When I saw this tweet, I immediately knew I had a story to submit. A story of a mermaid lost in the wrong world. Of a girl searching for her place. Of a little guidance when you least expect it.
This year has been A YEAR. Personally, professionally, all of it. And if my writing has come second to all of that, then submitting has been at the bottom of the list. So, I tentatively pushed Bridget, Lucy and Una out into the big bad world.
Apart from I had a little bit of safety. I knew that my river girls would be safe in the hands of the Dancing Bear Books team – even if they didn’t want to publish their story.
BUT THEY DID!
As you can tell, I was a tad excited. It really did make a huge difference when the big bad world was just a bit too close for comfort.
So why I am I telling you this?! Well. BECAUSE THE BOOK IS HERE!
And as the foreward says – the magic starts with you…
A little note about Little Book of Fairytales
The Dancing Bear Books team created an opportunity for this book because they could see the need for diverse content. We live in a time where fairy tales have never been more relatable, a time where pantomime villains seem to be pulling strings and in consequence, each one of us has become an underdog hero. This book is for voices that have been silenced and stories that have been brushed aside. Little Book of Fairy Tales welcomes everyone; their tragedies, their successes and their love stories.
This book is written for and by minorities. DDB made an extra special effort to make sure that voices who don’t usually get to speak have a platform. Having these voices and having them tell their own stories was hugely important to DDB, and as minorities, they wanted to create something that was for minority groups. This representation isn’t a last thought or tokenisation. Something I respect hugely and it’s why I wanted to get involved.
As the fairy tale Queen, Kirsty Logan says:
Fairy tales and folk tales are darker, stranger, messier and more satisfying than people might remember. They’re not just about being pretty or winning princes; they’re about loss and betrayal, regret and confusion, joy and fulfilment. They’re about us.
As a writer, I’ve always loved to collect words. The ones that ring with a unique sound, tingle the tip of your tongue, make you smile as they form. I’ve also learnt the power of affirmations during challenging yoga practice, intention setting to bring focus whilst building my portfolio career; the right words create a special kind of magic for goals, new habits, ambitions and future achievements.
These spells are so important but until last year, I hadn’t really considered how I could use them to look ahead after such a difficult couple of years.
For 2021, I chose the word ‘novel’. I decided on this because I wanted to “finish” writing my novel, and I wanted the year to be full of new things. It must be noted now, deciding on your word for next year won’t always work in the way that you think it should.
I’ve already made the joke enough times that I’m sick of it, but for quite a while it felt that the only new thing I experienced was broken bones. I’ve managed to break my wrist and fracture my ankle in the last 7 months, and it’s not something I’d like to repeat. However, if I take the bigger picture view, there has been a lot about this year that has been novel.
I’ve worked with people who have been kind, and generous, and understanding. Who have helped me find my feet whilst they’re still finding theirs, in a business that does exactly that for so many. If you don’t know The Portfolio Collective, and you want a career that’s built to suit you – check it out. Being understood, supported, directed when needed, celebrated no matter what, was incredibly novel.
Understanding how resilient I am, where the limitations are and how boundaries can help me, has also been novel – especially given that I’ve tried to keep working as much as possible whilst dealing with physical pain, isolation/limitations, and the knock-on both had to my mental health.
The novel hasn’t been completely forgotten either. I started working with creativity coach, Paul Macauley in the autumn and with his help I’ve started to see the wood for the trees. I’d made some progress myself, helped by conversations with incredible writers I get to call friends but I didn’t actually get to the writing. Now the writing has started, albeit slowly. Whilst I continue to work on forming new habits, making the most of the fallow time of winter, I have been challenged to write for just two minutes a day on the novel. Mostly it’s musing on ideas but I’m half way through the challenge and spending more time in addition to these tiny blocks every day.
So, how to choose a word for 2022?
When I heard about this process in 2020, it was a combination of two sources that I found invaluable. Firstly, Susannah Conway provides a free workbook to ‘Find Your Word’ – read the accompanying article to see how her words have guided her and been more useful that New Year’s resolutions!
Once I had my word for 2021, I wanted to ensure I wouldn’t forget it. Stacey from Darwin & Grey creates beautiful hand-painted banners, and this will be the third year she has created them. Her post on choosing is so wonderful, I had to copy it here:
My Word: Fearless, 2022 ✨ What’s yours?
Forget setting any resolutions this year. Nine times out of ten, we ditch them a month in anyways! Instead choose a word, just a single word to take with you into 2022.
Give it some thought, opt for one that can be your focal point, a simplified anchor to use as something to help you recenter when you find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed or lost.
My word of the year is Fearless. I was toying with all kinds of bold, enthusiastic and positive words to do with starting new chapters and growing up and realised more so than anything, next year is my year to just bloody go for it so Fearless fits the bill perfectly!
This year, I’ve got another source to help me choose my word. Saori at Mogami 最上 Wellness generously shares her Japanese roots to empower individuals to achieve a sustainable wellness life, and her recent posts on Japanese calligraphy (shodo 書道) and Kaki-zome (書き初め) have led me to think on how I can create my own physical manifestation of my 2022 word.
Kaki-zome (書き初め) is one of the most important traditions in Japanese calligraphy – and translates to “first writing (of the year)”. The yearly intention is set during this tradition by choosing to write a character (ji・字) piece. Saori is running an intention setting event on 15th January if you’d like to learn more.
My word for 2022 is going to be “meraki”. It’s Greek, and encompasses more than English words like, love, soul, devotion, embodiment, essence, can do. It’s what’s been missing from my work, particularly my writing, and it’s what makes my writing in particular “good”. I’m all the better for showing up, sharing my experiences, and learning from them, and this is what I need more of next year.
This started as an Instagram post but even constructing it in my head, I knew it would be too long for that space, although I should remember this space more often – a place for short and long thoughts, however inconsistent.
2020 was the year I started to understand grief and fear, and perhaps only because the whole world felt it at once. 2019 had been the year where my little family’s world had been torn apart by loss, and the hope for 2020 being better than that kept me going in the most part.
The idea of reducing down our experience of this year to nine photos is an odd but interesting one. The moments most like by others weren’t the ones most liked by me. But it led me to look through my photos of this year and remember the moments that kept me smiling, sane, and held together between the lockdowns and the constant back and forth of change.
2020 was a year of new life met but yet to be held. Of growth from seed and frozen glass panes, to the buzz of bees grown out of the detritus of 2019. Of creating the new with my hands instead of with words. The understanding that I can be many things to many people, and yet not needing to be all to every one.
It was a year of piling up books for a time when my mind will be ready, and yet being awe struck by the six that I did manage to give time and space to. 2021 will be the year that I focus on the new things that the old can teach me – books, ideas, lives.
2020 began with experiences that now feel crammed into the months “before”, because the after was slowly, more sparse, more careful. Those experience feel like they belong to another time, but they will have their moments again I’m sure.
2020 was a year when getting soaked to the bone whilst walking, and warming up under a blanket on a friend’s sofa was the most blissful. Where travelling into cities made my bones ache with the tension, and my cheeks ache from the smiles often unseen under masks and yet conveyed.
It was a year when touch went beyond what we had known and needed before, where gestures had their place but the sound of a loved ones’ voice so close you could almost feel it was better.
2020 was the first year in a long time where I’d known so little work I could only plunge my hands into the earth to keep them busy, and so much work that I ached for a moment away from a screen or a self imposed deadline.
It was a year when I walked, paddled, and flew, the highest heights and the lowest lows. I ate straight from the earth, and felt overjoyed when others offered and I could accept their hospitality.
In the last few weeks I just wanted to race towards the new year, tired and overexposed to the brutality the challenges had inflicted. But five days away from my laptop has given me space to see, feel, and relish what was possible.
2021 already holds excitement, fear, new life, old lives, a stretch of time and truth. Every year does, we’re just a little more mindful of it this time around.
Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy new year.
I don’t formally make resolutions at New Year, but this year I plan to review the books I read, as soon as I read them. I finished the first book of 2020 – that I’ve read cover to cover (there’s a couple of “current reads” which I’ve tried to get into but haven’t found my way with yet – in the week. So close enough.
This novel came to me by way of Netgalley. I love Netgalley, it gives me the chance to read books in advance and prepare reviews that will hopefully help new authors or new books for established authors. However, last year I wasn’t the best at posting reviews in a timely fashion (i.e. before or on the launch date). This year will be different (she says, in January).
As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been trying to get into different novels over the past few weeks but not getting far. If the subject matter doesn’t meet what I’m looking for in that moment, back it goes to the to-read bookcase. But If I Had Your Face was different.
This novel gripped me from the outset. At first, the concept of being “plunge[d] into the mesmerising world of contemporary Seoul” caught my attention and tempted me to request the novel. When it arrived, and I was pulled in, it became so much more than the subcultures of plastic surgery, ‘room salons’, and K-Pop stars.
Told by five women in alternating narratives (a literary trope that I’m a huge fan of since first reading Trumpet by Jackie Kay 15+ years ago), I found myself being both engrossed in their world(s) but also invested in what would happen and finding out what had happened to get them there.
Although the first few chapters felt that they could easily be standalone stories, the links between the women became clearer until the perfect last scene when they are pulled taut as they sit on the stairs of their apartment complex. Despite being worlds away, their stories were familiar and all-encompassing. I could see parts of myself. I could see parts of women I know. And that reflection drove me to read their stories, this novel, as quickly as I could.
Firstly, there are going to be spoilers in this so if you haven’t seen The Aeronauts as yet, please come back once you have – I really would love to hear what you think of the film or indeed other films that have inspired you and your writing.
Secondly, I am an inconsistent reviewer. This is mostly because of time (there’s always a more pressing deadline for me to write), or mindset (why-would-anyone-want-to-read-what-I-have-to-say-itis).
Thirdly, I’m not a film critic. I generally leave that up to my brothers who would have much more intelligent (or at least long-winded) things to say no doubt.
But with all that in mind, I realised that it wouldn’t work as a very long twitter thread (often how I share my thoughts about various things that have inspired or fired me up) so instead, the thoughts are going to get put down here.
Neither of us rushed out of our seats, instead we let the credits roll before starting to discuss the experience of the story we’d just been a part of. We came out of the cinema into freezing fog that felt so otherworldly and yet so close to what we had just watched that it gave the right atmosphere to keep up our conversation all the way home. We often talk about the films we see on the way home, but this felt different somehow.
Having recently plotted out my novel, to try and find my way through the story I wanted to tell vs what came out in a few drafts many moons ago, the awareness of the typical story structure was very present in my mind. The joys of being a writer and a critical reader. It tends to mean that I can see where a film or a TV drama is going too, which can spoil the experience somewhat when you’re looking for some kind of escape. The Aeronauts didn’t leave me feeling like that.
Instead I felt taken by the hand, invited into the basket of the balloon to explore with them. I loved how it started in the middle, stepped back for what felt like the briefest of moments to explain how they got there, before continuing. This isn’t a new thing, or something I haven’t seen or read before, but it worked so beautifully.
I loved that it wasn’t a love story. That there were human drivers for the characters, but that wasn’t the end goal. There wasn’t a magic wand for the grief both main characters felt – her for her husband, him for his father, both for not being heard or understood by those around them. Everything was waiting for them when they landed again, but in the time that they rose to the extraordinary height and back down again it was just them.
I didn’t know how it was going to end, and that was a thing of beauty in itself. There were no huge pointers, no over explanation, no over-the-top twist. It unfolded, yet it was no where near as straightforward or plain as that sounds. I breathed a sigh of relief when they landed, I let go of my wife’s hand which was pretty much crushed out of fear for their not getting to earth again, but I didn’t foresee it. It could have gone either way right up until they both were standing (just).
The balance between the two characters was extraordinary. That they were able to save one another (although, let’s face it, Amelia Wren (Felicity Jones) did a lot of the hard work). That the writers, the film makers/ directors/ producers, the actors, gave enough space for the words they did say and those they didn’t. In a novel or a short story, that space is often more present than in films especially mainstream feature-length, yet it was so important. It felt like we were watching an two-hander play, the intimacy was so immediate – most likely because of the confinements of the balloon itself.
Most of all, that feeling has lasted. Long enough for me to stay up and immediately write this. Long enough that I know I’ll wake up tomorrow thinking about this story. Long enough to think some more research about aeronauts is required because I want to know more. Long enough to understand how I want to write a story as good as the one that we were just part of.
If only you’d listened to us, none of this would have happened.
Chandler Baker’s novel, Whisper Network, starts and ends with a call to be heard. For the women at the heart of the novel to be heard, for the voices that inspired their stories to be listened to.
The novel is not straight forward, stories like these rarely are, and it’s suitable that it doesn’t fit in the narrow boxes that publishing houses like it squeeze most into. In parts, social commentary, thriller, women’s fiction: dark humour edges it but with the bite of reality that stops you laughing too hard.
It’s a story of how one man’s actions affects the lives of multiple women. It is the story of how the world sees the action of few women that would change the course of one man’s life. It’s the story of how the world views one story as more important than the others. It’s the story of our mothers, sisters, daughters. Our bosses and our assistants. The invisible and the seemingly seen. The story of how all actions will have consequences but they’re not always in our control.
I don’t want to deep dive into the story, pick it apart and re-present it for you. Because that’s what happens. I want you to explore it and find your own story in it, as I did, and as the author wants you to. Her notes on why she wrote the book are as worth reading as the novel itself.
One thing I will say, is that I went into reading it with this marketing bi-line:
Big Little Lies Meets #MeToo in THE Must Read Book of 2019
I often avoid the books that come with the hype, the order to read it, and to be honest for the first chapter or so, it tainted my reading. I was looking for the clever cinematic reveals and the self-reflected story. Yes, that does come with it but it’s a carefully told story with excellent literary devices. And they are all more the satisfying when they happen to you rather than you looking for them. Let their stories take you in, as hard as it is hear all of them.
This is not a review I want to write. You’re going to find out my secret and then I’ll have to share. I’m terrible at sharing.
To be totally honest with you, with myself, I share ‘me’ too much. So much so that it leaves very little time for ‘me’. Urgh. Just writing that sentence makes me cringe.
However, it’s true. I needed an escape. Not a complete run for the hills (my wife needed to escape too) but to be away. I saw someone recommend Catherine McNamara’s writing retreats in Italy. Cat and I met long ago at The Word Factory, and she’s often said we should go out there.
The thing was, she runs writing retreats. I wanted to go away to write, but I also wanted to go away to think, to read, to have enough head space for possibilities. Also, my wife doesn’t write (she tells people that. Actually she’s a damn good poet but she keeps it on the quiet). So would it be fair?
She went along with my plan, when Cat said of course she could do a retreat for the two of us. Because that’s what Cat can do – make it fit for you. The writer who stayed a week or so before us had spent her week mostly holed up in a choice of inside and outside spaces working. But Cat gave her the space to unplug too, to discuss work and life and the universe over beautiful meals and excellent drinks. I imagine anyway, because that’s we did, a lot.
We also got guided tours of two cities that are now firmly in our hearts. I read almost three books (probably the same I managed in the first half of the the year) and took the time to discuss them at length. I thought a lot, but not the worrying thoughts that plague the day-to-day about work and family and life on the whole. I thought about my writing, what was working and wasn’t. I even talked about it, which I hadn’t felt able to for a while because my focus has been on the work that can pay now, rather than hopefully later. I thought and talked about that work too, and how it’s going to play out in the second half of my first year as a freelancer.
We slept in, we stayed up late, we got up early, we crashed out. Whatever worked on that day. The only ‘order’ was ours to decide.
I run retreats, much shorter, one day retreats for Writers’ HQ writers. I know the power of saying – “don’t worry, whatever you do today is yours to do. You don’t have to do the washing up, and you don’t have to think about what’s going on at home, you just need to be in the room writing.” I watch writers leave with big grins and new ideas. I forgot what that feels like myself. Until Cat gave us that, or maybe just the space for it. New ideas, hope, and relaxed grins.
I’m going back, next time, as a writer writing rather than a writer in need of a break. I’m going back to sit in the sun-warm outbuilding to write more of the next draft of my novel where Cat wrote her first. I’m going back to continue to reform ideas when the head space is lacking. I’m going back to be in great company and to be looked after in the way I hope I look after my writers (if only for a day and not a week!). I’m going back because I promised Voss (the pup) I’d kick the ball some more.
I didn’t want to share, because I know that Cat’s weeks get booked up. There’s some availability left in late August/September I believe, and if you fancy being part of a taught group then Cat will be running a tutored retreat with Tom Vowler in September (which I’m gutted to miss). She’s taking bookings for 2020 too if you like to plan ahead.
Yesterday, I got to the six month mark of working ‘alone’.
Yesterday, my grandfather past away.
Yesterday, was my last day of full work before I go on holiday. A proper holiday for the first time in two years.
Yesterday, I took a deep breath for the first time in a while.
The call finally came that we’d waited for, for so long. I passed the point that I’d been looking to. I breathed.
I could breathe because it hurt a little less knowing that he wasn’t suffering now. I could breathe because I’m proving myself with every day of freelancing. I could breathe because I’m never alone, not really. Life and work intermingle so closely now, I can’t untie them. And actually, I’m okay with that.
I am my work, I am what I produce, but I’m also how I think and feel and act and react. Working 9-5 wasn’t working, but freelance has offered me flexibility and a chance to break the mould. Freelance has also offered me the chance to work with more brilliant and kind people than ever before.
I have family members who lift and support me whilst allowing me to help develop their baby at Writers’ HQ. Without Sarah, Jo, Natalie, and the team, daily life would be gif-less, giggle-less, and with fewer swear words.
Alongside this role, I’ve been fortunate enough to join teams at multiple companies via We Are All Connected and I love being part of the Brighton scene again via Robin’s brilliant company. I’ve been lucky to get calls out of the blue from people who seen that I’ve moved on. I’m lucky enough to see now that I made a good impression on them, and it’s led me to working with exceptional female leaders like Anne and Fiona at HighNetWork.
I learnt that I can work all night when I say yes too many times, but it’s better not to. I’ve learnt that I can say no, and I’ll be respected for it not criticised. I’ve learnt that things will come along when they are needed because I have faith: in my network, and in my ability to reach out, support others, and in my work. I’ve learnt not to squirm too much when writing self praise.
I’m learning that I can box-up and un-box life and work to form some sort of balance. I’m learning what patterns work for me, breaking old habits and forming new ones. I’m learning that my clients have my back, as much as I’ll have theirs. So that yesterday, I felt able enough to say “I’m feeling this” when I got the news about Granddad, and they knew I meant it when I said I’d finish up my work before I go away.
I have learnt more about faith and trust in the last six months than any other time before. There are so many to thank for that, none more so than my wife who has always believed in the woman I will become and am already becoming.
There is more to unpack in the grief, in the joy, in the every day of life. But. This blog marks a change. And I’m proud that I’m marking it myself.
So it is no secret I am an admirer of Logan’s writing. I started getting excited about her first collection of short stories, The Rental Heart and Other Stories, back in 2015. I use the title story as an example in workshops – I cannot forget the protagonist in that story. In fact I cannot forget so many of Logan’s stories. I ate up her first novel and her second collection soon after and have been waiting impatiently for more stories.
The Gloaming is packed full of the stories that I had been waiting for. The magic within them, the unsettling dark and light of the island, the weight of myth, legend and the elements.
The Ross family grows and changes with the tide, pulling you in and along with their unfolding. Although Mara leads, the multiple perspective allows you to weave in and out of views to see the full picture. Piece by piece.
The novel is a mesmerising dive into what it is to belong, loss and grief, the turn and tumble of love, how sexuality belies what ‘should be’.
I want to write more about Mara, Islay, Bee, Peter, Signe, Pearl. Having read their story quickly, gulping in words that bring wonder and often don’t fit my sasanach mouth, I want to tell you everything.
In September 2016, I started getting buddy boxes from the Blurt Foundation. They were a little thing to look forward to, a gift just for me. The buddy boxes were great at promoting selfcare and I began to realise how much this could help me. In fact I started to realise how much I had been ignoring my own care in the years before my depression was diagnosed 2.5 years ago and even through my treatment and management of it in the year plus following diagnosis. However, alongside the buddy boxes, I began making other positive changes, like finding a new 9-5, which helped set-up 2017 as a year to tackle selfcare.
I read that Jane and the team at Blurt had started a campaign for selfcare that October; #365daysofselfcare. By the end of December I was in that reflective/resolute type of place and I decided to start the challenge on the first day of the year. Not much thought other than, this might be good for me, went into it. I didn’t think about how it would be a whole year (even though the name of the challenge gives that away), and I didn’t think of the real impact it might have on me, let alone on others.
Friends, loved ones, strangers alike have asked questions throughout the year, like:
Why are you doing this?
What does it mean to you?
Are you finding it easy?
Will you keep doing it?
Should I do it?
Answers have varied, but mostly;
Because I need to.
Right now? Everything.
Nope. Well sometimes, but more often it’s a slog.
I did. I’m so very glad I did.
If you want or need to. In fact, if you don’t think you need to then maybe do it anyway. Prove to yourself that you’ve got selfcare down. And then tell me the secret.
You don’t need to be depressed to need selfcare. Everyone needs care, love, kindness – and if you can give it to yourself then that’s the greatest gift ever. To not just survive, or slap a smile on. To recognise what you need, ask for it, get it, give it. That’s what selfcare is about. It’s not about how much you spend. It’s not always about bubble baths and facials – although sometimes, that is the care that you need. On my worst days it’s about letting myself be cared for, doing the bare minimum but the minimum that will help – which can include just getting up to brush my teeth. It’s about recognising what you need and giving yourself the permission to have that.
On the best days, that has meant making the most of everything around me, spending time with my loved ones or happily on my own. On bad days it was about listening or reasoning what I needed as a bare minimum. At my worst this year, I went through two weeks of panic attacks due to a change in medication where I didn’t listen like I needed to. I finally reasoned with myself that I couldn’t wait another two weeks for the appointment I had with my doctor. I listened because it’s not what I would have let anyone go through if I’d known it was them not me experiencing the panic.
The bad is horrific but the good is great. Selfcare has enabled me to learn and remember how life is both, how I can be both or multiple inbetweens. My lowest points don’t have to define me.
That is this biggest lesson of all that selfcare has taught me. That I can be a good writer and have depression (I know I am not alone there!), that I can be a writer and have a career in marketing too, that I can have a career in anything and have depression. Because if I care enough about myself then I can achieve whatever I damn please, in spite/because of/independent of having depression.
If you’re thinking of doing #365daysofselfcare, I’ve got a few tips.
Go into it open hearted and with a growth mindset. Or be willing to grow.
You can do selfcare in whatever way works for you. You can do it for a year and keep a diary of it. Like me, you could post photos and comments on it on social media. You could just tweet or write statuses. I only suggest doing this on a platform which you find supportive. For me, I am glad I did it on Instagram because I’ve found people like makedaisychains (who helped so much with her #boringselfcare drawings) kay_ska, and planetprudence. But do what works for you.
Don’t be afraid to not post. It helps, it really does, to physically put out into the world what you’re doing, but also it’s just as fine not to. I found by around half way through that it helped me more to be offline. So that meant I did catch-up posts, because even though I wasn’t posting, I was still doing the selfcare.
So, that’s it. I’m ending this year, in my pyjamas with a glass of prosecco in hand, and a smile on my face. I’ve looked at all my photos and I can’t pick my best. Each day has helped me, and I hope the next year of selfcare helps you too.