There’s a racist line in my upcoming book Orphan Sisters set in 1950’s London; ‘Go back to where you came from!’ and today in 2017 I got told the same thing.
It took a while for the words of this stranger to register and when they did, I decided to confront her. This was very out of character for me, but then again, it’s not everyday someone shouts such bile in my direction.
I am under no elusions. I believe there to be a vast number of people who after looking at me, have thought such things in their mind. Let’s face it, we don’t actually live in a candy floss sprinkled world. You know, a world where every human being is seen as an equal regardless of skin colour or who they pray to.
We. Do. Not.
If you still think we do and ‘It aint that bad’ then the battering over the head with the recent US elections, Brexit and the rise of far right groups in various European countries has not been enough of a rude awakening for you. And if so, feel free to snuggle up to your teddy bear, close your eyes and sleep this one out.
I was told not to take it personally, ‘It’s okay, it’s just what idiots say.’ Well of course I’m not taking it personally. This cretin did not know me as a person. But in no way does she get a free pass. No. She needs to know that this is not okay.
She will hopefully think twice about singling out an innocent person in the street again.
Or maybe she wont.
I’m all for relating to the characters I write about and before this incident really felt I did. But the thought of being constantly told to ‘Go back to where you come from!’ and gazing at signs written on paper stuck to windows that read, ‘No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish,’ can eventually take its toll on the psyche. It has to in varying degrees. I guess that’s why I wrote Orphan Sisters. I wanted to highlight the links between racism and mental health issues. After all, I am a mental health professional as well as a writer. I have seen the detrimental effects of racism on the psyche far too many times.
I salute my parents, aunties, uncles and every one of those from the ‘British colonies’ who in the 1950’s dared to come to this country and make a way. My heart goes out to anyone who in 2017 feels that HAVE to.
So have recent world events (see above) merely blanketed the average racist with an extra coat of bravery?Yes. No. Who knows? Does it matter? Yes.
I also believe that what ‘she’ said, what various right wing publications say and what certain politicians say in 2017 is NOT OK.
5 Ways to Deal with Rejection
I know these blogs are getting more and more personal, but na…we aint talking about my love life!! Tee hee. But let’s face it, we have all been rejected at some point in our lives whether it be by a love interest or in career matters. Those of you who followed my ancient blogs of yesteryear, know what I went through before getting my first publishing deal. So I unfortunately have quite a bit of experience in the field of rejection. Also, working in the field of mental wellbeing, it comes up a lot. So If we put all that experience in to one big pot of gloop, here’s the result (enjoy).
- Don’t take it personal: The more emotionally attached we are to the person, thing or situation, the harder the rejection is going to feel. And it’s easy to believe there’s something wrong with us because if not, then why did the other person dismiss us? During those early days of submitting my book to agents and publishers, the rejections would hurt and slice through my bones (graphic but true). My very first rejection had me in tears! So, if we stick with the publishing analogy, we could say the book I’d sent them was too much like the book they’d just signed up for a million pounds earlier that week. Sometimes rejection occurs and it’s nothing to do with us. Don’t own stuff that might not exist.
It’s easy to stay trapped in distress and anger and tears (I snapped out of mine as soon as I decided to improve my manuscript). But remaining in that box is sooo counterproductive. It’s better to try and see past what really is a fleeting moment of discomfort and snot, to acknowledge that there is a higher purpose to not getting what (or whom) we want. If like me, you believe in God, then you’ll know what I mean by; He has other plans for me. If you are even slightly spiritual then perhaps go with the belief that a higher purpose will be revealed in time. How many times have you heard the story of a friend getting dumped, only for her to find her true love a month later as she waits at the bus stop in the pouring rain, hair stuck to her face, new suede boots caked in mud…? I digress. My point is, I bet she’s now grateful that rat of an ex dumped her by text!
We all discover the greater purpose of our pain in due time.
3. Don’t avoid the feelings, USE them:
Okay, let me rephrase that. Acknowledge the hurt and then use this to make changes that will ultimately lead to bettering YOU. In my case, I acknowledged the hurt getting yet another knock back from a publisher gave me, but eventually was able to see the positive side. An editor had actually taken the time to write me back, so maybe my manuscript wasn’t all that horrendous after all! Even if they had put in a line resembling ; ‘good story, crap writing,’ at least I had a good story and all I had to do was improve my writing! Years after that potentially career shattering letter, I am getting ready to release my fifth book in September 2017 and it’s called Orphan Sisters (shameful plug).
I’m generally an ‘optimistic half full type of girl’, but when in the midst of a fresh rejection, it’s easy to lose that.
It’s OK to be sad, but not for long.
4. It’s Good to Talk:
But not to anyone. Some well meaning friends may simply pile on the clichés whilst others may offer unhelpful reams of advice. When it’s most dangerous is when you have tried to pursue a dream like becoming an actor and a well meaning friend says; “Well it was a long shot wasn’t it? Stick to what you’re good at!” In this case its better to only confide in someone you know shares the same crazy ‘out there’ dreams you do. The one friend who at the age of 99 still wants to become a world class opera singer. The type of friend who sees no limit and will never try to break apart your dreams.
5. Avoid Social Media:
Says the girl who is more than likely going to use social media to share this blog. But when you’re in the first throws of reaction, I’m not sure how helpful it is to log onto Facebook et el and vent. How many times have you seen the Facebook friend of a Facebook friend call out her ‘useless boyfriend’ she found in bed with the neighbour’s hairdresser? It may have felt freeing for her at 2am surrounded by old photos and that severed pink teddy bear he bought her, but that post will still be there to haunt her during quieter, reflective moments. Also, reading about a Facebook friend’s £2 million book deal may also not help your mood, if you have been trying to get your book/script accepted; or if your latest audition for an Actimel ad wasn’t accepted. Or you got a D on an assignment. As for me, a story like that simply spurs me on to do better, but I know this is not the effect for everyone.
If you take only take in a fraction of this article (hey, we all skim stuff these days and have short attention spans) remember this:
Rejection says nothing about you as a person. Getting rejected is part of life.
Written your first novel? Had a few rejections? Not sure what to do next? Need to read an article that just might motivate you?
A few years ago, I featured the very lovely Rosemary Dun on this very blog. Then, she was an unpublished author waiting for her ‘big break’ and now, it’s finally arrived… in the form of THE SAME PUBLISHERS WHO PUBLISH J.K. ROWLING!
But I’ll let her tell you all about all that…
When Lola invited me to write for her blog I was delighted, and then I thought, crikey, where to start?
I could talk about my novel The Trouble With Love, tell you what it’s about, and how I wanted my characters – Polly and Spike and the others – to live and breathe and love. I could talk of the central romance, of the often hilarious trials of dating as a single parent, of mother/ daughter relationships, of the challenges of having a child who’s hard of hearing; I could talk of wanting to write about modern families – the melded, step, traditional, and single ones, or I could talk of second chances and the many troubles of love.
Polly first made an appearance in my life in a short story I wrote (she was younger then). I liked her, and she seemed to like me too, as she stayed around, in my head demanding for her story to be told – but bigger!
So began the first version of The Trouble With Love – featuring Polly and Spike. I loved the characters, thought the novel worked, and when finished, I sent it out to agents. The response was lukewarm, along the lines of, ‘You write well, we like Polly, but it doesn’t fit our list …’ And then I received one which said, ‘Enjoyed this in parts, you can write, but at the end I thought, so what?’
Hm. I could have given up, but I wasn’t going to. OK – those two words stung at the time, but this “So What?” agent did me a favour, because I reread the novel with fresh eyes and realised she was right: my characters hadn’t undergone sufficient change, things happened to them (they weren’t driving the plot), and at the end they were the same people as at the beginning (where was their emotional journey?) I could see what she meant, and could only agree with that So What?
I wasn’t about to give up on Polly, and she didn’t give up on me, as she kept jabbing away at my subconscious, jabbering away in my inner ear, demanding to be written.
No way was I going to give up. Not this close to achieving my dream of being a published novelist! Time for me to dig deeper.
I tried several new beginnings (but it was going nowhere), I attended creative writing master classes, read how to books, learned more and more about my craft and about the dramatic structure. Basically, I learned how to structure and plot by learning from those who’d gone before, and by actually writing my novel, and embracing what Anne Lamott calls that “shitty first draft”.
Not that it was plain sailing. In my personal life I had a marriage break-up to contend with, single motherhood to navigate, a demented parent to cope with and I became chronically ill. But I kept on writing, accepting that it would just take me longer than most; that my journey would have more twists and turns; that I would travel at a slower speed than some, but that if I kept going, I’d get there. Which I did!
Because – joyously – the news arrived! A book contract with Sphere! With Sphere of Little, Brown – wow! The same publishers as JK Rowling and Val McDermid and so many other writers I admire.
At first I didn’t fully realise how big a deal this was. Then I told a friend about it, tempering my success by saying how I was a little fish in a big pond. ‘You idiot,’ she said. ‘You’re in the pond! You’re in the frickin’ pond!!!’
*For a limited period, grab a copy of The Trouble With Love for only 99p !!
Apparently Jane Austen played the piano before settling down to write and Charles Dickens wrote with a vase of fresh flowers on his desk. Indeed most writers I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to have some sort of daily ritual they undertake before settling down to the task of writing. I know I have. My particular brand of writer craziness involves a simple stage of procrastination and once I have read all my WhatsApp messages and straightened my braids for the fifteenth time, I finally sit down and write. A glass of water must be by my side (you know, because I’m trying to be healthy now) and there must be no sound around me. Of course, this routine flew out the window during my recent two and a half year trip to Atlanta where the noise around me in a glorious little Café was reminiscent of a club and a cup of peach green bubble tea sat obediently by my side. It was a ritual, nevertheless. Now back in England, I’m back on the water.
I was lucky enough to speak with five author chums about their writing rituals.
‘I light a rose scented candle, put on ski socks because I can’t write with cold feet and play whichever instrumental music/soundtrack that fits the mood of the book. I also ensure I have some water and some chewing gum to hand!’
‘I keep the proof copy of my book on my desk because sometimes it’s good to remind yourself that whatever problems you are trying to solve in your work are problems you have solved before…’
‘I like colour on my fingernails. I will paint them random colours simply because I feel it colours the story with more emotion and character. Something about seeing my nails fly across the keyboard with flashes of colour gives me a sense of power, almost as if I’m a superhero of sorts sent to save these characters from some crazed nemesis.’
‘I have to be wearing my lucky poncho, or it can be on my chair if the weather is warm. I then light a scented candle to match the season of the book. I then choose a selection of my beloved Northern Soul tracks to evoke the right mood and then I’m ready to write!’
‘My writing happens upstairs in my version of Narnia. It’s where I go and visit different lands and fabulous/ naughty/mysterious beings having adventures. My door has a sign on it which says, Away with the fairies . . . Back soon.’
Catherine has a theory of why writers undergo such rituals when undertaking their literary endeavours: ‘There are so many things about the process of writing that we can’t control. Publication can by a large extent, be governed by lucky meetings, random salvages from the slush-pile which is where my own first book was discovered, collisions of stories and moments which might have been quite different another day, another time. So many aspects of the process aren’t really in our hands so perhaps it’s natural to be a little superstitious about the ones that are…’
So, what are your writing rituals?
If you’re still awake, here’s the last part of the FEAR trilogy…
A BIG birthday was coming up and I was determined to wake up in an exotic location on the big day. So I chose Goa in India. Before jumping on a plane to India, I’d noticed the rumours circulating at work of voluntary redundancies. By the time I returned from India, these rumours were now fact.
Voluntary redundancy would be offered to some members of staff.
Would I qualify? And if I did, could I take the leap of faith and just leave?
When it’s your time, everything begins to happen.
I was accepted.
I was out within four weeks.
That last day at a job I had enjoyed for thirteen years was filled with joy, so much joy. I had craved this moment for so long having fantasised and re written the scenario in my mind on numerous occasions. Now it was a reality. The adrenaline would sometimes subside, temporarily replaced with that feeling of ‘Oh my gosh, what have I done?’ Fear battling to break into the fortress of certainty. But mostly, it felt ‘right’ and I could not wait for the next part of this adventure called life, to begin.
The only question on my lips; ‘Where to, now?’
For me, there would only ever been a choice between two US cities. One of these was New York, the home of many a writer at some point in their career; from Maya Angelou to James Baldwin to Langston Hughes. So clearly, this was an obvious fantasy fuelled, first choice. However, being a Londoner for most of my life meant having tired of the hustle of a fast paced city life. Therefore, Atlanta offered the bright lights, a small town feel and a lower cost of living. Then there’s the weather. I’d heard about the sunshine appearing well into autumn plus its close proximity to Florida couldn’t hurt! Besides, I had already fallen in love with Atlanta way back in 2005, during which my heart and mind had already fixated on the certainty; ‘I’m gonna live here one day!’ I hadn’t even signed my first publishing deal then, but such was my self belief (a must for anyone embarking on becoming an author) I believed it would only be a matter of time.
People often ask; ‘Why America?’
The vastness of the country for one. I have been blessed to have previously traveled to various parts of America and was always amazed at the beauty and differences making up each state. Snow in Colorado, sunshine in Florida. It is not a country without serious and catastrophic faults. The effects of slavery, systematic racism and military occupation abroad has dimmed my glamorous childlike belief systems regarding America. And I am under no such childlike illusions. But, as I allowed myself to exclude the equations of politics, just for one moment – I experienced two things; beauty and peace. Whenever I truly allowed my eyes to drink in my surroundings, whether this be the Blue Ridge mountains of Georgia or an ancient African tribal dance practiced in New Orleans in remembrance of former slaves, I experienced something quite beautiful. When I truly allowed myself the opportunity to immerse myself in what I had been lacking in my former life, I found myself in a learning experience unable to be gleaned from books or Wikipedia.
As a result, my creativity has soared.
Apart from a brief period when my writing mojo decided to take a hike, my output is plentiful. Buoyed up by the sunshine, exotic birds and the urgency to write in a way I had always dreamed of – uninterrupted.
For now, I remain satisfied with my choice to stay put in Atlanta. I am in love with that ‘southern hospitality’ you hear so much about. It’s real. The mere act of a stranger singing ‘good morning’ as I casually walk on by, is enough to warm my heart for the rest of the day and indeed, strengthen my need to stay. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to waking up some mornings cloaked in panic – but this is normal. Fear will always have a way of trying to halt your dreams. I acknowledge this, and move on (until the next bout).
I will not let fear win!
I can’t deny the gratefulness I feel when I wake up and the sun creeps through my window, running through every pore. A fresh scene involving my characters, percolating in my head ready to be tapped onto the keyboard and onto the screen. The joy is indescribable. Being a self confessed loner and extrovert works well for me. I write alone during the day and try to meet up with fellow writers and other ‘go it alone’ humans in the evenings.
Any regrets? No. I am hopeful and prayerful that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and things can only get better. I once heard the saying; faith is like climbing an invisible staircase. It is, and I’m enjoying each and every step!
So fast forward to January 2017… to now… what’s happened?
I can honestly say I achieved my main goal and wrote about three novels in the process – one of which is Orphan Sisters and it’s out September 2017. EEK!
More on that later…
What a treat- you get to read part 2 of the blog almost immediately (don’t get used to this!)
So here’s the blog post I wrote just weeks after embarking on my FEAR induced solo trip to the US in 2014. It’s a bit long so I have cut it into two bits…
Writers live two lives.
Or a thousand, depending on how many books they get to write.
The utopia when transported into another universe, country or time zone is quite unexplainable. And to embody another human experience, the opposite of what you are used to can be a thoroughly additive emotion.
I understand this phenomena, because I breathe it. I crave it.
Writing was and is my dream job.
As a reclusive eleven year old, constructing numerous stories about teenagers engaged in ‘boy meet girl’ scenarios, I transported myself into a world where I made the rules (of course, boy and girl lived happily ever after.) But it wasn’t until after I completed a Degree and Masters that I decided to take writing much more seriously. For years I’d write whilst holding down a full time job as a counsellor. I enjoyed the interaction with clients and colleagues and occupying the privileged position of helping others- yet still felt the dull ache of remaining an unpublished writer. As any author will tell you, writing for money is not the main motivator and working as a counsellor allowed me to indulge in my passion unpaid during evenings and weekends (even if this meant no time to actually get a life!).
Years passed before something amazing occurred. An agent and publisher believed my work to be saleable. Years of hard work and rejection had lead to a creation that would be read, enjoyed and scrutinized by others. Of course, happiness and fear now intermingled, as a whole new life beckoned me from afar- one I had dreamt about for so very long.
So, six years flew by. My new identity- that of a published author, a writer- took a while for me to internalize. Whenever friends, family and acquaintances referred to me as a writer, I’d unconsciously turn my head to the side, just to see who they were referring to.
Who, me? A writer?
The glamorous book launches and spotting my book in stores are some of the main highlights of my life, so far. My Day Job (which I still enjoyed) shrank down to four days a week and left ample time to increase my writing output. Yet, the dream of one day giving it all up to write full time still lingered. To experience the utopia of constructing and writing a novel uninterrupted by the nine to five and develop characters in a way, only writing every day could achieve.
Leave the job, said a voice.
The excuses were plentiful. Most alarming, the fact I had worked in a ‘proper job’ since the age of thirteen and couldn’t begin to imagine the prospect of life without a regular paycheque. Having long since subscribed to the mantra ‘live for the moment,’ I continued to do just that. Participating in a life I knew I was blessed to have, secure in the belief it just ‘wasn’t my time yet.’
You see, everything has its season and occurs, I believe, in God’s time and I remained confident that mine would arrive.
My moment, my time arrived at the beginning of 2014…
To be continued… (see what I did there?)
HAPPY NEW YEAR
…and welcome to 2017 AND my shiny new rejigged website. I hope you like it! It’s all rather efficient now and blog posts will be plentiful in the coming months- at least one a week… sometimes two. This blog will be geared towards anyone in need of a bit of motivation, whether you want to be a writer or an astrophysicist (although I will be talking more about the writing process than astrophysics stuff because, well I know more about that!).
So, (drum roll please) my FIRST blog post for 2017 will focus on Fear.
As a psychotherapist, I believe it’s good to talk. But don’t worry, I won’t be doing much of that today. I’d simply like to share a prelude to a piece I wrote way back in 2014 and a few months after embarking on my dream trip to Atlanta.
I had planned to stay in the USA for six months but ended up staying (on and off) for just over two years. It was something I had wanted to do for a very long time, but had never found the ‘right time’. I can go on with the list of excuses, but it all came down to one word: Fear.
Neale Donald Walsch breaks this down as;
There just may be some of you grappling with that rather annoying emotion that is fear. You may have been thinking about taking a leap of faith with something; new job, travel, whatever- but fear keeps rearing its rather unattractive head. So, as a new year begins, it’s easy to get caught up with the ‘Happy New You’ talk and why not? A new year does bring with it a sense of renewal, but so does a new week, a new day a new hour.
I’m not going to list any self help points (okay maybe in another post). But, during my next blog post I will share with you, some of my story in the hopes that it will inspire somebody out there to just go for it!
Remember: don’t let FEAR win!
I have some great news, I can’t wait to share with you.