Writerly Recklessness #15: Beyond the Book

Life after bookDo you believe in life after book?

There’s a terrible finality to finishing a book. Especially if it’s the final book in a series. Series are the worst. You invest all your time, energy, heart and soul, in the world, the characters and their relationships – even putting in jeopardy your real, actual relationships  – all for a narrative that spans somewhere between three to thirty-three books, and then it’s suddenly (after three to thirty-three years) OVER.

After the initial satisfaction of having reached the end and survived character deaths, love triangles, hidden identity revelations, and plot twist upon plot twist, there follows a sense of loss. What now? How can you say goodbye to those friends you made? Will you never roam through Middle-earth again? The grief for the fictional world is… err… very real? life beyond book6

It’s even worse if you’re the writer. I’ve just finished the third book in The Divinity Laws series – a story I’ve been living with for more than half my life. And, whilst I’m obviously very pleased at having finally nurtured three strange creatures into a full-grown trilogy, I’m also devastated. Heartbroken. What is the purpose of my life now? Who am I? Where am I? Seriously – is this the real world I’ve been dragged back in to? It looks vaguely familiar…

I’m going through an actual period of mourning, right now. There’s incessant crying and everything.

But it’s okay – because I believe in life after book.

Not for particularly deep, philosophical reasons – I just have issues letting go (and I’m fine with that, by the way).

So, I don’t let go.

As soon as I finished the first draft of the third Divinity Laws book, I immediately began crafting, in my mind, the opening scene of book four. I have no intention of writing a fourth book for this series (though you must never say never – there’s a song about it so it must be sensible advice). The Divinity Laws #4 will likely remain only a cosy fantasy in my head. And I’m happy with that; I just want to linger a little longer in the world I created: watching over my characters, mulling over the results of the narrative threads, and seeing what happens next. Which probably isn’t much. And that’s fine. I just want to feel like it’s all still out there, existing somewhere and not completely gone.

Life beyond book 3Does a book even really end?

I don’t think it does. Hopefully, all stories continue to live on in the heads of those who read them. That’s the wonderful thing about a story. Its life isn’t limited to the pages of a book. It lives on, beyond that last, final page, in the reader. I could go all Roland Barthes here and expound on the theory that, actually, a book exists only in its reader, and not the author… but, in my current grieving state, I’m not sure I have the energy to apply literary critical theory to the aftermath of book reading/writing.

If you fancy a bit of light academic reading, have a look at Barthes’ essay La mort de l’auteur: 1967 (The Death of the Author): http://bit.ly/DeathoftheAuthor (link opens a PDF file).

Either way – there IS life after book.

Just look at fanfiction. Definitive proof that I’m not the only person who has trouble letting go…

Question: In light of Barthes’ theory, is it possible to write fanfiction of your own work?


Writerly Recklessness #14: New Year, New… Book

newyearseveSo, this is generally how the last hours of December 31st go, in my experience:

7pm: eat leftover Christmas food

8pm: watch a cheesy film

10pm: have a depressing conversation about what we hope the New Year will bring, but secretly know it won’t

11pm: put on pyjamas and wonder why it’s so hard to stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve when you seem to manage it far too easily every other day – particularly when you’ve got an 8am meeting at work the next morning

11.45pm: peer through the window at the free fireworks show, provided by the neighbours, who seem to know how to do this celebration thing

11.55pm: turn on the T.V. to watch the countdown

00:00: attempt an enthusiastic ‘Happy New Year’ toast with a cup of tea

00:10am: flop into bed with relief

NewYearChickenI have to admit that I actually quite like this lame build-up to the New Year; it prevents a massive anti-climax when you wake up at 7am on January 1st and the world isn’t one bit shinier than it was before and you’re merely a day closer to going back to work. Besides, September has really always been my ‘new beginning’. My entire life, so far, has run on the academic calendar; by the time I get to January, I’m actually a third of the way through the year and desperately looking forward to Easter.

new-years-resolutionsI also don’t do the New Year’s Resolution thing. If I haven’t resolved to quit something, take it up or do it better already, then I am unlikely to do so in the darkest, coldest, most miserable month of the year. Starting anything on January 1st guarantees it will end, well… by January 31st. I prefer to make drastic lifestyle changes never in the spring – around April – when everything green and organic in the world is making a fresh start – it seems more natural and in tune with the rhythm of the world.

But this New Year feels a little different.

For a start, I actually spent New Year’s Eve with friends, so 2018 had a slightly more animated fanfare when it arrived.

Secondly, I don’t have to go back to work (I know – I hate me too).

Thirdly, I finished writing The Divinity Laws #3 just after Christmas. It still needs the living daylights edited out of it, of course, but the internal and external struggle to convert the creature into words, black and white, on paper, is over! And I feel pretty victorious: like-I’ve-wrestled-a-five-headed-dragon-into-submission victorious.

So – time to sit back, relax and focus on some gentle self-improvement then?

Umm… actually, I’d rather not.

Never mind ‘New Year, New Me’ – I’m going for ‘New Year, New Book’.


Yep. New genre, new world, new cast, new themes, new joy, new pain, new challenges  – a whole new beast to wrestle…

Huh… that all sounds rather familiar actually…

Although a blank page is perhaps the most daunting thing a writer ever has to face, I’m ‘pen at the ready’ for it! So bring it on 2018 – but not too firecely, please

Wishing you all a very happy, writerly-reckless New Year!




Writerly Recklessness #13: The Unfaithful Writer

existential crisis 1

I had an existential freak-out the other day. I didn’t wake up to find I had metamorphosed into a large bug, nor did I discover I am the result of an ambitious scientific experiment gone horribly wrong, nor did I take a potion that split my morally good self from my morally corrupt – nothing so dramatic or literary. Instead, I actually had a moment where I suspected, briefly, that I might have fallen out of love with writing.

And so absolute psychological, emotional and spiritual panic ensued. The desperate questions began. If I stopped being in love with writing:

  • Would I cease to exist?
  • Who would I be?
  • What would I be?

The answers were:

  • Yes.
  • No one – because you wouldn’t exist.
  • Nothing – see previous answers.

All literal, logical and Scientific objections aside – this was a genuine moment of personal, physical, mental, sociological, economical, ecological crises. Okay. Maybe not the last three – but pretty much every other ‘-al’ you can think of was tormenting me in some way or another. Why had writing become such a joyless, grinding chore? Why did I feel like I was wading through a wordy slough every time I picked up a pen and tried to write even one sentence? Why was it taking three months to write this third novel when I’d written the other two in only one? question-mark-background-vector

Why? Why? Why?

So many Whys!

And then I realised: it wasn’t the writing – it was me. I had become an unfaithful writer. My relationship with writing had hit the rocks because I was cheating on writing with frivolities and distractions – and I’d been trying to pretend that I wasn’t.

My relationship with writing had suffered what all normal relationships suffer at some point – a creeping transition from a summer honeymoon of ‘We’ll be together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong’ into a discontented winter of ‘He’s always leaving socks on the floor: I want a divorce’. And it was entirely my fault.

If my current WIP could speak, it would probably complain:

‘We used to have fun together and now all you do is slump on the sofa in your pyjamas at 8pm and stare, glassy-eyed at your twitter feed. And don’t pretend you haven’t been seeing Instagram behind my back. Or that you didn’t stay up late to listen to Craig David’s new single the moment it dropped at midnight. We could have been spending quality time together. You don’t think about me the way you used to. You don’t go to sleep dreaming about me and I’m not the first thing on your mind when you wake up. Instead you’re obsessing over getting a new cover for the first novel, and fretting over book promotion and marketing – and how few people have reviewed that bloody first book! I don’t want to be a bestseller. I don’t even want to be published. I just want to be written!’

broken heartAnd it would absolutely be justified in delivering such a ranty monologue. I have been a bad partner. I failed to properly protect my relationship with writing and allowed little writing-hating gremlins to sneak in and nibble away at my WIP Joy.

It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with any of Those Other Things I had been indulging in – they’re all important and necessary aspects of being a self-published writer (including listening to Craig David’s new song the second it became available – see previous blog post here: http://bit.ly/WriterlyR9IfMusicBe). But my dalliances with Those Other Things had crossed the line from purely professional to an unhealthy ‘if-I don’t-suck-up-to-these-people-I’ll-never-get-a-promotion’ flirting. As with gremlins, you should never feed Those Other Things too much– especially after midnight – as you’ll only end up creating monsters, which will wreak havoc with your muse and gnaw at your inspiration until you end up resenting the One True Love of your life.

The existential questioning was much needed. I can’t bear the thought of not being in love with writing. We’ve been together so long that even contemplating the loss of our relationship feels like staring into an identity-obliterating void. The truth is – I am a writer because I write. Not because I sell (or don’t) novels, or even because other people have read (or not) my books – but because I sit down with a pen and paper and, somehow, transfer what is in my head into black and white (largely illegible) prose. And I love doing it. I love writing. I always will – provided I don’t let Those Other Things interfere.

falling in loveSo, after buying some flowers and writing a poetically heartfelt apology, I made a vow to writing:

I shall write stories for their own sake and not for any other reason. I shall write because just having stories to write is the best gift I’ve ever been given. I will protect you from my own ambition, from the dismissive sneers of others and from all gremlins. I will be faithful and I will love, honour and cherish you for as long as I shall live.

Existential freak-out over.

You may now pick up a pen and write…







Writerly Recklessness #12: Shhh! It’s a Secret…

secrets 1I’ve recently realised that, as a writer, I’m probably the Best Secret Keeper in the World. Not to brag or anything, but I manage to keep the secrets of entire worlds to myself for years on end. I never name names, gossip graphic details, or tease twists. My lips remain sealed despite all the relationship developments, rash decisions, fateful consequences, danger, drama and ‘what the heck just happened here?’ moments. And it’s tough. It’s really, really hard not to tell just one little detail to an eager listener (Ha-Ha. Okay. Captive relative.).

secrets 3Of course, the secrets I’m referring to are ones about purely fictional worlds that I’ve made up. Hardly on the scale of telling everyone you’re an accountant when really your boss is Judi Dench, everyone at work calls you Double-O-Spy and you have a Licence to Kill. By the way – complete side-track here – but does anyone else think that James Bond is pretty terrible at keeping the fact he works for MI6 a secret? I don’t recall a film where anyone is ever like ‘Oh my word! All this time I thought you were a financial analyst, but you’re actually a spy??’

Anyway – it wouldn’t be end-of-the-world devastating if I gave away a character motive or key event to a trusted friend (Ha-ha. Again, I mean dutiful relative). I know some writers like to share and discuss their Works In Progress as they go – sharing drafts of each chapter, taking feedback, and using this process to improve their manuscript.

Not me.

This is partly because I’m a control freak – phew! there we go, the first step is admitting it…

Mostly though, it’s for another, quite practical and utterly writerly, reason. I don’t like to talk to anyone about a story I’m writing because I want the story to speak for itself. When I hand over the final book for its first test flight, I want it to flap wildly, launch itself out of the nest, and then fly or get eaten by an awaiting sparrow-hawk – completely on its own. I want there to be no preconceived ideas or expectations in my readers before they read the first page. Only that way will I know if any of it has worked as I anticipated. Only that way will I know if my writing has worked as I hoped.

You see, it’s not just about the plot, and the characters, and the ‘what the heck just happened here?’ moments – it’s actually, mostly, about the words and how well they’ve been crafted to evoke the intended response in the reader.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

secrets 6My mum loves telling me about the Channel 5, straight-to-television films she’s watched. We have a conversation that goes something like this:

Mum: I watched this lovely film the other day – you’d really love it – it made me cry.

Me: Oh, really? What was it about?

Mum: Well, it was about…

*half an hour later*

 Mum: … and in the end, instead of taking the flight to Paris, she returns home with her new fiancée and they spend Christmas together, and kiss under the mistletoe. You should try to watch it at some point… you’d really love it.

Me: *adds film to list of ‘things I can watch whilst doing the ironing because I already know the entire plot’*

It’s got to the point now that whenever my mum starts to say ‘Did you see Blue Planet II…?’ I shout ‘Don’t tell me! I’m going to catch it on iPlayer…’ and then jump straight in the car and drive home to watch it right away.

Anyway. My point is that when my mum tells me the minute detail of a film, I either think ‘Yeah, sounds cheesy and kinda predictable’ or ‘Ugh – stupid, irrational characters and they only put that bit in for the shock factor.’ But, when I sit down and watch the spoilered film, I find myself laughing, crying, rooting for the protagonist, hating the bad guy and hoping for a happy ending – even though I already know what it’s going to be. That’s because, beyond the basics of the plot, what really makes an audience engage with a film is the acting, script, pacing, score, visual effects etc.  I’m pretty sure that diehard Lord of the Rings fans went to see the films to experience their favourite world through a new medium – and not to find out whether Frodo would make it to Mount Doom or not.

movie-spoilers-home-editionYes, a film is probably more engaging if you don’t know the entire plot already – especially if you’re watching something like Fight Club, The Sixth Sense, Momento, Inception – or any Christopher Nolan movie really – it’s best not to have had the twist ruined for you beforehand. These are films that you experience once and then the second time round you only watch them for Cillian Murphy… err… or the other many, excellent actors… ahem.

It’s the same with a book. When my book is read by the first readerly guinea-pigs, I’m hoping that:

‘I have no idea what’s going to happen’ +mind-blowingly good writing’ = unadulterated, genuine, mind-blown response.

Basically – if you’ve already told someone that Character A is going to betray Character B, then how will you know if you’ve built up to that scene successfully enough to make it a ‘No! They didn’t! How could they!’ moment? How will you know if the scene itself is written with sufficient ‘I’m going to cry for ten years’ emotional impact, if the reader already knew it was coming?

Anyway – this isn’t Rocket Science, so what’s my point?

Well, honestly, my point is that writers have to be really, really good at keeping secrets.

And it’s hard.

And I think we should get some sort of recognition for the fact that it’s not easy to sit on an explosive plot detail for an extended period of time without creating some cracks in your sanity.

secrets 2Personally, I deal with the pressure and excitement of keeping my writerly secrets by sharing them – with imaginary people. I could tell the cat, but he wanders off halfway through and I don’t trust him anyway. Cats can’t keep secrets – just look at all the bags they manage to get out of.

I could talk to myself, but I’m trying to maintain the illusion that I’m not ‘one of those people’… yet. And there are some things I even keep from my own conciousness: in one of my WIP plans I have written ‘part where I cry for a month’ under one chapter heading. I guess I’ll just have to see what happens when I get to writing that part of the novel…

So, I talk to fictional people – or real people who I have never met and am 99% sure I never will (you should always leave a 1% chance – because, you know, life loves to smack you in the face with irony every now and then). When I was younger, I would hold imaginary interviews with Richard and Judy – if you’re not British and never watched daytime British television, about a hundred years ago, you won’t know who I’m talking about – so here’s a link: http://www.richardandjudy.co.uk/home

That was my ultimate dream – never mind winning the Nobel Prize for Literature – I just wanted to sit on a comfy sofa and chat to Richard and Judy about my books. Considering R&J have interviewed the likes of Madonna it wasn’t that unambitious of me.

Nowadays, my fictional interviews are conducted with an anonymous, faceless journalist from a literary publication, local newspaper, school newspaper or a complete stranger who foolishly asks ‘So, what do you do…?’ This interview technique is also my way of examining my own writing for flaws, character stereotypes, improbable details or massive plot holes. It can result in a fairly heated debate, followed by sulky re-writes, and not talking to myself for days on end – which is a good thing? Right?

Retro key and opened bookAs dumb and sad as it sounds (and is), at least this way I can share my secrets without actually spoiling my book for anyone who exists and might want/be forced to read it.

It’s what makes me probably the Best Secret Keeper in the World.

I’m pretty sure 007 could learn a thing or two from me…

Writerly Recklessness #11: Imaginative Procrastination

i-got-so-much-procrastinating-done-today-t-shirts-men-s-premium-t-shirtSince I’ve started writing this third novel, my writerly brain has turned into a rebellious teenager and insists on doing anything other than focus on the project in hand. I’m pretty sure that the Procrastination Fairy has teamed up with the Distraction Beast on this one, because it’s a problem I’ve never encountered before.

Obviously, I am easily distracted from things I’m supposed to do – as easily as a cat is diverted by a laser pointer or the sound of a Dreamies packet rattling. But, generally, these are the usual distractions faced by all normal humans with a task to complete: food, tea, social media, the cuteness of the cat, the universal daftness of cats on the internet, watching the way the wind waves a leaf on a tree branch outside the window. Normal stuff.

But this issue is different, because the road to finishing this novel seems to be paved by short stories.

I’ve never written short stories before. Not since I was in primary school and we had ‘Writing Hour’ – otherwise known as ‘Friday Afternoons’ or ‘The Hour the Teacher Needs to Mark a Stack of Books Before the Weekend’. I write novels, and I write them because within about a minute and a half of a story idea hatching, it’s become a creature that has three subplots, an oak-sized character-connection-tree, two sequel-siblings and needs at least 65,000 words to bring it into adulthood.

Until recently. Just a couple of months ago, some strange new egg appeared, hatched and popped out a fully formed story idea that only required 4000 words. It even came with a title.

short storyAfter my initial ‘Ugh! What is this thing? Let’s get it fledged as quickly as possible’ reaction, I started to feel a bit more optimistic. Great! I thought. That’s a first. Now I know that I can, in fact, write a short story. Fantastic.

Back to writing the novel.

But about three chapters later – CRACK! Another egg hatched and it’s also a short story. Again, about 4000 words and with a title already attached. Wow! Two in such a short space of time. That’s great… I think? I’m supposed to be writing the third book in a trilogy of novels, but at this rate, I’ll have an anthology of short stories to go with the finished first draft.

And I’m not complaining – as such. It’s like getting two for the price of one. It’s just that I feel bad every time I press pause on the novel to scribble down the short story – because I should be writing The Divinity Laws #3. And when I stop to write something else, I have to jump out of one world and in to another, before trying to jump back in to the first world again and pick up the plot, characters, tone, pace etc. where I left off. And that’s not easy.

And I wonder if my sudden imaginative surge into the short story form is just a new form of procrastination.

I console myself that at least my procrastinating is imaginative and writerly. But I have a sneaky suspicion that if I ever sit down to deliberately write a short story anthology, my brain will decide it’s a poet and start pouring forth verse. And if I was writing a poetry collection? I’d probably find myself obsessed with writing flash fiction. And if I focused on flash fiction…? Who knows? Greeting card messages? Puns? Some sort of twist on a shopping list?


Umm… proud parent?

I suppose as long as it’s writing…? And as long as it doesn’t push the novel completely out of the nest, in a cuckoo-ish takeover bid, I think I’m okay…

Anyway – with the second short story done, I am now back on the novel. It’s going quite well – but I get nervous twitchings. I keep looking over my shoulder or glancing at the shadows out of the corner of my eye because I’m waiting for the next CRACK! of another strange litte egg as it hatches the third, 4000 word tale.

Also – what does one do, once one’s written a short story (apart from stop using the gender-neutral, indefinite pronoun as if it’s still the 20th Century)? Submit to competitions? Magazines? Force them on unsuspecting relatives? Wait until you have enough for a ‘collection’?

I’ll have to look in to it – once the novel is finished...

Writerly Recklessness #10: The Secret Life of Maladaptive Daydreaming

DF-11070-Edit - Ben Stiller in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: I love this film. For obvious reasons.

LJ and I sometimes have conversations that go like this:

LJ: Tomorrow morning I’m going into town to look for shoes – if you want to come?



Me: Yeah

LJ: I’m going to leave about ten. And then I thought it might be nice to have coffee and cake. There’s a new café that’s opened on the high street. They do coffee with a free cookie. Supposed to be really nice. But only if I find shoes – or I’ll have nothing to go with my work outfits…  listening



Me: Mmmm…

LJ: Are you listening to me?

Me: What’s that?

LJ: Is ten tomorrow ok?

Me: What’s ten tomorrow?

LJ: Going to town.

Me: Oh! Are you going to town tomorrow? What for?

LJ: To buy shoes!

Me: Just asking..!

LJ: *lunges for my throat*

Me: *spluttering* What…?

Apparently, people deliver entire monologues without me hearing a word they’re saying. I have also been known to ask someone if they want a cup of tea, pop out to the kitchen and then return a minute later to ask the question again because I didn’t really listen to the answer the first time round. And I never remember the names of people I’ve just met.

This isn’t because I have a hearing problem – my ears work perfectly well. But I do have a ‘listening’ problem. Sometimes I don’t hear what people are saying to me because I’m actually in the middle of doing something else (writing, reading, watching a film). In those instances I only have one attention mode: Completely Absorbed. That means all other functions are non-operational until the occupying task is complete.

But sometimes I don’t hear what people are saying to me because I’m actually dreaming something else. This is the mode I enter when I’m doing something that doesn’t require a concerted effort of the brain to complete: cooking, gardening, painting, household chores, walking around town, group meetings or being present at social events consisting of more than four people. There are certain practical tasks I’m capable of physically completing without having to be 100% present mentally. I’m pretty sure this is true of all people. We all daydream.

But some of us daydream a little more than others.

When I started learning to drive, my dad’s anxious advice to me was: ‘Remember – you’re driving. Just focus on driving and nothing else’. None of my other siblings were given this rather obvious instruction. Just me. Because, basically, whilst everyone else was concerned about their teenagers consuming vast amounts of alcohol before they got behind the wheel of a vehicle, my parents were more worried about me drifting into some fantasy land at the traffic lights. ‘Don’t Daydream and Drive’ was a genuine campaign in my house.

So, naturally, I was curious when LJ sent me this link ‘The Daydream that Never Stops’: http://bbc.in/2y49Mtf about maladaptive daydreaming. As well as being a fascinating article, it’s also a brilliant piece of multimedia storytelling.

Anyway. Daydreaming. When does it become maladaptive? daydreaming 3

Professor of Clinical Psychology, Eli Somer, who coined the phrase ‘maladaptive daydreaming’ defined it as ‘extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.’ Those who suffer with the syndrome are not just your average daydreamers; their daydreaming inhibits their ability to function in everyday life – not because they can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality – but because they prefer their fantasy world to the real one. For many, this causes them great distress. The fantasy world itself (which tends to be incredibly complex and detailed) isn’t necessarily distressing, but the inability to ‘switch it off’ is. And it is this which causes those with MD to feel stressed and isolated.

At the moment, MD isn’t officially recognised as a mental disorder – though there is research being done on it: what causes it; how far is it pathological; can it be cured; does it need to be cured or simply managed; is it actually a symptom of another disorder; what are the key differences between ‘normal’ daydreaming and maladaptive daydreaming? Much of the developing understanding of MD actually comes from peer support groups on the internet – such as The Wild Minds Network.

This website offers a list of symptoms common to maladaptive daydreamers. You might have MD if:

  • You daydream more often than you think is normal.
  • You’ve built up a character(s) that’s an idealized version of yourself
  • You feel more empowered in your daydreams.
  • You’re starting to enjoy daydreaming better than the real world.
  • Daydreaming is starting to interfere with your day-to-day activities.
  • You might enact some movement, like pacing or moving your hands, (though not everyone does this).
  • Some people make facial expressions, talk, and/or act out their daydreams.

I’d like to clarify now that I learnt to drive just fine. Okay – I learnt to drive just fine eventually. My struggles in learning to drive were largely to do with my lack of hand-eye coordination; inability to judge speed, distance and time; and total confusion over how a car actually worked. Daydreaming had nothing to do with it, because I do have the ability to close the door on the daydreams for a while in order to engage with and enjoy real life. I am not a maladaptive daydreamer.

I’m a writer. Daydreaming 1

Or – more accurately, a story-teller. Most stories I only tell to myself, some of them make it on to a page, and even fewer of those become completed works that I’m happy to share with others. But none of these cause me distress or prevent me from living a relatively normal life – or at least one that I’m mostly happy with. I do identify with quite a few ‘symptoms’ on the list – I admit I have caught myself making faces or mouthing dialogue from a fantasy scene whilst washing the dishes… and only sometimes is this related to a plot I’m intending to write.

But I also know how to be present in the moment of the real life I am living: when I’m at a family meal, or tramping through the countryside, or at a music concert, or giving LJ advice on shoes, or having a heart-to-heart over coffee and a free cookie. Yes, background daydreaming still occurs in some of those moments – but it stays in the background with a ‘re-visit later’ post-it note on it. At some point I know I’ll be cleaning the bathroom, doing the dishes, or sipping a drink in a corner at a party (ha-ha – only joking – I don’t get invited to parties) and free to daydream.

Most importantly I know that, at some point, all my daydreaming will come together to take on a form and purpose – to go through a process of alchemy and transform from the plotting of the mind in to words on a page. Because, at some point, I will absolutely settle myself in a quiet place, rip off the ‘re-visit later’ post-its and write.

Daydreams 2

Who knows – perhaps writing is what keeps my daydreaming from becoming maladaptive? It’s important to note that most maladaptive daydreamers don’t actually want to lose their daydreaming or their fantasy world – they just want to manage how much of their time and attention is consumed by it so they can enjoy real life just as much.

A world without daydreaming? Sounds as horrifying as a world without music. Is that yet another dystopian plot idea that’s just hatched? Just kidding… but not really

This is also a very informative article on maladaptive daydreaming: http://theatln.tc/2zJrpxq

Writerly Recklessness #9: ‘If music be the food of… INSPIRATION, then playLIST on…!

mocha-dad-shakespeare-blog-cartoon1Worst. Shakespeare. Pun. Ever.

I’ve been thinking a lot about music.

In fact, I currently feel like some sort of music addict:

  • Working? Spotify.
  • Driving? Album – currently Rationale’s eponymous debut, on its 8th? 9th? Okay – probably 12th round.
  • Cooking/Washing up? Radio.
  • Ironing? Music channel.
  • Lying in bed after lights out? MP3.
  • In the bath? Spotify again.
  • Food shop? Whatever’s playing on the supermarket sound system.
  • Out and about in public? Humming/Singing loudly (and unrecognisably) the tune that last got stuck in my head.

It’s a good thing music is a legal drug, or I’d be selling my left kidney or pimping out the cat (who’s been insufferably fat and fluffy today) for poggles, just to hit the next score off some indie-alternative-rock-track dealer. A world where music is banned? *shudder* Just had an idea for another dystopian story though… hands off – it’s mine!

Music is like a drug though – it has an actual physical effect on your brain for a start. That’s not me exaggerating – that’s SCIENCE. Tons of research has been done on how music can affect your mood, concentration, productivity, intelligence and memory. Recent studies show that music can increase brain connectivity, and ‘musical intonation therapy’ is a treatment that has been successful in restoring speech functions in patients who have suffered some sort of trauma to the brain.


Music can also increase certain chemicals in the brain, such as dopamine (makes you happy*) and oxytocin (makes you sociable*) – which, particularly in a communal setting, can lead to a type of heightened emotional, almost spiritual experience. If you’ve ever been to a live music concert or festival, you know what I mean. And there is a reason for an entire genre of music being called ‘Trance’…

It’s a fascinating topic, which plenty of experts have explored, tested, theorised and written lengthy theses on. Being naturally self-absorbed though, I’ve mostly been thinking about the influence of music on me as a writer.

I think Shakespeare recognised something significant about music when he wrote the opening lines of Twelfth Night:

‘If music be the food of love, play on….

… That strain again, it had a dying fall.

Oh, it came o’er my ear like the sweet sound,

That breathes upon a bank of violets,

Stealing and giving odour.’

It’s fairly obvious, from his monologue, that Orsino is in love with feeling in love – and that music is ‘feeding’ this elevated emotion. Shakespeare highlights the power music has to evoke in us a particular mood or feeling. Centuries later, the philosopher Susanne Langer echoed this idea when she wrote that music has the ability to create in us ‘emotions and moods we have not felt, passions we did not know before.’ 3139f44f7ba6db20dc8ee7f9b01f02dd

Personally, this is what music does for me, as a writer: it brings a particular tone, mood or emotion to what I am writing. Or it brings the story itself. I’m especially drawn to music that has an epic, narrative quality to it, and, sometimes, a particular piece will create a new unexpected aspect to a current plot or create its own independent story.

Susanne Langer also stated, in her book Philosophy in a New Key: A Study in the Symbolism of Reason, Rite, and Art, that:

‘The imagination that responds to music is personal and associative and logical, tinged with affect, tinged with bodily rhythm, tinged with dream, but concerned with a wealth of formulations for its wealth of wordless knowledge, its whole knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling.’

531ec22ef33b52a635127b926a1f735d.jpgEssentially – music (and art in general) is a way of expressing human experience and feeling that cannot be expressed by ‘discursive symbols’ (science and language). And it’s odd, because, as a writer, I’m using the non-discursive symbol of music to facilitate my efforts to express that ‘wordless knowledge’ Langer mentions  – in the form of the ‘discursive symbol’ of the written word. Isn’t this what all fiction writers are trying to achieve? An expression of the ‘knowledge of emotional and organic experience, of vital impulse, balance, conflict, the ways of living and dying and feeling’ – in words, black and white, on a page? We want our work to inspire in the same way music does – to make the reader feel something they perhaps haven’t felt before.

This is where I paused to google the effect that reading fiction has on the brain. Findings? imagination_by_akiraalion-dawk529

  • Reading fiction improves connectivity in the brain.
  • Reading fiction enhances both Embodied Cognition (putting yourself in the protagonists shoes to the extent that motor and perceptual systems in the body are stimulated*) and Theory of Mind (the ability to understand that other people’s minds exist as distinct and different from our own – allowing the development of empathy and compassion*).




We’re alike, right? We do the same thing! That’s a logical conclusion… isn’t it?

Either way, I have a serious writerly addiction to music. I don’t necessarily absolutely need music to write – I would survive without it – but I want it when I write: I want to put on my headphones, plug myself in to a playlist, and immerse myself entirely in the soundtrack of my WIP (yes, I have a playlist** for each novel I write – did I mention I’m addicted to music?).

As music does seem to be the food of inspiration, I will continue to playlist on… and on… and on – probably until that music-less dystopian future arrives. Or I at least write that particular novel. What would a playlist for that sound like? Would the irony be too much..? e22b7e37b4ce39c016d88762a95c4f4e--music-life-my-music


*scientific definitions

**if you’re interested, this is the playlist for The Divinity Laws #1: http://bit.ly/TDL1PLYLIST




Writerly Recklessness #8: Rejection, Rejection Everywhere!


Not a pleasant word.

Just look at the synonyms: denial, refusal, exclusion, repudiation, dismissal, rebuff.

And then in more colloquial terms: turndown, cold shoulder, brush off, kick in the teeth, slap in the face, thumbs down, nothing doing.

Ah, yes. Kick in the teeth. That pretty much sums it up.

And then look at the official definition (Oxford Dictionary)

  1. The dismissing or refusing of a proposal, idea, etc.

Not so bad. Not so personal.

But then, this:

  1. The action of spurning a person’s affections.

Ouch. Much worse. About as personal as it gets.

I would say that writerly rejection falls somewhere between those two camps – the dismissing of an idea, yes – but the dismissing of MY idea – and the suggestion that someone else’s idea is better than mine and therefore, they are better at having ideas than I am. I am not a good ideas person. I am not a good person. Even worse, I am a bad writer. And WHY IS EVERYONE REJECTING ME?

*Ahem*…. Just me?

Either way, the dictionary defines it as an act – but it doesn’t take much to turn it into a rather over-whelming and very, VERY personal feeling.

ValentineReject_005-500wNo wonder why we fear it so much. We fear it in our jobs, our relationships, our social status, and even on the internet (ever been ‘unfriended’ or ‘unfollowed’?). No wonder we try to avoid it – if we can.

And here is the problem with those who work – or, more precisely, are trying to have some small glimmer of success – in the creative industries: rejection is inevitable. It’s going to happen. For the luckiest ones, it will happen for a short while and then suddenly there will be that wonderful antonym of our soul’s worse fear: acceptance! A foot in the door, an opportunity to prove your talent. That’s all any of us really want, isn’t it?

For the majority, however, it will be one soul-crushing rebuff, refusal, and repudiation after another. In theory, it’s the idea, proposal or work that is being rejected, not the person. Employers, for example, haven’t even met you before they decide whether to give you an interview or not. Their decision is mostly influenced by the appeal of the other candidates – perhaps someone happened to have experience in an area that you didn’t. Or (apologies for the cynicism) perhaps the other person was just that bit cheaper. It’s not you they are rejecting – just your C.V.

It’s not personal.

Or is it?

Because after a while, it starts to feel like it is.

‘WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME?’ you cry.

And if you’re me, you literally cry – ugly, snotty-face-cry – into a pillow or sharing-size packet of crisps.

Maintaining a positive, objective perspective on rejection is hard. It’s hard for anyone, any time, in any circumstance. Rejected-5-Reasons-Why-Your-Small-Business-Wont-Get-Financed

But it feels even worse if you’re a writer, musician, actor, dancer etc. I can’t imagine the level of rejection experienced by anyone who has to actually physically leave the house in order to be rejected. You must have to develop a very thick skin and highly elevated self-esteem to get over the rejections of numerous auditions. At least as a writer you get rejected in the safety of your own home and via an electronic device or letter (do people still do letters now?). No matter how hard you try to keep hold of that rational, objective perspective, it does feel that your affections are being spurned rather than simply the premise of your book. Especially if you are particularly fond of your work and have poured all of your affections into its creation…

There is a plus side though.

Really there is.

I’m not being sarcastic.

Here are the positives:

1.  If you’re going to get rejected at all, you can’t be rejected in a nicer way than by a literary agent.

They’re lovely.

rejection-690x175I open most email responses from literary agents with one eye shut and skim quickly for the line beginning ‘Unfortunately…’. But once I’ve abruptly closed the email, digested the news, had five chocolate biscuits and then re-opened the response, I generally find a rather sweet, kind message – sincerely apologetic and encouraging.

For example:

‘Thank you for giving the [NAME OF AGENCY] a chance to consider your work. And for your patience in waiting for a reply. Unfortunately [TITLE OF WORK] is not right for us. The result is that we have to be incredibly selective, so please do not be too disheartened. Another agent may well feel differently.  We wish you the very best of luck in the future.’


Thank you for sending us your work, which we have read with interest.  Although we did enjoy looking at your material, in the end we felt it wasn’t quite right for [NAME OF AGENCY]. We have to feel absolutely passionate about a new project before taking it on and we didn’t feel strongly enough in this case.  Please do not be discouraged by our response and we hope you find an agent with the right amount of enthusiasm for your work. We’d also like to thank you for thinking of [NAME OF AGENCY].

Or this:

‘Thank you for sending us your work and for your patience in waiting to hear from us, we really appreciate this. We have read this submission with great interest, but we are really sorry to say that we are not able to offer you representation for this work. We very much enjoyed your writing style and the characters that you created, but unfortunately we didn’t fall in love with the story in the way that we would need to. As we are receiving a very large number of submissions at the moment, we have to be extremely selective with the work that we choose to represent. We apologise for the disappointing response and as this is such a subjective industry we would strongly recommend that you send your work to as many other agencies as possible. We wish you every success with your writing.’

Yes, I still feel crap for about an hour afterwards (this is progress – used to be days – got it down to about an hour of self-pitying – aiming for ten minutes eventually), but I also feel someone has shown me some compassion and empathy. They know what it is to be rejected and have tried to soften the blow a little. I actually well-up a little looking back on them – with a genuine feeling of gratitude and fondness that someone didn’t just stamp on my heart, laugh in my face and tell me ‘never to darken their inbox with such a load of trite ever again’. Not that a professional would say such a thing these days, I’m sure…?



Anyway – the general tone of these emails restores my faith in humanity a little. And my faith in myself.  And my book. Which is important, because you’ve got to have faith in your book to get back up on the computer, click the ‘compose new message’ button and try again. And again. And again. And again…

So, thank you, literary agents everywhere, for your rejections. They are the nicest I could ever hope to receive. Honestly.

4aa5831adf2a5f5e38ad57adeb605e5d--paperback-writer-writer-quotes2.  Every rejection is evidence that you tried.

I’m pretty sure there’s only one feeling that is worse than rejection – and that’s regret. And I have a whole catalogue of rejection that I will NEVER regret.

3.  Every rejection is one rejection closer to an acceptance.

Sending out submissions is a bit like setting your book up on lots of dates. It will certainly never fnd THE ONE sitting at home feeling sorry for itself. One day, someone, somewhere, will love your book as much as you do. Probably.

Who knows..? Only those who DON’T GIVE UP.


Writerly Recklessness #7: Edit me this, edit me that…

Things I learned learnt from my editor:

  1. It’s impossible to edit your own work thoroughly. Even if you are used to editing other people’s work, writers have a MASSIVE blind spot when it comes to their own work.
  2. The English Language has an awful lot of words that must be hyphenated.
  3. American: learned, burned, leaned. British: learnt, burnt, leant. Sorted. Directors-Chair-616x313
  4. I have an inner Obsessive Compulsive Director who insists matter-of-factly on carefully and wryly telling characters exactly how they should constantly act and dryly speak – or shrug. Mostly shrug.
  5. There is no synonym for the verb ‘shrug’ in the English language. WHY?! I think this needs rectifying. Any ideas? I’m going to suggest ‘shraise’. ‘He shraised his shoulders’.    Gramatica-para-tontos
  6. Inside of me, lives a little Yoda, who sometimes likes, with my phrasing, to screw around.
  7. Who knows what other repressed personalities are waiting for their time in the writerly limelight?
  8. Interesting debates can arise from editorial notes: What defines a hiss? How similar is dialogue to tennis? Why is there a hair colour defined as ‘mousy-brown’ when mice come in a range of colours? Are Americanisms permitted in a British text just because the author ‘really, really likes them’?
  9. I secretly enjoy treading the thin line between respecting the rules of grammar and maniacally shouting ‘sod the rules!’ as I throw them out of the window.
  10. I really, really, really have an irrational aversion to exclamation marks!!! editor
  11. Editors are tough. But fair. Generally in equal measure.
  12. Writers are stubborn. And reckless. Recklessly stubborn. But only about 80% of the time – on a good day…
  13. I am an awesome writer. I have no justification for this statement. I just got immense satisfaction from writing it.
  14. A good editor is invaluable to a writer, and should be rewarded with supplies of post-it notes, rainbows of coloured pens and bags of gratitude.

But until I get round to putting those in the post… mine’s getting a silly cartoon instead:




Writerly Recklessness #7: Battling the Beast

Rey-with-Lightsaber-627Every day, I do battle with the same monster.

Some days, if I’m feeling strong in the forces of discipline and determination, I defeat it pretty easily.

On others days, I’ve lost before I’ve even got out of bed: the beast already has me in a headlock and I completely fail to wrestle my way out of it. On those nights, as I go to bed way past my bedtime, I vow to be victorious in the morning. I basically make the same vow every night.

This persistent, ugly, sniggering creature has one name but many faces. It’s called DISTRACTION and it’s a sneaky, shapeshifting menace that doesn’t play fair.

It comes in many forms. Here are a few: mass-distraction-rrv33n

  • The Internet: like, EVERYTHING out there in cyberspace.
  • Mobile phone: Way too much texting/Whatsapping about: being hungry, what the cat just did, what’s new on Netflix, random song lyrics, pictures of the cat sleeping, the lack of chocolate in the house, a new song on the radio, questions about whether there’s anything edible in the house at all, and what has the cat brought in this time?  days4
  • Food: does this need an explanation?
  • Housework: As I sit down to write, little niggling thoughts poke at my brain – such as: ‘Just give the place a quick hoover’; ‘You only have to tidy that one overflowing drawer in the kitchen’; ‘Ten minutes to file paperwork’. All of these are lies. There is no way my perfectionism is going to let me not spring-clean the entire place from top to bottom.
  • Cats: both real and on Youtube. Cat doing a somersault, cats playing patty-cake, cats in boxes, real cat freaking himself out over nothing…   561-author-writing-a-book
  • Memes/ecards/cartoons: Mostly about felines. Sometimes about writing.
  • Things other people send or give you: emails, articles, books, leaflets, ‘read this’ links, ‘watch this’ videos, ‘listen to this’ podcasts, text messages checking you’re still alive…
  • Social life: Just kidding. I don’t have one of those.
  • Binges: A side-effect of my writerly single-mindedness (honestly, it’s really not a major personality flaw!). A tendency to binge on things that trigger my interest/curiosity/enthusiasm/nerdism. This might be films, television series, music, authors, art, artistes, history, psychology, social studies etc. The result of this trigger is spending an excessive amount of time (anything from a day to a month) ‘binging’ on that particular topic.
  • Books: That seductive mountain of unread books that beg for just a little attention – ‘Just one chapter,” they whisper. “Come and read us… it’s all right – you can say it’s part of your ‘creative process’. We won’t tell anyone…”
  • Research: Amazing how doing a quick search for ‘parts of a skateboard’ can find one reading, several hours later, a Wikipedia page on the parietal lobe.
  • ALL the stories: Trying to write a novel is like being a parent to a hundred children and having to neglect ninety-nine to get just one through to adulthood. Generally, my offspring are pretty well-behaved, but you always get a few who just won’t sit down and shut up.


That’s just a small sample of the dastardly forms that the DISTRACTION beast takes. I can be very good at recognising a DISRACTION ploy and clamping down on it hard and fast. However, just recently, the Look!-Over-There! master-mind caught me at a particularly vulnerable moment and completely derailed me from writing TDL#3. It was a two-pronged attack, which followed up a binge with a new story idea.

Low, DISTRACTION monster. Really low – even for you.

Being caught utterly off guard, I woke with a Short Story Idea in my head. Not one that was just content germinating quietly in the background, but one that jumped to the front of the queue and waved a hand vigorously in my face. So low was my resistance that I had a pathetic ten second struggle:


ME: I’m busy.

SSI: Go on. You know I’m a good one.

ME: Maybe later.

SSI: I’m short. It won’t take long.

ME: I shouldn’t.

SSI: Instant gratification.

ME: *opens new word document*

So. I wrote it. I never write short stories. But now I have a smugly, self-satisfied one and I don’t know what to do with it.

Trying to figure out where to put this new fidgety fledging is a whole new dilemma I’ve not had before. giphy.gif

Well played DISTRACTION beast.

Well played.