Soaring High #FlashFiction

Image courtesy of Douglas M. MacIlroy

 

I’m free and yet I’m not. Not in a cage but still trapped by bars of my own making, but they bring me comfort, these bars. They keep me safe. They stop me flying because if I were to flutter my wings where would I go? Who would I be? What’s to stop me falling? The world is so huge and I feel so small. So insignificant.

I screw my eyes up tight, blocking the voices telling me I can, my own telling me I can’t. I try. There’s a shift. A movement and then it happens. I’m rising, soaring, flying. Free.

 

How joyous I was when I saw this perfect prompt. This weekend I conquered a lifelong phobia of public speaking and appeared at the Althorp Literary Festival. You can read how I got on here and see the photos.

 Yesterday I had a great time on the radio chatting about Friday Fictioneers, the way it’s helped me tighten my writing and my love for the WordPress writing community. You can listen to that here.

 Soaring High was written for Friday Fictoneers. A weekly 100 word story challenge inspired by a photo prompt. Read the other entries and join in over at host Rochelle’s blog here.

 

 

 

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Why I couldn’t shrug off being trolled.

 

Last Wednesday my third novel The Surrogate was published. The early reviews have been phenomenal, it’s racing up the charts, has been chosen for a special promotion, and after a busy few days I was so very looking forward to spending publication weekend celebrating.

Friday evening, I opened a bottle of wine, settled down to catch up with social media while waiting for a curry to arrive. There was a FB notification for my personal page, a name I didn’t recognise. The post was nasty, vindictive, written to hurt, and it did. Although, to a degree I know it’s inevitable negative reviews will appear on Goodreads and Amazon, this felt as though someone had stepped into my lounge almost and insulted me. My personal space.

Trying to shrug it off I deleted the post, blocked the poster and vowed to tighten my privacy settings hoping that would be the end of it. It wasn’t.

This ‘lady’ in question was a member of numerous reading groups and set out with a vengeance to insult me and my book at every opportunity and online there are LOTS of opportunities.

After a restless sleep I woke Saturday, hoping that by now she’d be bored. She wasn’t. For the whole day post after post appeared. I choose not to comment on any of them which was incredibly difficult as she was now insulting my friends, my publishers, reviewers. Hackles were rising. Responses were made and although I was grateful people were defending me, she now had an audience and boy did she make the most of it.

By Saturday afternoon I was in pieces. Those of you who know me or follow my blog know I started writing as a way to boost my mental health after becoming disabled in my 30’s resulted in clinical depression, and have noticed a gradual increase in my confidence this past year. Finally, settling into my new career, admitting I’m a writer when meeting new people was a huge step. A complete stranger sharing her opinion – however widely – I have zero talent, will never make it as an author, shouldn’t have shattered my already fragile self-esteem but it did. And I felt hugely saddened when she accused me of paying book bloggers for reviews – the bloggers I know all review with honesty and integrity and even if they don’t like a book they are always constructive and kind. I felt terrible for everyone involved, anguishing over what I’d done to upset this woman, convinced that somehow it must be all my fault.

Message after message appeared in my inbox. Readers, writers, bloggers, complete strangers, watching it all unfold, offering their support and those messages combined to make a huge roaring cheer which should have drowned out that one, negative voice, and yet it didn’t.

Remembering my mindfulness practice I spent long periods meditating, accepting my reaction was natural. Scientific studies have shown we all have a negativity bias. Automatically the brain has a greater sensitivity towards the negative, a trait which used to be super helpful in our caveman days. Spotting and responding to the unpleasant, the dangerous, running from those dinosaurs, keeping ourselves out of harms way. Today, the bias is not needed quite so much but evolution has seen it remain, to varying degrees, and as a result things more negative in nature have a greater effect on a person’s psychological state and cognition than positive things.

Sunday I felt calmer but I still felt a rush of relief when I was told she’d been banned from various groups but it was hard not to spend the day anxiously waiting and when a blogger on my tour shared her post in one of the lovely reading groups I belong to I actually felt my stomach twist, waiting for her to pop up again.

My son told me I’ve been trolled. That word to me conjures fond memories. Small children curled on my lap. Goats trip-trapping over a bridge, the comical creature who lived underneath. This felt anything but comical.

Today I’ve woken feeling hugely grateful. I’ve reread the messages of support, my positive reviews and that roaring cheer is now the thing I can hear the loudest.

I’m sat at my desk determined to write some words. After all I am a writer and despite my trepidation at publishing this post, I’m not going to let anyone tell me I’m not.

The Surrogate is currently part of a limited time ebook promotion and is available for £0.99/$1.31 on Amazon, iBooks  Kobo, Google and all digital platforms. You can find it on Amazon here

 

 

 

 

Hooking an agent part I – Sharing my submission letter for The Sister

Writing a book was initially a distraction from the chronic pain I was in, a hobby once I suddenly found myself with severely restricted mobility. Even now, I still remember the utter disbelief and excitement when I realised I had an actual finished novel and it was only then I started to think about putting together a submission package and sending my debut, Buried Memories (later retitled The Sister by my publishers) out into the world.

I devoured books, blogs, Googled endlessly for tips on how to write the perfect submission letter, and word by painful word, crafted my offering, almost editing it more than my manuscript. My palms were clammy as I sent off my first submissions, only to two agents at that time, and sat back to wait the alleged 6-8 weeks I’d read about. To my surprise both agents replied within a few hours, they’d loved my letter, been hooked by my elevator pitch, thought the premise was brilliant and and would start reading straight way. Do keep them informed of any offers. What happened to an 8-week wait? Cue total panic (never sub before your manuscript is ready – but that’s another story).

I’m no expert, and neither do I claim to be, but I’ve a few friends at the moment who have reached submission stage and so for them, and everyone else putting together a package, I wanted to share my letter. I do hope it’s helpful.

Next week, for Part II, I’ll be joined by fabulous literary agent, Rory Scarfe, of Furniss Lawton with his guidelines to giving your submission letter a head start.

Good luck to all those subbing!

 

Dear

I enclose the first three chapters and synopsis of my domestic noir novel, ‘BURIED MEMORIES’ a book about a grieving girl who thought there was nothing as frightening as being alone – she was wrong. The novel is complete at 80,000 words.

‘I’ve done something terrible, Grace. I hope you can forgive me.’ Grace Matthews, an anxious young woman is devastated when her best friend, Charlie, dies and feels that until she discovers the meaning behind Charlie’s last words, she cannot move forward. As Grace becomes sucked into the mystery surrounding Charlie’s family, her association with them, especially with Charlie’s sister Anna, threatens to destroy Grace’s career, relationship and ultimately, end her life. Grace’s hunt for the truth forces her to confront the childhood she desperately wanted to forget and she realises she can’t trust anyone, especially those she loves.

I am submitting to you because

This, my debut novel, began life as a flash fiction piece in a writing group challenge last year. I was given three words and ten minutes and the bare bones of Chapter One was born. I couldn’t sleep that night for thinking about Grace and Charlie and felt compelled to write their story. I’ve written non-fiction for various publications and websites for several years. I’ve had a column in Holistic Therapist Magazine (LJ’s Journal) since April 2012 and was a contributor to Tiny Buddha’s 365 Love Challenges (HarperOne/Harper Collins.) I attend writing workshops, evening classes and retreats whenever I can – I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning; show me a literary festival and I’m there! I’m currently working on my second novel, ‘Second-hand secrets.’

Kind regards,

 

Louise Jensen

A day in the life of…debut author Nicola Cassidy & COVER REVEAL

This is such an exciting time for Nicola Cassidy. I remember the huge excitement blended with nerves as I prepared to release my debut. One of the things I was hugely looking forward to was seeing my first cover and I know Nicola felt the same – look how gorgeous her cover is! She’s understandably thrilled.

 

So, Nicola. It’s such a busy time for you. Please tell us about a typical day.

I’m not sure when my day begins. Is it at 7.30am when the eldest appears, hovering at the bedside, pawing at my head or arm, requesting ‘juice’ at intermittent pitch levels until I waken and acknowledge her and tell her to shush or she’ll waken the baby? Or is it at the 3am feed? For the six-month-old? She comes into the bed, snuffling and mooching, ready for milk, animalistic and hungry – my favourite form of her – her at her most basic, needing me the most.

The 3am feed, could be 4am or another one at 5.30am. There are no long stretches of sleep. I’m not even programmed to take them, should they, in a night of miracles, appear. I’ve never been a good sleeper. Everything wakes me. Mostly worries – stresses that loom in the dark, rendering me wide eyed and tired, tossing and turning, willing sleep to cover the gaping problem that stretches across my mind. Always worse, in the dark, in the pre-dawn.

Writing, is probably, a form of therapy. I could always write. It was just there. It was picked up quickly, by my teachers, by my parents – who encouraged it. I had pen pals, I had letters and stories printed, I was a mini journalist before I even knew a journalist was.

It took a time to craft it in such a way that it fit into my life. Properly. Space made. Time given. Using those lofty words about myself – writer. And now, author.

My days are dictated by the structure of our small village, creative lives. My husband is a musician and producer and works late hours. I need to let him sleep, in the mornings, which means getting up with the children, no matter how many times I’ve been up in the night. Currently I’m on maternity leave, so I feel obliged to be with the children, all of my time.

Soon, I’ll return to work, three days a week at an electrical engineering consultancy, and I fear the tiredness that can be covered with cups of tea among the squalor at home, will descend into exhaustion at work. But I’m energised by people. I like the routine. I like having to be presentable, engaging, and my work as a marketing manager, teaches me many skills that I put to use in my promotional work as an author and in my hobby, as a lifestyle and parenting blogger at http://www.LadyNicci.com

I hope returning to work will put a routine on the chaos that is being a stay at home Mum. I might find it easier to write. I work better when my time is limited and structured. I am strict – if I have an hour to write, I will take it, regardless of what else needs to be done.

I have learned to write anywhere. It used to be only at my desk, which I installed in our spare room and set up in an Ikea inspired brochure quality weekend. Now I prefer my bed, beside the sleeping baby, cosy and settled, tapping away on my purple laptop, a gift from my husband who has always believed in my writing. In me. In my success.

On the days at home, there are thousands of jobs to be done. I don’t make a good housewife. I would love to live in a showhouse, but I seem to be missing the part that can make that happen. I envy homes I go into where everything is in place, organised, candlelit. I’m learning though. I’ve started using a launderette and soon, we’re hoping to hire a cleaner. I need to give the time to writing – to understand that my time will be better spent, producing words and editing than scrubbing the floors or the bathroom again.

On my days with the children, we might visit a playground, or family, or meet with friends, or go to town, shopping. Carting two small children around is no easy feat. Some days it takes two hours to load us all into the car, fed, washed and dressed. But I always feel better getting out. They get bored at home.

In the evenings I cook a family meal. I thank Slimming World for teaching my how to cook. I’m trying to be strict, to rediscover the figure I once had. But two babies in three years and a penchant for wine, crisps and all things chocolate usually lay waste to my skinny plans.

I’m thinking about the book launch. About the photos. About how I want to look my best. I plan on having a big party – an event to mark my dreams coming true. We had a huge white wedding, but I was overwhelmed – I couldn’t enjoy the day. This is my second chance. At celebrating. At marking what is a significant time in my life. I’ve wanted to publish a book since I was a child.

Late evening, if we manage to get the baby settled, we will watch a programme we are currently following. We like gripping TV dramas, House of Cards, Mr Robot, Game of Thrones – anything with a good script. I will watch fantasy, but I don’t read it. I like literary fiction, particularly if it’s set in the past. It inspires me – I hope to one day achieve such a level in my writing.

On the nights when my husband is working, I will take my laptop out again. I’ve had to stop writing at night, because of exhaustion; I don’t have the energy to be coherent. But I might blog or do some marketing, or email friends or do some online shopping. I rarely watch TV on my own. I see it as a waste of time. Time is precious. Free time, time that is yours to do what you wish, is so rare.

When my book was picked up and I knew that I would be working with a professional editor, I thought that I would be facing into a type of deconstruction – my words pulled apart, everything examined, changes imposed. But it hasn’t been like that at all. The whole thing has been an enhancement, facts checked, issues resolved, a massage of the manuscript, to be turned out, sharper; something I can stand over, proud.

Every night, since I signed with my agent in 2016, I visualised myself signing a book contract, just before I went to sleep. It was my version of counting sheep. I knew it would happen. I just wasn’t sure when, or how.

Now, I am unsure what to visualise. Sometimes it is the launch. Other times it’s a ranking on Amazon. But rankings don’t have quite the same visual effect as being offered a book deal. Nothing really can compare to that.

And then the baby is awake again. It’s 3am and the cycle of my day begins again. Children, home, work and writing. It is my life. A very lucky, lucky, life.

I’m in awe of anyone who even manages to get dressed with a new baby in the house, let alone write books! Thanks so much for sharing, Nicola and best of luck with your debut. 

Nicola Cassidy is a writer and blogger from Co. Louth, Ireland. Her debut historical fiction novel December Girl releases on Thursday 26 October 2017, published by Bombshell Books. She is married to Ronan and is Mum to August (3) and Bonnies (mere months). Find her on her website or follow her on Twitter or on her blog

A day in the life of… author & writing school founder Chantelle Atkins

 

Today I welcome Chantelle Atkins to my blog who as well as writing books runs a writing school. It’s heartwarming to share Chantelle’s passion for life – she really is living her dreams. Over to you, Chantelle.

Like many writers, I can’t rely on my writing income to pay the bills, but I am fortunate, because my other jobs are just as much fun as writing. I’m a self-employed dog walker and pet sitter, and I also run my own writing based business; Chasing Driftwood Writing Group, which provides creative writing clubs and workshops to adults and children in my local area of Christchurch, Dorset. If you include writing, I technically run three self-employed businesses, and although I don’t think any of them will ever make me rich, I do feel immensely lucky to be doing so many things I enjoy and am passionate about. My dreams when I was a child were to work with animals and be a writer, so to be as busy as I am right now, feels like a dream come true. However, with four children to juggle aged between 3 and 14, I do struggle at times to get it all right! I’d like to tell you about a typical day in my life, which is today, Monday.

Morning. I’m up at 6.45 which is a bit of a lay in, as it’s the summer holidays so there is no school run. I’m actually up before the children, so enjoy breakfast and a cup of tea in peace! I feed my dogs and let the chickens and ducks out, and then I have to grab my 3-year-old son and get him dressed as we have some pet sitting duties to see to. Leaving the other kids asleep, we leave the house at 7.45 to drive down the lane to feed a neighbours guinea pigs. From there we drive further down the lane to pick up a dog for dog walking. After that, we also feed her and the resident cat and drive back home. My almost 15-year-old is up by now so she looks after my son while I take our own dogs out for a walk. There is just enough time for a coffee before my mum turns up to look after everyone, while me and my eldest child go to my writing club at a local hall. I normally do kids workshops every school holiday, but this time I am trying something new with a weekly, pay as you go writing club. So far, we have covered comic books, and using local maps to inspire stories! The next few weeks will also involve FanFiction and poetry and song! I absolutely love working with young people like this. I used to be a childminder, so starting Chasing Driftwood was an amazing way to combine working with kids with my passion for writing. An hour later, we are back home, but I only have time to let my daughter out of the car, while I drive off to another dog walking job.

Afternoon. After a gorgeous walk down by the river, I’m back home for lunch and a well deserved cup of tea with my mum and the kids, and my sister who has dropped by with her bunch. We haven’t seen each other much lately, so enjoy a really good catch up and gossip! They leave around 4pm, and I drag three of the kids out for a walk with our dogs down to the little river at the end of our lane. Bliss. At the moment, I am preparing for the release of my 6th novel (YA dystopian adventure called The Tree Of Rebels) whilst also putting the final touches to another novel. However, every time I leave my house and explore my local area of Hurn, I have another story in my mind. I have a four book YA post-apocalyptic story planned and I am just bursting with it. I can’t write it yet, but it’s just getting louder and louder, and every time I walk around this area, I come up with scenes and bits of dialogue. I am forever tapping into my phone as I walk!

Evening. I don’t usually get to do any real writing until my youngest is in bed. If I am lucky I might get the chance to look at my emails throughout the day, but that will be it. Once he is asleep though, the evening is mine, and I grab it hungrily. Writing is in my head all day, so much so that I am often extremely distracted and prone to making silly mistakes, like turning up on the wrong day for something. I’ve always been like this. My mum used to say I lived in my own world, and my nick-name was ‘cloth-ears’ because I rarely paid attention to anything anyone said to me. Now, I find it a struggle sometimes, to keep the house running and the animals sorted and the kids happy, find a way to earn money AND fit my writing in. I manage to do it all, just! The evening is lovely because I make a nice cup of tea, sit up in my room and let rip. At the moment, I am editing what will hopefully be the last draft of a novel called Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. I am doing bits and bobs to prepare for the release of The Tree Of Rebels, and I am always planning my weekly blog posts. As a self-published author, I am doing everything myself, so need to dedicate a certain amount of time to building my author platform and networking with people. I have to say, I love every moment of it all! Currently, I am also going through the process of turning Chasing Driftwood Writing Group into a Community Interest Company, so that I can better access funding for all the writing based ideas I have! There is always planning in process for my workshops, which I run for kids and adults at various times, and my clubs. I am strict about actual writing though. Although it is editing right now, I commit myself to four chapters a night, no matter what. I do two chapters before I even look at emails or social media, then have a bit of a break to do other things, and then do the next two chapters. Being strict like this is the only way I get things done. I can’t wait to get these next two books out! They’ve taken two years of working on them simultaneously to get them right. After that, I will go back to another YA novel I have at third draft stage, and once that one is done, it will be time for the four book series I mentioned.

I love everything I do, and although there are a lot of ups and downs and uncertainties, I can’t see myself ever doing anything else. I have a lot of plans for the future, and just hope I can hold it all together well enough to succeed!

 

I’m exhausted just reading all that! Thanks so much for sharing, Chantelle.

Chantelle’s latest release, The Tree Rebels will be published on 11th August, you can find it here

Chantelle Atkins was born and raised in Dorset, England and still resides there now with her husband, four children and multiple pets. She is addicted to both reading and music, and is on a mission to become as self-sufficient as possible. She writes for both the young adult and adult genres. Her fiction is described as gritty, edgy and compelling. Her debut Young Adult novel The Mess Of Me deals with eating disorders, self-harm, fractured families and first love. Her second novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side follows the musical journey of a young boy attempting to escape his brutal home life. She is also the author of This Is Nowhere, This Is The Day and has recently released a collection of short stories related to her novels called Bird People and Other Stories. Chantelle has had mulitiple articles about writing published by Author’s Publish magazine, and is also a reviewer with Underground Book Reviews. Her next novel, a YA dystopian is due for release August 2017.

Website/blog  Facebook  Twitter

A writer, a mum & the end of an era. What now?

 

Nineteen years.

That’s how long I’ve been doing the primary school run for.

Nineteen years ago my eldest son was in his first year of ‘little’ school and now my youngest son is finishing his final year. A full circle.

Nineteen years of spelling test practice, egg and spoon races, school discos, times tables pinned to the fridge, Christmas concerts with homemade costumes. Nineteen years of knowing all the kids in the school, calling the teachers by their first names, school trips, fun facts and endless questions about stuff they’ve learned over dinner. (Yesterday Finley watched a birth video and that was enough to put everyone off their lasagne).

It’s been an emotional week for me. The end of an era. Primary has been part of my life for almost half of my life and I’ve been building up to today’s leaving assembly with a mixture of denial and apprehension thinking ‘what now?’ My children are growing up, forging their place in the world and admittedly I’ve worried whether that place will still have room for me.

I’ve watched Finley’s two brothers transition into adulthood with a sense of amazement and awe. Knowing I’ve raised such well-rounded young men is a constant source of pride and wonder and I know it’s Finley’s time to gain some independence. Dip his toe into the world. It’s been hard not to feel anxious about him making this leap to ‘big’ school, unfairly assuming he must feel the same sense of creeping dread I do.

Today, I sat in the school hall that always smells of rubber and disinfectant for the last time. Cramped on one of the uncomfortable orange plastic chairs which are too big for kids and too small for adults, trying desperately to keep my emotions inside.

The children were called to the front one by one and presented with a book. Behind them a screen showed their image with two speech bubbles, one saying what they wanted to be when they grow up; the other saying who has most inspired them in the world. Finley’s photo flashed up and I leaned forward, straining to read the words that had come from his heart. “When I grow up I want to be an author of fictional stories.” The walls of my throat constricted as I swallowed hard. The next speech bubble stated “I am most inspired by my mum who is a brilliant bestselling author.” And this was my undoing. Tears streamed unchecked down my cheeks as I fumbled for tissues in my bag.

With a rush of relief I realised that Finley is excited for the future and it was only then I could look at today as a beginning rather than an end. Secure in the knowledge that whatever the next stage brings we will face it, as we always do. As a family. With love.

LIVE author chat this weekend – do join me!

 

This Sunday 17th July I shall be over at The Fiction Cafe on Facebook at 8pm GMT chatting live about books, writing and getting published. Do come pop along and take part – it should be a lot of fun.

If you’re not around Sunday you can post questions before the event and I’ll make sure they are answered.

You can join the group here.

Look forward to seeing you!