Category Archives: Uncategorized

A journey complete and a new one just beginning…

Standard

I’m relaxing tonight after another wonderful weekend in Nottingham with the writers and readers of Bold Strokes Books, plus other friends who we can count as new readers and even potential writers. It’s been lovely. I intend to write a much longer blog about it at some point because there’s lots I want to say. But for now, there is just something I wanted to post.

From my seat on the panel I had a good view out of the window, across Nottingham. My city. So much of this place has meaning for me. So many memories, so many moments. I like to attach them to geographical places. I like to think “that happened there, at this moment…” That way I know those memories are real, whenever I look at a building or see a view. It seems more solid than trusting my own faculties, or other people’s. We were high up, on the fourth floor of the bookstore. I could see a lot. I won’t go into the memories…some of them are old and faded, fondly handled now and again. Some are more recent and still only released into the past with great reluctance. I couldn’t help but stare and contemplate the journey…

I will undoubtedly write more. But I have a sense right now of having completed the first leg of the journey I’ve been on since I returned to the UK from Slovenia two years ago. The first Bold Strokes event marked the start of it. This one marked the end. The resting place for now while I work out the direction I have to go in next. I remember who I was and where I was. I remember the light inside me flickering weakly, being afraid to let it shine. And I know how I felt this weekend. Emotional, yes. Very. And not all of them good emotions. But not timid or afraid. Not frightened to be me.

These pictures say it all…

July 2010. First Bold Strokes festival.

July 2011. Second Bold Strokes festival.

 

August 2012. Third Bold Strokes festival.

I spent a lot of today on the verge of tears. There’s a lot going on. But I find comfort in remembering the journey. The travelling, the stopping off points, the exact moments of it. The places I’ve found rest and solace. And the ultimate comfort, though the path into the future isn’t clear, is seeing how far I’ve come. The photos prove it. Finally, I worked it out and the light is shining brighter than ever. Now I just have to work out the best way to keep it blazing strong.

Advertisements
Aside

Saturday 4th August and Sunday 5th August, there’s no better place to be if you’re a fan of LGBTQ books, or writing in general, than Waterstones, Nottingham, England. Here’s the info…if you can be there, please do! There’s readings, a chance to buy books…and lots of time for mingling and socialising too!

Sorry I’m only posting this the day before…life’s been crazy just lately…There will be blogs on that topic to follow too…

This event feels huge for me this year. It’s two years since the first one…which took place in a week that was nothing short of life changing for me. To look at where I am, two years on, is amazing and moving. But all that aside, it’s going to be fabulous fun! 🙂

 

 

An Exciting Day

Standard

Wednesday 13th June, 2012. A pretty fabulous day. At least until I realised I was catching a cold. Before that it was brilliant though. I went to London, with work, to help deliver the education program at the Royal Courts of Justice. But on the way I had a royal encounter…

It just so happened that the Queen was visiting Nottingham as part of her Diamond Jubilee tour that day. Nottingham has quite a history where Diamond Jubilees are concerned–it was as part of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations in 1897 that Nottingham was given city status. And the people of this city were certainly excited to see her…they think there were 35,00o just in the Old Market Square. I hadn’t given it much thought though, since I was off to London. Then I arrived at the station and found that the Queen would be arriving shortly and, since I had a train ticket, I could wait in a place beyond the ticket barriers where only a few people were waiting to see her (compared to elsewhere).

So I did. And I reflected on why I wanted to. Politically, I’m fairly ambivalent about the monarchy. I recognise their privilege, the inherent unfairness of anything hereditary and their real irrelevence to the politcal life of this country. And yet…and yet…I can’t help but be a bit of a fan. Perhaps because the Queen seems like a genuinely good person. Perhaps because I recognise that even if we didn’t have a monarchy we would undoubtedly still be led by with privilege and money, so I can’t hold that against them. But mostly I think it’s that I’m aware that I’m looking at history. The figures of the queens of the past fascinate me, all of them, but especially the first Queen Elizabeth. I was awed to see her tomb in Westminster Abbey and to just be a few feet away from her earthly remains. So to see a living queen, plus a future king and his future queen consort is exciting to me. I can’t help it.

Anyone who hears me talk about history will know that I am all about the history of the ordinary people. I love the untold stories, trying to work out the little details of the lives of the poorest people in society. My writing research and my job give me endless opportunity to understand those tales and to try to breathe life into them once again. However, it is impossible to ignore the big events of history, the stories of the powerful, the great and not-so-great. Those stories are interesting too and part of the fabric of this country’s history and culture. I can’t help but enjoy it. I was unashamedly excited to get to see the Queen, and Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. When I’m an old woman, I’ll be able to say that I saw a Queen in her Diamond Jubilee year. No one’s been able to say that since 1897. It’s an event, a moment in time. And so very British.

So, without further ado, here’s some photographs, for anyone who hasn’t already seen them!

And if that wasn’t excitement enough, then I headed off to London. I love the place. History just oozes from every building and flagstone when you look at the place through my eyes. The Royal Courts of Justice are amazing…to be able to enter that grand doorway and actually have a job to do in there was wonderful. It’s an impressive and awe inspiring place, but I didn’t feel scared of it. When I was at Oxford University all those years ago the sheer grandeur and weight of history of the place terrified me. Now I feel quite at home in those surroundings, I find. I loved it there. Significant historically and such an important place–the highest civil court in the United Kingdom and main court of appeal. Wow.

And then I wandered around the vicinity. The Strand, Fleet Street, Ludgate Hill, Old Bailey, Cheapside, Holborn Viaduct. Even then names fascinate me. Bread Lane. Wow. And I saw so much history…not to do with kings and queen and great events…to do with what London has been to Londoners, and Britons, for centuries. The area destroyed by the Great Fire of 1666, the churches rebuilt by Wren. The churches which house the bells of the rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons’. St Paul’s Cathedral. The site of the old, infamous Newgate Gaol and the public executions outside, now the location of the Central Criminal Courts. The old newspaper offices of Fleet Street, the Temple Bar boundary dragon, site of the old City gate. The oldest tea shop in London. There is so much to see. I tried to soak it all in, but there’s never enough time in London, it seems!

Temple Bar boundary dragon, the Strand

Twinings tea shop, there on the Strand since 1706

I loved this. The site of an old well outside St Clement Danes Church.

The corner of the Central Criminal Courts…the site of the old Newgate Gaol

St Mary-le-Bow church, home of the famous Bow Bells.

Old newspaper offices on Fleet Street.

St Paul’s Cathedral

And the best part of all? I wasn’t remotely intimidated by any of it. Not the grandeur, the history, the hustle and bustle, the crowded tube or the very solemn Evening Prayer service at St Mary-le-Bow. I just enjoyed it all. I don’t know where this new confidence came from exactly and I can’t pinpoint on which day exactly I stopped being scared. But it feels very, very good indeed. 13th June just showed me how far I’ve come. It’s a wonderful adventure.

Affirmation of faith…in myself…

Standard

Wow, it’s a long time since I posted anything! My excuse is the same as last time. Work, work and more work. Plus, this time, a fair amount of illness and injury too. I’ve been coughing, sneezing and limping just lately. And nearly falling down the stairs too. But I am currently–apart from a strained ligament necessitating a bandaged foot–in pretty good health! Good job, since I’m at work so much!

All of this work was making forget that I’m a writer. I know, that’s a steady theme of this blog, reminding myself I’m a writer. But it’s a constant in my life. People ask what I do and I only usually remember to add that I’m a writer as they’re walking away. My other job is wonderful and fascinating, but I would like to remember I’m a writer from time to time.

Lots of good things have happened lately. I have confidence in my ability to do my job well, and to have fun doing it. I’ve realised just how many friends I really do have to invite to my 30th birthday party. I’ve found I can let go of things hoped for in the past and replace them with new hopes and dreams. That people sometimes really do want to hug me. I’ve taken to wearing clothes I want to wear, not ones to hide behind. I’m being myself in conversations–more of a struggle in the past than you might suspect. I’m branching out in so many ways…emerging from the mournful night into the joyful day. It’s exciting.

But there’s always that undercurrent of doubt in myself. Of not quite believing compliments. Of over-analysing conversations after I’ve had them to see if I said anything stupid. Of not wanting to expose my real self to people. There’s a whole host of reasons and I’m working on making those things melt away.

A lot of those doubts manifest themselves when I think about my writing. Am I really a writer? A real one? With books people want to read? This past week has done a lot to answer those questions. On Saturday 17th March I went to States of Independence, an event for indie publishers held at De Montfort University in Leicester. The corridors and rooms were full of stalls covered in books and pamphlets from all kinds of publishers and writers. I had the privilege of spending time with Bold Strokes Books editor Victoria Oldham and authors Kev Troughton and Andrea Bramhall, behind a table covered in a wide and wonderful selection of BSB books. In the afternoon, we did a 40 minute session on LGBTQ publishing, with readings and a Q&A session. It was wonderful. I had no fear sitting at the front of that room, nor standing up to read my excerpt from Ghosts of Winter. I answered questions happily. And I felt the interest of the people in the room. The acceptance of me as a writer, on my third published novel. A voice of experience, no less. And as a gay woman too. I’ve always struggled to talk about my sexuality in front of people. I shy away from labels and stereotypes. But I found I didn’t mind. And people wanted my advice. They wanted to buy my book. It was astonishing. But it was also amazing. I have rarely felt as comfortable in my skin as I did for those few hours. I have rarely felt so distinctly that I was in the right place, at the right time, doing what I should be. I spent the rest of the day wildly happy and also immensely grateful for the opportunity to feel strong and positive in a way I really haven’t done before.

Bold Strokes Books book at States of Independence

With Andrea and Kev at States of Independence

Then, today, to add to the excitement, the Lambda Literary Awards finalists were announced. And Ghosts of Winter is on the shortlist! Right there in the “Lesbian Romance” category. I’m still stunned, in the best way possible. It’s such an honour. I always thought such lists were for other people’s books. And certainly, I’d been feeling very distant from Ghosts of Winter lately. But to be named there with some other wonderful authors (including the most fabulous showing for Bold Strokes) is amazing beyond words. To know that my book has been read and appreciated…it’s so wonderful and moving to me. I am deeply grateful. Of course I love Ros and Anna, the protagonists of Ghosts all over again. But more than anything, I realise that I wrote a good book. I am a writer. And a good one! I’m incredibly excited.

On Saturday I’m going on a retreat day at an Anglican convent. I signed up because for me it’s vital to explore my faith, whatever shape and form that takes, and to ponder it a while. I’ve only been going to church for a year and I know it will be a journey that lasts the rest of my life. I’ve been exploring and pondering myself for longer and really working on it for a couple of years now. It will also be a constant journey, but I’ve reached a very important waymarker. I think that finally, I know who I am, what I dream of, what I hope for and what I’m good at. What I should be proud of. I have a firm faith in myself.

And that makes moving forward an adventure rather than an ordeal.

Next on the list? The Locket and the Flintlock will be released in May! 😀

 

 

Christmas!

Standard

I’ve just reached the end of first round edits on The Locket and the Flintlock (coming from Bold Strokes Books in May 2012). It’s exciting. I’ve created characters I love so much I wish I really could bring them to life so I could meet them. And I’m feeling very inspired for the book I want to write next too…very inspired. Like I might actually start writing. Which is all excellent and distracting. I’d barely noticed the passage of time until I went into a supermarket today and noticed the shelves had been stripped bare as though there was a natural disaster on the way. Of course there isn’t. It’s just Christmas…though I don’t know how on earth it got here so quickly…

So, it’s the night before the night before Christmas. It’s quite possibly going to be the strangest Christmas ever. For reasons in my life that I won’t go into, I don’t have a tree…or garlands…or tinsel…or lights. I do have a Christmas pudding. I mean, some things are too important to miss. I don’t have a pile of gifts waiting to be opened (a few, but not a pile). And I don’t care.

This isn’t going to be a “bah humbug” blog post though. I’m not going to bemoan the commerciality of Christmas and be all self-righteous about having opted out of it. I haven’t really. It’s just happened. But I’m incredibly glad it has, even if some of the reasons for it aren’t ones to celebrate.

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present (from Wikipedia)

For once, Christmas is about connecting with the spirit of this time of year. Because they’re not being outshone by decorations and lights, each and every card means more to me, and I’m really thinking of the people who took time to send them to me. And there’s quite a crowd on the shelf, which never ceases to surprise me. That many people thought of me for long enough to write a card. Wow. I’ll always be grateful. And there’s all the e-mail greetings, hugs and smiles. All of them mean the world.

I’m also very aware of the meaning of Christmas this year. For me, going to church is involved and that’s been incredibly special. Tomorrow I’ll be at a Christingle service where we will hold oranges representing the earth and candles representing Jesus as the light of the world. In so many ways Christmas–for Christians–represents the beginning of the story, the birth of hope and joy. Whatever religious doubts there are–and I have plenty of my own–it’s hard not to feel some of that. More than that, the coming together of people to celebrate light in the depths of winter is something so much more ancient than Christianity. This is the time of solstice, Yule, Saturnalia, Hannukah…and countless other celebrations to banish the darkness and encourage the coming of the light…just because my winter celebration is framed in Christian terms, it doesn’t mean I don’t feel connected to all of those other festivals. All of those people who have celebrated at this time of the year…for centuries…all the people who will celebrate this year. Christmas is a time of community, of being together…and even when I am alone, when I think of Christmas, I am part of something.

Christingle

Christmas is a time of childhood, of course. We sing the carols we’ve always known. We remember waiting for Santa to arrive. As such, for me at least, it’s a time for reflection too. Childhood is over. Santa is not going to come, I’ll never be Mary or an angel in the nativity play. But that’s because I’ve grown up and while there’s a certain amount of loss involved in moving on, in becoming an adult, and while some hopes have to be abandoned, others take their place. I don’t think about what I want for Christmas anymore. I pause and contemplate my hopes for the coming year.

When I was a child, every year without fail, I was dressed in a costume for Christmas. It started with Santa, with a red dressing gown and cotton wool beard. I was a fairy with sequins sewed onto a white vest and a netting skirt. I’ve been a cracker, a parcel, a tree. My mother made these costumes for me. I would put them on and then parade around in front of grandparents, uncles and cousins and be admired. Or should I say, the costume would be admired. According to those who saw this display, the best of them all was the year I dressed as a snowman. It was quite a costume. Made of white, thin foam, it covered me from shoulders to toes, and even had mittens to hide my hands. The head was a huge hollow ball of the same foam with a snowman face (coal black circles of card for a smile and a cardboard carrot nose) glued to the front. I viewed the world through two blue plastic circles to be sure my eyes didn’t detract from the overall effect. Impressive. A fun Christmas memory for my family. But I honestly don’t remember whether I enjoyed being in there or not. It’s a blank. No one else really knew whether I enjoyed it or not either.

I think a lot of Christmases have been like that, even without the costume. And not just for me. We do what we think we should and forget what it’s all about. All that outward festivity and inward stress. All the commerciality in the name of a spiritual festival. All the family celebrations barely masking hidden tensions.

But this year is different. I’m not dressing up as anything. I’m happy to be me. I’m happy for Christmas itself to be stripped back to basics. A time of quiet and peace and allowing the light in to the dark places.

So, tomorrow, my Christingle candle will have a lot of meaning for me. Even if you’re not celebrating the holidays in a way that involves lighting a candle, I would urge you to do it anyway. Just for you. Have your own festival of light. Light a candle. Think of all the other diverse people in the world lighting candles…dancing in the light…or longing for it in darkness. Feel connected and part of something. And think of the year ahead. The message of Christmas is hope. What do you hope for? Allow yourself those hopes and be at peace with them. In doing so, you will allow others their hopes too. In the midst of all the hustle and bustle, that is the most wonderful of Christmas gifts.

Merry Christmas to everyone who reads this…and may 2012 bring you joy, love and peace.

And a fabulous Doctor Who Christmas special! Another essential of the season! 😀

Doctor Who at Christmas (from http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho)

Wow, what a weekend!

Standard

It’s taken me until Thursday to recover from the 2nd Annual Bold Strokes Books Author Event in Nottingham. I don’t think I realised quite how much I wanted it to be a success, just how important it was to me. Even when all the work that could be done had been done, there was still a certain tension. I suspected it would be wonderful, but I didn’t know for sure.

I shouldn’t have worried, of course. It was wonderful. Although it’s kind of a blur for me, I’ve heard enough feedback to know that people had a interesting and fun time.

Personally, I found it phenomenal that we’d brought together such an ecclectic bunch of people. Mostly women, and mostly gay, but not all. Mostly readers and budding writers, but not all. To see old friends and new chatting together, people from both sides of the Atlantic and from various UK and European destinations all getting on together. There are no words for how exciting that is. They appreciated the books, the readings, and my beautiful Nottingham. New friendships were made and old ones renewed. And knowing that it was, in part, because of me. Wow. There aren’t other words for it. I feel genuinely proud.

And how wonderful it is that words brought these people together. Creativity, inspiration and a love of fiction. This is why I write. I love words, I love imagination, I love escaping into a fictional world. I love to read. To have the ability to create those worlds, to give readers new words to respond to is an amazing thing. Facing a room full of those readers makes me only appreciate it more. And I’m aware of what a gift it is, how lucky I am. I felt humble and proud at the same time. So many discerning readers, mostly older and more widely read than me, and a whole bunch of talented writers…to be part of it was an honour, to know I was one of the reasons it was happening almost astonishing.

Reading from 'Ghosts of Winter'

I’m still vaguely bewildered when someone asks me to sign a book for them. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over that. I still have an inner terror that they’ll be disappointed and wish they’d not bought it. I signed a lot of copies of Ghosts of Winter. I’m just beginning to trust that people genuinely want to read it and aren’t just humouring me…And it means the world.

If you are a budding writer, this is for you: Write. Write with all of your heart and soul, as if you’re going to be published. Know, in the back of your mind that you might not be, but believe that you are. Write something you would be proud to see in the world. Don’t limit yourself by what you think the world wants to see. Write what you want to say, what is in your heart. And don’t listen to the people who tell you you’ll never make it. Because you just might. If you want to write, make it part of your journey. “We may run, walk, stumble, drive, or fly, but let us never lose sight of the reason for the journey or miss a chance to see a rainbow on the way.” (Gloria Gaither). As a writer, the chances are you will stumble a lot. There will be rejection, there might be criticism, envy, or people who tell you it can’t be done. But don’t lose sight of the rainbow or the fact that you CAN fly. This weekend was my rainbow. It was glorious and I am so grateful for it. But I wouldn’t have seen it if I’d not kept writing. Not been afraid to change direction when the first one wasn’t working. Not been afraid to send my words out into the world and see if someone would publish them. In what were very dark times for me, I reached for that rainbow and I wrote. On Saturday and Sunday, I really truly appreciated how vibrant those colours are.

Last year, this event marked my first event as a writer, and also, in many ways, my public coming out. It’s been quite a year since then, personally and as a writer…Without going into depth, it’s been a journey that’s brought me back to myself. To punctuate this phase of my journey with such amazing, special events is a real privilege. But it’s not a full stop, just a comma…there is more to come. Next year’s event will be more amazing. I have another book, The Locket and the Flintlock coming out in May 2012. And I’m still taking one step after another on my journey. I read somewhere recently that “Success is a journey not a destination…” (Ben Sweetland) and it’s true. The success of the wonderful BSB event was amazing. It reflected my own success as a published writer. But I’m going on…I won’t rest on the success and be content. If anything, it drives me forwards.

So I want to say thank you. To everyone who was involved in the BSB event. To my publisher, Bold Strokes Books, for letting my voice out into the world. To Victoria Oldham, for supreme and inspiring organisational skills. To every writer (and editor) on the panel (Gill McKnight, Lesley Davis, Justine Saracen, Stacia Seaman, Cari Hunter, I. Beacham, Jane Fletcher). To Waterstone’s for hosting a queer event in a mainstream bookstore. And especially to the readers, the ones who came, and the ones who couldn’t but wanted to. To everyone who has supported me personally. For every hug and every reminder to breathe. Thank you.

Onwards and upwards. Next year’s going to be amazing!

Discussing the publishing process...