Category Archives: Writing

A journey complete and a new one just beginning…

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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.

Crystal Moments

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It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the last two weeks have been life changing for me. Transformative even. In many ways it’s been the culmination of a journey that I’ve been on for a while, making good and determined progress in the last year or so. And yet, though it’s a product of that journey, the moment I’m in now is also something unique and special.

I can’t convey everything in a blog post. Words wouldn’t do it complete justice, and much of it is too personal, not meant to be shared with the world. It is not mine to hold alone, it has been shared where it needs to be shared, and is safe. But I want to write something…

I’ve been keeping a journal over the last year or so. It’s fairly sporadic. As it turns out, I started a new notebook this week…ending my last one with the words “this is the end where I begin.” Today, I sat with a cafe latte and a chocolate brownie (my traditional grounding and comforting food) and wrote “I will remember this moment.” I didn’t mean the delicious chocolate brownie, the blur of rain on the window, or even my optimistic reflections on just having moved into a new home, on my own, for the first time.

What I wanted to remember about the moment was its purity and clarity. There are times when you seem to see the essence of life, of yourself, of compassion and your own truth. They’re moments that seem to turn to crystal…permanent, beautiful, pure and yet complex. And those crystals are points on the timeline of your life, always glistening there. Perhaps they’re pure, clear quartz or gentle rose pink. Happy citrine or protective, healing amethyst. But they remain, clear moments in time, always.

Quartz crystal (Image from Wikipedia.org)

Today was a day of intense emotion. The sort of intense emotion it’s probably best not to face alone. But if someone will come with you on that journey and help contain that emotion, never shy away from it. Ask the difficult questions, allow yourself to be vulnerable. Search and search some more for the places the shadows are hiding. Sometimes the painful intensity is what helps you reach back through the layers to find the essential you. The essential you has fears and faults. But you can’t comfort or forgive yourself unless you go to that place. Neither can you celebrate the qualities that are most important to you, the things that underpin your life.

And I found a place where all is still. All is clear. Imagined peace and beauty came into the world with me. There is a release and a relief, dizzying and calming all at once. I became the essential me and appreciated the wonderous nature of what I am. It is a place full of endless joy, a place where gratitude comes quickly and easily. Where I can examine my fears and let them go. Even mourning a loss becomes possible, not all-consuming, because I will go on beyond it, into the future. It inspires confidence and honesty, faith and questioning…and it makes me humble and ready to listen. To learn. To recognise wisdom in the world and disregard the things I don’t need to hear. To hear and trust the voice inside. Whether, for you, that voice is intuition, your God, or something else, you have to listen to hear it properly.

It is a sort of security in myself I’ve never had before. I find I want to be challenged now. I’m ready for the hard questions, the tough decisions, to take on things I’ve never done before. No more shying away. Because I know who I am, and that won’t be diminished by a challenge or a question. It will help me answer. For the first time in my life I am ready to acknowledge that I have been brave. And in claiming that, I find a new bravery. If I’ve done it once, I can do it again. Because the veil has lifted and I feel my connection with the world…And there’s no guilt or fear. Some sadness at moving on, yes. And times when I want a hug and to be cared for. But people don’t stop caring because you’re being brave, like I think I used to worry they would.

I know who I am.

I am thirty years old and I have a good amount of wisdom and understanding for those years. Except most people don’t think I look my age, which is a good thing. I am a woman, who rather enjoys being a woman. I am gay and happy to be born this way, though I don’t think sexuality should define anyone. I am Christian, which is harder to acknowledge than I want it to be and comes with a lot of questions, but I’m getting there. I am a writer, I adore words and I have a vivid imagination, but I want to use my love of words to study too. I cry easily and that’s not a fault. I have been in some dark places but I survived and the darkness has been pushed out by the light. People care about me and I am unceasingly grateful, I will never take it for granted. I am a history geek and know tons of information about all kinds of things: this is not something I need to apologise for. I am perceptive of how other people are feeling, and I care deeply. And I’m actually happy to be me.

And I know what the most important thing in life is, for me. The quality I find when I look deep within myself. When I hold that smooth, shining crystal moment and peer into it. Compassion. The sort of compassion which frees me from the shadows and makes me strong. The sort of compassion which then becomes a light in the world and helps others see in the darkness.

I don’t yet know how I will use that compassion. I have a lot more questions to ask of myself. But I want the difficult questions because finding the answers is an adventure.

Just lately, I’ve found the image of the butterfly cropping up again and again in my life. And it resonates so strongly. I feel reborn. I’m just getting used to the colours of my wings, the feeling of being able to fly. When a butterfly first emerges from the chrysallis, it sits for a while in the sunshine before it takes flight. I’m enjoying the light…forming that perfect crystal moment of light, hope, peace and colour. It will be preserved forever, perfect and pure.

But the air is heavy with the scent of flowers, there’s a warm enticing breeze. There’s a beautiful world to explore. I’m going to spread my wings and fly.

 

Good Queen Bess

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Just a quick post…because it follows on so well from my last one in which I posted photographs of the two Queen Elizabeths. I spent the whole of Monday and the whole of today performing my own interpretation of the first of them at work. The greatest queen ever to rule Britain…as I’ve been telling people all day. I’m not sure whether she is or not, but I certainly believed it while I was still in the wig, costume and make up. What do you think? 🙂

True, my interpretation probably owed more to Miranda Richardson’s fabulous Queenie in Blackadder II than historical accuracy. But I still found myself embodying the character. It struck me how similar creating a character in a novel as a writer is to creating a character as an actress. I always try to embody the characters in my books for a while too. It’s a fascinating process.

And it was amazing fun. I don’t know where the girl who was terrified of public speaking went…but I can’t say I miss her!

Oh, and just in case you wanted to know, I didn’t win the Lambda Award I was nominated for. But I honestly don’t mind at all. I’m thrilled Ghosts of Winter was nominated, it was a real honour. And I don’t write for awards. I’m getting good feedback already for The Locket and the Flintlock. One reader writing to me to tell me how much they enjoyed it…that’s what keeps me going more than any award ever could.

Aside

Just wanted to point you to the Bold Strokes Books authors’ blog, where you can read my two recent posts on the theme of writing historical fiction and why I’m especially enthusiastic about my new release, The Locket and the Flintlock!

I’m very excited. I’ve had some wonderful feedback so far. 😀

Bold Strokes Books Authors’ Blog

Happy Birthday to me…

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Today, I turn 30. Though I’ve been celebrating my birthday all day, it’s in the next hour that I should really be celebrating. I made my appearance at about 11.30pm on 26th April 1982. 6 weeks early. I’ve always been impatient. I like to think I was anxious to get into the world and start living.

Today, I feel like I’m being born all over again. It is a turning point in so many ways. Not because anything in particular has happened today, but because so many things have happened over the last two years. Today I took some time to contemplate them. To look back at the journey and see the place I’m in now. It’s a good place. A place I thought I would never find. It’s amazing to be here. To know that I kept looking, even when it was dark, for that lingering fragment of hope. And found it. And now it’s lighting up my whole life. And, in that glow, I can see that I’m not at my destination yet. There’s another journey to embark on. Only this time it’s exciting and inspiring and an enticing adventure.

Through the last two years there’s been one song that’s sustained me in dark moments, helped me to put words to my feelings, and filled me with feelings of hope. Defying Gravity from the musical Wicked. I told myself I wouldn’t post a video of it until I felt like I was finally defying gravity. Not when I hoped to be, or wanted to be. When I was actually doing it.

I’m posting it today. And with it, I’m experiencing all the emotions it brings out in me. When I first heard the song, I found it quite sad. “Kiss me goodbye, I’m defying gravity…” There’s a real sense of loss, of letting go, of having to move on however much it hurts. For a long time the chains that bound me to the ground were of that nature. I was holding onto them myself, scared to move on. Filled with overwhelming sadness at leaving anything behind. But you can’t fly if you don’t let go.

Then I felt the fighting spirit, the anger, the need to triumph. “I’m through accepting limits, ’cause someone says they’re so…some things I cannot change, but ’til I try I’ll never know…” I used it to strengthen me. To help me fight, to connect with my own anger and pride in myself.

And now, today, I feel the joy of it too. “So if you care to find me, look to the western sky…as someone told me lately, everyone deserves the chance to fly. And if I’m flying solo, at least I’m flying free…to those who’d ground me, take a message back from me…tell them how I’m defying gravity…I’m flying high defying gravity…”

As Elphaba, the not-so-Wicked Witch of the West, declares: It’s time to trust my instincts, close my eyes, and leap.

This is the first time in my life I can do that. I really do have enough faith to close my eyes, to trust in myself, in fate or God, in the universe…in that sense that things happen for a reason…and to leap. I’m not worried that I won’t fly. I know I will.

I’ve been in two gravity-defying places lately. The top of the London Eye (on 12th April) and the terrace of Nottingham Castle (today). It’s a funny thing to be high up, looking down on the world. Part of it, yet slightly removed. It made me contemplative. What I saw was a place full of excitement and potential. Of new experiences, new feelings, new sights and sounds and smells. An exciting new journey into the future. Which isn’t to say I’m just bundling up the past and discarding it. It’s my journey so far. I’m just tidying it away, keeping it somewhere safe, and not letting it weigh me down.

I’ve also been looking at photos of me from the last few months.  There’s some real variety there, I’ve done so many different things. It’s exciting and almost surprises me. And what I notice is that, whatever I’m doing, wherever I am…I’m always me. Not moulding myself to fit with whoever I’m with or the situation I’m in. But being me. And “me” isn’t fragmented, it’s not an effort to make myself whole. I’m just me. It seems so simple. But, for me, it’s taken some time to get here. But it’s wonderful to be here. I’m imperfect, I have lots of faults and I still have lots of fears. But I’m whole and I’m strong.

And because of that, and with the care and support of a few special people, I can finally fly.

Defying Gravity above London!

It only took me 30 years to get here. Let’s see what I can do with the next 30!

Oh, and The Locket and the Flintlock is almost here. I’d love you to read it, you can order it from the Bold Strokes Books webstore and other good booksellers! And check out this site for news of the Bold Strokes Books author event in Nottingham in August!

Affirmation of faith…in myself…

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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! 😀

 

 

Ramblings…

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I’ve got one or two things to talk to about tonight. Nothing very profound, but still, good things. I’ve been tired lately, I’ve been working so much. At my day job, you understand, at the Galleries of Justice museum, which is many jobs rolled into one. I’ve been a Victorian warder, a Georgian murdress and a servant-whore in the last couple of weeks, as well as working with school groups.

Today was an interesting day at work. The Galleries of Justice also operate the City of Caves, a short distance away. This is a network of caves, accessed through a 1960s shopping centre. The caves, like the hundreds of others beneath the buildings of Nottingham, are manmade, cut into the sandstone rock on which Nottingham stands. It’s the same rock that Nottingham Castle is perched on, and into which the dungeons of my usual haunt at the County Gaol are cut into. They go back as far as medieval times, but found their heyday later, when used as a tannery (where leather was made). Still later, the residents of Drury Hill, an infamous thoroughfare in Victorian and early-twentieth century Nottingham, cut down into the rock to make cellars and extra rooms below their houses. Later still, they were used as air raid shelters during the Second World War. It’s a fascinating place. The history is tangible, and you can see it in layers, like a physical timeline. In one part of the cave system you can look above your head and see the concrete underside of the uncommonly ugly Broadmarsh Shopping Centre. Just below–in places almost touching it–are the remains of the red brick walls of the houses of Drury Hill.

Drury Hill

You can even see some of the old kerb stones. You are practically standing in the cellars of those houses, looking at the steps they cut into the stone, the broken dividing walls that made them into seperate properties. And you see the sandstone itself, the older caves, the medieval well. Just a little further on and you find an old tavern cellar, divided by just a wall from the railway tunnel that brought about the demolition of the tavern itself. The whole place is a mess of chronology and archaeology, fact and fable.

Part of the Tudorl tannery

It’s hard to be a tour guide there. But what a privilege to spend time in such a meeting point of history. So many human stories, over so many centuries, all gathered in some gloomy holes in the sandstone, cowering under the concrete of progress. But still there, persisting, when they could have been filled in and lost. Even Drury Hill, once so notorious and now invisible from the surface, still lingers there. A ghost of the past. These are the things that move me. These are the things that make me want to write historical novels. I want to find the stories, resurrect the ghosts, find their traces in our present and bring the history back into the light. It makes me feel excited about being a writer again.

On a different–but related–topic, I’m excited to talk about a new anthology. My writing group, Sapphist Writers, have been busy for some time writing and collecting poems and short stories. And now we’ve put it all together into an anthology. Even the wonderfully exuberant front cover was a collaborative effort. This collection is all about celebrating the diversity and creativity of a group of women brought together by a love of words. It will be available online (we’re finalising in which formats) through the Sapphist Writers’ blog, from 28th February. That’s the launch night, and also the night that Sapphist Writers are receiving an award at the Nottinghamshire’s Rainbow Heritage Celebration Evening. The anthology contains two of my poems and two short prose pieces, and a whole host of other wonderful pieces. All proceeds will be going to Nottingham Women’s Centre.

So, good things. And writing about them has made me happy, despite my being hormonally grumpy tonight. I’m finding life’s like that at the moment. There’s lots of depressing, agonising, sad and difficult things. They don’t go away. But the bright, happy, exciting, colourful things are always there too. And that’s wonderful!