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. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

March and April and May 2018 - books and music in brief

Oh, time - you got away from me again.  Spring arrived later than ever; winter seemingly endless with freezing temperatures and April snowfall.  Hibernation appealed as I recognised the tell-tale signs of anxiety making an unwanted comeback, but I forced myself to push on.  I came close to my breaking point and I've taken some time away from writing to ease the load, but it's really, really hard to switch off from the alternate realities in my head. 

When my head's in a bad place I find it hard to focus.  As a reader that's as much of a sucker-punch as the other symptoms of my anxiety.  That said, I have managed to read a few cracking books. 

I Was Born for This by Alice Oseman was just fabulous.  It had boy bands, mental health representation and an LGBT+ lead character, which along with a fast-paced storyline made for a great read. 

I also fell head-over-heels in love with Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, which I became aware of when the book was relaunched to tie in with the film release.  It was the painfully beautiful love story I needed, beautifully executed.  I haven't read anything since because nothing could compare. 

Those are without doubt my two stand-out reads of the spring, but I also read Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro (which had a great premise - focussing on a couple who were having a long-distance affair - but which didn't quite hit the spot for me), Spinning, a graphic memoir by Tillie Walden about ice skating, relationships and sexuality and my mother's day gift, a Penguin Little Black Book - Suffragettes.

I've been fortunate to go to some great gigs with some of my favourite people in the past three months and music has given me sprinklings of happiness when I've been low. 

Back in March me and my friend Sally saw Charlie Barnes at West Street Live in Sheffield (I blogged about that here), and I ended the month at Carrie Hope Fletcher's Cadogan Hall show which was so cathartic it's untrue - I spent most of the first half in tears. 

April brought Bastille's Reorchestrated tour to my home city, and what a line-up that was!  Charlie Barnes opened (and played The Weather, which I ADORE), followed by my first time seeing To Kill a King before the main event - Bastille with an orchestra.  My tiny mind was blown.  As if that wasn't enough excitement for one day, I made a really great friend who I'm going to be seeing again soon - hi, Chloe!  I decided to head to Record Junkie on Record Store Day to see High Hazels play an acoustic set, and on April 24th headed to the Sheffield O2 for another brilliant gig with one of my favourites - Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls.  After queuing with friends to get a spot on the barrier we were treated to support acts from Homeless Gospel Choir and Arkells (check out Leather Jacket in particular, it's a tune) before Frank took to the stage for an amazing, amazing gig which culminated in me going home with his guitar pick.

With some of the Frank Turner Army at the Roundhouse

May brought more music - Gary Barlow in Manchester (cheesy fun which had me dancing like a loon, even though I must admit it wasn't the same as a Take That gig), Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls (again) for the Love, Ire and Song night of Lost Evenings 2 at the Camden Roundhouse (Jet Lag on poor heart) and a charity gig for Music Support featuring Monty Taft, Charlie Barnes and To Kill a King at Omeara in London, which was possibly the stickiest, sweatiest gig I've ever been to in my life.  By the end of the night when Dan Smith joined them on stage for Annie Oakley Hanging everyone went bananas shouting along to 13 Steps.

Thanks so much, Dan

By chance I'd bumped into Dan when I was browsing the shops earlier in the day (although I was so overcome with shyness that I didn't even tell him I was a fan, let alone that I thanked Bastille in the acknowledgements of Joe and Clara's Christmas Countdown because I wrote most of it listening to the Wild World album.  Fun fact - a line from a Bastille song is the working title of my current project, too). I also had a chat with Charlie after his set which was nice - they are both so stupidly talented and work so hard.  It gave me the kick I needed to get back on the writing horse.

Charlie Barnes - I've seen him three times in as many months and he never disappoints.

Reading this back makes me realise how fortunate I've been to be able to see so many of my favourites multiple times lately and the only one I've not seen (Johnny Marr) I've managed to snag tickets to see in November.

Every so often I wonder what life would be like without books and music.  Then I wipe that thought from my mind, because it doesn't bear thinking about.

I'll do another post about other places and the theatre I've been to over the past few months soon, and I'm going to try really hard to put something on the blog regularly, even if it's not that exciting.  What have you been reading lately?  And have you been to any gigs?  Who do I need to be listening to?

Friday, 23 March 2018

Charlie Barnes - West Street Live 22.03.2018

Regular readers of this blog may recall my excitement for Charlie Barnes' latest album Oceanography.  Having seen Charlie perform acoustically before, as well as with his band The Society Pages, I was excited to hear he was returning to Sheffield to play at West Street Live.

Following sets by Sheffield groups Hush and K A R A, Charlie and his band took to the stage with the insanely catchy 'All I Have' which features some deliciously-jangly guitar riffs, before launching into the anthemic 'Bruising'.  Anyone who's ever tried to make a living through creative endeavours will relate to these tracks about self-doubt, imposter syndrome and the need for a thick skin and perseverance, as shown in the lyric, 'Every time I've half a mind to throw the towel in, I fight it'. 

Next up was 'Maria', a track which showcases songwriter Barnes' ability to meld a haunting verse with a pop-influenced chorus, not to mention a Queen-influenced guitar break which allowed Charlie's personality and showmanship to come to the fore.

Barnes swapped guitar for keyboard for the epic 'Easy, Kid' from 2015's More Stately Mansions, which also fully demonstrated the frontman's vocal range .  I have to admit to being close to tears as this wistful song, which would be worthy of a film score, reverberated around the venue.  Rousing title track 'Oceanography' was up next to further batter the souls of the emotionally-challenged, followed by 'MacbethMacbethMacbeth', 'The Departure' and 'Ruins'.  By the time the penultimate song of the evening, single 'Will and Testament', was played Charlie was in full theatrical swing, engaging with the crowd (including a group of students on a round of pub golf who were keen to foist a cheap green visor on the front man - they didn't succeed), briefly channelling Mr Motivator as he encouraged us to copy the hand moves he demonstrated.  However, I doubt Mr Motivator would ever swap his trademark lycra for a pink floral suit...

As an album More Stately Mansions was billed as 'big morbid death pop' and never was this more apparent than throughout angst-riddled finale 'Sing to God'.  Despite playing right up until the curfew, Barnes and his backing band left the stage to calls for an encore from a crowd who weren't ready for the night to end.

On a personal note I was over the moon that the set included old favourites as well as the new tracks that I'd previously only heard studio versions of and although there were others I'd have loved to have seen live ('One Word Answers' and 'The Weather' in particular) as set lists go it was pretty much perfect.  I was also fortunate to say a very quick hello to Charlie after the gig, although I didn't have chance to say everything I'd have liked to (important stuff like where can I get a physical copy of Geekk, as it's great music to write to?), nor tell him how much I loved the gig and how I relate to Oceanography's focus on the importance of validation as an artist with every ounce of my soul.

So, for today, Charlie, let me be your validation.  Keep doing what you're doing, because you are a fucking awesome musician and a true performer.  Your music makes me happy.

Find out more about Charlie Barnes on Facebook.

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...