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.

New blog – The Really Wild Editor

So I’ve started a new blog. Because clearly one isn’t enough for me – I mean, look at the volume of my output here. Obviously I just won’t shut up.

Ahem.

Anyway. My new effort, The Really Wild Editor, is a place for me to rant and complain about all the errors in written English that I come across in my random perambulations around Derbyshire and the wider world. I’ll photograph them and then name and shame – because, you know, a small part of me dies every time I see apple’s for sale at the local greengrocer, or a menu advertising a compliementary bottle of wine.

Come join me and send me examples of your own – you send ’em, I’ll post ’em.

Writing challenge, 26 May 2012

Another one from Mama Kat – I almost didn’t share this because it still, to this day, makes me hunch my shoulders and gnaw my fists with shame. (For the other responses to Mama Kat’s prompts, click here.)

Write about a time your child embarrassed you in public.

Oh, this is going to be a common one; I’m sure I can’t be the only mother this has ever happened to. You know the setting – the local supermarket, a weekday morning to avoid the after-work and weekend crowds. Me, with two small children in tow – eldest (aged 5) at school, but middle (3) and youngest (0) strapped securely into a double-seat trolley. It’s not too busy – in fact, it’s quiet enough to make the fact that I’m supermarket-shopping with a toddler and an infant bearable, if not actually enjoyable.

We’re trolling about having quite a nice time, considering – me and the Boy singing songs to each other, pointing out interesting packets of biscuits and having mature three-year-old discussions about why he can’t eat all the grapes before I’ve paid for them. I even throw in an occasional and sneaky bit of trolley-surfing in empty aisles (the Boy clapping and shouting with glee). The baby, for a wonder, is fast asleep.

We arrive at the freezer aisles, and I stop by the frozen peas (or something – I can’t remember, it’s not important because OH MY GOD what happens next wiped all the details from my mind). I’m aware that there’s another trolley owned by a fellow shopper just across the aisle, but I’m not paying attention because I’m chatting away to the Boy while trying to work out which peas (or whatever) are on offer. Suddenly the Boy speaks, loudly and clearly, cutting across my babble.

“Mummy?”

“Hmm?” I look up. He’s pointing across the aisle at the other shopper, about five feet away from us. “What?”

“”Mummy, why is that lady so FAT?”

Appalled silence. Involuntarily I glance across to lock eyes with a rather large lady dressed in a maroon tent-like garment, holding a bag of frozen vegetables. I look away in horror and wait a beat too long to reply to the Boy.

“That lady, Mummy. She’s really fat.”

And now, too late, I’m in motion, mouth flapping – “You mustn’t say things like that, darling, it’s not kind, come on, let’s see what kind of ice cream they’ve got, babble, drivel, blah” – pushing the trolley as fast as I can without actually running, rounding the corner of the aisle and glancing back to see the lady exactly where I left her, staring after me with her bag of sprouts still in her hand.

To compound the horror, it’s not that large a supermarket and we cross paths with that poor lady at least three more times before I finally manage to escape. My Boy has never been one to be fobbed off, and each time he spots her he points again and prepares to ask his question even louder (perhaps he thinks I’m going deaf, since I clearly failed to hear him the first time he asked). By the second time this happens I’m prepared and manage to divert him, but I’m shaking and sweaty by the time we arrive at the car. I throw the shopping into the boot, strap the children in and we make our escape.

And then I let myself go, howling with hysterical laughter until the tears roll down my face and the Boy starts to get worried that I’m upset, or have gone mad. Because ever since he first pointed her out and used his loudest and best speaking voice to ask his question, I have been trying not to laugh. I must not let that poor lady see how FUNNY that was, because oh my god she must be mortified, I would be so upset, she must feel dreadful – but all the time I’m screwed up inside, holding in shouts of embarrassed and horrified laughter. Because SHE WAS FAT, and there was no way of denying that, and no way of apologising without making my son a liar, and no way of making her feel better about herself. The damage was done, and nothing I could say or do would make her day any better.

But the worst thing? Absolutely the most shameful thing about this whole episode? That, my dears, is the fact that she saw my hysterical laughter in my face when we locked eyes over my son’s outstretched finger. She saw that all I wanted to do was collapse in horrified laughter, and SHE KNEW. Oh yes, she knew alright, and she let me KNOW that she knew.

I didn’t go back to that supermarket for months, and when I did I went round it like a demon – head down, arms pistoning to grab items more or less at random from the shelves, throw everything through the checkout and safely away. No children with me that time, no sir, and any sign of a larger customer sent me spinning into the next aisle, eyes wide with horror and hysterical laughter snorting down my nose.

Writing Challenge: 100 words for grown-ups #3

Haven’t done this one for a while – I like a writing challenge, but when I first saw the current list of words at Julia’s Place I wasn’t inspired. But then – what’s a challenge if it doesn’t make you think?

The challenge is to use Julia’s prompts in a piece of writing less than one hundred words long. This week’s list of prompt words is: LIBERTY, EMPIRE, APPLE, YELLOW, ENORMOUS

I curl up on the sofa, the enormous patchwork quilt made of scraps of fabric gathered from all parts of my family’s history nestling snugly round my shoulders. A peacock-blue Liberty print from my grandmother’s dress contrasts with egg-yolk yellow flannel from my old baby blanket and a green apple salvaged from my mother’s favourite apron – all redolent of home, comfort and safety.

I sniff miserably, my head full of cold and self-pity, and turn on the television. A rerun of The Empire Strikes Back. Han Solo, a cup of tea and my quilt. Suddenly I feel a bit better.

Writing Challenge, 23 April 2012

I’m challenging myself to write more. Or, more honestly, to write at all. Writing is what stops my head from exploding, but too often (most of the time) it gets pushed to the side in favour of other stuff – work (editing), work (school), family, domestic stuff, general over-commitment and lack of ability to say “Actually, thank you for asking, but no, I’m not going to do that/go there”. I struggle to work on extended writing projects because I lose my thread, and I have a large number of half-finished short pieces which I’ve begun and then abandoned or lost interest in. I know I’m not alone in this – false starts are part of the writer’s craft – but it’s generally accepted to be a good idea to finish the occasional piece, no?

So – tonight I have no editing, and a while ago I found a weekly writing challenge at Mama’s Losin’ It, and – well, here’s the result. Great literature it ain’t, but it’s nearly 700 words, and it’s mine.

Mama Kat’s Writing Prompt: List the top 10 things you miss about being alone. (Inspired by The Little Hen House)

Being alone? Well, there’s a novel concept. I haven’t properly done alone since I went back to work nearly three years ago – and before that I had the children milling around when they weren’t at school, and an out-of-work partner when they were. I was at home with the children when they were small, and only went back to work when they were all settled at school (and when my partner was suddenly made redundant).

Now I work in a school for high-dependency students with behavioural, emotional and learning disabilities, and when I’m not there I also work from home as a freelance editor and proofreader. I still have my own children and partner (no longer out of work, but working from home, which amounts to the same thing in terms of on-my-own-time). Alone is a concept I don’t really understand any more.

So – the things I miss. In no particular order:

  1. Writing.
  2. Reading.
  3. Singing, loudly and probably out of tune, and NOT CARING.
  4. Being able to work inside my own head – by which I mean staring out of the window for minutes on end, plotting or working out dialogue or whatever. These days, if Mum’s staring out of the window it means she’s bored and she really needs someone to ask her to do something, or pay someone, or find something. No head space whatsoever with three children in the house. No sir.
  5. Taking a run up and skidding across the tiled kitchen floor in my socks.*
  6. Knowing what’s in my freezer. As part of our gradual role reversal my work-from-home partner is now largely responsible for food shopping and cooking. This means that when I do cook it’s an exciting and sometimes dangerous voyage of discovery, and I’m often in trouble for using the special items he had earmarked for Sunday lunch.**
  7. BBC Radio 4.
  8. The silence of my house. I generally get up ten or fifteen minutes earlier than everyone else merely to experience quiet for a short time before the day revs up, but I do miss those long hours of simply being able to hear the house breathing.
  9. Phoning my sister just because I fancied a chat. When I had home-alone-time she did too, and we used to talk regularly – at least once a week, often more frequently. Now we both work during the day, and evenings are chaotic, and I’m lucky if I talk to her once a month. I miss her.***
  10. Writing.

I found this a difficult list to write, because it became clear as I was thinking about it that I’m in mourning for some of these things. Silence, headspace, my sisters – my need for these things that I lack makes me emotional, but I rarely allow myself to give in to these emotions. Taking back time for myself seems self-indulgent because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for all the commitments I take on – my own, my children’s, my partner’s, domestic, at work (school or home), blah blah… How could I possibly justify half an hour’s quiet reading time when there’s washing to fold, a manuscript to edit for a client, the lawn to mow, a pile of sandwiches to make, an orchestra rehearsal to get to, homework to supervise, washing up to do, the stairs to vacuum and the cat to brush?

And as for writing – well, let’s just say that these days I have many more stories in my head than I do on paper. However, that will change, or my head really may explode. And that won’t be pretty – think of the mess I’ll have to clean up…

—-

* I still sometimes do this when no one is looking.
** It also means we rarely have enough washing powder or bleach. For some reason he can buy sausages and breakfast cereal, but not cleaning products.
*** Ironically my other sister, who worked full time when I was a hausfrau, is now at home running her own textile craft business. I miss her, too.

I’m published!

Quite excited about this. I’m (almost) published! Ages ago I submitted a short story in response to this call for submissions – totally on spec, not expecting to hear anything back other than a polite thanks-but-no-thanks. Long story short, I did hear back with an eager yes-please, but haven’t been able to tell anyone about it until now because the final list wasn’t confirmed. The editors of the anthology ran into a few real-life-type problems which put the antho on hold, but it’s still in the pipeline, and today they posted the (almost) final list of acceptances.

I’m there as Louise James, and my story Sleeping Beauty is a rather pleasingly gory retelling of that well-known fairy tale. Last I heard, publication was expected in early 2012 – I’ll keep you posted!

UPDATE: May 3, 2012

As far as I know the publication of Wandering Weeds is still on schedule. I’ve signed contracts, submitted a bio and photo, seen, edited and returned the galley, and the editors assure me that all is still on track with Hall Brothers, who are publishing the book. No word on a release date yet, but I hope it won’t be too long.

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.