They’re not pyjamas, they’re house trousers

It will not come as surprise to many that writers or other creatives who work from home, might not wear a suit to sit in their cave/desk/study. There’s a strong possibility that there will be a lack of ties adorning necks and polished shoes will probably be still in the box from the last wedding/funeral/event they were worn at.

I like to think of my ‘writing clothes’ as a unique blend of pyjamas, fluffy socks (because I can never find BOTH my slippers) and an assortment of scarves and woolly jumpers to help keep out the cold. Sitting in the same spot for long periods of time can wreak havoc on the circulatory system so I set alarms on my phone to ensure I make the 23 step (yes, I counted) journey to the kitchen to switch the kettle on every once in a while. I would like to add it was not me that opened the biscuit tin. Move along please, nothing to see here.

The dilemma I have is when the doorbell bing-bongs me out of my intense screen -staring habit. I get up out of my seat and walk towards the front door. It’s a blessing to us all that there aren’t any mirrors in my hallway otherwise I would never open the door again.

My hair, usually frowned at by the kids before they head to school, brings comments of ‘I like what you’ve done with your hair this morning, mum’, their sniggery smiles linger in the air as I do the age-old pat-down of loose strands before turning the key in the front door. I ignore the weetabix blob on my jumper and the ink on my index finger – it’s all part of the process.

I know there stands an unsuspecting person on my doorstep. I’m right.

“Oh, err, did I wake you?” says a freshly brushed set of teeth. I look at my watch, it’s 2pm.

No, no you did not, my friend my forced smile says back. I look down at my attire and say nothing.

These are house trousers, not pyjamas. And I am writing. My grin confirms. We nod at each other as the post is exchanged or the parcel is signed for.

The key is turned in the lock once again and I get on with my day.

 

The literary coo and its procrastinating tail

I always make the best plans. I plan to write more, I plan to procrastinate less and to just get things done and most importantly, I plan to read my calendar properly so I am existing in the right week. Two out of three isn’t too bad.

This week has been a spectacular case of planning mishaps. I have known for a very long time that there are four writing submissions I need to prepare for September.

Cries of ‘I’ve got plenty of time’ and the old chestnut ‘I’ll just do this one thing first and then I’ll get on’ fill the air. It’s fair to say I misjudged it all.

August and September have been busy.  My son started high school, I have a new part-time job, so perhaps my mind hasn’t been as focused as it should’ve been….

Deadline 1 was missed. Gone. Sent away on its holidays never to return again.

Deadlines 2, 3 and 4 were still achievable, just. For some reason my irrational conscious thought it would be a great idea to not worry about these three too much. The 30th September is AGES away it blatantly lied.

Before I knew it, it’s Monday 25th September and I have four days, preferably three (to take into account a snail mail submission) to complete everything.

The emergency family meeting commenced with the words ‘I’ve mucked it all up. I’ll be at the dining table if you need me. As you were’. Hatches were battened down, drawbridges were in the up position and every other metaphor for DO NOT DISTURB was mentioned.

There is a saying where I live about being the last to do anything – the coo’s tail. I can now raise my hand and say, yes, that relates to me. I am the literary coo and I have a procrastinating tail.

In two days I have managed to successfully (in my eyes, the proof will be in the pudding) edit 4000 words, prepare a 500 word synopsis, a 1 page synopsis, edit 600 words, a pitch, edit 2500 words, a writing CV, a 200 word personal statement, a 300 word summary and drink 9/10/11… cups of tea. There were no partridges or pear trees involved in the making of this delusional post.

Never, ever again.

Yes, it can be done. I am living, sleepy, bedraggled proof of that. But don’t do it my way. Channel your inner scout/guide motto – be prepared.

 

The Story Shop of Words

EIBF sign story shop 2016

In the wee small hours of the second of May, I pondered about whether to submit a middle grade story I was working on to Story Shop. It was the middle of the night but I wasn’t tired, so I sat and listened to the creaks and groans of my sleeping household and considered whether or not to take the plunge.

Run by the City of Literature in conjunction with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, this is an event I have submitted to twice before but without success. I decided, with six hours until the deadline at 9am, that I would go for it. So I pressed send – that prominent key the keyboard manufacturers always make bigger than any of the others.

Woosh. Away it went. No time to check for spelling/grammar/punctuation mistakes for the hundredth time. It was in the hands of the literary gods now.

Would it be third time lucky? Did I really have what it takes to stand up in front of a live audience and read one of my stories out loud? On my own? On a stage at my favourite book festival?

As it just so happens, the gatekeepers to this elusive path saw something in my ramblings and I was one of the lucky seventeen to be given a much coveted slot.

Elated. Ecstatic. Energised. Euphoric. Excited. All the ‘e’ words I can think of right now that can describe the feeling of my work being acknowledged as ‘not too shabby after all’. As far as I was concerned, I had flown past the slushpile and landed into the ‘OK, let’s see what we’ve got here’ pile. A small yet major triumph for a fledgling writer. It was now or never. My chance to shine.

I didn’t have as long as I thought to practice. The school holidays had started so time to familiarise myself with the story was limited. To help me break it down into easy to swallow chunks, I increased the font size of my words and used line spaces for when I was to breathe. No-one wants to watch an author running out of breath or forgetting her lines! Holding the well-thumbed pages in my hand, I 2016-08-16 11.00.13bored my cat to sleep as I recited it over and over. I didn’t want anyone else in my family to hear it before the big day so she seemed happy to oblige. Her snores were somewhat distracting and it did cross my mind that perhaps I was way out my depth here and it really just wasn’t that interesting. A small part of me thought it was all a wonderful dream and I would wake up any minute and my world would go back to the way it was. I’m happy to say I’m still in that dream.

Walking into the author’s yurt, the place were only the truly coveted are allowed to dine and chat and use the very nice toilets thank you very much, I had an insane grin. This quickly turned to terror as I spotted my favourite crime author having some soup. Sweaty palm time. This was not the time to introduce myself and I’m sure he is grateful I didn’t come over anyway. I’m not sure I would’ve made much sense anyway. The err’s and um’s and so’s would have been thrilling to discuss I’m sure.

2016-08-19 21.46.11I made myself comfy and waited to be called. My family flanked either side of Yurt EIBF 2016me, all was well with my world as we stared in disbelief at the Author badge that hung from my neck. Me, a confirmed author?

I didn’t feel nervous, I just wanted to get on stage and read my words. I just wanted to know what everyone thought. Introduced onto the great stage of the Speigletent, I made my way to the mic. I was very glad I was taller than it. There was no need to bring my step from the house. There were no out of reach cupboards to try and open. There was just me and them. Them being a sea of expectant faces grinning in the twinkling stage lights.

2016-08-16 15.03.44

I just pretended my cat was asleep at my feet and I was talking to her just like I had been a few hours before. I breathed when I was meant to. I did my best to slow myself down and I just told the world about my character, her love of roller skates and the loss of her mum.

It seemed to work. Because everyone clapped at the end and smiled as I took my final bow and left the stage. Once off the stage a girl of about nine came to speak to me, she asked me if my book was for sale in the shop. My book? In the shop? One day, I told her. I thanked her for chatting to me and walked around the rest of the day with an overwhelmed heart full of pride.

Edsketch2Messages of love, support and genuine interest in my writing haven’t stopped since. I have been flabbergasted and encouraged in equal measure. I have even had my event immortalised by the elusive Edinburgh Sketcher. EdSketch1Fine praise indeed and very humbling to think I captured their imagination in that way.

I just did what I had to do to tell my story. I’m just glad you all liked it.

It was worth every cringing recording I made on my phone, every walk around the garden to time myself and every cold cup of tea I found once I lifted my head from the story pages every once in a while.

If I can do it, so can you. Be brave and tell your story.

If you would like to hear the whole thing – here’s the link. I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

If you’re visiting the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year, be sure to head to the Moulin Rouge Speigletent and listen to the latest literary talent at Story Shop – 3pm and it’s free!  Fill the seats, listen to their words and clap as loud as you can.

Send

So.

You’ve spell checked, formatted, polished and primed your baby and now it’s off. It’s flown the nest to another in-box awaiting perusal. It’s gone to a house of gatekeepers that will know from the first sentence whether they want to read on or not. They will look over your blood, sweat and tears with an understanding of the hours, weeks, months and even years you’ve poured into what they now hold in their hands.

Last nights interrupted sleep was worth it. The unfashionable early starts and coffee devouring was worth it. The endless procrastinating instead of just getting on with it, was worth it. How else can you find out whether or not pandas do like going down slides as much as you do?

It’s done now. You can relax. Maybe have a biscuit to celebrate. Well done.

You’ve pressed send.

That’s the hardest part.

The literary underdog

I am currently watching the tennis at Wimbledon. It’s exciting to hear the crowd shout for their idol and yet with each match I watch, I find myself rooting for the player who doesn’t get the most cheers from the rain-soaked stands or has the higher seed against their name on the scoreboard.

I’ve been watching the Euros too and again I find myself cheering on the side that the commentators have decided, well before the penny has been thrown into the air to pick ends, aren’t going to win.  Perhaps they felt they didn’t deserve to get to the next round, who knows. I want them to prove the naysayers wrong, to come out from nowhere and have their left-field moment and show that they are just as good, if not better than the most popular team or player out there.

When short-lists come out for the latest writing award, it’s refreshing to see a new name sitting among the stalwarts. A bright, exciting light among the steady flow of shiny guaranteed winners. These are the writers I admire the most. The ones who jump out and surprise us.

As a fledgling writer, that’s what I aim to do. I want to prove to myself that I can do it, I don’t concern myself too much with what others think. I want to be that element of surprise. The one nobody was expecting to win.

I know what I need to do to get there too. I need to finish my latest draft(s) and embrace the dream-like conversations I hold in my head every day. Although, knowing me, the elevator moment I have been training for would probably go something like this:

Me: *presses ground floor button in lift*
Favourite agent: Hold the doors please. Thanks
Me: You’re very welcome
Favourite agent: I see you’re reading one of my client’s books? (in the whole grand scheme of things, they would probably never say this but bear with me, it’s my dream)
Me: Yes, it’s wonderful *I add in witty remark about any of the characters/plot/scene setting that makes me sound like I know what I’m talking about*
Polite pause with nodding of heads in agreement
Me: I….
The lift doors open and my favourite agent smiles at me and steps out. There is no golden handshake, no passing of business cards, there’s just me procrastinating in a lift.

I remain inside and the doors close once again. I wish I had talked faster I growl at myself as it takes me back up to the floor I came from. An old lady gets in, grappling with eight dogs on leads and they pee on my shoes. Serves me right.

‘Yes, of course I can send you my first three chapters’ rings out in my head as I continue on with my day.

I don’t consider myself an underdog as such, I just hope that if this scenario ever happens, I will a) know exactly who is in the lift with me and b) just get on with the pitch and see what they say in reply to my excitable planned speech and reddening face. You just never know because life is full of surprises.

I’ll have my 3rd set ace and my 92nd minute winning penalty one day.