Category: writing

An Unconditional Rescue – A Short Story

An Unconditional Rescue – A Short Story

Blog post? What blog post? Time for an addition to the short stories instead.

For a couple of weeks in the very early spring, every time I went down to walk by the sea, there was a log or a tree trunk or something submerged a couple of hundred metres offshore. All you could see of it were two sticks pointing straight up in the air, and ignoring the swells that tried to move it on.

Naturally, this made me think of sea monsters. If it had been in Australia, maybe I’d have thought of crocodiles wearing antenna, but maybe not. I’m inordinately fond of the idea of sea monsters. I adore any map that has monsters on it, and when I’m actually at sea I like spending time peering into the depths, hoping to catch a glimpse of… something. (To be fair, I’m mostly hoping to spot something cool like a sailfish, and mostly I only ever spot plankton, but I could be searching for sea monsters. I probably did when I was a wee small person).

But all that aside – here’s a short story about a sea monster, because why not? Read on!

free short stories - An Unconditional Rescue - Kim M Watt

 


“Thinking of going out?” Mrs Mallow asked Tim.

He looked up from his coffee, wondering why it tasted greasy, and nodded at the landlady of the B&B. “It looks like a nice day. I was thinking I’d go rent a boat in town.”

Mrs Mallow nodded, and whisked some crumbs off the table next to him. They joined a fine carpet of older debris on the floor, and Tim regarded his full English suspiciously. It all looked fine, but the milk jug had congealed circles inside it, marking older breakfasts like tree truck rings, and his fork had someone else’s egg stuck between the tines.

“Go see old Fred,” the landlady advised him. “Tell him Ruby sent you, and he’ll give you a good deal. Nothing fancy about his boats, but you don’t need fancy for a bit of fishing, do you?”

Tim agreed that he did not, and pushed beans around his plate with a piece of toast. He wondered if life-jackets were considered fancy.

#

The sun was high by the time he wound his way down to the waterfront. Fred, he’d been informed, kept his boats down by the fishing docks, so he avoided that particular area and wandered into the marina, his fishing pole case over one shoulder and a backpack over the other. Mrs Mallow had offered to fix him a pack-up, but he’d told her he couldn’t eat on the boat due to seasickness. He’d stopped off at Boots instead and bought up sandwiches and crisps and biscuits, as well as a breakfast wrap that he gnawed on contentedly as he walked. The day was looking up.

The first place he found was shut, which he supposed was only to be expected. It was out of season still. He took a photo of the phone number, and ambled further along the docks. He found a second boat rental not far from the first – the office had the blinds drawn, but there was a young man with his shirt off scrubbing the floor of a boat moored just outside it.

“Hello?” Tim said. “Are you from the rental place?”

The young man straightened up and regarded Tim without much interest. “Yeah.”

“Oh. Well – great. I want to hire a boat. For fishing,” he added, when the young man’s expression didn’t change. “Self-drive.”

“We do that,” the young man said, not moving.

Tim looked at the logo emblazoned on the hull of the boat – it matched the one on the dock. Self-drive and captained boat hire, it said. “Yes. So I see. Um – do you have any available?”

“When for?”

“Today. Now.”

The young man gave an exaggerated sigh and turned his attention back to the cleaning. “You should have booked ahead. We’re full.”

“Full?” Tim looked around at the empty mid-week marina. The summer crowds, such as they might be, were still a month or so off.

“Full.” The young man didn’t look up.

“Well – where else can I try? Your neighbours there are shut.”

The young man’s expression finally changed – he frowned, as if Tim had asked him to solve for y, if x was shut fishing shops and z was a beautiful day in late April. “There isn’t anyone,” he announced eventually. “You’ll have to call later and book for tomorrow.”

“Can I book now?” Tim asked, although he didn’t really want to extend his stay in the B&B past tonight.

“No,” the young man said, dipping the scrubbing brush in a bucket of soapy water. “You have to call. Talk to the boss.”

“So I can call now?”

“No.” It was said firmly, in a way that suggested the young man though Tim might be a bit slow on the uptake. “There’s no one there, is there?”

Tim looked at the shuttered office, and sighed. “I guess not,” he said. “When will they be there?” Wondering what small business owner didn’t have a mobile these days.

“I dunno. I’m not the boss.”

Tim decided that it was best not to answer that, and trailed off down the dock again, wondering if he should just give up and go read a book on the beach instead. That might be nice. Have an ice cream. Take his shoes off and paddle in the sea. But he’d come here to go fishing, dammit. That had been the whole sort-of point. That he’d finished the latest contract, and he and Patty had agreed to do more of their own things these days, so they didn’t become one of those boring middle-aged couples that had no life outside each other. And he hadn’t been fishing in so long. So he’d decided that this would be his thing. He straightened his shoulders, a small man with small hands and calm eyes and a gracefully retreating cap of fair hair. He was going fishing.

#

Fred didn’t have a sign out. He didn’t have an office, either. But he did have two small aluminium dinghies pulled out of the water by the fishing dock, and they had rod holders on the sterns, and the outboards were padlocked to a beam inside a rotting wooden shed that stank of old fish and tobacco.

“Sure you can take one out,” he said to Tim, scratching his belly through a hole in his yellowing t-shirt. “You know how to use one?”

Tim admitted that it had been a while, but that he was pretty sure he remembered the basics.

“Course you do. Like riding a bike.” Fred gestured the younger man to help him slide one of the dinghies into the water, and stepped into it in his wellies, making it bob alarmingly. “Nice day anyhow. Can’t get into much trouble on a day like this.”

It felt alarmingly quick, the speed at which Fred got the engine in and showed him how to start it, then ran through the controls, clapping Tim on the back and laughing when he almost fell over backwards trying to get in. Then the old man was hooking a mildewed life-jacket over Tim’s head, telling him to stay in the bay and clear of the rocks at the eastern point, and the painter dropped into the bottom of the boat with a painfully loud clang, and Fred had pushed him off, and then it was just him and the growling motor. Tim stared at it, then back at the dock, then out to open water. Oh, he thought. Oh, I’m doing this, then. And he carefully pushed the gear lever to forwards, and grabbed the throttle on the tiller a little too tightly, and puttered towards the sea.

#

Out in the bay, the water was as silken calm as it had looked from the shore, although a long, slow swell rode in from behind the horizon. The little dinghy barely noticed it, cutting a slow V through the green water as Tim started to relax, the sun warming his bare head and face, and the wind of his forward motion tugging at the collar of his shirt and ruffling his hair. Out here, he could smell nothing more than salt and the not-unpleasant tang of outboard fuel, and the horizon looked bowed and close enough to touch. He loosened his grip on the throttle, tugged his life-jacket down, and smiled. This. This is what he’d been imagining. Not badly-lit guest houses that smelled faintly of old porridge, or even the sleek modern dinghies like the one the young man had been cleaning. This – the vibration of the engine humming under his hand, the sound of the water sluicing past the hull, and the cries of the seagulls following him hopefully. His smile broadened, and he opened the throttle a bit further as the dinghy described an arc across the wide, empty bay, and the sun turned the spray to rainbows.

By the time he slowed the dinghy and started to think about fishing – reluctantly, because he felt he could have driven about all afternoon, just for the sheer joy of it – he was only barely within the confines of the bay, the town looking small and squished under the green hills. The water out here was deeply green, sunlight forming shafts that ran down to meet in the depths below him, the surface pocked with floating mats of seaweed. There were bigger boats bobbing further out, no doubt fishing themselves, and he felt an almost uncontrollable urge to keep going, to just arrow out towards the horizon, past them and then further, seeing how far the little dinghy could take him. But that was silliness, so he turned the bow back towards the shore and tried to remember what the old man had said about fishing. That he should be near the rocks on the eastern shore? No, that he should keep clear of them. So which one was the eastern shore?

There was a compass sunk into the midships seat, but it was so yellowed by the sun that he couldn’t see anything in it. He supposed his phone would help – would Google maps work for this sort of thing? Maybe, but he didn’t entirely trust himself not to drop it, and there was an un-alarming but not insignificant amount of water sloshing around his toes. He tried to imagine the bay’s orientation on a map of the country, but he couldn’t, so he just motored slowly back in towards town and decided to stick himself somewhere in the middle of the bay. It seemed safest.

#

The afternoon passed pleasantly, to say the least. As the dinghy drifted in the centre of the broad bay, watched by the seagulls, Tim ceremoniously unpacked his fishing rods, baited the hooks, and dropped them over the side. Then he settled the rods into the rod holders and lay back in the bow, watching the birds wheel across the clear sky and trailing his fingers in the cool water. He knew quite well that this was not something he’d done as a boy, not where he grew up, but it felt like living a childhood memory anyway. He drank root beer and ate his sandwiches, and every now and then reeled the lines in and replaced the missing bait. He didn’t move from his fishing spot, though. It was all too perfect to be ruined by actually catching something.

He was sitting comfortably astride the midships seat, baiting a hook, when he noticed a shadow. It ran under the boat and was gone, and he felt the back of his neck tighten. It had been big. He looked up hopefully, but the sky was still cloudless. A basking shark, maybe? They were common enough. And harmless, he reminded himself. Still, he hesitated before dropping the hook carefully back into the water. Whatever it was, it wasn’t interested in the dinghy. And if he did snag it, it’d surely break the line. He stayed where he was, examining the dimpled green water around him. No dramatic fins cutting through the water, no menacing music. Whatever it was, it was gone.

He was just starting to relax when there was a swirl of turbulence on the corner of his vision. He turned jerkily enough to set the dinghy rocking, but there was nothing to see except spreading ripples. His heart was pounding. He’d caught something out of the corner of his eye. Something big, and – and green, maybe? Were basking sharks green? He’d never had to ask himself that question before. Or anyone else for that matter. He searched the water anxiously, half-standing with one hand on the warm engine cowling. Nothing, no shadows, no more turbulence. Maybe it was gone. Maybe it had even been a turtle, something like that –

One of the rods went. Not far, just an angry little rattlesnake hiss as the line was pulled out, then stopped. Tim sat down hard and started to reel the other rod in. He didn’t want whatever it was to try this line too – the reel snarled suddenly, the line spinning out, and he gave a little yelp of alarm. It stopped just as quickly as the first, both lines hanging limp into the green depths, and after a moment Tim started reeling one in carefully. It didn’t take long – he hadn’t put much line out, and it came up quickly. He turned to bring the second one in, then sat and regarded them anxiously. Both hooks were gone. It wasn’t strange, not with the size of that thing out there, but it made him uneasy anyway. Then dinghy suddenly seemed very small and fragile, the town very distant. He stood up again, searched the water for more shadows, then tugged the starter cord for the engine. He’d had enough. The day had lost its joy.

The engine coughed, then fell silent. He tried again, and again, sweat forming on his shoulders as he tugged stubbornly on the cord, almost falling backwards into the bow more than once. He played with the throttle, and the choke, and swore at it in a creative manner that would have surprised Patty. And finally, with the skin between his fingers raw from clutching the toggle on the end of the cord, he gave up and sat staring at the sea. No more ripples or turbulence, except those made from his own panicked movement in the boat. No shadows, either. He sighed, wondering if he’d imagined it, then unclipped the oars from under the seat and set them in the rowlocks. He could phone someone, he supposed, but he thought that maybe the engine would start again if he waited. He’d had an old car when he was younger that was like that. It seemed to sense urgency. He dipped the oars in the water and back out, and was gratified to feel the boat start slipping forward. Okay, so this wasn’t so hard. Good. He put his back into it.

#

This was hard. This was so hard. His back was aching, and his hands were sweating on the oars, and every time he looked over his shoulder (because that was how the professional rowers did it, with their backs to their destination, so he assumed it must be right), the town had slipped to one side or the other as he zig-zagged across the bay. Plus it didn’t seem to be getting any closer. He tried the engine again, but it still wouldn’t start, and he felt oddly determined not to call anyone. It wasn’t as if he had Fred’s number, anyway, so he’d have to, what? Call Mrs Mallow? He didn’t like the idea. And what could she do anyway? He settled himself back down at the oars, then gave an involuntary little yelp as a shadow slid across his stern. Long and tapered, but hard to get any other sense of it from here. The size of it, it had to be a basking shark. But it was fast. Were basking sharks fast? All the photos he’d seen of them they had their cavernous jaws open, and they certainly didn’t look as if they’d go very fast like that. He leaned into the oars. It wouldn’t be interested in him, anyway. He didn’t even have any dead fish aboard.

There was a bump from the bow, gentle but distinct, and Tim added a new level of creativity to his swearing. He never swore at home. It must be a sea thing, he thought, and craned his neck, hoping to see some debris bobbing away. There was nothing but a swirl of turbulence that made his stomach contract. Just keep paddling, he thought, then remembered the kids’ movie – although that was just keep swimming, wasn’t it? A bubble of nervous laughter rode up from somewhere, and he tried to speed up.

Another bump, but it was more of a tap, wasn’t it? Like someone knocking a walking stick against a door. Tap, tap, again, and he tried to ignore it, to paddle harder. Tap. TAP. A dent appeared in the bottom of the dinghy, popping up next to his foot, and he shrieked, and thrashed at the water with the oars. But now the boat wasn’t moving forward at all, in fact it was tilting, the bow rising as the stern was caught by something, and he tried to tell himself that it was a log, he’d just run over a log, that was all it was, a stupid log, and it was caught around the leg of the outboard, and he should just go clear it, just lift the engine over it and he’d be away again, and maybe he should call Mrs Mallow, or the Coast Guard, or the bloody National History Museum, because whatever was drifting towards the surface behind the boat was no log, and no shark, and it was twice as big as the dinghy at least, and it had one paw – claw – something – on the outboard, and as its head surfaced Tim screamed, then fainted.

He came to with the sun beating down on his eyelids, and a dull pain at the back of his head. He groaned, disoriented, and wiped drool from the corner of his mouth. For one foggy moment he was back on his stag do, passing out at lunchtime on a beach in Cornwall and waking up at 2pm with a thumping hangover and heatstroke. Then he smelt outboard fuel and something fishy, and he sat straight up and screamed again. The large, scaly head peering over the side of the dinghy screamed back, blasting Tim with fishy breath so strong it made him gag.

There was a pause then, as they stared at each other. Tim could hear blood rushing in his ears, and the – the thing at the back of the boat blinked at him with big silver-grey eyes. It had a ruff of fins sticking out just behind its head, little nubby horns, and a large collection of very sharp-looking black teeth. One heavy paw rested on the stern, and it had long grey claws. The rest of it was green and glossy and, admittedly, rather sleek and elegant. It cleared its throat, a gunshot of sound that made Tim flinch.

“Holy crap. What the hell. Holy Mary Mother of God. Bloody hell. Umm – Jesus Christ. Crikey. Holy cow.” It bared its teeth at him, then continued, swearing enthusiastically in a BBC world service accent. It finally finished on an expression that Tim had never even heard before, but that sounded anatomically impossible, then peered down at him expectantly, teeth still bared.

Tim licked his lips, and wondered if he’d been out in the sun too long. But, imaginary or not, at least the thing didn’t seem about to eat him. “Umm. What?”

The creature stopped baring its teeth and its eyebrow ridges drew down in something that looked remarkably like concern. “Did I miss something? You all say so many different things. I’m never sure what the correct greeting is.” It scratched its chin with one long claw, then hopefully added something that would have made even old Fred blush.

“Definitely not that,” Tim said.

“No? Someone said that to me only a year or so ago.” The creature looked so crestfallen that Tim smiled.

“They’re more, ah – expressions of surprise.”

“Really? I do knock. You heard me knocking, right?”

“I – I did. But no one expects a – a – what are you?”

“I’m a sea dragon,” the creature said, and Tim could hear the ‘obviously’ it had left off at the end of the sentence.

“A sea dragon?”

“Well, yes. What else would I be?”

“I was actually thinking a hallucination, possibly from toxic mould on the B&B shower curtain. Or food poisoning from the coffee.”

The creature looked puzzled, then shrugged. “Well, I’m not.”

Tim looked at the scratches the sea dragon’s claws had left in the aluminium stern, and thought that it really was a particularly vivid hallucination. “Okay, so, sea dragon-”

“Audrey.”

“Audrey?”

“It must be an unusual name for you humans. You always have to repeat it.”

“It’s – it’s not an unusual name for sea dragons?”

“Not really. I mean, my aunt’s called Fandance. That’s unusual.”

“Okay. Yes. Okay.” Tim ran a hand over his head and noticed that his scalp was quite hot. Sunstroke, obviously. He should have worn a hat. “So – Audrey – are you – I mean – are you planning to eat me?” It was easier to ask than he’d thought. But then, she was a hallucination, so she couldn’t really eat him.

Audrey looked horrified. “Of course not! Why in sea would I do that?”

“Umm – you have big teeth?”

“That’s a very personal thing to say.” She actually sounded upset now. “I’m very friendly. And no one eats people, not any more. Well, no respectable dragons do, anyway.”

“I – I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Aubrey sniffed, a little dramatically. “Well, I guess if you can’t even recognise a sea dragon when you see one, you can’t be expected to know these things.”

“You are the first sea dragon I’ve met. First any dragon.”

They regarded each other for a moment, then Aubrey said gravely, “Pleased to meet you…?”

“Oh. Tim.”

“Pleased to meet you, Ohtim.”

“It’s – um, yes. Pleased to meet you, too.”

There was another moment’s silence, and Tim could hear gulls crying further inshore. Aubrey scratched her head somewhere in the vicinity of where her ears probably were, and bared her teeth at him, making him squeak again.

“Are you okay?”

“I am, yes – but I should probably be getting back to shore. I have to give the boat back.”

“Yes, of course – you might want to use the engine, though. You won’t get back against the tide, rowing.”

Tim looked around in alarm, and added to Aubrey’s unsuitable vocabulary when he saw how far away the shore was. He was further away than he had been when he’d started rowing. “It’s broken. I’m going to have to call for help.”

Aubrey sank down in the water and gave him an unmistakably disappointed look. “Humans. A few people get eaten by sea serpents, a few rogue mermaids dress up and sink some ships, and you just can’t see past it. Why do you think I stopped by?”

Tim stared at her. “You’ll help?”

“Of course. I thought you were just some silly tourist, rowing for the fun of it, so I was just going to tell you to start the engine.”

Tim looked at the rods, the line coiling limp and useless. “What about my hooks?”

Aubrey dipped her nose like she was embarrassed, then said, “Okay, so I was hungry. Then I realised you might need help.”

“Oh. Well, that’s okay. I didn’t want to catch anything anyway, really.”

“Why did you have the lines out, then?”

“It was a reason for being out here.”

Aubrey lifted her snout out of the water and stared at him out of those silver eyes, then shook her head. “Humans,” she said again, then put one paw on the transom and started to swim.

#

They stopped just outside the breakwater, Tim sat in the stern with one hand on the outboard tiller for all the world as if he wasn’t being propelled by a large underwater dragon.

“There you go,” Aubrey said cheerfully. “Home safe.”

“Thanks,” Tim said, still fairly sure he was imagining the whole thing.

“No worries,” she said, and raised one paw to him. “Be more careful next time.”

“Will do,” he replied, but she was already gone, the water swirling in her wake. He put the oars back in the rowlocks and paddled back to the boatramp, sheltered from the tide behind the breakwater. The sun was still warm on his head and the seagulls were fighting behind the fishing boats. It was all very normal, and very dragon-less, and he thought it was time he got out of the sun.

#

Fred put a hand on the engine and grunted. “When did she die?”

“Just outside the breakwater.”

“Cooled down quick.”

“I guess,” Tim said, and gathered his gear together while the old man carried the outboard back to the shed. He was just pulling his shoes gingerly onto his sunburned feet when Fred stopped next to him, the oars in one hand and the fuel can in the other.

“Used to be, mariner types made offerings to the sea,” Fred said. “To ensure safe passage.”

Tim looked at him, feeling a dehydration headache starting behind one eye.

“Before the voyage, after the voyage, and other times too. You know, an offering to Neptune as you cross the equator and so on.”

Tim still said nothing.

“It’s worth thinking about. No one offers thanks, why should the sea look after you?”

“So, what – I should leave a fatted calf on the beach at full moon just because I went out in a dinghy one afternoon?”

Fred snorted. “You could. But I find some biscuits left on the end of the breakwater at sunset work a right treat.”

Tim summoned a laugh from somewhere. “I guess I could do that. Be in the spirit of things.” He definitely had sunstroke – or the old man was a bit strange. Probably both.

Fred handed him something from his pocket, a hard flat scale with a filigree pattern of waves running through it. The sun turned the fine edges into emerald glass. “There go. Little souvenir from the back of the boat. And I recommend chocolate hobnobs. Everyone likes chocolate hobnobs.” And he stumped away in his wellies, the oars swinging over his shoulder, ignoring the small man with the red nose making little squeaking noises at the edge of the boatramp.

 

free short stories - An Unconditional Rescue - Kim M Watt

 


 

Are you fishing or boating types, lovely people? Do you do it for the fish, or for the experience? Any sea monster stories to tell me? Let me know below!

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!

Glenda & the Horsemen Are Not Sure – A Short Story

Glenda & the Horsemen Are Not Sure – A Short Story

Between one thing and the other at the moment, I’m not getting a lot of what I term ‘my’ writing done. That is, writing that’s not blog writing or work writing. And while I still enjoy my blog writing and work writing, it’s all rather closely related to real life, which is not an area that I like to spend too much time in. In case it’s, you, know, catching or something.

But a lovely online friend who writes some wonderfully nasty flash fiction suggested to me that trying something similar might be a good way to feel I was still doing ‘my’ writing, in bite-size chunks. Which seemed like a wonderful idea, although I’m fully aware that my last attempt at writing a short story under 1000 words (let alone 100) resulted in an almost 6000 word monster. So I didn’t expect it to be short.

I didn’t expect it to be this long, though, either.

But it was most certainly fun, so thank you so much Jimmie for the nudge to jump back into my short stories!

For those of you that have been around a while, you may remember Glenda, who had some rather unexpected visitors (one of whom gave her cat fleas). If not, you may want to jump over and read Glenda & the Horsemen of the Apocalypse before you start. Otherwise, read on and enjoy!

 


 

 

The sky was low and heavy, fat with thunderous clouds and the sort of determined rain that makes umbrellas futile. The road that trailed across the face of the hills between the post and wire fences was awash with muddy water, and the few sheep standing morosely in the fields looked thoroughly put out. It was heading on for midnight, and was, in fact, a very dark and stormy night indeed.

Flickers of lightning lit the angry underbellies of the clouds, and thunder rumbled like cosmic indigestion, threatening something more explosive at any moment. Col pulled his hat down more firmly over his ears, for all the good it did. He was soaked through.

“Jess!” he bawled into the teeth of the wind that was skirling threateningly around him and flinging rain in his face. “Seek! Seek, girl!”

The bedraggled mongrel trailing at his heels gave him a pleading look, and he waved vaguely at the field, his quad bike abandoned on the farm track behind him. The fields were rapidly becoming swamps, and he had no intention of getting stuck out here.

“Get away back!” he yelled at the dog, and she heaved an enormous sigh and launched herself across the slick grass, squinting against the rain and casting about for a scent. Damn lambing season. Why did they always lamb in the middle of the night, during a storm? It was like clockwork. He’d brought most of the ewes into a field closer to the house this evening, but of course there was always one he couldn’t find, and of course she’d be out here, and he was too bloody soft to just leave her, out in the cold with the roar of the sea pummelling the shore at the bottom of the cliffs fighting with the steadily increasing howl of the wind, and – and. He frowned. Was that engines? Who the hell would be out here, in this? And they sounded like motorbikes, as well.

Col stood there with the rain running down his face and back and through the holes in his jacket, and listened to the sounds of the engines increase, a doubtful look on his face. He couldn’t see any lights on the road, and the sound seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. He jumped as a wet, anxious nose shoved into his hand, and looked down at the dog. She nipped his sleeve and tugged anxiously.

“What?” he said, more sharply than he intended. He could feel the engines rumbling in his chest now, shaking the bones of his legs as if the very land was reverberating beneath him.

Jess whined, darted away, circled back to snap at him, then darted off again.

Could he hear – could he hear voices? In this?

Jess gave a short, sharp bark, growled, and nipped at his boots. He waved her off ineffectually, feeling exposed despite the rain and darkness, still looking for the machines that those massive engines were driving so recklessly into the heart of the storm, his heart pounding in some terrible double-time in his chest, sure now that there were voices, snatches of conversation riding in on the wind.

“…any left?”

“…don’t be…”

“…but he had…”

“Honestly, I just…”

Jess was barking hysterically, her ears flat to her head and the whites of her eyes showing, the sound continuous and harsh, and all but lost under the roar of those dreadful, inhuman engines. Thunder smashed over the hills, so close that Col let out an involuntary little scream and stumbled backwards, tripping over the dog and sprawling into the mud and sheep dung.

There was a moment of startling silence, and a woman’s voice said very clearly, “Are we here for him?”

“Hm. No,” another voice said, deep and musical.

Col blinked as a woman’s head appeared above him. She had bobbed grey hair and was wearing a pearl necklace over her pale blue cardigan. He felt suddenly and inexplicably guilty for leaving it so long since calling his gran.

“Are you sure?” she said. “He doesn’t look well.”

“Death is always sure,” the deep voice said, and a new face, all high sharp cheekbones and dark eyes looked down at him. It was joined by two others, one round and flushed, the other grinning like a toothpaste model.

“I thought you were going to give that a rest, D,” the toothpaste model said.

“I cannot change who I am,” D said, straightening up and looking across the fields. “Why are we here?”

“Not so sure, then,” the model said, grinning even more broadly, and the woman frowned at him.

“Behave yourself, Pest,” she said. “Don’t think I didn’t see you drop chicken pox in that town we came through.”

The young man rolled his eyes, and said, “You never want me to have any fun.”

“Your sort of fun tends to end in diseases of the unmentionables,” the woman said, and put a grease paper packet on Col’s chest as the round-faced man staggered off laughing, Pest following him with an aggrieved look on his face. “There you go, dear. You’ll feel alright again once we’ve gone.”

Col made a squawking sound that set Jess barking again, although she kept her distance.

“They’re good boys, really,” the woman said. “Well, as long as they’re not here for you. And I don’t think anyone knows why we’re here, so you’re safe.” She patted his shoulder reassuringly, then walked off.

Col spluttered as the rain started falling again. It had stopped while the strange little group had been crowded around him, the wind falling to nothing, but suddenly it was howling in his ears again, sending tight bands of coldness around his head. He sat up and watched the strangers trailing across the field. The toothpaste model – Pest – had taken the woman’s arm to help her across the uneven ground, which made sense, because she appeared to be wearing those little slip-on house shoes older women seem to like so much. The tall man called D was standing with his hands on his hips, staring around in the perplexed way of someone looking for a new doctor’s office, the round-faced man standing next to him with his hands folded over his ample belly, rocking on his heels.

And Col could see them. It wasn’t bright as day, but it wasn’t moonlight, either. The field was washed in a cold pale light, like a night scene in a black and white movie, and if that wasn’t the most ridiculous thing he’d ever imagined, then he didn’t know what was. Col investigated his head carefully, looking for broken bits. Everything seemed to be where it should be, so he got up and trailed after the strangers, unwrapping the grease paper packet as he went. It smelt of mushrooms and blue cheese, and Jess whiffled hopefully after him.

#

“D, seriously, why are we here?” Pest asked. They’d drawn into a little huddle around the tall man in his skinny jeans and Panama hat.

“It’s not clear yet,” Death admitted. “But this is where we were drawn.”

“Is this New Zealand?” Glenda asked. “It seems like it could be New Zealand.”

“It is,” War said. “I remember it. Great warriors down here. Wonderful.”

“I thought it’d be sunnier. It’s very muddy.”

“We’re in the middle of a storm,” Pest pointed out.

“Still.” Glenda peered across the hillside. It just looked grey, and there was gorse ranging along the fenceline. “It looks like Scotland.”

“Ooh, don’t tell them that,” War said. “There’ll be trouble!” He sounded gleeful, and Glenda frowned at him. She still hadn’t quite adjusted to how much pleasure the horsemen took in their jobs. Although – she’d given that poor man a pasty, hadn’t she? It had just seemed like the right thing to do. A bit of food always helps you get over a shock. She looked around, wondering if he’d recovered yet, and saw him squatting on the the grass trying to look inconspicuous, sharing the pasty with his dog and watching them with an expression that was somewhere between disbelief and terror. She gave him a little wave, and he ducked like she’d thrown something at him. Poor thing. He seemed like quite a nice young man.

“Over there,” Death said, and strode off through the stubbly grass, surprisingly graceful with his long scarecrow limbs.

“Come along,” War said, offering Glenda his arm.

She scowled. “You don’t have to treat me like your gran. I’m your colleague.”

“I don’t have a gran,” War said. “But suit yourself.” He strode off after Death, leaving Glenda to flounder along behind them, cursing her house shoes and wishing she’d had the foresight to die in her hiking boots. She was sure there must be a way to change your outfit, but she hadn’t figured it out yet. She certainly hoped there was – she was already quite sick of her blue cardigan.

“Plenty, love,” Pest said, appearing next to her. “You still have such an endearing human trait of thinking you’re actually walking on the ground.”

“Glenda or Mrs Holt,” Glenda said sharply. “I don’t need an extra name.”

“It does lack a certain ring,” Pest said, pursing his rather perfect lips. “But as you wish, Glenda. Now let’s go.”

And just like that, the mud and rabbit holes and sheep dung were gone, and it was rather like walking barefoot in a deep and luxurious carpet, like the one that had been in that hotel she and the late Mr Holt had stayed in on one of their rare weekends away. She’d always wanted a carpet like that. It had been like walking on air.

“I do need how to learn to do that,” she said.

“You do,” Pest agreed, releasing her elbow as they stopped next to Death and War. “I’ll start thinking you’re pretending you can’t just so I’ll hold your hand.” He winked at her, and she gave him an exasperated look, then turned her attention to the others.

There was a long pause, while the sea and the sky raged against the land outside their little bubble of stillness, and the darkness beat itself against their pool of light. Glenda could smell crushed grass and seaweed and the wild electrical smell of the storm, and somewhere she thought she heard a gull crying.

“Um, D?” War said eventually.

“Yes?” Death’s attention was on the figure in the grass in front of them. It was struggling weakly, still clinging to life, but there was too much blood, and the scent of something final in the still air.

“That’s-” War hesitated, glanced at Pest and Glenda.

“It’s a sheep,” Glenda said. “We came all the way to New Zealand, in a storm, for a sheep?”

“It would appear so,” Death said, sounding mildly interested.

“Are you sure?” Pest said.

Death didn’t look away from the sheep. “Death is always-”

“Always sure, yeah, I know, but – a sheep?”

“So it would seem.”

War grunted, folded his arms, unfolded them, then blurted, “First Glenda – no offence, Glenda, but you’re not exactly a Horseman – now a sheep? Doesn’t it just seem – I mean – well – I just -” He faltered to a stop as Death finally looked away from the sheep. “Guys? Back me up here?”

“I’m very good at my job,” Glenda said, offended. “I got that whole sugar-free raw cooking class eating Dunkin Donuts last week.”

“But a sheep!”

No one said anything for a moment, and Death watched War until the round man put his hands behind his back and hung his head like a scolded toddler. Then he admitted, “It is odd. But remember the butterfly that can start the hurricane. Or Twitter, if you want a more modern example. That’s one you’re quite fond of, War.”

“Well, yes,” War said. “It’s very handy. You can whisper in a lot of ears, all at once.”

“Then may I do my job and reap this sheep?” Death asked, his voice mild.

“It just seems a little – beneath us,” War mumbled.

“This is too weird,” Pest said. “Since when have you reaped animals?”

“Animals are never beneath you, Pestilence. They’re your weapon of choice.”

“I- but that’s different. You’re Death.”

“Oh, honestly,” Glenda snapped. “The poor creature is suffering. Someone do something!” The Horsemen gave her a startled look. “What? My feet are wet, and I want a cup of tea.”

“You can’t have wet feet, Glenda,” Death said. “Horsemen don’t get wet feet.”

“This one does.”

“You see?” War said. “Everything’s gone weird since Famine quit.”

“Don’t you be trying to put the blame on me, young man-”

“I’m not! I just said he quit!”

“Famine was such a bore, anyway,” Pest said. “And he never had Jammie Dodgers.”

“Do you have any Jammie Dodgers?” Death asked. “I’d quite like one. To keep the chill off.”

“Excuse me?” a small voice said.

“Of course I have Jammie Dodgers,” Glenda snapped. “But we need to work first. Honestly, how have you boys ever managed to get anything done? You can’t have your tea before you’ve finished the job!”

“Aw, Glenda-”

“Excuse me?” the small voice said again.

“Surely we could have one Jammie Dodger. For sustenance.”

“Excuse me!”

Glenda had her mouth open to point out, yet again, that you had to do the work before you got a treat, and War was still mumbling about things not being right, when the rather alarmed voice finally registered with her. She turned and looked at the farmer, his dog shivering behind his legs, the grease proof paper still clutched to his chest.

“Oh – hello, dear,” she said, and nodded in what she hoped was a reassuring manner. “Can we help you?”

“That’s – that’s my sheep,” the man said. “What are you doing with my sheep?”

“I’m going to reap it,” Death said.

“I’d rather you didn’t,” the man said. “She’s a great mum. Always get good lambs from her. Good wool, too.”

“I think she’s nearly gone already, dear,” Glenda said gently.

“She’s not. The lamb’s stuck. He’s probably gone, but I reckon she’ll be just fine if I can get to her.”

“I’m quite sure I’m meant to reap her,” Death said, sounding not very sure at all.

“Well, can I get the lamb out first? Then we can see.”

“Er. Well. Yes?”

“Right then.” The man skirted the little group warily and went to his knees in the mud and muck next to the sheep, the dog watching anxiously from a few metres away as he pulled his jacket off and pushed his sleeves up. “There go, girl,” he said. “Let’s get you sorted, shall we?”

There was a collective “Ew!” from the the watchers as the man rather unceremoniously stuck his fingers into the bloody mess hanging from the sheep’s hindquarters, and War turned a strange colour but couldn’t seem to look away. The man kept chatting away to the sheep, his voice low and crooning, and a moment later he pulled two sharp little hooves into sight, eliciting an “oooh” from everyone except War, who gagged. “Legs were folded back,” he explained, still digging. “Pretty common.” He tugged at something, and a moment later a small nose edged into view, followed rapidly by the rest of a lamb, spilling motionless and bloody onto his lap.

“Poor thing,” Pest mumbled, and War retched onto a thistle.

The farmer wiped the muck off the lamb’s nose and blew on its face while the ewe raised her head wearily, giving a faint bleat. “I’m trying,” he told her, and picked the lamb up by the hind legs, shaking it gently.

Glenda had both hands pressed over her chest, and when the lamb twitched she gave a little scream that made War stagger away from her in fright. “Famine wouldn’t have screamed,” he mumbled, but no one paid him any attention. They were all watching the lamb intently.

“Come on,” the farmer said. “Come on, come on.” He blew on its nose one more time, and it wriggled, gave a choking cry, then started to struggle weakly against the man’s grip.

Glenda, Death and Pestilence cheered. War rolled his eyes and tried not to look at the blood, and the farmer placed the lamb next to the ewe’s teats. She bleated weakly as the lamb latched on and started to feed, little tail beginning to work.

The man rocked back onto his heels and wiped his hands on the grass, not looking at the Horsemen. “You really going to reap her?”

Death squatted down next to the sheep, petting the lamb’s little head with skinny fingers while it ignored him. “No,” he said. “It seems it wasn’t the sheep after all.”

“What, then?” the man asked, then looked suddenly alarmed. “Jess! Jess, get in behind!” The dog ran to him, and he grabbed her collar. “What do you want?”

“It’s done,” Death said, still petting the lamb. “Glenda, feel how soft it is!”

“It’s so gross,” War said. “It’s all sticky and gross.”

“It’s adorable,” Glenda said, crouching down next to Death. The sheep didn’t seem bothered by them. “Pest, don’t you dare go near it!”

“I’m not, I’m not,” he said, sighing. “It’s so unfair, though. I want to pat the lamb!”

“Don’t touch the lamb,” Death said severely.

“What’s done?” the man demanded. “What did you do?”

Death pointed without looking up. “There.”

There was a pause while everyone looked at the small body on the ground.

“A rabbit?” War said finally. “All this way for a rabbit?”

“It would seem so,” Death said, giving the lamb a final scratch behind the ears and standing up.

“That’s stretching, D.”

“No more so than a butterfly.” Death helped Glenda to her feet. “Now may we have tea?”

“I wish we could take him with us,” she said with a sigh. “But yes – now we can have tea.”

“And Jammie Dodgers,” Pest said, falling in step on Glenda’s other side.

“Is no one going to mention that we came all this way for a rabbit?” War demanded, not moving. “Apparently?”

“I may even have scones,” Glenda said.

“Scones? With cream? Not that I’m forgetting this, but – clotted cream?” War hurried to catch up with them, and they walked together across the sodden grass without touching it, the three Horsemen and one Horsewoman of the Apocalypse.

#

Col watched them go, his heart pounding in his ears, wondering what the hell he’d been thinking. Why hadn’t he run? The sheep shifted next to him, rolling upright as the lamb drank its fill, and he heard those vast engines start up again as the rain began to fall around him, and the wind dragged wild fingers across his drenched clothes. He waited where he was, wondering what sort of terrible horses the riders had, for them to make a sound like that. He was still watching when they passed him, Glenda waving cheerfully, both there and not there as the storm raged around her sky blue Vespa, while Death led the way with a tea in one hand and a Jammie Dodger in the other, his own Vespa white and gleaming, and Pestilence followed on a black one that sparkled with chrome, and only War still rode something huge and red and monstrous that could have been a horse from some nightmare realm. The effect was spoilt somewhat by the scone he was spreading carefully with clotted cream as he rode past in a thunder of too many hooves.

Col waited for a moment, but they didn’t come back. Then he crouched to tuck the lamb in his jacket pocket and to pick the sheep up, staggering under the weight of her sodden wool, and stumbled up the hill to his quad bike, Jess following close enough to his heels to almost trip him more than once. He didn’t mind. He was going to go home, put the sheep and the lamb in the garage with the wood burner on, and make himself a fry-up. He deserved it after a night like this.

Besides, he was starving.

 


 

Apologies for any inaccuracies in sheep midwifery – it’s been a long time since I delivered a lamb (and I only did it once or twice, but it was so cool! No wonder Death couldn’t bring himself to reap them…).

Are you a reader or writer of flash fiction? Let me know some of your favourites below – or yours, if you write them! I’d love to read more, and still hope that one day I may write something under 1000 words. I’m not aiming any lower than that for the moment 😉

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 🙂

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?

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