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.

Writing Challenge – 100 words for grown-ups #2

My second attempt at this weekly writing challenge, run by The Head’s Office, and this one’s a bit different from my first one. The new prompt was to write a 100-word piece using the phrase “…the alarm went off…“, and I didn’t like it much; I spent a good while feeling miserable about alarm clocks and my (and the children’s) imminent return to school at the end of the holidays, but then I realised I was wasting good writing time.

They had all drifted into a restless sleep when the alarm went off. Even Spyder, who was supposed to be on watch, was dozing, propped upright against a tree with his shotgun across his knees. The gentle pinging brought them all instantly awake, though, scrabbling for weapons as they scanned the darkness.

Gower scuffed earth over the embers of the fire as they all silently blessed Copley’s elaborate system of tripwires, which he insisted on setting every night wherever they made camp. The alarm had never gone off before, but tonight it seemed someone, or something, had finally found them.

Writing challenge – 100 words for grown-ups

I found this writing challenge while stumbling about on Twitter. I do like a good writing challenge, especially one I can knock out before breakfast, so the 100 words for grown-ups challenge, run weekly by The Head’s Office, grabbed me straight away.

This week the challenge was to take one (or all three) of a list of words that have recently been deleted from the COED and used them in a 100-word piece. I love the COED – it’s one of my must-have tools when I’m working – but I’m also enough of a word-geek that I enjoy simply flipping through it reading definitions at random. Therefore, for this challenge I decided to go all definitional, but then got a bit sidetracked on the last one – well, you’ll see what I mean.

Foozle – the kind of mess that happens when a small black kitten, intent only on trying to help, decides to tidy a basket of wool.

Brabble – what happens when Twitter gets a bit overheated about someone’s unfavourable review of Dr Who.

Growlery – a private growly place, just for me? Goodness, I wish I had one of those. I’d never leave it. There’d be a big sign on the door saying “GO AWAY, I’M GROWLING”, and some books, and a kettle, and probably some chocolate, and more books, and my computer, and my cat, and more books, and … oh. Sorry.