"After nourishment, shelter, and companionship,
stories are the thing we need most in the world."
stories are the thing we need most in the world."
This has been a year no one could have predicted or planned for. The year Coronovirus changed the world as we know it. And we are still in the thick of this pandemic. It's far from over, yet already we are adjusting...our day-to-day lives, our expectations, our dreams. I feel lucky to be living in New Zealand at this time. My home country has rallied - a team of 5 million - working together to try to eliminate the virus, supporting one another, protecting the vulnerable. There's been hardship and pain, but there has also been an incredible shift in how we interact with each other. Kindness is everywhere. Our government's motto has been simple: Stay safe, and be kind. And we've listened, reacted. We have become better people. More aware of others, more giving of our time and energy for what matters.
In March our borders closed, schools and businesses closed, transport came to a halt, we were confined to a bubble. For my family of five the days took on a surreal glow. It was early autumn. Day after day was cloudless, still, and warm. We went for huge walks down empty streets, swam in the sea, prepared lunches, ate them in the sun, had table tennis tournaments, read old favourites, watched TV shows together. Pre-Covid, the evenings were a mad juggle where I'd get home from work, get the kids to their activities, whip up a meal, supervise homework, and go to bed exhausted. Now we slowly prepared dinner together, sat at the table, chatted, ate, laughed. I had time to write. Hours and hours of precious time. If it wasn't for the fact that both my husband and I had businesses severely affected by the lockdown, we would have said life was pretty good - just what we needed. A wake up call.
Then lockdown lifted. Businesses and schools re-opened, traffic clogged the roads, and suddenly there was so much NOISE. I'd grown used to the quiet - both in the streets, and in my head. For our family, it was hard to adjust - we wanted to go back. Back to our bubble.
Did we learn something from this experience? Did we adjust our lives? We certainly talked about trying to make changes. But nothing happened. Suddenly we were back into work and school and functions and activities. Our days were racing away again, and the noise? The noise was relentless.
Last week, my city returned to lockdown. After more than 100 days with no coronavirus, it is back in our community. The kids are at home with me, school is online, the weather is wet and grey and cold. My business is taking another big hit. There is still kindness, but now I am noticing anxious faces, a growing sense of unease.
Never have I felt so shut off from the rest of the world. With the borders closed there is no way out. and even if I could get out where could I go? There is no quick fix. No vaccine. No end in sight.
Thankfully, I have an escape. Lately, I've been retreating into my head: Making up stories, writing down fragments, I'm imaging another life, a future beyond this virus that has taken hold and won't let us go. In this future, I see unexpected changes, kindness, and infinite possibilities. Not just for me, but for all of us. It's coming, friends...I've seen glimpses. And it is beautiful.
Stay safe and be kind.
So guess what I woke up to on New Year's Day?? I received an email at 9am to say..."Thank you for sending us your flash fiction story 'The She-Shed'. We are delighted to inform you that we are accepting it for publication at Every Day Fiction." Not a bad start to the year, eh? The optimist in me thinks this is a sign....fingers crossed for more publications in the year ahead. I don't want to jinx myself but there's been quite a bit of interest in my novels from editors in the past couple of months...watch this space dear friends.
Also I must apologise for the blog silence lately. I barely had a second to pause for breath in the lead up to Christmas as the bookshop was crazy busy. Can't complain though. So many people love books just like me! Click on this link if you want to read my story at Every Day Fiction. Happy 2020 everyone. Stay safe.
It's been a wet and windy July and I'm definitely looking forward to the end of winter, but these dark, cold nights have given me the perfect excuse to tuck up in bed early with a warm drink and a good book. I've read some real gems however the stand out for the month has to be, Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owen. Beg, buy, or borrow a copy people because it is fantastic. Set in the marshes of North Carolina, this is a tale of a young girl who is left to fend for herself in the isolated marshes, her only company being the birds and wildlife surrounding her. It is a story of loneliness, belonging, and one human's intimate connection with nature. It's a murder-mystery, a love story, a lyrical, redemptive, coming-of-age narrative, and a page-turner from beginning to end. The descriptions are so powerful, it's almost as if you're right there, in the marsh, with the shells, and the gulls and the insects, and the taste of salty air on your lips. This is fiction with soul. Thank you, Delia Owen, for bringing this story into the world.
Because reading is such an important part of my life, a better question might be - what don't I read? Firstly, let's look at fiction. I struggle with stories that end with no hope. It's not that I want a happy ending, although this is my preferred outcome, but I need to know things have changed for the better, even if this simply means someone has figured out they don't need approval from their mother any more, or that eating a large meal just before bedtime is a stupid idea (okay not a great example but you get my point).
I struggle with stories about atrocities. Wars, genocides, pillaging the earth, senseless violence. When humans inflict pain and suffering on others, I really don't want to read about it in descriptive detail. It keeps me awake at night. Makes me question humanity. I guess it's for this reason I don't read horror. I've read one Steven King and that's enough!
What concerns me is how others can read these books and not be affected the same way. Am I more sensitive than most? Probably. I certainly take on other people's problems and I am only ever as happy as my saddest child as the saying goes. I want stories to linger in my mind in a positive way; to leave me questioning, thinking, or turning out the bedside light with a smile.
I'll read some war stories, but not many. I will put down a book if the violence is too graphic. If I don't connect with the main protagonist, if they have no redeeming features, I'll not only give the book away or return it to the library, I'll avoid any books written by that author in the future. I have to feel some level of empathy towards the central character. I don't have to like the person, but I have to want a better outcome for them.
The exception is poetry and short story. To me these two forms of creative writing are about imagery and mood. Characters can play minor roles, or be entirely absent, and that's okay. The beauty is in the sentence, the white space, the unfinished ending. I read a little poetry and a lot of short stories. Short stories get my heart racing, and make me determined to be a better writer. I admire and love the short story form, but they take concentration and an open mind. Sometimes a juicy novel with fast-paced plot is easier to devour. Or a romantic saga, a baffling mystery, or a book that makes me laugh out loud or shake my head in wonder.
As for non-fiction, I try to avoid reading sensationalised works, be it a biography, magazine article, or self-help book. Scaremongering makes me angry. As does deliberate bias. Sadly, I find it hard to find in-depth, well-researched, unbiased non-fiction to read. It's out there, but there's far too much of the other stuff getting in the way.
I love books that inspire. True-life stories of triumph over adversity, books on empowering ourselves and others, books that give me hope for the future. I'm a sucker for an interesting cookbook, a heart-warming autobiography, a fascinating exploration of some little known place or fact, and any book on improving our happiness, health, and wellbeing.
I try to read widely, but the truth is I'm guilty of perhaps being more selective than I should be. Like most people, I want to read for enjoyment and when time is precious and life is one big adventure, I'd rather read for pleasure than for pain. Books can be a gift or a burden. They can pick you up, or drop you like a stone. Such is the power of the written word.
I'm often asked why I write. Especially why I choose to write fiction. Why on earth do I want to make up stories and spend hours and hours editing and re-editing those stories which, till fairly recently, only I get to read? Obviously it's not to make money, or to become a world-renowned author, both of which are on a par with spending a year living in a French village eating cheese all day, i.e please oh please can it come true but harsh reality tells me more than likely it won't.
I write because it brings me joy. Simple as that. When I can sit down and become immersed in the lives of my characters, when I can laugh and cry along with them, when I can create places and events and - this is the best moment. of all - when I reach a point where the characters are telling the story and I'm typing as fast as I can to keep up with the ride, that's the greatest buzz in the world. I guess it's an example of being in the moment, like catching a wave on my surfboard, or when my children make me laugh so hard I cry, or when I'm standing in a forest of ancient beech trees and a robin lands on the path in front of me and looks me square in the eye.
Which is not to say writing is some carefree, magical moment-to-moment thing. It's hard slog a lot of the time. Some days I will spend more hours staring at my screen or procrastinating than writing. Other days I'll write a load of rubbish and later delete it in horror wondering how I ever thought for one second I could be so bold as to call myself a writer. Yet I keep going, year after year, without considering even for a split second giving up.
I wonder now if a fundamental reason I write fiction is because I have never been one for routine. To me, there's nothing better than taking a different road, trying a new dish, reading another person's story, or discovering something remarkable. Perhaps that's why I keep writing. Not so much for the buzz (though it's awesome), but because through my stories I get to go places I've never been before and meet people who will delight and surprise me. And I get to do this by going nowhere other than inside my head. There aren't many opportunities for adults to use their imagination the way a child does. Perhaps my urge to write is a desire to hold onto the child within me, or to keep the adult from growing old. Either way, I'm glad I've found this writing business, or it found me. Anything to keep us feeling younger, right? I believe creativity is a gift to be nurtured and a sure-fire way to bring us joy. I hope you'll look for more ways to incorporate it into your life.