Tag: writer’s life

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?

Weird Things in My Kindle TBR

Weird Things in My Kindle TBR

Book hoarding. YESSS.

I’ve had a Kindle (other ereaders are also available, apparently), in one form or another, for at least eight years or so. My original Kindle, in fact, I sent to my dad when I ‘upgraded’ to a Kindle Fire. That Kindle Fire has now become a Spotify machine which crashes regularly, and the Kindle Fire that followed (which has the worst battery life imaginable and crashes regularly) has been relegated to use for YouTube workout videos, replaced by a Kindle Paperwhite. Meanwhile, Dad’s still using that that first Kindle. I kind of messed that one up.

Anyhow, I did one of those “I have so much stuff on here, what is it all?” things (of course, I know there are at least six versions of the WIP, but there is so much more on my Kindle. So much more).

Friends, do not ask this question lightly.

I thought that, other than the many copies of various versions of the WIP, that there were certain things I could expect:

  • Several Learn French books because I have good intentions, mostly never opened because I have terrible follow through.
  • A large collection of classics, because as above. Plus they’re free.
  • A very large collections of BookBub buys, because when I first found Bookbub I bought something off almost every email. Every daily email. Some were free, some weren’t. A fairly large proportion of them are unopened, and a reasonable portion of the opened ones I never finished.
  • A substantial collection of books I actually bought and read.

So, yes, I was prepared for those.

However, some things I was not prepared for.

Allow me to present:

A Tour Through the Weird Books I Thought I Needed.


Decorative Napkin Folding for Beginners.

“Napkins are easy to fold into ingenious shapes and add a tough of festivity to any dinner. Whether you use paper or cloth, a napkin folded into a delightful shape is a welcome way to start a meal.”

I do not know why I thought I needed this. Many years ago I did a combination of cooking and stewardessing aboard small boats, and did on occasion need to fold a napkin, although mostly my partner at the time took care of that sort of thing. This was many years before Kindle, though, and it is not an aspect of the job I miss.

However, if I ever decide to buy a dining table and have a dinner party, I will be able to fold paper or material napkins into festive shapes. Which is handy. (And, apparently, my guests “will have as much fun trying to figure out how you did it as you did in the making.” Good times.)


Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking.

“In this involving history of the British people, Kate Colquhoun celebrates every aspect of our cuisine from Anglo-Saxon feasts and Tudor banquets, through the skinning of eels and the invention of ice cream, to Dickensian dinner-party excess and the growth of frozen food.”

To be fair, this actually sounds quite interesting, but I don’t know why I thought I’d read it. It’s one of those books I look at in a bookshop, think it sounds clever, then put it down again. The odds of me learning about the history of Britain through the medium of food are – wait. Hang on, I just realised the attraction. Okay, I won’t delete this one.


Don’t Throw It, Grow It!: 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scraps.

“Don’t throw out your kitchen scraps — grow them! Discover how you can transform leftover pomegranate seeds, mango pits, and dried bits of gingerroot into thriving plants. From the common carrot to the exotic cherimoya, you’ll be amazed at the gardening possibilities hidden in the foods you eat.”

Delusions of grandeur. I don’t even know what a cherimoya is. And I can’t keep actual plants from garden centres alive, so I have doubts about my ability to coax life from garden scraps. It seems that, at times, I see myself as having a domestic goddess side. I’m pretty certain this is incorrect.


How to Stay Sane: The School of Life, Book 6.

“There is no simple set of instructions that can guarantee sanity.”

I can’t help but feel this book is poorly named. “How to Possibly Stay a Little Sane” might fit more with that blurb. Not that I’ve read it, because apparently this was not a high priority read for me. I’d also like to know why I didn’t start with Book 1. That might have been something handy, like “How to Adult”.


Writing a Novel & Getting Published for Dummies.

“If you’ve always wanted to write that great novel, but never knew where to start, look no further! Taking you step by step from concept to contract, this book provides the tools you need to tell your story with skill and approach agents and publishers with confidence.”


Well, we always hope there’s a secret, right? A magic formula that we just have to discover? A secret code, a hidden map, a… book for dummies?


I also discovered an astonishing amount of cosy mysteries, both read and not, as well as a perfectly ridiculous number of zombie books. Apparently I’ve been searching for the perfect zombie-cosy mystery crossover for quite some time.

I won’t mention the large assortment of books that I actually already own in hard copy, though…




What about you? Have you made any mystifying finds on your Kindle (substitute ereader of choice here)?

You Do Write Every Day

You Do Write Every Day

The second bit, anyway.

Write Every Day.

You Should Be Writing.

Why Aren’t You writing?

It’s one of those things that gets shouted at us from all corners of the web, from writing books and podcasts and blogs and collective wisdom.

Write every day, because you’re not really a writer if you don’t.

Jack London wrote 1000 words a day.

Stephen King writes on his birthday, and on Christmas.

Anthony Trollope required 250 words of himself every half hour.

Leo Tolstoy, John Updike, Alice Munro, John Steinbeck, Maya Angelou… the list goes on.

And, fair enough. It’s good advice. Writing every day is something to aspire to.

If your schedule allows it.

Well, it’s a nice thing to work towards.

If your home situation allows it.

If your work allows it.

If you’re in the right place to do it, physically, mentally, emotionally.

And – most importantly in my mind, although I’m neither published author nor writing guru – if it works for you.

It’s one of those odd pieces of advice that makes sense but doesn’t at the same time. Because, yes, if you want to be good at something you need to practise. You need to work at it. You need to put the hard slog in at the beginning (and, to be honest, all the way through) so that you can get where you’re going. No argument here. We’re not going to get anywhere through crossing our fingers and wishing on fairy dust.

But it also ignores the fact that we’re all different. That for some of us, life is in too much upheaval to be able to set aside writing time every single day. We might be lucky to get a good weekend in. Maybe it’s so hard to get into that writing mindset, that even if we do get up two hours early, we’re only going to be feeling ready to write when we need to shut the computer down and go walk the dog. Maybe we have so much going on that, this month, there’s no writing going to be done at all, because we don’t have the headspace for it. We can’t. And feeling guilty over that only exacerbates the situation.

This makes me almost irrationally angry. I should be PANICKING? What on earth for?

With one thing and another, I haven’t written for a couple of weeks. Then on the weekend I sat down and wrote a short story. It had been percolating for a while, so it came out pretty much how I wanted it, and quicker than it might have done otherwise (sometimes I start stories too soon, because I know I Should Be Writing, but they’re not ready and run all over the place before they get to the point). It was nice. It was fun. I enjoyed it, and when I was finished I wanted to do more.

But there were no other ideas ready to go yet, so I left it and went on with other things, both disappointed and hearing that admonitory voice reminding me that I should be Writing Every Day echoing in my head.

But then I realised something that, while it hasn’t shut Admonitory Voice up completely, has certainly made him a little less strident (yes, it’s a he – a shouty, mechanical voice like something off a high school PA system. Or occasionally more like the screaming alarms that go through spaceships under attack in low budget movies).

I do write every day.

You do, too.

I write blogs.

I write shopping lists.

I write emails.

I write Twitter posts.

I write texts.

I write to-do lists (so, so many to-do lists).

I write newsletters.

I write Facebook posts.

I write schedules and reminders.

I write Instagram stuff (#prettypicturesareworthmorewithhashtags).

And, every now and then, I write and rewrite and edit short stories and bigger stuff.

But, wow, do I write a lot every day.

Well, it does SOUND like a very pleasant career.

And that’s not even mentioning the very long and complicated stories going on in my head, some of which make it onto paper and others of which I have no intention of allowing out.

So maybe it’s not a case of totally disagreeing with this advice, prescriptive and shouty though it is. Maybe it’s a good thing to actually look and see how much writing we’re really doing when we think we’re getting nothing done. We write all of these things to get a message across (okay, the shopping and to-do lists might be stretching the point a little), to share our point of view with others, sometimes to persuade or inform. We use the same skills (minus emoticons) when we’re writing our masterpiece. Don’t look down on your little bits of writing. They all add up to big bits. It’s like doing short runs in between marathons, or making easy meals as you build towards a twelve-course sit-down dinner. It’s training.

Take writing advice with a hefty dose of salt – after all, we’re the only ones that can work out what works for us.

But if writing daily is how you want to measure being a writer, go for. We’re already there, each and every one of us.

And please, please stop guilting yourself with these silly things. Or just ignore the text bits and look at the (mostly) pretty pictures.
An A-Z of the Writer’s Life

An A-Z of the Writer’s Life

Don’t be ridiculous. Of course I haven’t run out of blog ideas. It’s only the end of January. This is important stuff!

Okay, important might be stretching it, but this was actually really fun. So, without further ado:

The A-Z of the Writer’s Life

(Because you always wanted to know, right?)

This is fine. This is absolutely fine…

A: Authors. That’s us. Even if we don’t feel like that’s what we are an awful lot, and need constant reassurance and regular infusions of chocolate to believe it.

B: Blogs. First because we think we should, later because it gives us an excuse to inflict our thoughts on unsuspecting internet readers.

C: Caffeine. Lots of it. Lots.

D: Drafts. So many drafts. Why are there so many? Why is there never really a final draft?

E: Editing. The word we don’t like to talk about, because there’s even more of it than there are drafts.

F: Fans. What we want. The kind that read our books, not the kind that move air around. Although in summer they’re nice, too.

G: Goals. Those things that shift a lot.

How we hope it works.

H: Headaches. Because our characters do things that we didn’t say they could do, and very rarely do what we want them to do. Also grammar, and real life interfering with our Work.

I: Insecurity. Lots of it. Will I finish this horrible draft? Will I make it less horrible? Will other people think it’s horrible? Will they think I’m horrible? Am I a horrible writer, or a horrible person, or both?

J: Jokes. Things we’re sure we tell badly, or else something that we suspect we may actually be. Not sure.

K: Kettle. Vital writer equipment. Enables us to fuel our caffeine habit, make pot noodles, and serves as a fantastic procrastination tool.

L: Laughter. Used as deflection when someone asks us how our little book is coming on. Often has a slightly desperate edge.

M: Murder. What we research more than is probably healthy, and said searches are probably why we’re on FBI watch lists.

N: Nightmares. In which we find ourselves at a writers’ conference, pitching an erotic comedy to an agent who represents only literary fiction.


O: Oh. As in oh my god, oh help me, oh hell, oh no what have I done, and other things I can’t print here.

P: Proofreading. Because editing wasn’t enough. Editing is never enough.

Q: Quiet. What we insist we need, then get a little uneasy about when we actually get it. Is there a tap dripping? I think the fridge is coming on too often. I did not know the cat snored that loudly. Wow. All this quiet is distracting. How am I meant to work like this?

R: Research. Where we find out about interesting ways to kill people, untraceable poisons, how to dismember a body, and other titbits that don’t really help us in small talk situations.

S: Sighs. Many, and escalating as the drafts mount up.

T: Twitter. Where we ‘connect with readers’ and ‘build our audience’. Also known as hanging out with other writers, sharing bad jokes and pretending to work.

U: Unclear. Our characters’ motives, the plot, and our own memories of where we were going when we started this piece. Also our motivations for ever getting into this madness.

No, no. We just think it is. Hopefully.

V: Vague. Our behaviour when forced to leave the computer and socialise. Also known as ‘unsociable’, ‘awkward’, and sometimes ‘weird’.

W: Wikipedia. Where we fall down rabbit holes of unrelated research and emerge days later knowing the exact breeding cycle of the lesser red-spotted yak fly, but nothing more about the historical relevance of penny whistles, which is what we went in for.

X: X. Usually written large, in red, across vast swathes of manuscript while editing.

Y: Yowl. The sound the cat makes when we step on her in the dark while going to write down an amazing idea that’s just occurred to us at 3 am. Alternatively: Yelp, the sound the dogs makes, and also the sound we make when we walk into the bathroom door.

Z: Zero. The amount of regret we have about any of this. Most of the time, anyway.



So let me know, lovely people – any additions to this alphabet? Any substitutions? Tell me your thoughts!

Saying Thank You to 2017

Saying Thank You to 2017

It says ‘lovely’, okay? I’m a lovely unicorn.

As we march on towards 2018, I thought it might be nice to think about the good bits in my life this past year. It’s too easy to look back at all the things that didn’t work out the way we wanted them to, too easy to miss all the small (and not so small) happenings and wonderful people that make the days better. All the things that we forget every time we look at the news, or often even just when we look at our own lives. I’m not talking big things here – sometimes, things don’t need to be big to make a difference. More than sometimes, I think. The stranger that compliments your hair (or the stuffed dragon you’re carrying around). The postman that gets your mail to you even when it’s addressed wrong. Watermelon in summer and hot chocolate in winter. Tea in your favourite mug (even when it’s unsuitable for posting on a PG blog such as this). Unexpected cards or a letter in the post. Things that matter far more than their size. Things that are so terribly easy to forget.

Cat GIFs are one of the nails the universe is hung upon.

So, in no particular order, I’m going to say a few thank yous, because that seems to be a nice way to see the year out.

Thank you to my IRL (in real life) friends. If it wasn’t for you, I’d become grafted to the computer, a small wormy creature that screams in the sunlight. Thank you for dragging me out, putting up with my eccentricities, and cheering me on in your own lovely ways, even when you’re not quite sure what it is I’m doing. Honestly, half the time I’m not sure what I’m doing. Your support matters more than you can possibly imagine.

Thank you to my on-line friends. You are amazing. You understand that crowds can be too crowdy, people can be exhausting, social skills are mysterious animals, and small cosy corners can be the only things that save your sanity. You also understand the horrors of re-writing and editing, the terror of the synopsis and query letter, and the difficulties of talking words when you’ve already used them up writing. You’ve supported me, taught me, lifted me up, and made me think that I’m sometimes funny (this last is a dangerous thing). You also understand the importance of dragons, cat GIFs, and bad monster movies. You are my people.

Her expression when I read aloud is – not reassuring.

Thank you to my own small family, the SO and the little furry muse. The SO for being endlessly understanding, supportive, and monumentally over-excited by Beaufort Scales. And for making me good food all the time, so I don’t exist on cuppa soups and porridge. The little furry muse for being little, furry, and muse-like (in other words: obtuse, moody, unreliable, and never coming when called, but being gorgeous and adorable all the while). Also for listening in long-suffering silence while I read my stories aloud, even if she does sleep through most of it and make me doubt the dramatic impact of my words.

Thank you to those lovely family members that, while on the other side of the world, happily read my posts and share them on facebook, and never ask me when I’m going to get a real job. And to the ones that don’t do the facebook thing, but show their support in their own ways. We may not talk much – phones are another thing I’m not very good at – but I know you’re there. And thank you for understanding that, too.

Gruffalo tea. Yes.

And then there are are some things I’m just generally thankful for.

Chocolate. Because some writing days run on pure willpower and sugar.

Yorkshire tea. Because all days run on tea.

Good books, because good books are magical. Bad books, because they give me hope. Books, really.

The wonders of modern technology, because without it I’d have approximately 99.5% less friends, would have to go out to interact with people, wouldn’t know what garden plants can kill people or how long common poisons take to act, and would have no way of ordering Yorkshire Tea.

Because how can you not feel thankful for days like this?

Sunny days and rainy days and storms and blue skies, because for a while there I didn’t even notice them, and now I do I love them so much. Although, if I was to be picky, could we just go with cold or hot seasons, as the inbetween ones are tricky?

Myself. Being healthy (other than the chocolate), being happy, dreaming of dragons, and setting them out into the world. Because there was a time when I couldn’t imagine being able to be or do any of those things.

And you. Because you’re reading, and hopefully smiling, and maybe nodding a bit. Maybe you pop by to read every week, or every other month, or maybe you’ve never been by before. But you’re here now, so thank you to you, as well. You’re wonderful, and amazing, and need to tell yourself so right now. Now. I mean it. Or I’ll set dragons on you.

And now it’s your turn – what and who do you want to thank for getting you through this year? And make sure you include yourself!


Thank you, lovely people.


Cat Logic

Cat Logic

You knew it was going to happen. Why would you even try?

In the world of t’internet, there exists the term, “cat logic”. It’s both hashtag and explanation, description and exclamation, and it’s one of those wonderful phrases that makes me happy about the existence of social media and the internet in general. Seriously, google “cat logic”.

You’re welcome.

Now we’ve got that out of the way, I’m going to share a few examples of Layla’s cat logic, as it’s a wonderful thing. I may also attempt to relate them to the life of non-felines, to prove that I’m using my blog for more than just sharing photos of my cat.

That may or may not work.

Obviously, Layla shares the usual feline traits. If it was bought for her to sleep in or play with, she wants nothing to do with it. Favourite sleeping places are my lap (or back, if I’m in bed), or anywhere that makes it awkward to get up/sit down/open doors/carry on life in general. Favourite playthings (despite the half-suitcase of Australian catnip toys I carted back to France for her on my last trip) are my hair ties, a drawstring from the SO’s PJs, and crumpled bits of paper. Every time a cat sitter looks after Layla, they very diligently collect all the hair ties and put them away on a shelf somewhere. They must think I’m some sort of hair tie stripper, flinging multi-coloured elastic bands about the house willy-nilly. Because one hair tie is not enough, obviously. It must be every hair tie I put down, no matter where that may be.

This is fine.

I go through a lot of hair ties.

But these are all cat logic traits shared with most cats I know, along with the astonishingly accurate foreknowledge that allows her to come and sit on my lap at the exact moment I need to get up. But Layla has her own wonderful quirks.

She will only sleep on the spare bed if I’ve stripped all the bedding off, including the mattress cover. Apparently this makes it a wonderfully comfortable place to nap, so much so that she only moves for food. Which is unfortunate, as vacuuming mattresses is not as easy as washing cat hair off sheets.

If we’re going out for the day, she must go out in the last minutes before we leave, despite the fact that she’s lazy and spends almost all day sleeping inside. This goes double if it’s raining and/or we’ve spotted some of the neighbourhood strays in the area. With no cat flap, this means we spend all day wondering how many fights she’s got into (Layla has never been known to walk away from a fight. She thinks she’s posh because she’s from Harrogate, but she’s actually very scrappy for a small cat), and return home to an aggrieved kitty, complaining about being left out where she can’t get to her biscuits.

I don’t care if there ARE two doors and three other windows open. Open THIS one.

She likes to sleep in cupboards. This is something that she shares with many other felines, but the problem is that she can’t really meow. She puts an awful lot of effort in, and you can see her sides heave as she pushes the air out – but if any sound joins it, it’s a tinier squeak than most kittens have. Which means that, if we haven’t noticed her go into a cupboard, it can take a long time to find her again. She ended up spending all day in one when we thought she’d done her usual Great Escape, only to panic when we returned home to find she wasn’t waiting for us. It took about an hour of frantic calling and searching outside before we thought to check the cupboards. To be fair, she was sound asleep, so I don’t think it was much of an issue.

And it looks even worse in reality.

She doesn’t like fresh fish, chicken, or meat. She doesn’t even like fancy cat food. Which is good, because there’s never any need to worry about leaving food out, but also bad, because when she occasionally goes off her food, I don’t have many options. Not that I’m entirely complaining that the cheapest, nastiest supermarket own brand food is her preference. Oh, and pork pies. That’s the only food she’s ever stolen. Which may say something about the composition of pork pies.

Layla, unlike many animals, isn’t at all bothered by loud noises. I remember the first Guy Fawkes after she adopted me, I spent a fortune on a Feliway plug-in, Feliway spray, Valerian drops for cats, etc, etc. I tried everything I could think of (or read about) to make sure she was going to feel safe when the fireworks started. Her ears barely twitched. I, however, was a nervous wreck. On the other hand – apparently the SO’s winter jacket is terrifying and he can’t put it on in the house any more. (Edit – I also discovered yesterday that toothpaste boxes are Very Scary.)

If she’s outdoors and feels a hairball coming on, she runs inside and finds a rug to vomit on, then goes back out. (In one house, there was only one small rug in the entire downstairs, everything else being smooth flooring. She always found it).

She never, ever walks on the kitchen counter, but every other surface in the house is fair game. This is not something I’ve taught her.

I hate air conditioning, but if it gets really hot in the summer and I can see she’s getting uncomfortable, I’ll put it on. At which point she will always leave the room. Likewise in winter – she’ll sleep in the bedrooms where there’s no heating on, rather than in the living room where there is.

Without fail, she leaves the Christmas tree a minimum of two weeks before she attacks it. It’s always just at that point when we’re thinking, “Ah, she’s such a good kitty. We’re so lucky, not having to worry about the tree,” that we come home to utter devastation.


Two other things about her, which have nothing to do with cat logic, but which I’ll share as more examples of her lovely oddity: she’s clumsy, and she snores. Both of which are adorable.

And I have, of course, utterly failed to relate any of this to human life, so I’ll just say this – we don’t always have to have reasons for our pathological hatred of certain jackets, or our affection for small cosy spaces. We don’t need fancy things to be happy when small things will do just fine. And, while we may know better, there’s nothing wrong with eating a little cheap and nasty food now and then, just because we like it. A little cat logic never hurt anyone.

How about you? Any examples of cat logic you’d like to share? Or just the lovely quirks of your pets?




You’re Doing Brilliantly

You’re Doing Brilliantly


Everyone’s struggling right now.

Funny how it comes in waves.

Or maybe it doesn’t, but that’s what it feels like – everyone’s struggling. Every writer I know seems to be second-guessing themselves, wondering if they’ve got what it takes. If it’s even worth it, if they do. As if in the shift from summer to autumn (in this part of the world, anyway), from September to October, everyone’s been plunged into self-doubt.

Because it’s not easy, is it?

There’s the writing bit, which is, well, variable.

Variable like, you know, English summer weather. Hail one minute, sunburned noses the next. Which is to say, some days there’s nothing I’d rather be doing, and other days the only thing stopping me throwing the laptop out the window is the fact that it has all Layla’s photos on it.

Horribly familiar.

But writing’s fun, overall. Yes, editing can be a pain, particularly when we discover that scene that we absolutely love, and which we’d be prepared to say is one of the best things written by anyone, ever, is entirely irrelevant to the story and needs to come out. That sucks. As does finding we changed a character’s name part way through chapter six, and now we don’t know which name we like better, or indeed which character we’re talking about at any given time.

But other than that, it’s all good. We build our castles in the sand, all spires and gargoyles and fanciful turrets, and we love them, because they’re ours. We get a little Gollum-ish, to be honest. Possessive and protective and terrified, all at once (and often with a similar complexion. Seriously, we don’t see a lot of daylight, and cookies can be argued to cover at least three food groups).

It’s still tough, don’t get me wrong. Uncooperative characters, panic over tropes (are we subverting them or perpetuating them? And who even knew a heavy metal badger was a trope?), vanishing sub-plots and plotlines with more snarls than the M25. It’s hard. But it’s also ours. Our precious. So, as tough as it is, we keep going. We edit, and re-edit, and re-write, and edit again, and re-edit again, and re-write, and take out the heavy metal badger, as much as it breaks our inky little hearts. We persist, because this is going to be good. GOOD, in capitals, and possibly with gold stars.

I don’t want to be a trope.

And finally, finally, we’re ready to share. Perhaps with our loved ones first, because if they want to stay loved they bloody well better tell us we’re somewhere between Hemingway and Rowling. Then, emboldened by the fact that all anyone has to critique are a few pesky typos, we decide to dip out toes into the world of beta readers. They’re going to love it. It’ll be the best book they’ve ever read, never mind the best beta read (okay, if anyone actually has this confidence, good on you and can I have some? I’m actually convinced that every beta read will come back with a “DNF – this is rubbish” tacked to the front. But, dramatic effect etc).

And instead you get, “The penguin did what? I’m confused. This is really unclear.” Or, “I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure triceratops were vegans,” thus destroying your whole storyline about a rampaging, ravenous triceratops. Or, “This dialogue is really formal. I’m pretty sure giant anteaters don’t talk like that.” Or the bits you thought were funny fall flat, and the tear-jerking bits are somehow hilarious, or it turns out that your grasp of certain aspects of the English language may be a little shakier than you thought.

He LOOKS like he’d call someone “old boy”, though.

Talk about a reality shock.

A really, really high-voltage one.

You’ve spent months on this, and someone’s torn it apart in the space of an email! Your precious lies in tatters! Your dreams are destroyed! How dare they? How dare they?

Except, then, you read it again and realise they’re right. Giant anteaters really wouldn’t refer to each other as ‘old boy’ and ‘chum’. And a quick google proves that, yes, triceratops was indeed vegetarian, at the very least.

So then you have two choices. Consign your masterpiece to become chicken bedding, or get out the editing pen. And most of us, persistent little weirdos that we are, choose the latter. We go in again. We edit and re-edit and re-write again, then (with slightly less Gollumness) ask for someone else to pick it apart. And I’m not sure I can really say it hurts a little less each time, but I can say that you begin to take it a little less personally. Call my cat fat and I’ll murder you in my next book. Tell me my story’s overweight, and I’ll probably say thank you.

This is how you do it, right?

So there’s one hurdle. The first thickening of the skin. But it’s like one of those hellish BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE infomercials. Because all through this, you’ve been doing the good author thing, and trying to be chirpy social media person, and keep your blog up to date, and instagram pretty pictures, and do all those things that eat up your days when you’d really rather be writing. You reply to comments, and you re-tweet others, and you try to be witty and clever and cute.

And then someone tells you that they hate what you write, who you are, your cat, and your second auntie twice removed. Or they proposition you then tell you that.

And meanwhile your blog stats haven’t moved for months, your posts wallow in internet doldrums, and every article you see is still screaming BUILD YOUR AUTHOR PLATFORM IT’S SUPER DUPER EASY AND MASSIVELY IMPORTANT! And, really? Re-writing thirty pages of penguins on the rampage was more fun than this.

Im here for the love triangle.

But what do you do? You’ve come this far. You pull your ever-tougher author skin up around your ears and keep going.

Then comes the Big Stuff. Because either we’re going to self-publish, in which case we’re going to be running around designing covers or having them designed, and figuring out how we’re going to promote our book, and who we can beg a review from, and steeling ourselves for the inevitable one-star review by someone who thought it was a penguin-triceratops historical romance, and blatantly didn’t read the description of it as a sci-fi adventure giant anteater fantasy. Failing that, we’re going down the query path, having minor emotional and psychological breakdowns over cramming our magnus opus into a one-page synopsis and crying into our hot chocolate with whipped cream as we wait – and wait, and wait, and wait – for the inevitable form letter rejections.

And then, whichever path we’ve chosen, we’re going to have to pick ourselves up and start again. Because if we’re in the lucky elite who land an agent, they’ll probably want the penguin written into the giant anteater love triangle, and if we’re self-publishing someone’s going to send us a private message asking if we realised that penguins don’t actually live at the North Pole, and the next thing it’s back to edit, re-edit, re-write, repeat.

So, yeah. I get why so many people I know are having a hard time. I get why some days I think I’d rather go be a cashier at Poundland.

It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, there are hurdles that can’t help but feel personal. There are criticisms we must take, if we want to get better, and sometimes they hurt. And there are things that are so far out of our hands that all we can do is shrug in despair and promise to sacrifice a Lesser Green-Splattered Butterfly to Lady Luck.

Some days we want to give up.

Maybe one day we will.

But this is my shout out to all the writers out there, whether I know you or not.

I know it’s hard.

I know it can suck.

I know sometimes it doesn’t even feel worth it.

I know sometimes it feels like it’ll send you mad, but that it’s too late, because you must’ve been mad to even start.

I know that sometimes you swear to yourself you’ll punch the next person who says “You write? How cute!” (And I’m absolutely behind you if you do. I’ll even be an eye witness to the fact that it was self defence).

But if there’s still enough joy in it for you to keep going (and answer this honestly, because if not, if it’s become something so horrible and draining that you find nothing but horror on the page, you stop. Maybe you’ll start again, maybe you won’t, but remember this – there must be joy. It’s too hard a thing to keep going if there isn’t, and bollocks to anyone who tells you otherwise), if there’s still enough pure pleasure in the knit and punch of words and scenes and characters, then I’m cheering you on. If you’re earlier on than me in your writer’s adventure, if you’re further on – I love your indomitable little heart, and I’m cheering. And waving pompoms and blowing curly whistles and throwing confetti.

And if not, I understand that, too.

But either way – you’re doing brilliantly.


I send you cupcakes, confetti, and cute little rodents.

How are you doing at this whole writer’s life thing?



The Magic of Movement

The Magic of Movement

Accurate depiction of my feelings regarding PE.

Just in case you’re new ‘round here, let me start by saying that I am not a coordinated person. I was the kid that was always picked last on sports days, could never catch a ball, and actually almost failed PE (Physical Education – I’m not sure what the translation to other English is. For us, it was those horrible days when you had to put on your very old, very stained sports gear and broken-down shoes, and hope you were ignored rather than picked on for the next 45 minutes). I don’t think anyone knew it was possible to fail PE before that.

These days, I no longer have to deal with sweaty gym rooms and hormone-loaded teenagers, and I get to choose how I move. Which means it definitely doesn’t involve balls I can neither hit nor catch, or team sports that I can never quite fathom the rules of. And movement, I’ve discovered, is a wonderful thing when it’s on your own terms.

Yeah, swimmings great. I feel so much more relaxed. So. Relaxed.

I never decided to be a person who moves. I just sort of fell into it. My first job when I left home was working in a dive shop, and that was active – not just the diving itself, but lugging tanks and gear and in and out of the water constantly. When I left that, I found I wanted – I needed – to move. So even when I was working on boats I found time to swim lengths of the nearest shore once a day (added advantage – sneaking up on turtles, barracuda, and even sharks before all the snorkelers came up and scared them away). Later, I started to run and do other little snippets of exercise, all very unplanned and disorganised, but it was the moving that mattered, not the rest of it.

Life, as it does, went a bit hideous for a while, but I still somehow kept moving. Not all the time, but here and there. It reminded me that I was alive, that if nothing else worked, my body still did. And when I started to drag myself out of the bad times, it was movement that kept me sane. Not moving to lose weight or achieve some bikini body ideal (I think I’m a bit past those days, anyway), but moving because I could. Because moving meant I was alive, and I had survived, and this body would carry me forward. And because, once the desperation had died down a bit, it was fun.

Layla believes all movement should be fun. And involve catnip.

Because it is. Moving’s fun. Whether you’re falling out of side plank in a circuit work out, or tumbling out of warrior three in yoga, or running down some muddy track in the rain, or splashing around in a pool – it should be fun. I think too many of us are put off because it seems like a chore, whether we enjoyed it in school or not. Or we’re so focused on goals that we forget to take pleasure from how we get there.

All of which is to say that if we can move, it seems a shame not to. If you have the time and the ability to make space for some movement in your life, try it. It doesn’t need to be much – if you have room on your floor to lie down, you can do a workout. Finding the time can be hard, but it doesn’t have to be long. It’s so hot at the moment that most of my workouts are around 30 minutes. I’m a puddle of sweat by the end of it.

Okay, weird writer person, you’re thinking. You reckon these things are fun. But why else should I try it?

Proper supervision is essential.

Alright, lovely fellow writers (and everyone else – we’re not the only ones that get stuck on things). Here’s the thing. Moving clears your head. Stuck on a plot point? Walk. You don’t even need to think and walk – just walk, and maybe something will surface while you’re watching someone do a terrible job of parking, or arguing with their dog about which direction to go in. Frustrated with your characters? A few burpees and star jumps will work that right out of you. Stressed out and tense from too much time in your head? Ten minutes of sun salutations may not completely clear it, but you’ll certainly be back in your body again.

Now, I’m not saying it’s a cure-all. I don’t even know if it’ll work for you the way it works for me. But I know that walking is about as close as I get to meditation (yeah, I know I said I do yoga. It doesn’t mean I’m good at it), swimming makes me feel like I’m returning to my natural element, and most of my bad moods don’t survive a heavy HIIT workout.

So what d’you think? Do you move? What’s your favourite way to do it? And does it help you?


Okay, that sort of team sport I can get behind.

PSA: Results can include mysterious sore spots (annoyingly, I don’t bruise. I’ve fallen on ice with all my weight on one knee, and had nothing to show for it. It’s very irritating when you’re looking for sympathy), and occasionally embarrassment (sometimes public, sometimes not). Plus little doses of happy.

The Possibilities of No

The Possibilities of No

How I feel when I say no.

I’m notoriously bad at saying no. The SO teases me about it quite a lot, but I feel it bears pointing out that the only reason we went out on that first date 7 years ago was because I didn’t know how to say no. I mean, obviously, I knew how to say no, but what if I hurt his feelings? What if he thought I was a truly horrible person, and our mutual friends thought the same thing? And was it a terribly impolite thing to do? Or… You get my point.

Part of my no-allergy is due to the fact that I made the decision a while ago to say yes to a lot of things I don’t necessarily want to say yes to – party invitations and get-togethers, usually. I do this because if I said no to all the things I’d prefer to say no to, I’d only ever leave the house under the cover of darkness in order to buy cat food and chocolate.

And while this yes-strategy has enabled me to retain the ability to interact socially (awkwardly, yes, but still – I can hold a conversation under duress), it also means that the line has gradually become a little blurred for me between what I want to say no to, and what I actually need to say no to.

He just can’t bear any more. Snigger.

Okay, some things are are easy:

Do I want to go to a four-day electronic music festival, living in tents and using porta-potties? Oh, dear god, no.

Do I want to go to a hunting exhibition, where we will learn to butcher animals and turn their skin into hats? That’s a really big no.

Do I want to go on an all-day wine tasting tour, where we will share our innermost stories with complete (and tispy) strangers? D’you know, no.

Only one of these is an actual invitation. I’ll leave you to guess which one.

Other occasions I’m more ambivalent about, and these are where I run into problems. I love my friends – they’re wonderful people, and they’re quite indulgent of the fact that I’m not a very social little animal. But, obviously, they only know what I tell them, so sometimes I accept invitations I shouldn’t, and only find out later that they run my reserves of socialness dry. Honestly, I’m still learning this stuff. In my drinking days, I just used alcohol to power through social events, with predictably dire consequences. These days, I make sure I have my own transport, and leave when things get too much. It works, and if some days are harder than others, it’s usually just because my socialness supply was a little low going in.

No list of ‘no’ would be complete without Grumpy Cat

And then there’s the fact that some strange little quirk of mine assures me that if I say no even once, no one will like me anymore, and they’ll never invite me to anything ever again, largely because a main activity at all social events from then on will involve throwing darts at an image of my face.

Which is a), probably not the case, because who prints photos these days; and b), weirdly egocentric.

However, the other day I did have to say no to at least part of some plans, because I knew it would wear me out entirely, and I’d go from being quietly socially awkward to grumpily socially awkward, which is an unpleasant combo for everyone involved. I felt awful, and kept apologising for messing everything up (and checking to make sure no one was carrying darts), but in the end we came up with another idea. Which, as it turned out, was an even better plan than the original for everyone involved. And my friend said, “If you hadn’t said no we’d never have come up with this. Sometimes someone has to say no so new possibilities can be explored.”


Which was quite beautiful and profound, and went a long way to making me feel better.

It’s a lovely thought, that not all possibilities arise from ‘yes’. That ‘no’ has its own way of opening doors and changing paths. I mean, we all read the articles, right?

“Say ‘Yes!’ to Everything and Change Your Life!”

“Empower Yourself! Say Yes!”

“Embrace Positivity! Embrace ‘Yes’!”

Etc, etc. Always with exclamation marks and a picture of some improbably happy person, usually dressed in white and jumping on a beach somewhere. ‘No’, on the other hand, tends to conjure up images of either a tamtrumming toddler or a sulky teenager.

But, in my experience, saying yes isn’t a problem. It’s easy. It’s saying no that feels like stomping on someone’s ideas and feelings. Yet sometimes we have to, both for our own sake and for others. And maybe if we stopped being so scared of saying no, we’d find all the wonderful possibilities that arise from exploring other options, all the opportunities that can develop when we decide the current situation isn’t right for us.

Unless it’s a hunting exhibition. That’s a hard no, I’m afraid.

What about you? Are you a no-er or a yes-er?

Just say no to carving up trees. How would you like it?