An FP Inspired Short: ‘Links’

This has to be the quickest story I’ve ever written and the least thought about. Last week’s piece of Flash Fiction was so well received (thank you all for your positive responses, by the way) that I thought I’d have another go. I didn’t know when I would get round to it, but then, last night I sat down in front of a blank word document and typed the first line. However, although this could have been a flash piece, I decided I wanted more from it, once I got going, and so, instead, we have a short story. In at around 1800 words, this is an achievement for me. This short is also quite different to my other few in that it has absolutely no basis on real events from my life, at all! So in a way, I consider this to be quite special in my portfolio up to now. It is also special to me because it’s my first stab (pun intended) at one of my favourite genres; detective/mystery fiction. Furthermore this one comes directly from a Friday Phrase micro-fiction piece which I wrote at the start of June under the “Grave Digging” optional theme. (You can find the piece at the end.) So without further ado, may I present….

 Links

The summer sky, swathed in a metallic grey sheet, threatened more rain than the open grave containing the coffin would be able to cope with, should the heavens open.

The vicar spoke rapidly. The warm, oppressive air did nothing to counteract the chill of Detective Chief Inspector Stone Rawlings’ steely, cold eyes boring into him, hurrying the ritual along.

For as much as it has pleased Almighty God to take out of this world the soul of Chad we therefore commit his body to the ground. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, looking for that blessed hope when the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.” The vicar threw a pitiful handful of dirt onto the coffin and bowed his head.

Stone tapped his fingers impatiently inside the pockets of his rain mac and cast a glance at  the grieving family as they each stepped forward and tossed a handful of soil over the mahogany casket.

Whichever one of them was guilty of Chad’s death was, at the moment, of minor relevance to him. Stone was a good enough detective to know he’d work that one out eventually. No, he needed to focus on other things first.

Great globules of rain plopped to the ground. Stone turned up his collar and stalked away from the grave.

No one saw the tears well up in his eyes.

*

Stone was grateful for the impromptu invitation from Sara to the house for the wake. Granted, an unusual act from a grieving widow, but a welcome one nevertheless. He had needed an excuse to have access to the home – access to Chad’s personal effects, without a warrant and the prying eyes of other officers. It was a stroke of luck Sara had thought it only proper to invite the officer in charge of her husband’s murder case to the wake, though he had hoped she would. In fact he had been counting on it.

After making awkward small talk with numerous distant relatives, Stone left the family to their plates of cold, beige buffet food. He slipped off to the master bedroom on the second floor in search of his secret. He knew for certain Chad had kept it. Now all he had to do was work out where.

A large, dark mahogany wardrobe dominated the room. Like so much else in the house, it was vintage and ornately carved with elaborate embossed designs. Stone thought it couldn’t have summed up Chad’s artisan tastes more perfectly, so at odds with Stone’s own preference for the minimal. He smiled to himself and traced his fingers over the embellishments. This was Chad. The person those people spoke of downstairs held no resemblance to the dead man. Stone opened the heavy doors to the robe.

As good a place to start as any.

Sifting through the layers of crisply pressed shirts, Stone couldn’t help but bury his face in them. He drank in the scent of the dead man and sighed.

Focus. Find the chain. I must find the chain.

In a central console, three drawers dropped down under the shirts. Stone slid the first one open. Inside he found a  collection of silk and lace women’s underwear, designed to attract and flatter. Not undergarments to wear. This stuff, unsurprisingly to Stone, seemed as though it had never seen the light of day. Some pieces retained their shop tags. Stone didn’t touch them. He wouldn’t find what he was looking for in there.

He moved to the second drawer but this clearly belonged to Sara too. Diaries decorated with images of butterflies and flowers stacked neatly in two rows. He’d come back to these in the investigation which would follow the funeral. The investigation where he would have to delve into every crevice of the dead man’s life in order to deduce who had killed Chad.

But not now. Now he needed to ensure he found the one thing which linked him to Chad. He had to find it before anyone else did; to break the link.

On opening the final drawer he knew instinctively he’d find what he was looking for. Chad’s unmistakable organisation was evident. Neat rows of cuff-links, each pair still in their individual boxes, were arranged side by side. A stack of linen handkerchiefs lay in the far left hand corner of the drawer. Stone lifted them up and found hidden underneath a small silver key.

Now to find the box. Stone pushed his hand further to the back of the drawer on the right hand side and groped around. He placed his large hand on two lacquered wooden boxes and felt for a keyhole. On the left hand box he found one and he extracted it from the drawer, taking care to disturb nothing else. His hand shook as he inserted the key. It fitted, and he breathed in.

“Looking for this?” A smooth voice broke the silent tension. Stone dropped the box and his jaw almost simultaneously. Sara stood, her black clothed frame, silhouetted against the light from the doorway. She held up a gold St Christopher on a chain.

Wherever you go I will follow; all my love and protection forever, Stone.” She read the engraving on the back of the charm as she dangled it at arm’s length between herself and the detective. “Touching sentiment. Though sadly your little trinket didn’t protect him, did it?”

“You.” Stone’s voice cracked like the thunder outside. “You did it, didn’t you?” Sudden realisation hit him. He rose to his feet, shaking. Sara might have the upper hand right now, but he could to at least try and intimidate her with his height.

“Prove it,” she said. Her blue eyes fixed on Stone as she wound the chain back in and clutched it tightly in her fist. “I knew. I’ve known about you for a long time. What you two did. How Chad used the fencing club as his alibi. You disgusted me. Both of you.”

“So he deserved to die?” Stone spoke almost in a whisper.

“Only in death could he become pure again, only in death could he be restored in my mind to the man he was. You corrupted him. He needed freeing. Only in death can we ‘look for that blessed hope when the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first.’ He was dead in Christ, thanks to you. Now, thanks to me he is alive once more.”

“You’re mad!” Stone looked at her incredulously.  “You will pay for this,” he added, a menace now creeping into his tone.

“Oh I don’t think I will,” Sara said sardonically. “Not when the inspector in charge of the case could very well come to light as a suspect. If this were found.” She unclenched her fist to reveal the gold chain once more. “Such a small thing,” she said nodding towards the object.  “It gives us both a motive yet without it in your possession I am free whilst you are lost.”

Stone made a sudden desperate lunge at Sara to try and retrieve the offending item, but she pulled back away from him and hastily pushed it down her front into the cup of her bra.

“Blackmail is a serious offence Mrs Cummings,” he said shrinking back towards the wardrobe, defeated.

“So is adultery and sodomy.” Sara said, unflinching. “In the eyes of God.”

“That’s not the same thing.”

“We just work under different principles Detective Rawlings. My laws are made by God, and yours are made by people.”

“And your God’s law on murder is the same as the law of the land. ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ Or perhaps you had conveniently forgotten that one.”

Sara didn’t so much as blink. “Sometimes the Lord’s will moves in mysterious ways. Sometimes laws have to be broken for the greater good. Chad has been saved. By the grace of God, he now has a chance of eternal life.”

Stone knew there was no arguing logic with this maniac. She’d killed her husband, seemingly on religious principal.

“Please,” Stone said, reaching his hand out towards her. “That chain is all I have left of us.”

“Ha! You and I both know that isn’t why you want it,” Sara said. She turned and moved towards the open window of the Juliet balcony. “You want it so that once your investigation begins there is nothing to link you to Chad. Nothing which could make you a suspect. This chain…” she patted her blouse, “makes you a suspect.”

For the first time in his professional life, Stone knew he was beaten. He would not be able to solve the case now. If he pulled Sara in for questioning she could reveal everything she knew about his relationship with Chad and had the proof to back it up. He’d not only be dismissed from the case but become a suspect himself. The situation seemed hopeless. He’d lost the only man he had ever loved and now his future reputation and career lay in the hands of this woman.

Sara stood gazing out across the countryside as the rain lashed down. A flash of lightning forked across the horizon brightening the pewter skies momentarily. There was always something mystical and magical about a summer thunderstorm. Yes, she thought as a clap of thunder crackled through the air. “The Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God.” She smiled, lost in her own triumphant thoughts.

She didn’t hear Stone’s footsteps softly pad across the plush carpet behind her. She had no time to cry out as he cupped his large left hand over her mouth and shoved his right down her front to retrieve the gold St Christopher. “Wherever you go, I will follow,” he hissed into her ear, “Even if it’s into hell.”

With the next crash of thunder, and one almighty shove, he sent Sara tumbling over the balcony railings, her screams drowned  in the chaos of nature’s noise. Stone dared not linger to look as her skinny frame sailed three storeys down to the gravel path at the back of the house. Sara landed with a thud, her neck snapping and spine cracking on impact.

Suicide will be easily plausible, Stone told himself. Grieving widow? Guilty widow? Either way, it was the only way.

Maybe Sara had been right. Maybe laws sometimes needed to be broken. He put the St. Christopher in his pocket, wiped all surfaces of his fingerprints with Chad’s handkerchief and re-joined the grieving relatives of his dead lover.

 

As I said at the start of the post, here’s the FP which inspired the story:

 Detective Stone fell grave. Digging into every crevice of the dead man’s life was wrong. Yet he knew he must destroy every link between them.

 

 

 

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My First Flash.

Fiction people! Flash fiction. Drag those minds out of the gutter please. ;)

So, true to my word…okay so I’m a few blog posts late with this, but I did say I was going to try more to focus on the actual subject of writing on the blog and keep my word count down to under 2000. (So spectacularly epic fails all round there.)

Well, well, well, you lucky people. Guess what?

This week, not only am I going to actually provide you with some writing with this piece of flash fiction, (my first ever proper piece, so please be honestly brutal with your thoughts, as I need to learn) but, as such, it’s going to come in at way under 2000 words! Yay! The story itself comes in at 295, but of course I’m just going to ramble on up here for a while otherwise people might think they’ve come to the wrong blog .

Some time ago I blogged about a day out with my little one, whereupon I’d stumbled on a real life story prompt. You can read about that here if you missed it.

A few ideas for short stories bubbled away but nothing concrete. Then last Friday I was doing my usual, that is playing Friday Phrases on Twitter, when an idea came to me. I tweeted my micro-fiction FP and then decided I’d like to try and turn it into a piece of slightly longer flash fiction. Now I’ve never done flash fiction, other than playing FP which is mega short micro-fiction but this idea seemed perfect for a small piece of flash.

So I wrote it. Gave it to some good people to look at. Turned 400 odd words into 300 then 585 and then back down to the final 295 you see here. Flash Fiction is definitely, definitely a challenge. Especially for someone as verbose as me. Anyway see what you think. Gulp.

Abandoned

The canopy of early autumn leaves in the woods offers little shelter from the torrential downpour. Yet there is no other place to go.

Tara turns over the tiny pair of red shoes in her shaking hands. All she has left of the son she was forced to give away. She’s kept them, even after all these years.

Reaching for the bottle lying next to her, knowing there’s nothing left of that either, she drains the final non-existent dregs of gin. The burning at the back of her throat replaced by a lump of guilt and bitter tears.

She fumbles at the latch of a small wooden box, the first thing she ever had to call her own; now the last.

She prises out its contents.

The needle of the brass-encased compass wobbles and comes to rest, pointing west.

Long forgotten words from another time whisper through the leaves.

“You have no choice. A better place, a more hopeful future, lies out there. Somewhere.”

Sleep comes.

One shoe falls from her grasp.

*

Today a wash of pale blue glances between the trees’ naked spindly fingers. Autumn’s colour long since drained. Only bleached-out hues of brown and grey remain.

A biting wind drives in from the north, stinging Connor’s skin despite the thick layers.

Among the carpet of sodden leaves a tiny splash of colour catches his eye.

He moves in closer.

An upturned, rotting box.

A weathered emerald-green bottle.

A rusting compass; its needle jammed, pointing west.

And a small, faded red shoe, half buried in the mulch.

Just where she said it would be.

He picks it up and turns it over in his hand and heads home, west, knowing now for certain he was never truly abandoned.

 

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Writing vs Dating: An Analogical Analysis.

After another off tangent Twitter conversation the other day, another random blog post is born. Hooray! All in the name of having a bit of fun of course, here, in nine succinct (yeah, right) parallel points, is my analogical analysis on how writing a novel is akin to the dating game.

*Disclaimer:

Before we start I should pre-warn readers: I have very little writing experience and even less conventional dating experience, so all in all this is a complete work of fiction. Anyway, without further ado, let us begin.

Step 1:  First Meeting

Writing: A great idea for a story/novel enters your visionary realm. You pursue the idea by writing copious amounts of notes, outlines and character descriptions. You delve into research, finding out all you can about the subject until you know all you need to know ready to immerse yourself wholly into writing it.

Dating: A hot, nice guy/girl enters your visionary realm in the bar/club/at work/on the dating website etc etc…You pursue the object of your affections by trying to find out as much about them as is humanly possible. You delve into research, finding out all you can about the object of your affections. You chat to them at any opportunity; accidentally on purpose ‘bump’ into them at any plausible moments. You talk to their friends to find out what you can about them, (or look up their Facebook page/Twitter account), ready to immerse yourself wholly into asking them out or saying yes to them asking you out. 

Step 2: The Beginning

Writing: You begin writing your novel. You throw yourself whole-heartedly into it.  You live it, You breathe it, you can’t stop thinking about it or talking about it. You dream about it when you go to sleep and when you’re not working on it you miss it and can’t wait to get back to it. You throw yourself completely into nurturing it and exploring its many facets.

Dating: You begin dating hot, nice guy/girl. You throw yourself whole-heartedly into the new relationship. You live them, you breathe them. You can’t stop thinking about them/talking about them; boring your friends and family with stories and anecdotes about them. When you don’t see them, you can’t wait to get back to them and throw yourself into exploring them and nurturing all the facets of your relationship.

Step 3: The Honeymoon Period

Writing: You’re in love with your WIP. You’re so in love you can’t bear to be separated from it lest the ideas fall out of your head quicker than you can get them down. It’s going well. You even give it a title and it just feels right. You’re getting to know the characters and the words are flowing well. You haven’t hit the middle section wall yet, in fact you haven’t even thought about it because damn: This is the best thing you’ve ever written. How did you not write this before? It’s always been there, but you just didn’t see it and now it’s here in your life, and gosh it’s so wonderful! You’ll write forever, surrounded by birdsong cheeping through the open window and the sun drenching your desk with brightness whilst you drink copious amounts of real coffee to keep you going through the endless nights of writing. Nothing else matters. You see no-one. You care for nothing other than getting to the end of this first draft.

Dating: You’re in love with hot, nice guy/girl. So in love you cannot be separated lest the world might end if you are. It’s all going well. You label each other girlfriend/boyfriend and it feels so right. You’re at the staying up all night chatting part, getting to know each other and the conversations flow and are easy. You haven’t hit the monotony/everyday living part yet, in fact you haven’t even thought about it because damn: This is the best relationship you’ve ever been in. That part will never happen to you. The hot,nice guy/girl is the best thing since sliced bread. How did you not see them before? They’ve always been there, passing you in the photocopying room/canteen, you just didn’t see them. But now here they are in your life and gosh it’s so wonderful you want to write poetry about it. You are in no doubt you will be together forever, surrounded by ‘your song’ playing on a continuous loop, the sun shining even when it’s not. There’s a wide grin permanently slapped across your face whilst drinking copious amounts of coffee, any coffee to keep you awake as you don’t sleep at night any more…oh no. Nothing else matters. You see no one else. You care for nothing other than each other. 

Step 4: A few months in…

Writing: You’ve hit the middle section and it’s all suddenly seeming a bit too much like hard work. The words aren’t coming as easily, life’s getting in the way a bit. You know you should be weeding the jungle, I mean garden, and cleaning the cesspit which your house has become. You’ve neglected your family for so long, you can’t recall what their names are and so, you know, you really should call them. The WIP is stagnant anyway. You need some time away from it. The characters won’t do what you want them to do. Time to phone friends and arrange to see them. You can moan about the stubbornness of your characters to them. They’ll understand right? Or perhaps just go out and forget about all that hassle for a night and get drunk, like you used to with them, before your novel came along and took over your life.

Dating: You’ve been seeing each other a few months now. He/she has a drawer and toothbrush at your place and vice versa. You’ve found out all the things you wanted to find out and you’ve hit a bit of a wall with conversation at times. Life has steam-rolled it’s way back. The endless late nights and days out on dates to places you’d never usually dare to venture are over because you were in danger of been sacked… or making yourself bankrupt. You’re still in love of course, only the constant cleaning of the house to impress, the daily shaving, the keeping your make up/ personal hygiene routine in tip top condition has worn you out. You want nothing more than to leave the odd plate lying around and to not worry you have a days worth of underarm stubble. Besides which, you just want your own space for a little while. You don’t want things to become really stagnant. You need some mystery back. Time to phone friends and arrange a night out. You can moan at them about his/her obsession with cross rally biking he/she failed to mention on his/her dating profile. Or perhaps you’ll just go out, forget all the niggly things about them and get drunk, like you used to with your friends, before hot,nice girl/guy came along and took over your life. 

Step 5: Paranoia

Writing: You’ve finished the first draft, thank goodness because wow, did that drag out? Now comes the edits. You read back though what you’ve written and the paranoia starts to creep in. This is the biggest pile of poo you’ve ever written. Why didn’t someone stop you? You stop editing and read novels by other authors hoping you’ll return with fresh eyes, only for the paranoia at how absolutely awful your WIP is to return in comparison to the greatness you’ve just read.  Yours will never be as good as theirs. Your plot has more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese and you’ve used cliches like that one all the way through. You spend sporadic periods batting the paranoia away and plod on regardless. Sometimes you look at your WIP lovingly and remember why you started it it in the first place. Some parts aren’t so bad really. This is worth seeing through to the end, you think. You send it off to beta readers and the paranoia returns temporarily but soon, from their constructive advice, you find your feet once more and power surge forward to the final edit.

Dating: You’re settled in to each other now. You spend Friday and Saturday nights together and go to family functions together but in between he/she keeps going out with their friends and work colleagues without you on a regular basis. Paranoia starts to creep in. Why does their ex suddenly seem to be cropping up in conversation? In fact why does your ex keep cropping up in conversation? Oh no, you’re not living up to their exes standards. Damn, your new love isn’t quite living up to your exes standards. They do things which are just weird. Oh God, they’re probably comparing you to their ex. They might not like the way you eat your hair when you get nervous. Time to edit your own behaviour. Time to get the opinion of your trusted friends. What have I done? Is he/she really the one for me? You seek their opinions and trust them. You are being silly. You find your feet in the relationship once more and power surge forward into ‘going steady.’

Step 6: The Comfort Zone

Writing: Now you’re onto the final edit. You know your WIP inside out, upside down and back to front. Thanks to your beta readers, you know how to fix what’s wrong and you settle in to cosy night after night of simply enjoying immersing yourself in, making the best out of what you’ve written. Every time you open up your Word doc. it’s like slipping on a comfortable pair of slippers. You know where this is going and it feels good to have the stability of something familiar to surround yourself in. Hell, you may even get a publishing deal out of this one.

Dating: Now you’ve moved in together. You know each other inside out, upside down (oo er..) and back to front. Thanks to your friends telling you to shut up and stop seeing your ex in the rose tinted spectacles you made for yourself, you’ve accepted that you and your new love are good together and you settle in to cosy night after cosy night of M&S dinners and episodes of Master Chef together. Immersing yourself in the warmth of love which envelopes you. Every time you look at the guy/girl next to you, you feel a warm glow of smugness that there’s someone there you trust by your side. You know where this is going and it feels good to have the stability of someone familiar with you. Hell, this one you may even want to marry one day. 

Step 7: The Rejection

Writing: So, you’ve finally mustered the courage to submit your synopsis (oh, the hell) and first three chapters off to various publishers. The MS was finished but something was missing. Readers; and the only way to get them is to publish the thing. You want to show your WIP off to the world, so you send off your baby for someone to judge its worth. You wait and you press on with life, pretending not to think about it. Getting on with life, getting on with writing the next thing. And then it happens. One day, two, maybe three months later, a letter plops through your letter box. You note  your own handwriting on the SAE you sent with your submission and your heart lurches in excitement and drops in dread all at the same time. With nervous excitement, you tear open the envelope before staring at the folded letter for what seems like hours, knowing your whole future could depend on the words contained in that letter. You hurriedly unfold it and scan the first paragraph. Your heart sinks. Rejection. Not good enough. Not what we’re looking for. We’re sorry.

Dating: So, you’re there, ensconced  in suburban, relationship bliss. But something’s missing. There’s no permanency yet. You think more about asking your love to marry you/have kids/get a pet, whatever. You love them and you desire nothing more than than to show them off to the world; show them you’re here for keeps and show them how much you love them. Finally, after months of fretting about it and preparing what you’ll say and how you’ll say it, you get round to posing the question.  Your heart lurches in excitement and drops in dread at the same time. What if they say no? You know your entire future together hangs on their response. You drop to one knee only to glance up to a look of embarrassment. Your heart sinks. Rejection. Not good enough. It’s me not you. I’m sorry.

Step 8: The Grief Cycle

Writing: Initially there’s the shock.  You just sit there, staring at the piece of paper, to be precise the words saying “not for us.” Then there’s denial: How could they reject that masterpiece? Surely not? I’ll just read through this again to make sure I didn’t mis-read what they wrote. Nope, definitely rejected. Slowly shock and denial turn to anger. Phillistines. I’ve read some of the stuff they’ve published and it’s utter tripe. How very DARE they reject mine. Seriously. What is wrong with them? Then there’s blame. This isn’t my fault. It’s not my sub-standard writing to blame, this is them. They just can’t see greatness when it’s staring in front of them. Well, it’s their loss (and we’re back to anger again). Then there’s the embarrassment and shame. How will you ever face your friends again after being rejected? Now all those times they laughed at your dreams of writing a best selling novel have been vilified. They were right, you were wrong. Depression kicks in. You don’t even want to think about your WIP again. In fact you’re never going to write again. You’re never going to be good enough so why even try? Eventually though, you dip your toe back in with your writer friends. You dissect every angle with them, struggling to find meaning behind what’s happened, you blog about it, you reach out. Finally you come to rational acceptance. You’ve reached out and others have helped you to put things into perspective: You start to explore different options and put a plan in motion. It’s time to move on.

Dating:  Initially there’s the shock.  You just sit there, staring at the walls, photos of your guy/girl or a blank TV screen.You cry. A lot. You turn the words of rejection over and over in your mind like a bad movie on replay, not quite able to believe that the words “it’s over” even came from their lips. That’s the denial. How could they reject me? All that we had together. I thought he/she loved me. They did love me. How can they just leave what we had? You try bargaining with yourself and with them: You text them, write to them, perhaps as all pride and stakes are gone, beg and plead with them to not leave you. It can’t be over. It just can’t. But we were going to spend Christmas together/go on holiday together. You’d just bought me that beautiful ring/watch. But to no avial. All your efforts are  rejected.  Slowly shock and denial turn to anger. Anger at yourself for being so trusting, anger at them for breaking the trust. How dare they reject me? There’s nothing wrong with me. The two timing ratbag. Well, it’s his/her loss (and we’re back to anger again). Then there’s the embarrassment and shame. How will you ever face your friends again after being dumped? Now all those times they said he/she was a good for nothing loser have been vilified. They were right, you were wrong. Depression kicks in. You don’t even want to think about another relationship ever again, yet you miss those cosy nights in front of Master Chef. But still,  you’re never going to date again. Ever. You’re never going to be good enough for anyone. Who’d ever fancy you? So why even try? Eventually though, you dip your toe back in with your seeing your friends. You dissect every angle of where the relationship went wrong, struggling to find meaning behind what happened. Finally you come to some rational acceptance. You’ve reached out and others have helped you to put things into perspective: You start to explore different options, maybe a dating website, maybe speed dating and you put a plan in motion. It’s time to move on.

Step 9: The One

Writing: Repeat step seven until a publisher accepts your masterpiece and live happily ever after in author bliss… If too many rejections at step seven crop up, repeat all steps until the one publisher comes along who finally appreciates you for the artist you always knew yourself to be.

Dating: Unlike with writing, do not repeat step seven solely as this is known as desperation or flogging a dead horse. Instead go straight back to step one and repeat through to step three only, because at that point the path forward will look different to the others highlighted here as finally the one comes along who appreciates you for the wonderful human you always knew yourself to be and live happily ever after in married bliss. 

And finally…

If you’re a writer: keep on; it will happen. (she says..)

If you’re dating: keep on; it will happen. (she says…)

Though I suspect both may be equally painful and joyous processes.

Doing both?

What?

Are you crazy?!

As ever, thank you for reading. Feel free to comment and add your own analogies in the boxy bits below  :)

 

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Filed under General Rambliings, Writing

At a Loss

Losing someone you care about is probably the single most life shattering event which can happen to any human being. What’s more, over the period of our life we will have to endure such loss probably numerous times.

Loss comes in many forms. Loss of a job, status, money, objects, friendships, romantic relationships. And then there is death. Death being the ultimate loss. Death of a partner, a parent, God forbid, a child. At some point in our lives we will all go through the pain and devastation the death of a loved one can bring. Most of us will be familiar with the Kubler-Ross grief cycle as outlined in the diagram below. It takes a long time to get to acceptance and that time is dependent on many factors. If I lose my keys, for example I’m likely to skip the depression part of the cycle and the time to come to acceptance will be fairly quick. If I lose a loved one, and that loved one has been in my life for a long time, the healing process will be more lengthy. The time taken to come to acceptance will also heavily depend on the circumstances surrounding that loss. If my 95 year old grandmother dies after a long illness, I may come to acceptance more quickly than if my 10 year old child dies tragically in a car accident.

 

The Extended Grief Cycle

So where am I going with all this? Well, despite loss being such a universal life event and universally felt emotion in all humans, it never fails to distract me the disregard and cavalier attitude many people treat loss, other than death, with. As though other types of loss are any less important or painful.

The most common situation being the breakup of a relationship.

One thing you will often hear people say when a romantic relationship ends is;

“Oh you are better off without them. They were no good for you. He/she didn’t love you if they could treat you like that.”

Imagine if we said this to people whose husbands/ wives/ children/ parents died. Even if it were true? Even if actually they were better off without that family member in their life.

What if, a relative or friend committed suicide? Would we say to them: “Oh you’re better off without them; if they’d have cared for you or thought about you they’d never have killed themselves?”

It’s a ridiculous notion isn’t it?

Perhaps people don’t say these things because death is so rarely a choice. If a relationship ends then there has been an element of choice. Whether that be your own or the other person’s. If it was their choice, well meaning friends will churn out the old cliched phrases to try and make you feel better, but the grief process is often no different than the one we experience when we lose someone to death.

In fact, in some cases it may actually  be worse because in death there is rarely the feeling of rejection.  It is not the person’s fault they died; they did not reject you. If someone chooses to end their relationship with you, they are, whether they mean to or not, rejecting you. They will often use the old cliche “It’s me not you,” but if we are all honest we know that’s quite often a load of rubbish. You can’t help but think it’s you. Of course it’s you. You were not what they wanted/needed/loved/could see themselves growing old with, having babies with. Whatever. If they rejected you for another then how can anyone tell you it was them not you? Maybe this is just me with low self esteem who thinks this way. Maybe others with higher self esteem can believe it. I don’t know. As always I can only write from my perspective.

Now, I’m in no way saying the break up of a relationship is worse than enduring the death of a loved one, but I feel it’s about time we stopped treating such loss as though it doesn’t count. As though it doesn’t matter that much.

I write this from a very personal perspective of a loss I endured recently. The loss of a relationship and friendship which, up until now I have not spoken too much about, certainly in no detail. However, seven months down the line and recognising I am still heavily entrenched in the grieving process, I want to write about it in some form other than micro fiction snippets. It might not work as a cathartic exercise. It might. I don’t know. But as I seem to be stuck at the depression part of the cycle, perhaps I should try a new approach to my own healing.

 The myth attached to happiness.

Our society perpetrates a myth. (It perpetrates many but here I’m just focusing on this particular one.) And that myth is that to be happy you don’t need someone in your life, romantically speaking. It is as though by wanting to give love, and by needing to be loved, this somehow makes you weak, inferior and, to some, pathetic. We are constantly told you can’t love others if you’re not happy and that you can’t get your happiness from others.

Well, what a load of codswallop that is. In my humble opinion. I’m sure most of you reading are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It states humans need five components in life. They begin with physiological needs (food, water, sleep etc..) followed by safety and then love and belonging. Interesting then that love and belonging (and indeed sex as a physiological need) come before esteem and self- actualization.  The many “positive” thinkers out there who bleat on about “loving yourself” before you can love others, are at odds with Maslow. And they are at odds with my own thinking.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

 

Where this idea of self esteem before love may hold  true for some, I have discovered, after 38 years of life and a tremendous amount of soul searching that it is not true for me. I’ve come to realise why I can’t crawl out of the deep well of depression for any prolonged period of time. Something keeps sucking me back down into the depths and I’ve tried for so long to believe it wasn’t the fact I’m alone. The fact I have lost the one person who I truly believed I could spend my life with.  The fact I’ve lost every person I’ve ever been romantically involved with. (Some for better I’ll admit.)

I continued going back for more in the past, despite the hurt caused by each one, because I wanted to love and be loved and it made me happy when I was in that place. A happiness  like nothing else makes me feel. Not teaching, not writing, not chocolate, not having a nice car, or house or the rare time I have spare cash. Not reading, not having nice holidays, not even having my nephew to care for, (though this does go someway to fill the love/family part of Maslow’s hierarchy).

No, to me none of it means anything without a special person to share it with. There is a void in the third section of the hierarchy  and I feel lost without it. Without someone to love and support and have support me when the ride of life is shit and continues throwing shit. For so long I’ve tried to pretend that it’s okay I’m on my own, that I have never found the right person so ho hum. “Oh there are so many pluses to being single” people say. People who have someone. People who wouldn’t know what to do or where to turn if they lost their other half tomorrow. But being single is okay for me it seems. Why? Am I so different to you married person/person in loving, stable relationship? Is it not a basic human need to want love and, God forbid, sexual intimacy with another?

If it’s so bloody brilliant being single why is a loving relationship the one thing everyone universally seeks? I’m fed up of listening to the myth both out there and in my own head. I’m fed up of pretending that it doesn’t hurt like hell every day of my life that I lost a man I loved more than anyone else I’d ever met and I have to live with his face haunting me every hour of every day. I try not to think of him, but not a day goes by when he doesn’t enter my head in some way and if he doesn’t the deep pervading hole left in my life from his missing presence eats away at me. It’s been seven months since I last physically saw him or talked to him. If he had died, no one would be expecting me to be over it by now. But no-one talks about him, or if I mention him it’s:  “Oh you want to forget about him. He was a git.” (when actually he wasn’t at all; believe me I’ve had my fair share of them to know the difference.) Well I can’t get over him okay? I can’t. Because he meant everything to me. He was someone who I never wanted to not be around. We shared common interests and tastes in music and humour and ethics. He understood, as no one else had, how a little bit odd I was but loved me nevertheless. He was kind and honest and handsome and gentlemanly and funny. So funny I can’t remember a time when he didn’t make me laugh. And he gave me what no-one else ever has. He gave me some confidence in myself. If it wasn’t for him I don’t think I’d have written my novel. He was my inspiration in so many ways. He encouraged me wholeheartedly. For that I will always be grateful to him for. But now he’s gone and I miss him. I miss him for him and I miss how he made me feel about myself.

Now seven months may seem to some to be quite enough time to get over someone. Someone who was only in my life for two and a half years in total. It’s not. He hurt me, eventually yes. But not in the way people would ever assume or think. He had to move on from me, but it was the fact he felt the need to completely sever any contact with me that hurts most,  though I suspect, knowing him, it was done for all the noblest of reasons. It was the ending of the friendship, when he told me he didn’t want to lose me as a friend, which eats away at me. I feel no closure. I don’t feel as though he’ll ever give me that. I, who meant so much to him, so he often told me, was so easy to say goodbye to and cut off. To quote Gotye, it seems I’m “just somebody that he used to know.” That hurts because it came from nowhere. As such, to all intents and purposes, he may as well have died, because he has made it clear I no longer figure in his life. I tried to keep the friendship and he rejected me. So, I don’t feel able to trust anyone anymore because if he could do that to me anyone could. Friends, family, the lovely people I speak to on Twitter. I keep my guard up and that’s never been me.  He has  moved on from whatever we shared. He’s found another. I wasn’t what he was looking for (so it was me not him) although I think he did a good job for a couple of years of convincing himself I was. But it doesn’t matter about the circumstances of our parting, only to say it was difficult and our story could be told in many novels or films. It is a bittersweet one but one I can never tell fully. It makes me sadder than anything I’ve ever been through.

He is living his life with someone and probably never gives me a second thought. If he does, he would never say. He has someone to love and be loved by and I am left alone. I am left in the void. It doesn’t matter how many words I write in cathartic exercises, it hasn’t worked up to now.

So I want to get past this depression part of my grief cycle. I want to go to the point where I am in dialogue and bargaining and maybe this is it. Maybe this blog post is the start, though the  sporadic tears and feeling of helplessness at times means I’m probably still even now dipping back into depression.

 

The Kubler Ross Grief Cycle

I know the next stage will be exploring new options and putting a new plan in place, (ooh you lucky men out there, you may get to be an explored option!) but, but, but… How easy is this when it comes to new relationships? People’s feelings are at stake and one must tread carefully where they are concerned.  I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever meet anyone else I can feel the same about without that person having to live in his shadow. Others say it may be the only way to get over him; focus on loving another. Would that be fair on another? I guess people who have lost a partner to death often do just this. It doesn’t take away what they had together, but they have to move on. I want to move on. I am not completely closed to the idea.

However, I feel stuck. I look at me and know I am not the greatest catch in the wide open sea. I have built up walls of mistrust which would take Hulk with a sledgehammer to break down. I’m pushing forty and don’t want kids so that strikes off any men looking to start a family. The fact I’m pushing forty means physically my best years are behind me.

I also have the major added complication of fostering my nephew. In fact this will remain the biggest obstacle as the other stuff is superficial really. It was one of the major factors in complicating my relationship with my Mr Right who’s no longer here. At least that was his original reason for ending things before he spent a year giving me false hope that a rekindling of what had been was on the cards.  Finding romance, finding a man who would be okay with my situation probably cuts my odds down to about 1%. Add to that that I don’t even know where to start meeting men anymore. I don’t get to go out socialising much as being sole carer for a six year old means I’m in more than out obviously. I work in a female dominated profession and also in a very middle class profession where everyone in it seems to meet their spouse at university and by the time they are teaching are ready to get married. Such is middle England and social norms to which I’ve never fitted.

I’ve tried the dating website thing. It’s where I met the one I can’t get over. But that was back when I had no responsibilities. It could be fun and care free then. When I  wasn’t a mum to my brother’s child. Yeah, you see THAT makes it sound so weird and fucked up doesn’t it? Even though it’s all perfectly simple, innocent and actually quite bloody tragic.  Where do you even start that conversation? Do you be upfront about it and risk

a)at worst, possible pedophiles seeking you out (paranoid maybe, but one has to be careful.)

b) at best, the man running a mile because, let’s face it, most men would find it daunting dating a  woman with her own child let alone a woman who cares for someone else’s. Also, I’d be naturally wary of any man who was completely fine with it from the off. So then it would be me putting barriers up again. The alternative is not to mention it and then run the risk of getting romantically involved and falling in love, only for them to find out and turn round and end it. That I feel I couldn’t face again.

So yes you see I live in eternal depression and hopelessness because to me I feel it is a hopeless situation. I want to move on, I want to love again but feel there are just too many barriers to it happening. Both emotionally and practically.

Of course I could just sit and wait for fate to intervene. Many tell me “oh it will just happen for you when you least expect it.” Hmmm, well I’m not one for inaction. If you just sit and wait, sooner or later you’re just going to get run over and you’re certainly not going to move forward. Other than getting older and less attractive and more cynical. Not something I want at all. I want my optimism back.

I feel as though I can’t wrap his post up neatly. It is not sitting with me well. However that’s because there is no neat ending to this story yet. Those of you who read me regularly know I like to try and end positively. With this one I’m struggling.

So, in the meantime, I’ll do my best to carry on. Fight the waves of depression when they come and try to open my heart up as best as I can. This is part of it. If people can be aware of how others who are on their own probably don’t want to be, perhaps we’ll all stop perpetrating the social myths which hold us back. I’ll be happy when I have this this relationship thing cracked and I’ll put my fingers up to anyone who tells me otherwise. Because I know me. I’ve just always been too scared to say that’s what I want out loud, for fear of ridicule.

Thanks for reading yet another ramble through the brain of someone who should be editing that novel and writing the next…but since my inspiration left me seven months ago, I’m struggling with that too.

 

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Friday Phrases: Part II

So I’ve written about the wonderment that is Friday Phrases before. You can find it on here under the title ‘There Ain’t no Party Like an FP Party’.

I won’t do too much re-explaining about what Friday Phrases is, as I did it there, and you can also find out by visiting the Friday Phrases website here.

 

FP1

 

Other than to say, if you are a writer, heck even if you’re not a writer, and your Fridays aren’t fabulous enough already, then get thyself down to Twitter on Fridays and follow the hashtag #FP.

There you will be sure to discover a whole host of 140 character micro-fiction poetry, prose and phrases which will, quite literally, have you gaping in awe.

But wait…not only do you get to read the fantastic words crafted by an ever increasing number of players… (oh yes, did I forget to mention? FP is a game! You know, those things you used to do when you were a kid but have forgotten about since acquiring a job, a mortgage and kids of your own?)… you get to take part yourself! YOU get to write and post and share your stuff among the most friendly online community you’re ever likely to meet. And honestly, it really is the most fun you can have as you wind down for the weekend.

Anyone can play, because at FP there are no winners or losers, just participants. All you have to do is write something original, a tiny short story or poem or whatever (check out the friendly guidelines on the website link at the top of this post) tag it with #FP and share the love by re-tweeting or commenting on your favourites. Easy

Now you may well be wondering why I’m writing another post about Friday Phrases if I’ve already done one. That’s a tad repetitive isn’t it Joanne?

Well no. It’s not. You see, since I started taking part in FP around November time, I have watched it evolve and grow exponentially. So I wanted to share how FP has developed, from a seed of an idea germinated by the lovely Amy Good (@amicgood) last September, (with a few eager writers on board) to a game which is now played by hundreds with it’s own website. What’s more, it has now evolved to be a somewhat symbiotic, organic movement where we have optional themes to help us get our creative juices flowing.

This post is the story of how this happened and it illustrates perfectly what I, and others, love about the FP community so much.

When Friday Phrases is in full flow, when everyone is busy gaping in awe and wonder at each other’s talent or starring and re-tweeting their favourite pieces, (even spilling them over onto Facebook these days) sometimes something even more wonderful happens. Conversations strike up. You know, socialising, the very point of social media. There have been many instances where a writer’s FP has ignited a spark of an idea in an artist and an impromptu piece of artwork has made an appearance a couple of hours later.

I’ll highlight a case in point. A  conversation took place one week about how it would be great if we could collate all the FP tweets in one place (as often with the pace of Twitter, you could easily miss something). Enter the whirlwind that is Willow Becker @willlowbecker. (I mean that in the nicest possible way because the woman just gets things done!) Before anyone could say Dead Man Walking, FP had it’s very own website, where the live FP feed is streamed. For a time it also featured guest bloggers and was a place for FP inspired short stories to show up and be showcased, though due to excessive workload, the site has been scaled back slightly for the moment.

Anyhow, where was I? Oh yes Symbiosis.

Another time, a whole thread of FPs might happen which starts from just one, and then another person links on and so on and so forth. I’ll share such an example later on in the post.

But then, for me the most exciting thing to happen on Friday Phrases has been the introduction of a weekly (optional) theme. (The optional part is very important because the last thing Friday Phrases wants, or indeed needs, is a stifling of creativity. Its aim is the complete opposite.)

The optional theme evolution is exciting for me on two levels.

1) I needed it. I wrote in my previous FP post about how I was worried I’d eventually run out of ideas (if I didn’t write it, I certainly thought it!) and so a weekly optional theme sometimes gives me the catalyst I need.

2) It was kind of accidentally my idea and I was chuffed to pieces that someone with a bit more get up and go, got up and got it rolling after a completely innocuous and fairly throw away comment I made during said conversation one Friday in March.

It started with a conversation about James Bond between myself (@fredamoya), Marj @whithernow and Roger @jabe842. There were tweets flying back and forth and challenges thrown in every direction. I believe we ended up with a bit of a Bond hastag FP thing happening bewteen ourselves and I said something along the lines of: “wouldn’t it be cool if we did have a theme each week?”

Enter Willow (previously mentioned)! A quick recce around the FP community on thoughts culminated in a big thumbs up to themes as long as they were optional. The next week, low and behold, we had a theme! Hazaar! Though, as I didn’t do a theme based one that week, I can’t remember what is was! Oh the irony!  Now if that conversation hadn’t happened I suspect FP may have gone towards introducing themes anyway, as I know when the FPs were collated each week, there seemed to be a theme emerge anyway. You see the nature of FP is that it is symbiotic. Writers, although have original thoughts of their own, do feed off the writings of others and FP is no different. I know for sure just one word in someone else’s FP, or an image conjured, can get me going off at a tangent into my own world. I’ve also lost count of the times I’ve posted an FP, even prior to themes, and some one has tweeted me saying “Damn, I’ve just had a really similar idea and now I can’t/won’t post it.”

You may well be wondering what some of these themes have been. So, for the final part of the post I will give you a run down, along with any FPs I came up with myself based on the themes. Mine are by no means the best, but I’m allowed to post mine as I’m not infringing anyone’s artistic rights! If you wish to explore other greatness then either visit the site, follow the FP hastag on Fridays or any of the aforementioned Tweeps, who quite frankly can out-FP me any day of the year. Also all the themes so far may not be here as I don’t follow the optional theme every week. Sometimes, just sometimes, I have ideas without prompts. like I used to, in my early days of FP.

So, without further ado, here are a selection of my humble offering to illustrate the point.

Fri 11th April: Theme: Daydreams

He was the man of my dreams; gallant, handsome, funny and smart. We daydreamed big together before he vanished, leaving only nightmares.

“You really MUST stop daydreaming Tom!” The teacher clicked his fingers. “But sir, I’m a daydream believer.” Seconds later, sir lay dead.

 

Fri 18th April: Theme: Buyer’s Remorse.

“The mists are clearing…I see a…coffin…, an engraving – ‘BURY MORE SEERS’. “Damn! I knew I should have spent more on that crystal ball.”

 

Fri 25th April:Theme: Delicious Morsels.

She knew the way to his heart was thru his stomach. Dozing in the aftermath of a heavy lunch, he didn’t feel the knife slice into his flesh.

I swallowed every word you spoke

Each delicious morsel

How was I to know they’d lodge

And make me choke,

When I found we weren’t immortal?

 

Friday 2nd May: Theme: Home Again.

Twelve years apart

Time’s relentless march

Returned to the start

Erased bitter betrayal

Obliterated pain

Home again.

 

This next one came about from a group of people. It actually started with a six word phrase from me on the Thursday night, which went like this:

Your eyes tell a thousand tales.

I woke up later to find an entire thread from these wonderful people (@SiofraWrites, @buchan_david , @jfxmlc and @MarkTconard) where they’d all tweeted six words and each line had a word rhyming with tales. With their permission, I linked them together and tweeted them in an FP series, part of which is here, and the bonus was it linked to the FP theme! It  really was great interactions at its best. I added in the fourth line but the rest belong to the others.

Bilbo Baggins hiked a thousand vales

And wandered through a thousand dales

His tracks crossed a thousand trails

He slayed a thousand dragon’s tails

In celebration, drank a thousand ales

Home again to a thousand hails.

 

Fri 9th May. Theme: Secret Pact

He held her in his arms, his dream come true; unaware of the secret pact she’d made with herself to love him if no one else would love her.

 

Fri 16th May: theme: Dirty hands.

He washed; he scrubbed. The same OCD ritual on repeat, day in , day out. being caught stealing came as a relief. No more dirty hands.

 

Fri 30th May: Theme: The Aftermath.

She drowned in the aftermath of his love, unable to breathe, unable to feel, clinging on to that which had long sunk beneath the waves.

You left carnage in your wake, the broken hearts of so many littered the paths where you’d trodden. Yet you walked on unharmed in the aftermath.

 

Fri 13th June: Theme: At First Blush

At first, cotton candy blush crept over her cheeks as he leaned his body into hers. Crushing lips transformed cotton candy to cherry.

Like the burning sun, the gaze from his blazing blue eyes made her hot, sticky, uncomfortable and melted her right through to her core.

 

Fri 20th June: Theme: Grave Digging.

“Welcome to the club. Diggin’ for diamonds is tough son; your heart’s gotta be in it.” I took the spade knowing I was headed to my grave.

Detective Stone fell grave. Digging into every crevice of the dead man’s life was wrong. Yet he knew he must destroy every link between them.

 

Now this week’s theme (27th June)  is “Through the Glass.” Once again I return to the point about symbiosis, community and the Twitter conversations which can lead to these things.

I have written a few FPs about my window cleaner, who, for want of a better phrase, is a little bit of a stalker. Last Friday he was up to his usual shenanigans which I won’t go into here, and I tweeted something about it to the FP community. After a few funny tweets back and forth with @whithernow and @RamblingBandit with encouragement from @calliearmstrong, it seems @RamblingBandit’s  suggestion to eviscerate him in fiction was taken up for this week’s theme. Although a much more subtle slant was given to the title, in order to appeal to all, from Amy, who is the genius behind FP, if I’ve not already said.

I think it’s a great theme with room for much scope, (not just weird window cleaners!) even if that’s where it originated.

So I throw down the gauntlet to you, dear reader. Why not pop over to Twitter on Friday and, if you’re not already taking part, have a stab at it? (Pun completely intended for those regular FPers!)

Or why not leave a comment in the box below? Perhaps an FP of your own for one of the past themes above? I bet you can do better than me. Go on…give it a go. I dare you!

 

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One in 7 Billion

There are around seven billion people on this planet. I can’t even imagine what that number looks like, but I am slowly beginning to realise what that number of people means. What it means for the future generations, even for my own generation. What it means for the state of natural resources and for food and water supplies. And, as this is a blog about writing, what it means for me as an aspiring author.

When I was seven years old, I was chosen by my teachers to sing solo in church. This is something I would never contemplate doing now, but I did it then. I don’t know why they picked me, but I would imagine there were two factors. One: I could hold a note well enough not to make a complete plonker of myself, and two because I would do it. At seven I had the confidence to do it.

At eleven, I still had the confidence. I auditioned for the lead role in the Christmas play for the role of Babushka. Once more, solo singing was required. I didn’t get the part initially, but when a viral throat infection took hold of the lead, I got to play the part.. I was in a class of about thirty. Narrow the odds down to only girls being allowed to audition, (we’re back in the days of roles being doled out to meet the demands of the actual gender of the character rather than pandering to political correctness) and they’re pretty good odds for success.

The following year I started secondary school. Suddenly I was in a year group consisting of around two hundred kids as oppose to thirty. As the auditions for the roles in the end of year production of The Wizard Of Oz were open to all year groups, of course the odds of success diminished. Somewhat naively, I auditioned for the lead. Unfortunately, a girl in the year above landed the part of Dorothy and I was told, quite categorically, that I wasn’t up to it. My voice wasn’t strong enough and they didn’t know why I’d auditioned.

Scarred by the comments, and left feeling ever so slightly silly, I never auditioned for anything again, and other than joining a few choirs where I could blend in, I have never been on a stage since.

Now we could say what a despicable, cruel teacher to shatter my dreams like that. (Or praise them for not giving me false hope, depending on how you look at things.) Or we could tell my twelve year old self off for giving up so easily on something she loved to do. She should have pursued that dream more fervently, had singing lessons etc.. But at twelve, perhaps our fate is dictated too much by parents and the position we are born into in society. There was no money to waste on singing lessons on one daughter of five children and teachers had a tendency to only spot the high fliers. The middle mediocrity didn’t get a second glance. Not in secondary school at least. Maybe things have changed since my day, but that’s how it was. Of course we could say it was fated I would never get the part because, it transpired some years later, that Dorothy’s mother was rumoured to have been having an affair with the head teacher. Whichever sliding door scenario we choose from the above is irrelevant; I didn’t pursue singing or acting .  For me I was a little fish in a big pond and I was drowning.

In hindsight, I think the teacher did exactly the right thing. I’d had no competition at primary school, or very little at least. Life had been made easy. I don’t remember anyone being particularly  over the top with high praise. No one ever told me I could be a singer or an actress or Prime Minister one day. Those dreams were just that, dreams. Nevertheless, at primary school I was at least  encouraged and told I was good enough.  If the secondary teacher had not been quite so blunt then perhaps I’d have continued to put myself out there for auditions and have faced rejection after rejection. Would that have been better? I don’t know. Rejection gnaws away at your soul and your self esteem…

So, here I am now, twenty six years later attempting to write a novel and throw it out into the arena for the lions to possibly pull it apart and reject it. For someone to turn round and tell me: “You’re not cut out for this, go home and try something else. There are people out there better than you.” And there are times when I’m not sure I’m ready to face possible rejection, after rejection, after rejection. It would only take one person to be blunt and tell me I’m not cut out for this for me to give up. Constructive criticism to help improve I can take but, to be told you’ll not make it is something else. Because the thing is I already think that. I already think at times I’m not good enough.

And then of course there’s the odds. Now I’m not just one of thirty, or even one of two hundred. I am one in seven billion.

When I began writing this novel I told only one close friend. He gave me so much encouragement to do it, to finish it, that I did. I finished a whole draft. This friend told me how unique I was. I  believed him. After all, no one I know, or have ever known, has written a whole book. I felt special. I set about dreaming of how, maybe, just maybe, the story I had wrote would be loved by millions of children and I’d finally have achieved something great in my life.

Then I joined Twitter.

There were writers. Everywhere. They were ten a penny.  I was back at secondary school, only the pond had become an ocean.

Now, I only follow a few hundred people but I am often overwhelmed at how much they write, what they write, how they write and I can’t help but think to myself: How can I, little old Joanne Blaikie from the Midlands compete with them? I’m not on a par to compete with the masses of talent out there. I feel the same when I walk into a bookshop. I stare at the hundreds of titles and think of the hundreds of stories there are and I have just one. One tiny, not all that good if I’m completely honest, story. Don’t get me wrong, on a personal level I have achieved something. I have written a novel. But so have millions of other people. I browsed the children’s titles the other day in WHSmiths. Anthony Horowitz’s Alex Rider books have numerous titles in the series. He can churn out quality book after quality book after quality book. As can so many other authors. And so I rarely even consider myself a writer. I haven’t enough ideas in me to ever make a career out of this.

At times the sheer number of writers I see saturating the market overwhelms me. Even among the amateurs, there are so many far superior in talent to me. I’m not being modest here. I just know what good writing looks like and mine, although not dreadful, is, at best, mediocre. And I don’t have the time to sit and practise it until my fingers drop off, though I wish I did. I think to myself “how is my little tiny piece ever going to be revered enough by enough people? Maybe it shouldn’t matter. But it does. And I don’t mean for money or fame and fortune. As a writer I want to reach people with my stories and words. I write (mostly) because I want those words to be read. I also want to stand out from the crowd. Creativity and originality of thought is what drives me on.

However, then I see the abundance of talent out there, both in the published and non published world, and I look at the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of writers out there all striving for the same level of recognition, I cannot help but revert back to my twelve year old self at times and want to give up as I did after that audition. I don’t have the basic skills honed to a high enough level yet. I don’t have loads of story ideas hovering in the wings just waiting for me to wave a magic wand over them and form them into coherent sentences and, eventually, a novel. Others do. That’s the difference.

Those with confidence in their writing; those who hold faith in themselves that they will succeed and believe their cream will rise to the top come what may (whether they show it or not ) are more likely to succeed I guess, simply because they believe in themselves. I partly admire and partly despair of them. Admire and despair for the same reason: because they don’t allow the following kind of statistics and thoughts to bother them:

Presently, there are 7 billion people on this planet or thereabouts (UK population: 63 million)

When George Orwell’s novel, 1984,was published in 1949 the world’s population stood at around 2.5 billion. (UK 56 million)

In 1813, when Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was published, the world population was around 1 billion. (UK approx 18 million)

And when Shakespeare was having his heyday, it was in the region of 400  million. (UK 4 million)

These statistics bother me all the time.

All of these writers, like me, were British. All of them are considered literary greats. Many modern writers aspire to attain the levels of greatness and recognition these few, and others like them, had. However, I wonder if perhaps those writers were considered great because there simply weren’t as many other people to compete against? There were not millions of other people aspiring to be writers for a career, because back in 1813 and 1680 it wasn’t a career option. It was something only the privileged could afford to do. The likes of me would just get on with whatever employment they were engaged in and bring up children.There were no fanciful ideas of being a novelist for the common folk such as I. Now though, society tells me to follow my dream. Making a living as an author isn’t out of the realms of possibility. It isn’t something only the rich and privileged can afford to do. Single mums hanging out in cafes can write best selling novels can’t they?

And so now everyone’s at it, whether we’re any good at it or not, because society has, perhaps rightly or wrongly, led us to believe we can do anything, if only we work hard at it and forget the maths.

Now, I’m not here to play the wicked witch of the west and dash everyone’s hopes and dreams, (my own included) but I fear a dose of a reality check needs to be thrown in occasionally. We live on a planet of seven billion humans, where we are forced to compete for everything more and more. Probability says you are less likely to be traditionally published now than if you wrote thirty years ago or sixty years ago. More people = more people writing = more competition.  (Maths even I can do.)

It is not this which concerns me though. The onset of self publishing means it is actually easier than ever to become a published author.

No, what concerns me is a saturated market. Too much choice. Too much repetition and not enough originality. Too many people all vying to be top of a pile which, despite what society and our biggest champions tell us, only a very small percentage will ever achieve. Too many titles for readers to choose from. The idea of marketing a book makes me feel sick. Why should mine be any better than the other millions out there? It’s why I doubt praise from other people so much. There is too much out there for anyone to know if mine is truly good enough.  I’m not negative, I’m just a realist. I always have been, and perhaps this is why I gave up so easily when the music teacher closed off the yellow brick road to me twenty six years ago.

 

But not to end on a sour note, the flip side of the coin is this: More people = more readers. And of course the great thing about any art form is it’s all objective. What is one person’s cup of tea is another’s poison. So, like the tin man, I take heart and, like the lion, I try and find courage. My novel will find a readership, however small, and I’ll keep heading towards the Emerald City, however arduous and long the journey.

Thanks as always for reading :)

 

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What a Difference a Year Makes.

So it seems I have been blogging for a year.

Which simply means I’ve been writing about writing (and a few other things,) for a year.

Which means I’ve probably done less on my novel than I should have this year.

However, I’m not going to have any regrets, because I know me, and one of my ‘things’ is that  I need to deconstruct and analyse stuff in order to understand it more fully. There are times simply by saying something out loud to someone, however stupid it might make me look, can help me have a light-bulb moment or find a solution. Blogging has done this for me. My blogs may not have been particularly informative to others, though I seem to have entertained a few of you! :) Nevertheless, I have learned much from constructing my own posts. Perhaps not necessarily about blogging, but that’s for deeper analysis another day.

When I started out on this blog a year ago, I set out with the very specific aim to simply blog on my writing journey about the children’s novel I am writing. This I did, diligently for a while. Posting regularly scheduled pieces focused on various aspects of my writing.

If you’re a regular visitor (and for that, I thank you enormously) you will know, somewhere along the way, this went off the boil a bit. My first off on a tangent post was about depression, although it was from the slant about how it helped my writing process. After this,  I found blogging about some personal things cathartic and helpful to developing my writing in general. It was also the post which seemed to resonate with more people than any of my previous posts.

Since then I have blogged about my relationship with Twitter, my hatred for acronyms and selfies, loneliness, Friday Phrases, youth and growing older as well taking part in the A-Z blog challenge back in April where I posted a piece every day.  I have also published a few short stories and a couple of poems on here. I’ve even taken part in blog hops and was nominated for a few blogging awards. Wow and phew! It’s been quite a lot of writerly fun. I’ve discovered other’s great blogs too as part of the WordPress community and look forward when I log into the reader to find out what others out there are posting about. I have to say everyone else seems to have A LOT more focus than I do!

One thing which has changed since the beginning is the length of my posts. They’ve definitely got longer. My verbosity knows no bounds it seems. Now, this is something I’ve vowed I am going to work this year to rectify. I intend to set myself a word limit and try and stick to it. I think this is definitely a requirement for me to sharpen up my writing in general. (I can almost hear the sighs of relief.)

I’m also going to try very hard to blog more about writing, as I’m sure people come here looking for more on that, given the name of this blog! I feel I need to make these, as well as some other changes, as despite having a steady increase of followers to the blog, when I look at my stats, I’m not getting many more views per week on average. This might be partly due to the fact I don’t do enough to promote myself, or possibly that my content is all a little too personal, rather than giving a well rounded impersonal take on issues which interest people or advice on writing.

I don’t do advice on writing though, because I’m not an authority and never will be so I can only write about my own experiences.

However having read Drew Chial’s latest piece, (The Myth of the Self-Made Blogger) I’ve decided I need to do something to change the blog, as we all know: if you keep doing the same thing, you only get the same results. The number doesn’t bother me simply as a number, but as any writer knows, whatever you are writing, you want to speak to as many people as possible. You can’t help but want to reach as many people as you can. For me, I started this blog because I was writing a novel and I had read it was expected for authors to have a blog. I think I started off believing that visitors to my blog would be people interested in children’s fantasy novels. Hmmmmm. Turns out people visit blogs for all sorts of reasons and it has little to do with wanting to read your novel. The great thing for me is, people can visit here, and discover my writing style in a different setting. This is a by product of what I first set out to do, but a welcome one. I write and people read, and surely this is what writers of anything, other than a personal diary, want; readership?

So from now on my (quite loose) pledges for Writeaway are:

-More focus on (though not exclusively) writing related content. (Not preachy advice ones though!)

-Shorter posts with a word limit of 2000 words (self imposed!)

-Maybe try and shift to a less biased viewpoint, if I can, although no definite promises as my style is my style.

- I’m not sure I can promise a complete halt to my soap box posts, but then I’m not sure I want to. :)

-Promote my posts more, not just on Mondays which I tend to be guilty of. I stopped promoting on Facebook too after my posts diversified away from writing for fear of family and friends reading them. Irony has it they’d probably be more interested in some of that stuff, because, although friends and family try to be supportive in the beginning, they’re not interested in writing processes. But a rant about acronyms? Perhaps they’d enjoy that.

Finally I would like to say a big thank you to all of those who regularly read my stuff and especially to those who take the time to comment or share it. You are very much appreciated and make the effort of spilling these rambles out on the page worth the eye squinting in the dark effort. :)

So here’s to another year…and…

Thank you, as ever, for reading. :)

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Filed under First post, Writing