilds of social media. It’s beautiful. And maybe in real life we wouldn’t even be very good at having a conversation together or even looking at each other, but that doesn’t matter. We do just fine online, where we can be open and honest and a little (or a lot) weird. And we can find each other.

So when I say courage, I mean carry on. Carry on all you wonderful, beautiful people. Carry on creating amazing things and putting them out there. Carry on standing up for each other, and speaking out for each other, and loving each other’s work and telling other people about it. Carry on getting through life the best way you know how, and showing others how you manage it. Carry on exploring the wilds of the world and finding your way around the swamps and cliffs and dark places of it. Carry on even when you’re down to your last match and you can’t find any dry wood. Carry on because you’re wonderful, and amazing, and astonishing, and I’m in awe of every single one of you.

Carry on being brave and creative and confused and lost and strong and hopeless all at once. I think that may be, after all, what it is to be human.

 

 

How about you, lovely people? Have you found good friends on social media? Do you sometimes feel like being creative (and life in general) is a tough old business? Let me know in the comments!

7 Reasons Summer is a Problem (for Writers)

7 Reasons Summer is a Problem (for Writers)

Sun! Sea! Boats! Sunburn…

Spring has, apparently, sprung. This time last week we were emerging from what seemed like an eternity of unending rain (yes, I realise that it was unending only in the sense that we’re not used to it down here. When I used to live in the UK it would have just been a normal week in April), and the ski stations had just received a ridiculously large dump of snow the day before closing.

Today I had to walk into town with SPF50 and a t-shirt rather than a singlet on, because yesterday I burned my shoulders. Last week I was still in my woolly slippers, complaining about being cold. This week I’m seriously wondering how warm the water is and already doing battle with the flies that want to come in through all the open windows. Every conversation you overhear has some variation of “Il fait chaud!” in it. And the cat’s taken to sleeping on the outside furniture after dinner rather than snuggling into a blanket on the sofa with me. It’s officially warm.

Which is fantastic – I love being warm. It means I can stop wearing shoes and socks and a hundred layers, and that I have feeling back in my toes for the first time since September. I’m not designed for cold weather. I can take it in small doses, but the novelty wears off quickly, and by the end of January I’ve retreated into a wintery sulk, surrounded by heatable toy hedgehogs and fluffy blankets, imbibing copious quantities of hot chocolate and tea.

But hot weather brings its own problems, not least the start-of-season unexpected sunburns and blisters from the first long walk in jandals (flip-flops, thongs, whatever you want to call them). For us writers and readers, a whole host of other problems present themselves, because by nature we’re not exactly well-suited to the summer.

1. Writer fuel.

*Drools* *Gets caffeine jitters*

Everyone knows that writers need to be kept topped up with caffeine and sugar in order to function properly. Tea and coffee are our friends, and for best results should be accompanied by generous slices of cake, or a pile of cookies (preferably home made). But summer means hot drinks aren’t everyone’s (heh) cup of tea. I know it’s a very British thing to drink tea even while sweltering in the sands of the desert or on the banks of the Nile, but I’m not British, and I go off the hot drinks pretty quickly. The best option I’ve found so far to keep my caffeine levels at a good elevation is making cold brew coffee – it’s about the only way I do drink coffee, and it both tastes wonderfully indulgent and has enough caffeine in it to set your newly defrosted toes tingling.

2. Snack issues.

I wouldn’t say I go off sweet stuff in the summer, because that’s physically impossible, but I supplement it with a load of fruit, especially watermelon. Which is decidedly healthier, but also more dangerous for the keyboard. Cookie crumbs brush off. Watermelon juice? Not so much. Then there’s the problem of chocolate melting before you can eat it properly, having to think beyond cuppa soups for lunch, and the difficulties of eating salad while reading. And that’s before we even mention the dangers of combining laptops with ice cream. It’s a risky business, summer bookishness.

3. Writing space.

We have a problem. Where is the cat space?

I love being outdoors, but in winter it’s obviously not an issue – I’m cold enough sitting inside virtually on top of the portable heater, so outside is limited to walks and hikes. As it gets warmer, though – well, it’s just too nice to be inside. So you have to tackle the issue of finding somewhere out of the sun, but still warm, with a good spot for at least a chair and preferably a table as well. Then the cat wants to join you, so you need to have enough space for her, too. And when you’re finally settled, the kids from the apartment next door decide to sit just outside your garden playing French rap music on their phones, plus the mosquitoes that were living under the table launch their attack. After which the sun gets low enough to sneak under the shade and start both roasting you and rendering the screen impossible to read, so you move inside, then pine about wanting to be outside.

4. Writing buddies.

Never mind. She’s good.

I love my little furry muse. I’ll forgive her no matter how many times she stomps across the keyboard and deletes things, or wakes me at five in the morning, or bites me for petting her that one second too long. But while I welcome her hot water bottle tendencies all the rest of the year, in summer it’s just not nice. First she slides around on my bare legs, so uses her claws to hold herself in place. Then she’s just so warm. By the time I kick her off she’s both shed hair everywhere and made me sweat horribly, which the hair then sticks to so I bear a startling resemblance to a sasquatch.

5. Clothing.

I feel my stance on the undesirability of shoes is both reasonable and suitably eccentric for a writer, but I’m not sure I can say the same for my summer uniform of shorts and singlets. I can’t shake the feeling that writers are best suited to dramatic greatcoats and sombre clothing, as befits the weighty thoughts they wrestle with on a daily basis (you know – dragons. Talking cats. That sort of thing). I don’t think my ancient denim shorts and cat t-shirts lend me quite the right gravitas.

6. Drama.

It’s very hard to be dramatic while scoffing one of these. Plus it’d melt on your coat sleeves.

As with the clothing issue, getting the bike out for a ride down to the beach and splashing about in the ocean doesn’t seem to be in quite the same league as striding across moors in the aforementioned greatcoat. And it’s very hard to be dramatic when you’re trying to eat your ice cream before it melts. I mean, I’m not saying I’m any better at being solemn and dramatic when it’s cold, either, but I do at least have a big coat.

7. Actually going out.

I went for my first beach picnic of the year last week. I mean, there were only two of us, and between us we had the salad she’d made for her lunch, plus some strawberries and breadsticks I’d picked up on the way from home, but we had it on the beach, so it counts. And it reminded me that, while I can effectively hibernate for most of the rest of the year, it’s already staying light until after 8pm. Which means there’ll be more beach picnics, and evening gatherings, and even parties, and I’m going to have to be social. And while somehow that does come to me much more easily in the summer, I’m also going to have to, you know, dress to go out. Which means toenail polish and defloofying my legs. Ugh.

I have to draw the conclusion that, as much as I adore the summer, winter really is a writer’s season. We can hibernate, grow floofy, dress dramatically, and shut the outside world out while we write. We can imbibe as much tea and keyboard-safe snacks as we want, and embrace the pale and semi-nocturnal creatures we become.

But I’d still rather be warm. 😉

 

Yeah. Worth it. 🙂

How about you, lovely people? Do you prefer warm weather or cooler? What do you love or hate about the summer? Let me know below!

Beaufort Scales & Characters That Are More Than They Seem

Beaufort Scales & Characters That Are More Than They Seem

Here’s a thing that happened to me the other day.

I’d been having a lot of trouble with my shoulder, and attributed it to overdoing things on the weights, even though the problem appeared (weirdly) on a day off, while I was sat on the couch (conclusion: sitting on the couch is dangerous, kids. Don’t do it). I put up with it for a bit, popped some ibuprofen, did some stretches, but eventually decided enough was enough and that I should get it looked at. I’m marginally sensible in my old age.

My lovely friend, who’s a body psychotherapist, poked my back in a few places, laughed (laughed harder when I told her I’d done a one-armed workout that same morning, so now the other shoulder hurt too), and told me she’d fix it.

This consisted less of massage, and more of finding out what was stressing me enough to make my shoulder try and turn itself inside out.

She found it, and the exact details aren’t as important as the bit I want to talk about. I had to articulate some things about myself that were difficult for me to say, and it took me a while to get to it. And while I was struggling, she said, “You don’t have to say it to me. Say it to anyone that makes you feel comfortable. Say it to one of your characters.”

So I did.

I said this thing that was so hard for me to say to Beaufort Scales, High Lord of the Cloverly dragons and tea-drinking barbecue fan.

Because I could. I couldn’t say it before, but once I thought of Beaufort, I could. Which was awesome, and my shoulder’s been fine since then (not so much the other one that I did the one-armed workout on – that one took longer to clear up). But isn’t that a strange thing? That I could say something to a dragon that I couldn’t say to my friend? (That whole sentence is probably a little strange, but let’s just go with it and move on.)

And it made me look a little closer at Beaufort, an odd character who appeared out of nowhere, helped himself to a scone, created a little friendly disruption, and appears to be here to stay. My friend said that we don’t create our characters for no reason, and while I’m not sure this is always the case (hello zombie mice), I think she has a point with Beaufort.

I love writing his stories. I love seeing the world through his eyes. I love that he’s endlessly curious, and full of wonder and joy and compassion. And I love – I love – that he speaks to others. But I never really thought about it that much. He was just a lucky accident, a product of a misread tweet and a bizarre-as-normal conversation with my dad.

But people relate to him, somehow. People like him, not in a ‘he’s a cool character’ kind of way, but in an ‘I’d like to know him’ kind of way. More than one person has drawn him, in full detective mode or attempting to build a snowman before his breath melts it away, and it makes my heart terribly full with the sheer amazing-ness of it. That he’s alive for someone other than just me. One person said that he knew he could draw him because it was Beaufort, and it wouldn’t matter if it wasn’t good. Even I drew him, and I’d believed since school that I couldn’t draw anything. And all of that was okay, because it didn’t have to be good. Because Beaufort would think all of it was wonderful. He would think all of you – all of us – are wonderful.

So maybe he’s more than just another character. Maybe he’s exactly who I needed, someone loyal and dragonish and amused and supportive. He was certainly who I needed to be talking to when I had to say something that challenged long-held beliefs about myself. Only he is me, too, so I guess that in a manner of speaking, I’ve found a way to talk to that part of me that sees the best in everything. In everyone.

Which is both wonderful, because I like to think that maybe I have the ability to do that, and disappointing, because I’d really like to have a cuppa and some cake with Beaufort, in front of a warm fire while the snow falls outside. Boo for not being able to jump into other worlds.

But there’s always the stories.

And that’s okay, too.

This is how I imagine it going.

So, lovely readers – what characters have you found over the years that you’ve particularly connected with, that have talked so clearly to you that you can’t forget them? And, lovely writers – what about you? What characters have you created that show you a different way to see the world? What characters have you learnt from? Let me know below!

And if you’ve missed the Beaufort stories – there’s only one to be found on the website menu at the mo, but you can find the rest through this link, because some days we all need a little Beaufort in our lives 🙂

The Trials & Tribulations of a Travelling Vegetarian

The Trials & Tribulations of a Travelling Vegetarian

Of course it’s vegetarian…

Look away now, meat lovers.

Or don’t, and laugh at my discomfort instead.

I’ve been vegetarian for somewhere over a decade now, and even before that never ate much meat. I was vegan for a year or so, but gave it up because it was so hard to eat out or to go to friends’ houses. Sometimes I toy with going back to it, but I live in France, and, well, French cheese.

I love France, and I love French breads and cheeses, and cakes and wonderful things like that, but it isn’t the easiest place to be veggie. Conversations tend to go like this:

“Is this pasta vegetarian?”

“Yes, of course.”

“It doesn’t have ham in it?”

“Only a little bit.”

“Okay, no. I don’t eat ham.”

“What about this? It’s chicken.”

“No, no chicken either.”

“Oh. Fish?”

Which is partly the reason why I eat mostly at pizza places when I go out, and also why I started eating fish again last year. But there’s something weirdly delightful about people’s reaction to your dietary choices. Well, either delightful or annoying, but if you’re going to dwell on the annoying stuff it’s not going to be much fun. So, here are five veggie food experiences for your amusement or sympathies:

1. Airline food

Honestly, even this looks better than some of the airline meals I’ve had.

Airline food is never good. I mean, never. Flying is generally not that much fun these days for me anyway (see here for my last whinge about the privilege of being stuffed in an aerodynamic can with lots of other people), but I have learnt to cram my carry-on with snacks, because being on a 13-hour flight in which you get served nothing edible is unpleasant, to say the least. mean, I really like food. And I don’t do hungry and tired well.

Most entertainingly bad: a plate of carrots, beans and rice, all separate, no sauce. Delightful!

Most unhappiness: stodgy pasta served for breakfast and lunch on one flight, then again for lunch and dinner on the following flight. And when I say stodgy, it was like eating damp paper towel. Well, I imagine it was. I don’t tend to eat much paper towel. Luckily I picked up supplies during the connection. Kind of. M&Ms count as supplies when on long trips. There’s a rule about it.

2. An evaluation of the vegan diet

In Tonga, where being a vegetarian is already a pretty extreme lifestyle choice. My dad’s GF, to our cafe manager friend:

“Can Kim have the cheese sandwich without the cheese, and no mayo, no butter?”

“Why?”

“She can’t eat dairy.”

“Oh, the poor thing! What happened?”

“No, no. It’s choice.”

“Well, that’s just bloody stupid then, isn’t it?”

3. Suspicion and uncertainty

Im just. Not. Sure.

Going out for a posh dinner in a fancy Italian restaurant:

“Is this pasta vegetarian?”

“Absolutely, madam.” Waiter returns five minutes later: “Actually, it isn’t.”

“How about this one?”

“Absolutely, madam.” Returns five minutes later: “Actually…”

“Okay, which ones are vegetarian?”

“These ones.”

“Great. I’ll have this one.”

Waiter delivers the meals.

“Are you sure this is vegetarian?”

“Yes, yes.”

I sit there investigating the meal and feeling fairly sure that there’s stuff in the sauce that looks like chicken. A moment later the maitre’d swoops in, snatches the plate while apologising profusely, and hurries off with it. Reasonably soon after, a lovely plate of ravioli in tomato sauce appears, which is absolutely, definitely vegetarian. By this point the SO has already finished his dinner. I take one bite and give the plate to him instead. The sauce is veggie, but… (I did eventually get a very nice taglialle in tomato sauce. Eventually.)

4. Suspicions. So many suspicions.

I mean, it LOOKS okay, but…

Crew chef on a boat I worked on to me, a vegan: “When the chief stewardess (a vegetarian) annoys me, I put chicken stock in her soup.” I stare at her, horrified. “Of course, I wouldn’t do that to you.”

Didn’t eat soup for the rest of the time I was on the boat.

5. BYO. Always.

I actually don’t mind this, because I rarely mind cooking, but dinner invites often go like this:

“Come to dinner!”

“That’d be lovely – what can I bring?”

“Oh, nothing. But maybe you can give me a hand with your food? Because I don’t know how you’re meant to make vegetables taste of anything…”

Veggies are actually really tasty. Honest.

It has to be said that vegetarian and vegan food options have become so much tastier and easier to find these days, and the dreaded couscous or vegetarian lasagne is rarely the only option on the menu anymore (although, disappointingly, they often still are on the menu. It was all we could eat when we went out for years. We won’t miss it if you get rid of it. Promise), so being vegetarian doesn’t get you quite as many puzzled looks any more. But there are still entertaining moments to be had.

(Me, before I was was eating fish: Mum, there’s shrimp in here. Her: Oh, just eat around them…)

Lovely tasty veggies!

How about you, lovely people? Do you have any dietary restrictions? What difficulties have you had eating out?

Patience, Writing, & the Long Game

Patience, Writing, & the Long Game

writing patience old typewriter
This was brand new when I started writing.

Writing takes time. We all know that. We do know we need patience. It’s not like we can sit down and whip off 70,000 words in an afternoon (or however many your particular genre’s asking for). Well, okay, maybe some of you can, but I’m deliberately not talking to you, because you scare me with your efficiency.

And then there’s the editing. Probably some rewriting. Which is all good – we were ready for this, we were prepared, we knew it’d take time.
But no one mentioned the waiting.

It starts quite reasonably, with the setting aside of the masterpiece that is our first draft (snort), so that we can come back to it with clearer eyes. Common wisdom says we need to ignore the wailings of our abandoned book baby for at least a month before we start playing with it again, preferably more.

So we wait.

And it’s hard at first, but we have a date in our diary that we can count down towards, and finally, finally we get to throw ourselves back into it, half terrified that it’s going to be about as enticing as a seagull’s leftovers, half certain that it’ll be immaculate and perfect and the bestseller of its generation.

Patience is hard.

Of course, it’s neither. It’s a work in progress, so back in we go for more editing, and more rewriting, and re-rewriting, and re-editing, and agonising over the placement of commas, and should the rain gleam or glisten, and holy cow, who put all these adverbs in? But at last, when we can’t stand the sight of the thing, we get to send it off to beta readers.

And then we wait.

This is the beginning of the really agonising waiting, the waiting we can’t control. Once again we entertain fantasies of beta readers coming back gushing about the perfection of our prose and the depth of our description, while at the same time expecting to receive an email that just says, “please stop.” It’s scary, having other people reading our work. I like to send one copy to my dad, because he’ll say good things even if he had to purge the manuscript from his Kindle to stop it infecting his other books with purple prose. The rest I send to people who I trust to tell me if it should be buried in an unmarked grave.

And then I wait.

No one ever reads fast enough for a waiting author. You could get it back to us in the same afternoon and we’ll huff and ask why you didn’t finish it before lunch. We’re impatient. We want to know you loved it, right now.

Of course, if you didn’t love it, we want to know that too. Sort of. As long as you’re nice about it.

And eventually the notes do come back, and we love every suggestion and correction, whether we agree with them or not, because beta readers aren’t just telling us where we’ve missed the mark – they’re giving us a road-map to find those bits. They may not be able to tell us how, but they absolutely tell us where the repairs need to go, and it’s the most amazing thing ever. Because by this point we could’ve written a couple of chapters in ancient Greek and never noticed, because we’re far too immersed in our own story. So if you have beta readers, go tell them they’re amazing. I’ll wait.

Come ON.

Then the next stint begins – adjusting and correcting, maybe even some pretty major rewriting again. And editing after that, of course. And if the rewrites were really big, well – we’re going to need more beta readers.

Out the book goes.

We wait once more, wondering how long it’s going to take and remembering every mistake we made with perfect clarity, and only just resisting emailing the beta readers a new version every Tuesday.

Finally, back it comes.

And now, if we’re really, really lucky, and have listened to our beta readers, and used our judgement, and been brutal with what we carved out of the story (kill your darlings also means being pretty free and easy with major book surgery), and maybe replaced them or not, and stitched the edges up again, tighter and shorter than before, then maybe we’ll have something that looks like a book at the end.

Amazing! We’ve done it!

Well, almost.

Because if we thought that that waiting was bad, we’re on to the big stuff now. Maybe you’re trying the traditional route, in which case you have the fun of wrestling with a synopsis (often squeezed onto one page, and holy cow, does my story sound dull when stripped down to that) and a query letter, which get sent off either alone or with a few chapters trailing after them. After which you wait, and you know it’s going to be months, but you’re still checking your email obsessively just in case, because you never know, right?

Unfortunately, when you do know, the odds are good that it’s a polite note saying your query doesn’t suit their needs. So you send out some more lonely little letters and keep on waiting.

But even if you’re going self-published, you don’t get to skip the waiting. Now you’ve got cover designers to wait on, and editors, and the back and forth of emails as changes are made and details are tweaked, and maybe you’re waiting to hear from book bloggers too, or marketers, or…

Yeah. I’m getting more and more convinced that we’re waiters as much as we’re writers. That the actual act of creation is only a very small part of one very big whole. And unfortunately we don’t even get to control all our waiting – a lot of it is waiting on other very busy people to get to our one small book.

But, honestly? If I take nothing else from my experience of writing than the understanding that creativity is as much patience as it is anything else, I’ll be okay with that. Patience is a wonderfully underrated thing in these days of instant downloads and same day delivery. And it makes for a different perspective, the realisation that for every day the writing just won’t work, or there’s no time to sit long enough to find the words, there are more days to come. And plenty of those will be spent in waiting that I can’t control, so what’s one day where I don’t get a scene down? There’s time. Writing has no age limit, no best before. We’re playing the long game, lovely people. Settle in and make yourselves comfortable.

I’ll put the kettle on.

 

This is a stock photo for ‘patience’. Yeah. I’d like to know what’s in their tea, too…

 

How do you find the waiting part of writing? Are you patient about it, or do you find it frustrating? Let me know in the comments!

 

Fitness for Writers (Does Not Include Running After Plot Bunnies)

Fitness for Writers (Does Not Include Running After Plot Bunnies)

Coffee and cake - the writers life
My preferred fuel is tea, of course, but it does look good…

I see the problem of fitness for writers being two-fold. Firstly, the fact that we’re sitting at a desk all the time, which apparently is slowly killing us (along with diet coke and wifi, so I doubt I have long left). Second is the fact that our haunts of choice tend to be home, near the biscuit tin, or in a coffeeshop, near the giant sugar-laden coffees and cupcakes. And while we tend to do an enormous amount of mental gymnastics (this scene will work, this scene will work, this – what? Why are the characters doing this? What are they doing? Who let the plot bunnies in here? Stop it! I’m in charge here! I’m – oh, bollocks to it. Pass the biscuits and the diet coke), we often spend rather less time doing the sort of gymnastics that breaks a sweat (other than a nervous one).

Therefore, in order to try and lengthen the life span of the endangered author, allow me to introduce:

Fitness for writers.

Firstly, some options I’ve come across on the internet:

homemade standing desk set-up for writers fitness
The biscuit tin lives under that counter. I should move it. Should.

A standing desk:

This I quite like. Apparently you can buy actual stands that you can adjust to the correct height, but I have a mini ironing board from Ikea that I put on the kitchen island (also from Ikea. Can I get this post sponsored?), which works quite well. Unfortunately it means I don’t even need to get up to walk to the cookie jar, so I’m not sure it helps that much at all. I also find that if I’m writing for extended periods my posture gets really bad, and there are also times when I just need to burrow into cushions and feel safe in order to write. On the other hand, it does fix my sore back from sitting too long, so I probably spend about half my time standing.

A walking desk:

Okay, so I can’t walk and text, so I’m not at all sure I wouldn’t just fall off the end of the treadmill every five minutes when I forget to keep walking (I’ve done this in a gym before. Another reason I don’t like gyms). And I doubt my writing would make much sense, as texts I send when trying to write and walk are already fairly unintelligible. Plus, how do you drink your tea and walk at the same time? I have doubts.

swiss ball - fitness for writers
Layla is firmly convinced these are alien eggs.

A Swiss ball:

I have actually tried this out – the theory is that you have to engage your abs a lot more, and your body is constantly making small adjustments to keep you balanced. First problem – Layla is terrified of Swiss balls. She may actually have a ball phobia (Sfairesphobia?), as even the little twine one I bought her (in Australia, no less, and carted back) sends her bolting under the couch. Second problem – I can’t sit cross-legged on it, and siting with one foot up on the opposite knee puts you at a funny twisted angle, which is rubbish for your back. As I’m incapable of sitting like a normal human being, this is no good for me.


I’m sure there are more things you could do while writing – maybe a stationery bike with your laptop on the handlebars, or a stepper of some sort. I don’t know. It’s all very equipment-intensive, and I don’t even like using much equipment for working out. But that’s all personal preference. So what else can we do, that doesn’t involve falling off treadmills or terrifying the cat?

Take a break:

The internet is crawling with desk exercises you can do, so I won’t rehash them here. But you know the sort – do squats, or jumping jacks, or use your office chair to do ab exercises. And why not? A break is always good, and these are all easy exercises to get the blood flow going. But it’s also kind of boring, and you need to have the discipline to actually do the jumping jacks and not just go make a cuppa. Which means they’re out for me.

I like breaks.

And wouldn’t it be better if we could work out while writing, without needing any fancy equipment? I say yes!


Without further ado, allow me to present:

Alternative writing positions!

TM. Can’t be reproduced without permission, etc, etc, because these are groundbreaking. Obviously.

writers fitness plank
Absolutely I can write like this.

 

Writing the plank:

Make sure your abs are tight with this one, and your back isn’t taking up the strain. Bonus points if you can convince the cat to sit on your back and add a little resistance.

 

 

 

Okay, I actually can stay like this. For a bit.

Downward dabbling:

Straight legs, tight tummy, and try not to drip sweat on your laptop. Also a good way to dislodge the cat.

 

 

 

 

This is where a heavier laptop gets you extra points.

The invisible chair of creativity:

Keep your knees behind your toes, and advanced writers may want to rest their laptop on their knees. Maybe. If it’s a cheap laptop.

 

 

 

 

Please don’t drop the laptop. Please don’t drop the laptop.

 

Character crunch:

Tight tummy, straight back, and don’t let those legs droop – unless you were after a new laptop anyway.

 

 

 

So there we go – absolutely doable while writing, right? Right?

Ach, fine. They may not be entirely realistic. But it’s still more fun than a treadmill desk, in my mind. How about you? Any tips on fitness for writers? Let me know in the comments!

And meanwhile, here’s a video of a guy doing a workout with his cat, because Layla refused to cooperate. I should have expected that, and saved myself the scratches. She’s so unhelpful.

 

What You Believe You Know – Talking Mindset

What You Believe You Know – Talking Mindset

Stuff. Lots of stuff.

What do you know about yourself? What do you believe? What are you good at? What things leave you bewildered? What’s your mindset?

We’ve all got those preconceptions – I can do this, but not this. I’m good at this, but not this.

But what if it’s not that clear cut? What if what we believe is less fact and more habit?

What if we can change it?

I read a very interesting article the other day. Well, interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. You know – the oddities of human behaviour and all that fun stuff. It was about mindset, and specifically fixed versus growth mindset. Odds are, you’ve heard those terms before. Maybe you know all about them, which is all good, and you can now go and read about cats and time machines, because you’ll learn nothing more from this blog post (although send me the link to the cats and time machines. That sounds good).

I knew a lot less about these things than I thought. Fixed mindset = not open to new ideas, growth mindset = open to new ideas, right?

Yes and no.

And solve for purple playpuses (platupi?). Or something.

Yes, that’s part of it. But not in the clear-cut way I thought. See, I like learning stuff. I’m getting increasingly less concerned about feeling (or appearing) silly as I get older, so that makes learning stuff ever-easier. I believe that if we set our minds to things, and work hard, we can achieve most things we set out to achieve. So, growth mindset, right?

Eh. Not exactly. I’m also very, very good at telling myself all the things I can’t do. Such as:

  • I’m not good in social situations.
  • I can’t draw.
  • I’m clumsy and uncoordinated.
  • I’m not good at maths.

You know, all the stuff I just have no talent for, right? And here’s some other things I tell myself, about what I can do:

  • Writing’s just one of those things I can do, like some people can draw.
  • I’m lucky because I find it easy to work out every day.
  • Watersports are just natural for me.
  • It’s in my nature to be self-disciplined, so working from home’s fine for me.
Yes, that is me, in my happy place. I recognise the fins.

Okay, so. Things I can’t do, and things I can. Facts, right? Just being honest about my abilities, right? I mean, obviously I have to consider these points, because there’s no sense trying to achieve things in areas I’m no good at, right?

Again, eh.

Turns out I actually have a pretty fixed mindset about myself. And I doubt I’m the only one. I think a lot of us look at our abilities – and the abilities of others – and just think, wow, she’s good at that! Or, hmm, I don’t think that’s really his thing.

This is something I’ve become more aware of since I started sketching. One of the facts I absolutely knew about myself was that I couldn’t draw. I was useless at art – I mean, jeez, I failed it at school! Who can actually fail art? (We’re not talking advanced here, either – I was about 15) But due to a dearth of tea-drinking, acrophobic dragon pictures, I decided I’d try drawing anyway.

Turns out, I’m no Chris Riddell, but I can draw. With some practise. And youtube tutorials. And laboriously copying other people’s pictures to start me off. And a lot of trial and error. And when I put my pictures online, suddenly people were laughing at me and saying, of course you can draw! Don’t be silly – you’re natural at it! And quite a few people were telling me that they wished that they could draw.

Early attempts – a very toothy dragon who has seen something he can never, ever forget, no matter how he tries.

But I’m not natural at it.  And a couple of weeks earlier, I couldn’t draw. But the wanting to grew big enough that it outweighed the knowing, so I tried anyway. I shifted my mindset, and decided that I could learn, and I did. It’s never going to be super-easy for me, and I doubt it’ll ever be anything more than a bit of fun, but that’s okay. Because it means more to me than just, oh, I can illustrate my short stories, now. It means I can do things I was quite sure I couldn’t.

There’s two sides to this – one is the negative beliefs, that stop us doing so many things. Drawing, for me. Maths and science is my other bugbear – which are also subjects I did pretty badly at in school (except biology. Biology was cool). So I’m trying to rephrase things. If I can learn to draw, what’s to stop me learning to maths? (Yes, I just used maths as a verb. I am a writer, and I do what I want. On this blog, anyway.)

Okay, so this is cool and exciting! I can take all these beliefs about what I can’t do, and turn them into possibilities. I’m not good at maths now, but if I study it and put the work in, I can learn it. I mean, odds are I won’t, because maths, but still. I could. Less exciting is the possibility that with a bit of work I could become, if not comfortable, at least adept in social situations, thus having no excuse to hide in the kitchen looking busy at every party I go to. Somehow even maths feels easier than that.

So what about the things that I can do? Am I to believe that I was not, actually, born swimming in words and sea water? Surely not! Surely I didn’t actually just put a lot of time in and learn those things, just like everyone else?

Not talent. I just became obsessed with arm balances, because they’re FUN.

Sadly, yes. And I can even point at one of them – working out every day – and remember that I was desperately bad at PE at school, and only really took up working out when my very active lifestyle became a not-very-active-at-all one. And that the whole moving every day thing only became a habit when yoga was my way of keeping my head on straight. So I learned to make it part of life, and now I get itchy if I miss more than a day.

*Sigh*. So I’m very unspecial. I’ve worked for all my ‘natural talents’, and if I worked on my non-talents I might be able to turn them into talents too. Boo?

Not really. How exciting that is! How dragons and popcorn fun to imagine that we can try pretty much anything, and if we put the time and effort in, we can master it! How – how freeing. How astonishing to realise we are a sum of our experiences, and by opening ourselves to something new, we can become something new. We can learn. We can change our preconceptions of ourselves. We can grow. We can take all those things that we (and other people) have been saying we can’t do, and do them. You know, as long as they’re legal and physically possible and no one’s going to lose an eye.

And now I have to go have a little sit-down, because all that potential is making my head swim.

Although I’m still not sure about the social skills. But, y’know – I could.

My favouritest Beaufort picture so far, because this IS Beaufort.

How about you, lovely people? What are some beliefs about yourself you’ve challenged? What beliefs would you like to challenge?

Happy Valentine’s from a Valentine’s Cynic

Happy Valentine’s from a Valentine’s Cynic

I’ve never quite got Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t a huge thing when I was growing up in NZ – or I don’t remember that it was. I don’t really know – maybe it was popular, but as I was a bit of a late starter on the whole romance thing, I may have missed it. I certainly don’t remember that there was loads of cheap chocolate around in the second half of February, and I’m sure I would’ve remembered that. I was all about the chocolate.

YES.

And really, I’m still all about the chocolate. I’m not great at going out anyway, but fighting to get a reservation for an overpriced meal in an overcrowded restaurant, accompanied by an overwrought flower arrangement and an over-sweet card? Not seeing the appeal. And don’t even mention expensive, scratchy lingerie. I will, however, take that half-price chocolate on Feb 15th. Yes. All the chocolate.

These are heading in the right direction for Valentine’s cards.

Look, I’m not an entirely unromantic, Valentine’s Day grinch – actually, wait. No, I am entirely an unromantic Valentine’s Day grinch. I’m not good at romance. I never have been (good thing my preferred genre is very light on it). I am, in fact, terminally unromantic, much to the despair of the SO, who is quite a romantic. He’ll do lovely things like draw a candlelit bath, and I’ll want to turn the lights on so I can read. Or he’ll cook a beautiful dinner, and I’ll eat it on the couch in my pyjamas. Or he’ll have a gorgeous orchid plant delivered while he’s away, and I’ll have killed it by the time he gets home (to be fair, he’s known me for seven years. He should know better than to give me plants. Not once has that ended well). No, my natural inclinations are not towards the romantic, and that’s even before you factor in the commercial bloat that surrounds Valentines, with every shop breaking out in a rather nasty, frilly, pink and red rash and racking up the prices starting around January 2nd.

Not that I’m a cynic or anything.

Friends and breakfast food. Life is complete.

However, I did fall in love with Parks & Rec a while back, and the idea of Galentine’s Day – and Galentine’s cards – just makes me ridiculously happy. Special cards for celebrating friends? And breakfast food? Yes please! And while yes, all friends should be celebrated (furry ones included), I adore some of the Galentine’s Day cards, and I love the idea of telling my friends how wonderful they are, because that’s another thing I’m not terribly good at.

Galentine’s > Valentine’s

I think I can blame the softening of my attitude towards Valentines entirely on Leslie Knope, because it wasn’t long after this that I started to notice some clever little cards sneaking around. Despite my ban on Valentine’s, the SO got me a card that just read, ‘I like you quite a lot, actually’, which was admittedly not bad.

And then I came across a much better interpretation of the kittens and hearts card. Much better. It appears I am not alone in my grinch-ness.

This is right, yes?

So maybe it isn’t all ribbons and frills, and maybe Valentine’s isn’t such a smug couple fest as I always felt it was. But still – my advice would be to choose a quieter night for the meal out, do the flowers and the card at some other time, because surprises are more fun, and definitely wait on the chocolate until the 15th.  If I haven’t bought it all already.

Anyhow, I did have a point, and, getting to it in a roundabout way – happy Feb 14th to all of you, my lovely, wonderful readers! Whether you do the Valentine’s thing or not, I think you’re amazing, and I would share some of my half-price chocolate with you just because you’re so perfectly you. Because that is something worth celebrating.

Well, virtually, you know. Via t’internet, because otherwise we’d have to be right next to each other, and I’m not sure about that.
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