I love work. Writing. Organising. Meetings. Deadlines. Achieving. I`m that person who writes things they`ve already done on their to-do list, just to cross them off.
But I started out in the world of work balancing the joy of parenthood with the frustration of never getting stuck into work like I wanted to.
So, returning to full time employment is like scratching a seventeen year itch.
I`ve worked, hard, doing things I`m passionate about and I`m pretty good at. I`ve said “no” to most other things. I take time off, to read, and walk, and do nothing. To have coffee with my friends and laugh with my family.
I thought I`d got it right. I thought I`d got this work-life balance thing sussed.
The drive to do more kept tugging on my hand. One more page edited, another five-hundred words written. Get that talk not due for ages sorted. I started to feel like I needed to fill every day with something productive. Maybe it`s a down side to being self-employed. I suspect it`s a lot more complicated than that.
Then, towards the last half of 2015, this happened:
I started procrastinating.
For the first time in 5 years, I began putting off writing my book.
I didn`t have writer`s block. I could write. I knew what to write (endless planning became part of the procrastination).
I had writer`s bleugh. I didn`t want to write.
It became the last thing on my to-do list. The problem being, that list is looooong.
People would ask me, “How`s the next book going?”
I would cobble some reply about how I didn`t have much time to write lately.
I know there is only one way an author has time to write.
They make time.
So, I asked myself – why aren`t you making the time to do what you love?
After careful consideration I discounted getting out of the habit, genuinely making bad choices and needing to plan the story more (I have never replotted a book so much or felt so uninspired to actually write it).
One tearful Saturday morning I told my husband I was on the verge of giving it up. It wasn`t worth it. Maybe I only had three books in me. Maybe it was time for another career change. I told him I couldn`t think of any reason to keep on going.
He replied, “because you`re good at it.”
Pah! I was good at my other jobs. It didn`t mean I was meant to do them forever.
What he didn`t say was, “because you love it.”
Right then, I wasn`t sure I did anymore. Writing had become hard work. Confusing. Overwhelming.
Like the mother, with multiple small children clawing at her knees, the baby on her hip crying while dinner burns. She knows deep down she loves her kids, but can`t find the energy to feel it right then.
I knew it was crunch point. I had lost the one thing that makes anything possible, and without which nothing is.
I had lost hope.
This was new to me.
It took a very wise woman I know, who when asking me about my writing, was not fooled for one second by my polite reply, to tell me the truth.
“You have written three books in three years. You need to sit back, take some time out, revaluate. You`re going too fast. Slow down. Stop for a while if you have to.”
I thought that`s what I`d been doing – taking time out from writing, doing other work, volunteering, organising, decorating my office.
Doing other work…
Did I need to take some time out from work?
Maybe not completely. Did I need to slow down? Again?
To remember that more is not better. To slay that old dragon who shouts that my worth is in what I do, what I produce, and what other people say about it, not in who I am.
To learn that it is impossible to create something of beauty if you are running on empty, pressured, distracted. Exhausted. Hopeless.
I do not have to work all the time, simply because I can.
So. As frustrated as I am by having to slow down. As guilty as part of me tries to feel. As disappointed as I am to be faced once again with the truth that I am not invincible, or as together as think I am, or able to do half of the things I would like to RIGHT NOW…
My deadlines, targets, ambitions and to-do list are currently on time-out.
I`m working hard every day to ignore that nagging voice saying, “Time to get going. Go, go go!” Because a deeper, stronger, wiser voice than mine says, “Not yet. Not until you can`t bear not to start again.”
I`m breathing in, soaking up, slowing down. Pottering a little. Doing some research here and there.
And I`m trusting that when it`s time, I will wake up and find I`ve fallen in love again.
I`m feeling hopeful about that.
As Christmas comes closer, I start thinking about food.
Well, the truth is I`m often thinking about food…
But this time of year I`m dreaming about it. Even more than usual.
There is so much about food I love – planning, shopping, preparing, sharing – and that`s all before I get to the eating. Most Saturday mornings you`ll find me in the kitchen, blissfully surrounded by piles of vegetable peelings and bubbling pans.
So as December approaches, I relish the opportunity to pore over recipes, plan menus and spend hours chopping, rolling, stirring and tasting.
The scent of cinnamon and cloves, the crunch of chestnuts, stocking up on fancy cheese and biscuits and digging out Delia Smith`s Christmas with four decades and two generations of scribbles in the margins are the highlights of Christmas for me. Not simply because I get to eat all that food – although, if I`m honest, I am going to enjoy every bite.
But because of who I get to eat – and cook – it with. These festive treats are past memories – and the future promise – of family, and friends gathered together.
Food is so much more than fuel to get us through the cold months.
It`s an opportunity for conversation, and laughter. The chance to connect – and reconnect – as we savour not just the taste, but the time spent away from our work, and our screens, to nourish our souls as well as our bodies.
- So, I will be finding the festive spirit in the kitchen with my mum and sister-in-law on Christmas Eve as we slice and grate, weigh and whisk, the cousins playing together in the next room.
- I will find it talking through dessert recipes with my kids, as they each decide what they want to create this year.
- As I pour champagne, treasuring the bittersweet memory of my dad topping up my glass with a smile.
- Balancing a foil-wrapped dish on my knees as we head down South for the annual gathering at my brother`s house.
- Hunting for a set of matching plates.
- Digging out the camping table to stack extra pots on.
- Choosing napkins.
- Retelling the same old stories, our bellies full and cheeks rosy.
There is a lot we can find to dislike about the pressures of this season. The materialism. The waste. I`ve had times when I`ve questioned the extra expense on food we don`t really need, given the millions with not enough.
But I`ve come to the conclusion that as human beings, we need times of feasting, and celebration. Times of abundance when we choose the best, the tastiest, over “that`ll do” and scraping by.
Times to remember that life is a marvellous and precious gift, full of wonder and beauty.
And times to cherish, to linger and appreciate those we can share it with.
Wishing you a joy filled and peaceful Christmas
Summer is nearly over – that which a few short months ago hung heavy with promise – May evenings drenched with the fragrance of pollen. The tempting stroke of sunshine on shoulders, inviting us to play, to dance. The long days creating that illusion of time, of endless hours to enjoy the warmth, the light, the rampant, glorious life.
But as the nip in the air brings the reminder that September is coming, I look back at the dying summer and think, “It`s nearly over – did I do all those things I will long for during winter`s cold grey? Did I appreciate it while it was here, make the most of it?”
Did I have enough barbeques?
Go on enough walks through ripening fields?
Watch enough sunsets?
Spend enough time noticing, appreciating, relishing rather than sat inside with my eyes on a screen?
My restless questions all come down to this- did I make enough memories this summer, or let it slip by?
Do I have any late-summer regrets?
My answer, this year, is fewer than most.
There were a lot of firsts for me to remember –
First trip to another continent, including first long haul flight.
First time seeing the majesty of a natural wonder anything like the scale of Niagara Falls.
First time spotting turtles in the wild, chipmunks, huge birds of prey so close I could almost stretch out and touch them.
First time making s`mores on a beach fire, as the setting sun turned the water a thousand shades of pink.
My son caught his first fish, using flour and water for bait.
Did they make this summer worth it – enough?
Worth the money I could have spent on finally getting my bathroom fixed?
But for me, what this made this summer enough, was that while visiting Canada, we got to know some of my dad`s family.
I spent decades with selective mutism feeling awkward around people, finding meeting strangers or those I haven`t seen for a while at best challenging, often excruciating. I have to work hard at extended family gatherings not to feel out of place, boring, too quiet, a little bit odd.
So, there was a twinge of apprehension about going to stay with a cousin I`d had maybe two brief conversations with at a wedding years before, who also happened to be from a different culture and continent to me.
Oh my goodness.
I found my people. My species. My tribe.
I found someone else who memorised the name and location of every U.S. state for fun.
Someone else who never “did the ironing” or painted her nails.
People who loved walking in the middle of nowhere, and baking, and buying heaps of vegetables direct from farmers, relishing the challenge of how they were going eat them all.
People who were calm, thoughtful, generous. Who had plenty to say about things that mattered without making a song and dance about it.
I felt at home. Like I didn`t have to try. Totally unapologetic for being me.
Whew. I don`t feel that very often with people I don`t know well.
But. As I feel the nip in the air, hear the rumble of gears as we head into a new season, I`m thinking about this…
Next summer I will be 40. The first grey hairs and laughter lines, the creaking bones of autumn are starting to make themselves felt.
So – how do I feel about what has gone? Was it enough?
Did I get that at the end of summer, the memories I care about are all about connections?
Did I not only make time for them, did I dare to let people in?
I`ve had a lot of years where I haven`t managed this very well. A lot of time wasted worrying about what people thought, convinced it wasn`t good.
A lot of years trying to invite people in while keeping the security chain on the door.
But the great news is, of course, that September beckons – a new start, new season, another chance to think about the memories we are making. And, as the book of Job says, “As long as the earth remains, there will be…summer and winter”. We don`t know how many more summers each of us has, but as I ponder one more nearly over, I hope I`m going to make the most of them. Make some memories. Make some connections – real, deep, authentic ones.
The peaceful connections with those who are my tribe, and the adventurous ones with those who aren`t.
So – how about you?
What firsts have you experienced this season?
What memories have you made?
What makes a summer “enough” for you?
OK, without wishing to send anyone into spasms of jealousy, here are some of the things I love about being a self-employed writer (hang on in there – I`m getting to the bad bits next):
- I get to pick my own hours, which means I can at any point spontaneously switch off the laptop and go shopping (I have almost, virtually NEVER done this, of course. Especially not when accidentally stumbling across something pretty I wanted to buy while doing online research for a book).
- I get to be my own boss, tell myself what to do and decide when I want to do it. Today I spent an hour “thinking”. That meant lying on my bed with my eyes closed, dreaming about the beginnings of my next book. I`m not sure I could get away with that in an office.
- I don`t have to worry about what anyone else thinks, I don`t have to compromise or put up with irritating colleagues.
- Most days my commute involves coming down the stairs.
- I can wear slipper socks to work and don`t have to worry about bad hair days.
- I`m in charge of my own budget.
- Whole days without having to say a word to anybody. And I can talk to myself as much as I like.
That said, here are some of the things I don`t love so much about it:
- I have to pick my own hours, or the work doesn`t get done. This often means working longer than I ever did when I was an employee.
- I have to be my own boss, make all the decisions and accept all the responsibility. If I want a pat on the back I usually have to do it myself. Even writing this seems sad and pathetic.
- I rarely get to hear what anyone else thinks. I have no colleagues to offer a different perspective or discuss things with, no bigger picture.
- Sometimes I don`t leave the house all day. And I spend evenings and weekends at my office. Except I don`t actually have an office yet, so I work wherever I can find space/peace.
- Tax returns.
- My Christmas parties aren`t much fun.
- Whole days without saying a word to anybody.
As an independent introvert, the 1st list far outweighs the 2nd. But after 15 years, I`ve found the biggest drawback to self-employment is this:
That little word – self.
One of the struggles with working for and by myself, is that inevitably it becomes all about me.
I think all of us face this issue to some degree. Finding the balance between our agenda, our wishes and needs, living our precious lives the way we choose. But at the same time recognising we`re not alone –we need other people and to hear what they`ve got to say. That living for ourselves generally ends up lonely, empty, and with an unbalanced view of the world.
For me, being self-employed means working hard to avoid becoming self-obsessed or self-centered, stuck in my own little world. I know I don`t always manage it. My husband often bears the brunt of my verbal onslaught as I dump a day`s pent up conversation on him.
But there are things I can do to help:
- This week I visited a writer`s group and had fun creating with other people.
- Spending some of my spare time with others – I help out at a youth club, organise women`s events, lead a 20s group.
- Connecting to the right stuff on social media, to see what`s going on, and what`s being said about it.
And once a week my work is brushing my hair, swapping slippers for a pair of shoes, getting out and seeing how some other people`s work is going. Yes, that usually includes coffee or a nice lunch, maybe a walk in the countryside. Some laughter, story-telling, a nice bunch of flowers. But what can I say? My boss told me it`s an essential part of the job…
How about you?
Do you enjoy the buzz that comes from being part of a team, or relish the idea of time to your own thoughts, creating your own deadlines?
What do you love most about how and where you spend your days?
It`s 20 years this month since I met my husband, deciding straight away that he was my number one choice for a marriage partner (never thinking for a second I would actually end up with him). At 18, my ideas about wedded bliss were a little naive.
At 38, it turns out my ideas about being a professional writer were too.
There are probably loads of reasons why writing is nothing like marriage, but for what it`s worth, here are 10 reasons why it sometimes is. Of course, I`m not necessarily talking about my own marriage, here…
1. When I first started, it was love at first sight.
I quickly became a woman obsessed – at the expense of all other commitments. I went from a person who rolled her own pasta to throwing a tray of chips in the oven because I couldn`t tear myself away from my laptop. During time away I grew listless and grumpy. Even when I was doing other things, like cooking, or driving, or walking my kids to school, I wasn`t really there. My head was working out plot twists, crafting imaginary conversations, getting to know my characters.
2. A few years on, however…the initial infatuation has somewhat faded.
People often comment that it must be hard to motivate myself. I don`t find it that hard, I still love writing. But I do get much more easily distracted. The internet, of course, being the biggest temptation. Yesterday when quickly googling bridal flowers for my book, I ended up reading a news story about a man who pushed his girlfriend out of the way to stop her catching the bouquet at a wedding. I have to be more proactive, deliberate and intentional about both finding the time to write, and making the most of that time.
3. Comparisons are never a good idea.
When I`m novel writing, I have to stay away from other fiction until I`ve finished for the day. Otherwise I find myself, however sub-consciously, trying to write like someone else. My books don`t need me to be someone else. The someone else is already doing an excellent job. The best thing I can do for my books is to be authentically me.
4. Honestly is (nearly) always the best policy.
Apart from those times when honesty means being overly rude, or crude, or unpleasant, or completely ridiculous. Thank goodness I have an editor to point those times out. If only someone did the same for my marriage…
5. There are no short cuts to creating something meaningful.I`ve learnt that any form of artistic endeavour needs time. Time to think, to plan, to dream, to wonder, to feel. Time to go deep, to get beyond whatever happens to be uppermost in my thoughts that day, which is probably drivel, almost definitely self-absorbed, and quite possibly thought-less.
6. It takes sacrifice.
When people say to me, “Ooh, I`d love to write a book,” I think, that`s great. Why not go for it? But I want to tell them: you have no idea how hard it is, how much effort it involves and how much work it is going to be. My journey to becoming an author felt like a trek up a huge mountain. One so thick with vegetation I couldn`t guess how long it was going to take, or if I`d ever reach the top. Like any adventure, there were times it felt difficult, exhausting, scary and painful and I didn`t know how I was going to make it.
7. You need quantity to achieve quality
After a few days away, I get nervous about how I`m going to reconnect with my story. If I will still enjoy it as much, if it will come as naturally to me. It can be easier to busy myself with something else than make the effort to sit back down. But every time I do, I remember how much I love it. And I remember why I`m so much better off keeping that connection strong.
8. Being open to change is essential.
Change, as in changing how I do things – how and what I read, write, plot, plan, edit. Weighing up criticism, learning from other people, deleting my favourite scene because, even though I love it, it doesn`t work with the rest of the book. And changing who I am – growing, stretching myself, building endurance. Dealing with old enemies like fear and self-consciousness and the need for approval.
9. It can be easy to get lost in the day to day.It astounds me how quickly after our dreams come true we tend to acclimatise to them. For three years I had my eye on this incredible goal – to be a published author. Now, a year on, I need to remind myself not to take it for granted, to nurture an attitude of gratitude and appreciate what I have, not feed my discontent about what I don`t have (yet).
10. If it`s the right time, the right story – it is absolutely worth it.
When my mum was growing up, her little house had “The Room”. A room so superior it only needed one name, like a mega-star. Or like those people who are worthy of being called “The Man”.
Full of the best furniture and the nicest ornaments. Saved for the most important visitors. The first time Mum was allowed in The Room without her parents (apart from cleaning it on Saturdays) was when she started courting.
Over time, The Room did evolve into a dining room, and became the place my brothers and I played when we visited on Sunday afternoons (never realising what a privilege that was).
But what a shame that for decades, the best room in the house sat mostly empty.
As I contemplate a “significant” birthday next year, and time seems to rush past ever faster, I`m realising that there are plenty of things I might save for special occasions, only to find that they`re out of date, outdated, or –let`s be honest here- don`t fit me anymore.
Why do we keep our most gorgeous dress, or the suit that makes us look like a Hollywood heartthrob, in the back of the wardrobe, to be worn the least?
Do I have to wait for Christmas day to cook the kind of spectacular meal that takes three days to digest? And does the meal have to be spectacular to serve it on the best china?
Do we need a birthday to splash out on a gift for someone we love, or to celebrate them?
Here`s what I`ve decided:
Life is too short to wait for excuses to enjoy our most precious, beautiful things.
Special occasions don`t come around often enough. We get busy, tired, bogged down in the mundane.
Are there benefits to being more intentional about this? To not only finding plenty of reasons to celebrate this incredible life we`ve been given, and the people in it, but to ditch the need for a reason, and sometimes (often?) celebrating anyway?
So, rather than saving the best for occasions like my Big Birthday next year, I`m digging out and dusting off the best stuff now: donning my snazziest heels, popping open that champagne, lighting a fancy candle or two.
I`m choosing to turn what might be just another day into something special.
And hopefully make a few great memories along the way.
And if some of those memories include my family rolling their eyes at finding me cleaning the house in my wedding dress again, I make no apology for it. It`s my favourite dress, and I`m celebrating the fact it`s one outfit I can still fit into.
How about you?
What are the ways that you make an ordinary day special?
How do you create memories in the mundane?
Am I the only person who still sometimes tries on their wedding dress after 16 years??
I`d love to hear from you!
So, it`s been a busy few weeks…months…years…life.
I`ve given up waiting for that “quiet week” when I might actually find myself with time on my hands and an empty to-do list. At least in this lifetime.
This life time is busy.
I remember once, back when I had three kids under five, and every day was one of those rushing around, tripping over mess, forgetting to brush my hair, crazy days. When most of my time was spent wiping – spilt drinks, tossed dinner, eyes, noses, bottoms…
I was delivering my eldest child to nursery school, with a tiny baby in a sling on my chest and a toddler in a pushchair, bags, coats, toys, snacks and various other sundries dangling around him.
A man looked at me, possibly a little concerned about the wild look in my eyes and cornflakes in my hair.
“You`ve got your hands full!” He said.
“Yes.” I replied, weakly, glancing down at my tribe.
But as I walked away, I started to smile. Yes! I thought. My hands, my brain, my diary, my washing machine, my house and my heart are pretty full. But then I thought this:
I don`t want empty hands.
And so it continued. As my kids got older, and learnt to cross the road by themselves, and get their own drinks, I replaced the bits of mum business I no longer did with other stuff. Writing, church leadership, organising events, running groups, meetings, speaking…
I`ve reached the point where I have to stop myself from answering the question “how are you?” with “I`m really busy!” I realise it makes people feel I don`t have time for them, time to stop or listen, or care.
But just as being a busy mum of pre-schoolers meant some days I was busy baking cakes, or reading the same story a gazillion times in a row, or lying on the floor pretending to be a crocodile. None of it essential, all of it priceless. I can be busy now strolling through the woods with my husband, listening to my kids tell me about their French speaking exam, having coffee with a friend.
Having a coffee by myself while staring out the window at the clouds drifting by.
Yes, it`s been a busy few weeks. My hands are full. But busy doesn`t have to mean rushed, or frantic, or overloaded, or anxious or exhausting.
Don`t get me wrong – I`ve had those times. I still sometimes do. Times when I end up crying in the car as I race about trying to get all the things done I need to do that day, battling a stress-migraine, turning up late, making mistakes, running out of strength and patience, confidence and joy.
People have suggested I stop doing so much. But if I stopped doing the things I wanted to do, that just leaves me doing the things I have to do, which would make me even more stressed and miserable.
So I`m learning a new kind of busy.
Busy that is intentional, purposeful, planned. Careful. Busy that means life is short, and so very precious. I want to make the most of it, squeeze the best from it, do what I can with my chapter in this incredible story.
Busy can be being busy thinking about the weeks ahead and deciding what we say yes or no to, so the busyness remains a positive thing we`re comfortable with.
Last week, busyness meant a few hours booking a holiday, so I can be busy lazing about with my family for a few days over Easter.
Yep – I`m busy. Busy doing – for the most part – what I have chosen, planned, prioritised and love to do.
So how about you?
What have you been busy doing lately?
I`d love to hear from you. If you are reading this on my home page, click on the heading to share this post or leave your comment.
Last week a friend asked me what my husband, George, had done for me this Valentine`s Day.
I had to smile.
For the first time in the nineteen February 14ths we`ve been together, he did absolutely nothing to acknowledge this day, supposedly for lovers. I didn`t mind. Here`s why…
Our first Valentine`s Day, back in 1997, was three weeks after our first and (at that point) only date. George, currently living a million miles away in Liverpool, had a bunch of red roses delivered to my house in Leeds. For me and my scrunty student housemates, that was a Big Deal. None of us had ever been sent flowers before. He also sent a card. Inside the card was a poem he`d written. A poem. The poem was funny and sweet and it made me fan myself with the card and swoon a little bit as my friends declared that we were “absolutely, definitely going to get married”.
Since then, the total number of poems George has written me remains at one. He has given me a couple more bunches of roses over the years, but more often than not if I want some flowers I buy them myself. Despite the impressive start, I have not married a man given to grand romantic gestures. And he isn`t really one for small to medium sized gestures, either.
But. I can honestly say it doesn`t bother me. Because grand gestures, by their very nature, are an occasional thing. That leaves a lot of marriage to span the gap between those extra-ordinary moments. And who wants surprise holidays, expensive jewellery and singing beneath your balcony when you can have a cup of tea? Or, in the case of nearly two decades together, about six thousand cups of tea?
Every single night George is home, an hour or two after our evening meal, he makes me a hot drink. If he`s in the middle of doing something, he stops to make me one. If he has a late meeting, he makes me one when he comes back. Even after running an exhausting Friday night youth group while I`ve stayed at home and watched TV. Even in the early days of our marriage when after flaming rows he would be furious with me. And not only that, he brings me a piece of cake, or a cookie, or maybe even some chocolate.
Six thousand times, my husband has done this to show he loves me.
In the everyday, ordinary, often tiring, sometimes hectic, ups and downs of married life, his cups of tea are unconditional. They are consistent and dependable. There is no 50:50 and no taking turns.
Yes, it`s quick and easy. But it is an everyday commitment that declares our partnership is precious. That he thinks I am precious. One that means I don`t have to wait for the day the card manufacturers decided he should make his feelings clear.
So, while I wouldn`t say no to a surprise trip to Paris (hello, husband?)…
Or be disappointed with an eternity ring…
And, if I`m honest, I`m curious to see who he might compare me to in a poem these days, `cos it sure as heck wouldn`t be Victoria Beckham…
I`m happy with six thousand cups of tea. And really looking forward to six thousand more.
So – how about you?
What are the everyday gestures that you and your family or friends use to show you love each other?
What would be your dream “ordinary” gift? The oven cleaned? A home cooked meal? A lie in while someone else looked after your kids?
I`d love to hear from you. If you are reading this on my home page, click on the heading to share this post or leave your comment.
1. What first inspired you to write Making Marion?
I got the inspiration for Making Marion while staying on a beautiful campsite in France, set in the grounds of a crumbling chateau. I began thinking about how a campsite could be a peaceful place for a wounded woman to heal. Then I started asking questions like “who is this woman?” and “why has she come to a campsite?” and “why is her old life so easy to leave behind?” and went on from there.
2. Do you have a particular writing routine?
I try to write at least 3 days a week. I usually start with a quick run, and then make sure my kids have got themselves off to school before dealing with any day-to-day admin. Around 9.30 I settle down with a cup of tea and my laptop. The first thing I do is a quick edit of the previous day`s writing, to get myself back into the story. I then write almost continuously, with maybe a couple of short breaks to hang the washing out or eat a sandwich, until wrestling myself away around 4 or 5. I tend to set myself a word count for each week, which could be 5,000 words if I have a lot of other commitments, or 10,000 if I have the rare luxury of an empty diary. But the truth is, I`m writing in my head when I`m driving, cooking, cleaning, playing the piano and doing pretty much everything else.
3. Name the writing habit you rely on to get you through a first draft.
A plan: I draft a two/three page plotline, write notes on the main characters so I can get to know them, and have a separate word document to the main draft that contains all the random thoughts and snatches of story that come to me, so I can add them in as I go along. Then, as I approach each chunk I plan it in more detail. There will always be changes, characters who won`t behave themselves or new twists I wasn`t expecting, but planning helps me to eradicate waffle and stay on course.
4. Which book would you take to a desert island?
I would take the Bible. It has everything…wisdom, encouragement, inspiration, fascinating history and plenty of nail-biting stories. There`s even instructions on how to build a boat in there…
5. If I could rewrite history, I would . . .
There are so many things I would want to change I couldn`t possibly pick one. And I`ve read enough time-travel stories to know not to meddle with history. Having said that, I wouldn`t mind going back and putting the handbrake on my car this morning, saving over £1000 worth of damage to that nice elderly couple`s vehicle.
6. In another age I would have been . . .
I like to think I would have made a good pioneer. I`m pretty tough, and love the idea of having to survive on whatever limited resources are around. Like many writers, I can do with very little company and being able to create a life, a home and a community from scratch out in the wilderness appeals to my sense of optimism and adventure.
7. Who would your fantasy dinner guests be?
At the risk of sounding boring, I don`t find the idea of having strangers to dinner fun, or relaxing. I`m never happier than when my family are all together round the table. They have big hearts to match their appetites and make me laugh more than anyone else I know. These days that includes my two brothers, their wives and children and my mum. If it`s a fantasy I`d add in my late father. We still feel the ache of the empty space at the table.
8. Did any of the characters in your book surprise you while writing?
When I reread my 1st draft I was a little surprised by quite how unpleasant one character could be – and slightly startled that some of those comments came out of my head. Some of her remarks were so offensive I had to edit them out.
9. What is the worst piece of writing or career feedback you’ve received?
While I was waiting for a publishing deal a few people suggested I self-publish. The ideal route for some, but I knew my book needed a good, hard professional edit before I let it loose on the market. I also never would have found the courage to publicise my book without the backing of a publishing house.
10. What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Everything comes in seasons. In the depths of winter it can be hard to remember what it feels like to have the sun on your skin, and in the warmer times we forget that one day autumn will come. Celebrate the good times, persevere when things are tough. Neither will last forever.
11. How do you feel about physical books versus e-books?
I do read some e-books – I take a lot of books on holiday so my kindle means I can fit more less-essential items in my suitcase (like clothes, or a hairbrush). But I do still prefer paper books, having something tangible in my hand. You can flick through a book more easily, or skip back a couple of chapters to check something. The thing that I miss most with e-books is that I can`t pass them on to someone else.
12. Do you have any advice for an aspiring author?
You`re never going to find the time to write a novel unless you make the time. For most of us, getting a book published is a long, hard road, but if it`s your dream, it`s up to you to make it happen. And write what`s in your heart, and on your mind, what you care for and dream about. Those things that make you want to throw plates or bash your head against the desk or run up a mountain, fling your arms wide and sing hallelujah. Don`t ever write what you think someone else wants to read – or even worse, wants to publish. It takes courage to write with integrity, but your story is unique and precious, however you choose to express it.
I don`t make New Year`s resolutions. I can`t help thinking promises made just because it`s tradition are bound to fail.
January feels too cold, too dark and too sluggish to make grand, optimistic changes.
But I do have one New Year`s tradition. Every January I book myself a few hours off to spend doing my favourite pastime – thinking, reflecting, and writing it all down.
I look back on the previous year and ask myself some nice, positive questions like:
What did I succeed at this year, or got better at?
What did I do that surprised me?
Which of my aims for the year did I achieve?
How have I grown as a person? Stretched myself, or been brave?
What have I learnt?
Then I ask myself some more challenging questions like:
How have my priorities shaped up this year?
Am I spending the right amount of time on what really matters?
How are my relationships – with God, my family, my friends, those I work with?
Am I happy with what I spent my money on?
What have I not done well this year?
Which of my goals did I fail to achieve, and why? Is this OK?
What have I neglected, or got too busy for, or avoided?
Am I proud of the person I have become this year?
Why is my house still messy and my to-do list still so long and complicated?
After that cheery self-examination, I start looking forward to the year ahead:
What are my aims and goals for this year?
What do I need to spend more – or less – time doing?
What issues have been sifted to the surface that need addressing?
Where does my self-discipline need tightening up?
What dream is it time to stop dreaming about and start doing?
What do I need to be more proactive about, and what do I need to be more patient in waiting for, or let go of?
Every year some of the answers are different, and some the same. I`m a list-driven person, so most of the aims from the previous year will have been done. The quantifiable ones like: decorate the hall, organise a conference, set up a website, sell X number of books. It`s the every-day, all year, drip-drip-drip ones I need to keep an eye on: invite my friends round, smile more, talk to my kids about the stuff that really matters. They`re why I need to take time to stop and assess where I`m heading.
But what always strikes me most is the ways in which my year will have gone “off-list” – the surprises, the unexpected adventures, the out of the blue challenges. And looking back, how these will have been the bits where I learnt the most, grew stronger, forged deeper relationships and probably ended up having the best time.
Not the happiest, or the easiest or the calmest, but the best.
So for this year, 2015, I`ve written my list of hopes and dreams, plans and possibilities. Some big and scary and exciting, some that will require a daily plod and months of perseverance. But in reality, the things I`m looking forward to most about the year ahead are those I can`t plan or foresee, the unexpected, out of my comfort zone and beyond my wildest imagining things. Those I may not choose, but afterwards I`m glad I didn`t get the choice.
So – here`s to a year that can`t be mapped out, planned or predicted (not by human minds, anyway). Whatever your hopes and dreams for 2015, I wish you a truly blessed one.
How would you sum up 2014? What are your aims for 2015?
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