Tuesday, 31 December 2019

End of decade round-up

My family didn't grow in the way I thought it might, turns out it was only ever meant to be me, David and Zachary. Instead, the pitter patter of tiny feet came from our guinea pigs, Wally and Percy, and our feline friend, Clarence. I gained a niece, a nephew, a god daughter and a promise daughter and a host of special little people who I hope will always call me Auntie Kate.

Zach started and finished primary school and adjusted well to life at secondary, making new friends to add to those he already had. He has gone from being an exuberant livewire tot to an exuberant livewire preteen, which only goes to show that some things don't ever change.

We started the decade in a house I loved with great neighbours, ending it in one that's served us well but has never really felt like home, surrounded by boxes ready for a move in January. Bring on the bay window!

In 2010 I'd been poorly for a number of years but given no diagnosis, by 2019 I'd officially been a Crohnie for five years and ended the decade in remission. My weight has gone up and down, partly due to diet and partly medical issues, but I'm determined to not be held hostage by a number, either on a weighing scale or on a clothes tags. The decade ends with me reunited with Sertraline to fight my old enemy anxiety.

Teaching assistant. Lunchtime supervisor. Pre-school deputy manager. Author. Work that, in the main, I've loved (even when it stressed me out). Nine short stories, two novellas, three novels! And another coming in January, my first published by Quercus and my first working with my superb agent.

This was the decade of holidays to Madrid, Florence, Lisbon, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Valencia, as well as countless gigs and theatre shows and time spent with wonderful people. The decade of Irish dancing and jigsaws and getting an allotment. The decade I converted to Catholicism. Of walking a marathon. Of becoming vegan. Of seeing my book on a shelf.

When the past ten years are laid bare, joyful memories sit alongside some of the worst moments I've ever faced, which makes sense - this is a quarter of my life! I'm sure the '20s will be much of the same.

Thank you to everyone who's supported me so far - publishers, bloggers, author friends and readers.

To those who've been the wind in my sails helping push me forward, I only hope that, in return, I can be your lifeboat if ever you need one. 

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Make Do and Mend a Broken Heart

January 9th, 2020 - save the date! My new novel, Make Do and Mend a Broken Heart, is being published in the new year, which is perfect for a book with an overarching theme of new beginnings.

What's that? You want to know more? Well then, I'd better share the blurb with you ...

When you know how, you can make anything from scratch, including a new life after love...

When Leanne and Richard bought a dilapidated old seaside cottage to renovate together as their forever home, their future was full of hope and promise.

But heartbreak was just around the corner: fast forward a few months and Richard is gone. With his death, Leanne finds herself stony broke, faced with an uninhabitable home and lacking even the basic skills to do it up herself.

With the help of the friendly woman who runs the library and the reluctant assistance of the man who works in the local hardware shop, the cottage is lovingly restored. But broken hearts aren't so easy to fix... are they?

It's been so difficult keeping quiet about this book. I started writing it in July 2018, which feels like forever ago, and was sworn to secrecy. Now it's time to shout about it from the rooftops!

Early readers have really taken to Leanne's story and are saying the loveliest things.

Make Do and Mend a Broken Heart is published in ebook by Quercus on January 9th 2020 and is available to preorder now.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Good Writing Days, Bad Writing Days

There's nothing better than a good writing day, one where the words flow without stutters or false starts.

On a good writing day being a novelist is the best job in the world. Pride flutters in my chest when I've not only met my wordcount but nailed a chunk of text that drives the story forward, or includes a sentence or image that I'm particularly proud of. Those highs are addictive, they're what I'm striving for on a daily basis.

Of course, words don't always come easily. There are times where I'm frozen in fear as I look at a blank page, terrified that the ideas in my head won't translate to the page, or when all creativity eludes me. Sometimes I'm tired after a day at work and staring at a screen is the last thing I feel like doing. Writing can be painful, exhausting and sometimes near impossible.

However, now I've been writing 'seriously' for a good few years I've come to accept that both good days and bad days are part of the process. Novels don't magically appear overnight. Writing is a verb, which by its very definition requires an element of doing, of proactivity. All you can do is keep turning up and turning up until it's done.

So if you're writing a novel and today hasn't gone as well as you hoped just remember (as a very successful writer once said), 'Tomorrow is another day.'

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

2019 Goals

My favourite books of 2018

Better late than never, as they say! I didn't read as many books as usual in 2018 - one side effect of my anxiety is an inability to focus on reading, and I hardly read any rom-com/women's fiction. It's funny that my six stand-out books of 2018 all share themes of resilience, perseverance and overcoming. They're all out now, except Daisy Jones and the Six which is released on March 7th.

Call Me by Your Name - Andre Aciman

Andre Aciman's Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents' cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera.

 Each is unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, when, during the restless summer weeks, unrelenting currents of obsession, fascination, and desire intensify their passion and test the charged ground between them. Recklessly, the two verge toward the one thing both fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. It is an instant classic and one of the great love stories of our time.


 Daisy Jones and the Six - Taylor Jenkins Reid
For a while, Daisy Jones & The Six were everywhere. Their albums were on every turntable, they sold out arenas from coast to coast, their sound defined an era. And then, on 12 July 1979, they split.
Nobody ever knew why. Until now.

They were lovers and friends and brothers and rivals. They couldn't believe their luck, until it ran out. This is their story of the early days and the wild nights, but everyone remembers the truth differently.

The only thing they all know for sure is that from the moment Daisy Jones walked barefoot, on to the stage at the Whisky, the band were irrevocably changed.

Making music is never just about the music. And sometimes it can be hard to tell where the sound stops and the feelings begin.

Christmas at Liberty's - Fiona Ford
September, 1941: Mary arrives in war-torn London nursing a broken heart and a painful secret.

When she is offered her dream post as an assistant in the fabric department at Liberty store, she knows this is the fresh start she needs. Amid the store’s vibrant prints and sumptuous interiors, Mary finds a new family who can help her to heal.

But not everyone will give Mary such a warm welcome, and the trauma of her past will soon catch up with her.

As Mary and the Liberty Girls endure the heartache and uncertainty of war, it will take a steady heart to keep the magic of Christmas alive.

Notes on a Nervous Planet - Matt Haig
The world is messing with our minds.

Rates of stress and anxiety are rising. A fast, nervous planet is creating fast and nervous lives. We are more connected, yet feel more alone. And we are encouraged to worry about everything from world politics to our body mass index.

- How can we stay sane on a planet that makes us mad?
- How do we stay human in a technological world?
- How do we feel happy when we are encouraged to be anxious?

After experiencing years of anxiety and panic attacks, these questions became urgent matters of life and death for Matt Haig. And he began to look for the link between what he felt and the world around him. Notes on a Nervous Planet is a personal and vital look at how to feel happy, human and whole in the twenty-first century.

Everything I Know about Love - Dolly Alderton
When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown up, journalist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. She vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod-Stewart themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped, realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you've ever been able to rely on, and finding that that your mates are always there at the end of every messy night out. It's a book about bad dates, good friends and - above all else - about recognising that you and you alone are enough.

I Was Born for This - Alice Oseman
For Angel Rahimi life is about one thing: The Ark – a pop-rock trio of teenage boys who are taking the world by storm. Being part of The Ark’s fandom has given her everything she loves – her friend Juliet, her dreams, her place in the world.
Jimmy Kaga-Ricci owes everything to The Ark. He’s their frontman – and playing in a band with his mates is all he ever dreamed of doing.
But dreams don’t always turn out the way you think and when Jimmy and Angel are unexpectedly thrust together, they find out how strange and surprising facing up to reality can be.
A funny, wise, and heartbreakingly true coming of age novel. I Was Born for This is a stunning reflection of modern teenage life, and the power of believing in something – especially yourself.
Have you read any of these? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

End of 2018 Catch Up

The end (of 2018) is nigh and my promises to blog more regularly didn't come to fruition, yet again.  There was always an excuse not to blog - lack of time, lack of energy, would anyone be bothered about what I had to say anyway? - but with just a few days of the year left it feels like a good time to reflect on the year.

It has, like many years, been one of ups and downs.  Let's get the misery out of the way first.  Emotionally, I've struggled.  Anxiety is a bitch, and my self-esteem has been at rock bottom.  I've put on weight, and although I'm trying my hardest to become more body confident (or at least body accepting) it isn't always easy fighting the thoughts that have, over a life time, become ingrained.  What I do know is I don't want to waste any more years 'dieting' and social media accounts such as Bodiposipanda and SoBadAss have been an enormous help in reminding me that bodies of all shapes are beautiful and that not everyone's functions the same way.  I'm also making an effort to slow down, because my body doesn't cope well with stress.  Prioritising time to read and sew has made a big difference to my mental health over the past couple of months so I'm determined to make time for those things in 2019, along with more regular physical exercise.  The running I did in the summer months helped beyond measure.

The start of the year was also a challenge professionally.  Joe and Clara's Christmas Countdown completed my contract with Harper Impulse and a book I'd written in 2017 went out on submission in February.  I'd not gone through that process before, but basically it involved my agent sending the book out to various publishers and waiting for their feedback.  This book is still without a home, even though the comments we got back were generally very positive.  The rejections knocked my already low confidence, and for a while I wondered what the future held for me.  My poor agent has been a marvel this year putting up with my self-doubt!  Thankfully, the second half of the year was far more enjoyable and successful on a professional level and I can't wait to tell you what's coming next (hopefully not too long now until I can say!) I'm also going into 2019 full of ideas and feeling excited about writing again.

Despite poor mental health I've been fortunate to have found joy in many places throughout the year.  Live music has helped me so much and I've seen almost all my favourite bands/artists at least once in 2018.  Morrissey, Charlie Barnes, Carrie Hope Fletcher, Bastille, Frank Turner, Gary Barlow, Childcare, Johnny Marr, Felix Hagan and the Family, Arkells...they've all made me smile.  I've also managed theatre trips to see NBT's Jane Eyre, Hairspray, Grease, The Band, Heathers and Rock of Ages.  We had a few days break in Edinburgh and a night in London as a family and I went home to Wales and to Brackley to visit my best friend when she had her baby at the start of the year.  I also had a night in Scarborough with friends when we went to see Bastille at the Open Air Theatre.  I've loved photography exhibitions and art exhibitions, and as I mentioned earlier have found solace in sewing and reading - I'll do a separate post about my favourite reads of the year.  Family and friends who've been patient with me have been a real blessing when I've needed support.  I am very, very lucky.

I'm leaving 2018 feeling quietly hopeful.  There are big changes afoot in 2019 with work, my son starting secondary school, moving house (if all goes to plan)... but I'm ready.  My word for the year ahead is balance.  Hopefully 2019 will be a bit less emotionally wobbly than 2018 was.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

How Am I Gonna Be An Optimist About This? (Or Why 'Boyband Indie' is NOT destroying Guitar Music)

This blog post is a response to Mark Beaumont's NME article entitled 'Mark, My Words : want to save guitar music? Kick out boyband indie.

Oh, Where Do We Begin?

Today I read an article published on the blog section of the NME website.  It was popping up all over my Twitter timeline because not only had it been tweeted by the main NME account but people I follow were sharing and responding the article, mostly speaking far more sense than Beaumont does in his post. 

Looking beyond the clickbait title (what even is 'boyband indie'?), I was both amazed and amused by Mark Beaumont's comment that 'Bastille are the endgame of a 30-year plot to tame, contain, castrate and commodify alternative guitar music.'

That statement alone is kind of hilarious, if you think about it.  Do Dan Smith, Kyle Simmons, Chris 'Woody' Wood and Will Farquarson really hold that much power over the music industry as a whole?  Does any band? 

Did The Beatles kill skiffle? 

Did 90s trance kill 80s pop? 

Did Britpop kill grunge? 

No, of course not because, despite what Beaumont wants us to think, the popularity of one band or genre does not immediately eradicate all other music from the face of the planet nor the memory of the listener.

Beaumont continues with, 'it’s not as though Bastille act as an entry drug to more challenging music' which, even if you ignore the tone which insults both Smith's song-writing ability and the listeners' taste, makes it sound as though there's a hierarchy of music and we should all be striving for a mythical pinnacle.

And here was I thinking music was to be enjoyed, not endured.  Silly me. 

If You Close Your Eyes Does It Almost Feel Like You've Been Here Before?

Erm...yes, actually. 

I've been around long enough to see many music writers lament the loss of a 'true indie scene', and although there's no denying the music industry is changing for a handful of musicians in this era of The X Factor and YouTube, the DIY scene hasn't gone anywhere.  If Mark Beaumont digs deeper than Radio One and the main stage at Reading and Leeds he'll find it alive and well all over the UK. 

How Am I Gonna Be An Optimist About This?

Well, quite easily actually. 

I'm living proof that not everyone who listens to Bastille is 'young' or 'impressionable' as Beaumont likes to make out (although if they were, why would that be a bad thing?  Is music only for people over a certain age?  I think not.) and if you go to a Bastille gig you'll find a diverse bunch of people enjoying music in an inclusive, safe environment.  The world needs more of that, if you ask me, rather than judgemental men with a platform making ridiculous claims.

I was left to my own devices and discovered a sound that spoke to me and lyrics I could relate to, which is, as far as I'm concerned, what music should be about.  If you don't like it Mark Beaumont, don't listen to it.  It's that simple.  It's not big or clever to belittle what others like just because it's not your cup of tea. 

And I'm also optimistic that guitar music is going nowhere.  It's survived the changing landscape of music for this long that I don't think it's going to 'choke to death on the ash of 'Pompeii''. 

The title of this blog post comes from Pompeii by Bastille, which as of 15/07/2018 has 473,694,591 views on YouTube and 548,983,156 listens on Spotify, which suggests there are quite a few people who like it more than Mark Beaumont does. 

End of decade round-up

My family didn't grow in the way I thought it might, turns out it was only ever meant to be me, David and Zachary. Instead, the pitter p...