2012 in review

So here we are at the tail end of the year. For me and my family, 2012 has been a year of spectacular highs and one or two crushing lows – a weird year in some ways, but it’s been creative and funny and scary and challenging and all of that stuff. In summary:

January was the month of snow, walking to work across drift-covered fields and nervy preparation for our first ever skiing trip in February, which was terrifying and exhilarating and expensive and fabulous and a thing to be repeated when we have saved up again. Real life, school and editing seemed terribly dull on our return.

March disappeared in a blur of school and work stuff (seriously, I’ve been back over my diary, and nothing happened. NOTHING), so we’ll move swiftly on to April, which was Book Club month, the inaugural meeting of a small group of friends from work. We have kept meeting, and during the year we have read a variety of books – not always ones I would have chosen, but isn’t that the point of Book Club? We’ve also had some truly memorable conversations, and not always about the books. Reading ladies of AHS, I salute you and look forward to more in 2013.

April was also the month when I was, rather astonishingly and out of the blue,  commissioned to write a book of my own. Therefore, writing and research in May, burying myself in the ancient and splendid Sussex dialect and peppering my conversation with words like sureleye and pathery. Turns out writing a book is actually quite hard work. Who knew.

June was more writing and great joy when I turned in the manuscript on time, but also sunshine, our brief warm summer, spent at school and guiding Molly through the first real round of her GCSE exams. Not that she needed much guidance; if ever a girl deserved to do well by dint of organisation, application and sheer gutsy hard work it would be my Molly. So proud.

In July I concentrated on getting to the end of the school term without collapsing or killing anyone (dropping my hours to four days a week certainly helped with this), and had a week at home on my own when Tom took the children to the coast (they had already broken up, I was still at school – happens every year). This was at the same time dark, empty and dreadful, and blissful, liberating and QUIET. Then, of course, came the Olympics – a fortnight of marvelling and weeping and laughing and marvelling all over again.

August was Big Theatre month, when we sang and danced and played and acted until we (literally) dropped, and between us produced The Blue Dress, the best show we have ever pulled off. So proud of all the Big Theatre babes, but (naturally) of my own children most of all. We also camped in Yorkshire, spending five wet and windy nights under canvas wondering where the tent was going to spring a leak next (once – memorably – under my bed).

Back to school in September, but as always the bitter pill was sweetened considerably by my birthday on the 11th. Also, I took part in a community performance of Carmina Burana, accompanying an 80-strong choir as part of a semi-pro orchestra brought together for the day. I’ve never been prouder to call myself a violinist.

October was theatre again, recalling the Big Theatre cast and reprising The Blue Dress from the summer for a triumphant three-night run over half term. I also worked through the final edits for the Sussex book, involving lots of to-and-fro between me, the commissioning editor and the designer before we finally arrived at the print draft.

Eventually in November  Sussex Dialect was published, amid a great deal of pink-cheeked grinning on my part. Pity my poor friends and family, who have been forced to read the wretched thing over and over again and answer questions about it. (They haven’t really.) I also took part in my first podcast recording, having a total ball with Dion, Barry and Clo from the Scrolls book group at Geek Syndicate. I definitely want to do more of this.

December, as always, was a frenzy of concerts, school performances and preparations for Christmas, but also, out of nowhere, Wandering Weeds was published, containing a short story of mine which I had more or less given up for lost. Unbelievably happy about this, especially since fantasy fiction is what I really want to be writing. In the absence of any further ideas, though, I also signed a contract to write a Norfolk dialect book. Something of a pattern here.

Through this all I have edited, and written, and knitted, and edited more, and edited a LOT more, and generally wondered where all the work is coming from. If my freelance work continues to gather momentum in 2013 I’ll have to take serious stock of whether my current school commitments are sustainable, but that’s for the future. For now, I’m looking forward to going back to school and getting my teeth into writing Norfolk and editing a couple of novels which are lined up for the early part of 2013. Also, the last two months of 2012 showed an impressive average of a book published a month; I know I can’t sustain this over the next few weeks, but if 2013 can match 2012’s total in terms of publications with my name on (or in) them, I’ll be delighted.

Work stuff

Work has been mad lately – in a good way. I’ve been building up my portfolio of editing experience gradually over the last four years, but this year I seem to have hit some sort of critical mass, and for the last few months I’ve had more work than I could handle – sometimes quite literally. While this is fantastic from a professional point of view, it has made me reconsider the direction of my career and my work-life balance. Or rather, this last few months, my work-work-work-work-life imbalance.

I think most people know that as well as editing and writing I also work part-time in a school. This was – and it remains – necessary for mundane and boring financial reasons, but I realised before the summer that the combination of school and freelance work was leaving me with precious little time for myself and my family. If any at all.

https://i1.wp.com/openphoto.net/volumes/sizes/mylenebressan/22845/1.jpgSo I took the decision to reduce my hours at school, and with the support of the Head and all three of my line managers (don’t even ask) I’ve dropped from five days a week to four. (Some might say that five days a week in a school isn’t part-time, but it counts as such with my employers. In any case, I’m now more part-time than I was.) So I now have a day a week at home, to catch up on editing and writing and my thoughts and the housework and all the other stuff that gets neglected otherwise. It’s made a massive difference (I occasionally have a weekend! Think of that!), which is good because the work continues to pour in.

I’ve worked with a lot of new clients over the past few weeks. Academics have worked with me and then told their friends, authors have sent me their books and then told their friends, and I’ve also started working regularly for E2Publish, a Norway-based academic ESL editing agency. Another regular client is continuing with his efforts to set up a similar agency in Germany, in which I’m taking an advisory role as well as doing some nuts-and-bolts editing, so life is pretty busy.

Over the next few weeks and months I already have two PhD theses and a couple of novels lined up, taking me through December, January and well into the New Year, and I expect to pick up other smaller jobs to fit around these long manuscripts. I’m also writing and researching the Norfolk book at the same time, and writing assignments for a work-based qualification that school are putting me through – how does the old saying go? If you want something doing, give it to a busy person? Erm, yeah. That.

Update – Sussex, Yorkshire and the Russian Revolution

A quick post by way of a general update, since my blogging mojo has clearly deserted me – if indeed it ever visited, which seems unlikely based on the evidence. Today it appears to have popped in for a cup of tea at least, so here I am.

The summer holiday has shot by, and has been incredibly busy – it seems entirely unreal that I’ll be back at my four-day-a-week school job next week, fitting in writing and editing around that and everything else which goes with running a family of five. Since we all broke up in July we’ve camped in a puddle in North Yorkshire (not on purpose – the puddle wasn’t there when we put the tent up), acted/played/sung in a play about the Russian Revolution with the Big Theatre company, and enjoyed the splendid irony of marvelling at the pinnacle of sporting endeavour in the Olympics and Paralympics while slobbing about on the sofa eating cake.

I have also put the finishing touches to my book on Sussex dialect, which is due for publication in the next few weeks (the final proof should be going off to the printer any day), agreed in principle to write another in the same series, probably about Norfolk dialect, as well as a few others which may or may not be in the pipeline, and rushed out some text for a photo book on the Peak District which will be published in time for Christmas. All these have come my way via a colleague who prefers not to be named in thanks and acknowledgements, but who nevertheless brokers deals with publishers and then shoves them my way. I am extremely grateful for all his efforts.

I have had word that the Wandering Weeds anthology, featuring a short story of mine, will also be making an appearance pretty soon – I’m glad about this, because I had almost given up on that little story ever appearing in the wild. I know Jaleta and Frances have both worked really hard on the antho, so I’m looking forward to it coming out.

In between all this I’ve edited reports, articles, book chapters and a novel, and have just started work on a second novel for the same client. After a tremendously busy period in July, when I was working on three or four (and for a short but memorable period, five) separate editing jobs at once, the freelance work has thankfully levelled off to a steady and manageable rate. I have a few long manuscripts booked in between now and Christmas, with plenty of scope for fitting shorter contracts around them and also for working on my own writing. Good times!

Finally, and apropos of nothing in particular except to prove that it didn’t rain all the time we were in Yorkshire, here’s a picture of York Minster. I’ve been playing with my (still fairly new-to-me) camera, but most of the other shots I’ve taken seem to feature my children gurning. Delightful.

Juggling – or how I combine work, work and life

This week has seen us (myself and the children) facing the dreaded return to school – some of us with more stoicism and good grace than others. I’ll readily admit I was hugely unwilling to get up and out on Monday morning, especially because the kids didn’t start back until Tuesday or Wednesday – INSET days are so much less attractive now that I’m one of the unfortunate trainees.

For the children, the return to school means routine, regular hours, a social life – all things which they lack during the summer holidays, living as we do in a semi-rural village with few or none of their friends close by. It means much the same to me too, of course, but with the added complication that I must resume juggling the day job with my freelance (writing and editing) work.

Most writers will, at some point or other, have combined writing with another job. Unless you do it as part of another occupation (if you’re an academic, say, or a journalist), writing will rarely pay enough by itself to support a home and family – and those lucky few who do hit the big time and make their writing PAY are the envy of the rest of us.

For me at least, freelance editing is much the same – I work regularly, but not frequently enough to be able to depend on my earnings to support my family. For the first couple of years of my editing career this was not a problem because my partner was working, but when he lost his job very suddenly in early 2009 I needed to start bringing in regular money, and in June of that year I started working as a TA at a local school.

Since then I’ve combined editing and writing with working 8.30am to 3.30pm during term-time, and mostly it has worked well. I’m able to be at school during the day, at home with the kids between 3.30pm and bedtime, and then I work into the evenings, and I suspect most of my editing clients don’t even know I also have a day-job. (They do now…) Of course, as long as I work with them professionally and efficiently there’s no reason why they should know, or why it should matter, and since I’ve been working at school I’ve continued to build a freelance client base and have also written a novel, a novella and numerous short stories and articles. Some of these have even been published.

This is not to say it hasn’t sometimes been difficult, but in fact the problems have usually occurred when I haven’t been at school – during holidays, when manuscripts arrive for editing and publication deadlines loom while the children wreck the place for lack of entertainment. However, with a bit of forward planning (and a few late nights) those times can be kept to a minimum, so that we can all take time out together. Which, after all, is the whole point of flexible freelance work in the first place.