A Christmas argument… and cognitive dissonance

As some of you already know, as an HSP I’m slow to react to stuff. Which is why I’m not writing a new year’s resolutions post in January; I’m still thinking about stuff that happened in December.

Our Christmas was rather fraught and we’ll probably always remember it as the one where our youngest was ill (although, thankfully, it was only a bug that affected him mildly); it was also the Christmas where the veg was undercooked and the Christmas where my husband and I had an argument about wrapping paper on the 23rd December. Wrapping paper! I mean, for goodness sake!

Only it wasn’t really an argument about wrapping paper. It was an argument about parenting, our definitions of generosity and our own attitudes towards Christmas and our views on being environmentally-friendly. (And for clarity, I must elaborate: I am fed up of the amount of waste produced at Christmas – wrapping paper making up a large part of that – and so I wanted to use second-hand gift bags and pillows and old bits of ribbon etc. to wrap our presents with instead, to cut down on the waste and the time I spend peeling off bits of sellotape from the wrapping paper torn off the presents in an instant so that I can put it into the paper recycling rather than landfill. My husband found it difficult to see where I was coming from and we didn’t take the time to listen or try to understand each other’s position. There, I hope that clarifies things!)

It was a horrible argument – both of us were shouty (very unlike us!) and then very very quiet and withdrawn afterwards (both of us are HSPs so it took us a long time to merely process what was said in the heat of the argument). Anyway, thankfully, the next day, on Christmas Eve, we had the chance to talk it through and to apologise to each other. And thank goodness! Otherwise Christmas Day would have consisted of a poorly boy and undercooked veg as well as two very unhappy and sulky parents. :-(

Anyway… what this post is really about is the difficulty in admitting when one is wrong. When you have made a mistake and you know you have to own up to it. Because, boy is that challenging!

It is as though one’s own sense of self, one’s own sense of oneself as a “good” person will shatter and crumble under the admission of a mistake. And saying sorry is the thing that collapses oneself. It is a horrible, uncomfortable, shaky feeling to have. And it is something that can’t be experienced for long. Ego, that coward (who, I guess, is only trying to relieve us of that horrible, uncomfortable feeling) would prefer to rationalize away our mistakes and, through self-deceit, turn them into something far more palatable, like mere trifles caused by the stupidity of others.

But this feeling… it has a proper name. It is known as cognitive dissonance.

“Cognitive dissonance is a state of tension that occurs whenever a person holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent, such as “Smoking is a dumb thing to do because it could kill me” and “I smoke two packs a day.” Dissonance produces mental discomfort, ranging from minor pangs to deep anguish; people don’t rest easy until they find a way to reduce it. In this example, the most direct way for a smoker to reduce dissonance is by quitting. But if she has tried to quit and failed, now she must reduce dissonance by convincing herself that smoking isn’t really so harmful, or that smoking is worth the risk because it helps her relax or prevents her from gaining weight (and after all, obesity is a health risk too), and so on. Most smokers manage to reduce dissonance in many such ingenious, if self-deluding, ways.”

Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions and hurtful acts by Carol Tarvis and Elliot Aronson (Pinter & Martin 2013)

Mistakes were made, but not by me. By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

Mistakes were made, but not by me. By Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

The difficulty both my husband and I felt in saying sorry after our argument reminded me of various instances in my life when I’d been in the wrong and found it difficult to say sorry. One particular instance was when I’d had a minor argument with my father (I can’t remember what the argument was about) and I knew that I was in the wrong. I was a teenager and probably hormonal, but I forced myself to go and say sorry.*

In this situation, my heightened conscience was a good thing. (It is not always – it usually causes me a lot of anguish because I can tie myself up in knots about what the “right” thing to do is, whether it be a small thing or big thing.)

Anyway, in this situation, it was a good thing. Because a few days later, my father died. I know that with my heightened sense of guilt, if I hadn’t said sorry, I would still be experiencing guilt today. (Although I do have to add that saying sorry solely to put off a future guilt isn’t probably the most healthy thing either – but more on that for another post, perhaps.)

This post isn’t really about saying sorry when it isn’t appropriate (I know that I can also fall into the trap of saying sorry when really I haven’t done anything wrong – and I’m not sure that’s very good for a healthy sense of self either), but I do want to highlight the uncomfortable feeling that cognitive dissonance can produce. It reminds me of this beautiful painting, by one of my favourite artists, Agnes-Cecile, which both discomforts and delights me:

 

I have a hypothesis that perhaps HSPs feel cognitive dissonance a little more keenly than others. I don’t know. And I’m not even sure that one is necessarily holding two very contradictory points of view; it’s just that there is one part of me that knows I acted meanly/without thinking/made a mistake and that doesn’t resonate with the image of myself that I have (as being generous, thoughtful, impervious to making mistakes etc.) and so that is why there is this horrible clash inside me. And it is this clash that thunders in my chest so noisily, so uncomfortably, that I wish for it to go away – by any means. My ego says: Wasn’t your fault. It was so and so’s fault. They’re an idiot. Don’t say sorry. (It wants to give me a quick-fix solution.) Thankfully, my heroic (but sometimes plain annoying) conscience comes along and says: Hey! I see that there’s a little noisy cognitive dissonance around here. Give it a while to quiet down and then go and do the right thing. It won’t break you. I promise. You’re still a good person. Just human. Just human.

So to acknowledge cognitive dissonance, and to name it for what it is, perhaps makes it that bit easier to act humbly if we are brave enough to do so. We then have the power to say sorry, knowing that it will not shatter us or make us any less worthwhile as humans, and it is then that we can move forwards with humility and grace and love.

 

*I think I probably mumbled something like: Sorry. Got a bit of PMT at the moment. I’m not entirely sure if I was experiencing PMT, but hey, I was fifteen and any apology was better than none. (See how that heightened sense of guilt would like me to keep worrying about this? Well I won’t let it! I’m only human for goodness sake!)

 

And… I did also want to say thank you to all the people who read and/or comment on my blog. I wish you a healthy and happy and creative 2016. :-)

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Light and dark and the idea of hope

The world seems like a very dark place at the moment. A short while ago, when I heard about the UK government’s decision to take military action in Syria I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of conflict and thought about all the fellow humans who would be directly affected (and hurt) by this. I spent many of my walks around the neighbourhood feeling low and contemplating why humans keep repeating this kind of aggressive behaviour.

I find that when there is much darkness without, I often feel the darkness within me crowding out positive and joyful thoughts and feelings. Everything seems worthless, I feel worthless and everything I do seems worthless.

A huge part of my life is centred around books and I very much believe in the power of words, but I also cannot ignore the fact that so many wise, creative people have written over and over again about the idiocy of aggression and how we must cooperate with each other and respect our environment if we are to live in a peaceful and bountiful world. The message is out there, it is forever being beamed out there, but is it being picked up? Is it heard? Is it being listened to?

When the world seems like a dark place, I think no. The message is being ignored, and willfully so, and even the thought of hope – hope that one day us greedy, stupid humans will stop killing each other and destroying our planet – seems an impossibility.

It is then that I must simply hold on to the idea of hope. To hold on to the idea that even if the messages keep getting ignored, a place where people aren’t sending out those messages is even worse.

Slowly, very slowly, I came to the realization that this, for me, would simply have to be enough. The dedication of a life to putting messages of light, empathy and the value of clear communication out there is enough, and importantly, worthwhile.

And as I came to this realization, books, the process of creativity and my loved ones helped me to remember joy and the light there is in life, although for it to exist and be appreciated, there has to be some darkness, whether it be without or within.

A simple trip to the library with my son to pick up some children’s Christmas books was joyful.

Christmas books, photo by Marija Smits

Christmas books, photo by Marija Smits

 

Finding escape and enjoyment – sheer bliss, in fact! – through reading one of my friend’s books was joyful.

Pride and Regicide, by Cathy Bryant

Pride and Regicide, by Cathy Bryant

 

Finding words of kindness and empathy in Matt Haig’s book was a comforting.

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig

 

Finding some sweet-smelling hyacinths in a dark box in the garage and bringing them out into the light made my heart glad.

Hyacinths, photo by Marija Smits

Hyacinths, photo by Marija Smits

 

Reading some poignant and beautiful poems in this charity anthology – many by poets I have the pleasure of knowing and being friends with – also made my heart glad.

Over Land, Over Sea book

Over Land, Over Sea book

 

Painting and creating some new art (some of it with and alongside my daughter) was joyful.

Painted glass and stones, photo by Marija Smits

Painted glass and stones, photo by Marija Smits

 

And on the way discovering an older piece, full of the contrast of dark and light made me happy.

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

 

Reading my very short story ‘Lady Seaweed or Tristesse’ at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and was joyful.

 

Writing some sci-fi short stories was joyful.

 

Listening to some Pentatonix songs was joyful.

 

Meeting up with my friend and ex-mentee was heartwarming and wonderful.

And lastly, lighting the candles on our Nativity scene with my son and putting the Christmas tree up with our family, which is now stuffed full of ornaments – many of which have been made with much love – was joyful.

Nativity scene with candles

Nativity scene with candles

 

In a continued time of darkness I wish you all much joy and light.

With many thanks to Maddy for continuing to be the brilliant link-up host.

 

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Social media, high sensitivity and overwhelm

As an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) I often find the world overwhelming. Sometimes I think it would have been good to live long ago before television and the internet, and the crazy thing that is social media, were invented. But I’m equally aware that not having things like antibiotics and antibacterial soap and clean water and refrigerators and washing machines and indoor loos and central heating would have been overwhelming too.

Somewhat 'detached' bendy man, photo by Marija Smits

Somewhat ‘detached’ bendy man, photo by Marija Smits

Still… switching off and getting away from social media, which I find particularly challenging, is difficult (and yes, I am aware of the irony that I’ll probably be using social media to let people know about this post!). But what I find particularly difficult about social media is its speed, and the ferocity of people’s (almost instantaneous) reactions to certain topics.

This is because it takes me a long time to process things. If I see an image, or a discussion that upsets me, or angers me, I become overwhelmed with emotion. That’s when I need to take time out, away from the computer and to do something that helps me to feel more calm (cuddling my loved ones, taking a walk, reading a book, or doing something dull like the accounting, all help. Also, talking about it with my wonderful husband helps enormously too). But it can take me a while, maybe half an hour or an hour or two, to feel more neutral again. Meanwhile, though, as I’m trying to calm the storm of feelings swirling through my body, my brain is whirring away and trying to process what I’ve just absorbed. It can take me days, weeks, months even, to fully reflect on what I’ve just seen and to put into words my reflections on the matter. And for the up-to-the-minute social media world that’s just way too late.

I’m still navigating a path through this everyday challenge. I want to be involved and comment on friends’ statuses and to take part in meaningful dialogue when it comes to issues that I feel passionate about, but I’m also aware that taking part can also be like entering a black hole of doom. I have had to acknowledge that, for much of the time, it is better for my wellbeing that I simply use social media for short, set tasks (mostly to do with my small press or to do with this blog). Very occasionally, I share things about myself; although I do find that overwhelming too. (Friends have been absolutely supportive when I have shared personal things online but it’s also interesting to note that kindness has the potential to overwhelm me also – but please don’t think I’m saying ‘don’t be kind’! What I’m saying is that virtually anything has the potential to overwhelm me, and hey, that’s just how I am.)

If I’m still reflecting on an issue months down the line writing about it helps; though whether it goes public or not is another matter… Though, interestingly, topics that I’m passionate about have a habit of cropping up in my short stories and other pieces.

A lot of the time I feel left behind by social media; rather like when I was doing cross-country running at middle school. I was the slowest of all the runners out there on the muddy school field, in the cold and the rain in inadequate shoes and clothes; a dripping wet chubby loser being lapped by the fast, athletic kids.

But this is who I am. Just because I’m not witty or quick to engage in dialogue doesn’t mean that my thoughts on the topic aren’t worthwhile. They’re just different; perhaps even a little more well-rounded for the extra reflection I’ve put into them.*

But knowing that I have to have boundaries in place when it comes to social media (and that perhaps it’s not quite the right medium for me, as an HSP) is beneficial. Yes, social media is an amazing tool for a variety of things: marketing (& other business-related stuff, for instance), story sharing, fundraising, activism even, but it is also a horrible time sink. And in author David Mitchell’s wise words:

The world is very good at distracting us. Much of the ingenuity of our remarkable species goes towards finding new ways to distract ourselves from things that really matter. The internet — it’s lethal, isn’t it? Maintaining focus is critical, I think, in the presence of endless distraction. You’ve only got time to be a halfway decent parent, plus one other thing.

For me, that one other thing is: I’ve got to be writing.

This totally chimes with me because I want to put a lot of my energy and time into being ‘a halfway decent parent’ and so there’s only time and energy for one other thing. At the moment the one other thing is my small press and helping to make ends meet by taking on editorial and book production work. And so I save a few gorgeous slivers betwixt being a halfway decent parent and a halfway decent editor/publisher to write or create art. Is it worth me spending all those precious slivers of time on social media? For a lot of the time the answer is no. And sometimes, occasionally, the answer is yes. The trick is to understanding how social media affects you and working out some effective boundaries. This is something I’m still learning.

***

*And to continue with the cross-country running analogy… I might be the last one to the finishing line but still, I’ll get there at my own pace and in my own inimitable fashion (muddy briefs and all).

Thanks again to Maddy (who wrote brilliantly on a similar topic last week) and Chrissie for being such great #WhatI’mWriting hosts.

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Grief, and why it’s useful to grieve

I’ve been thinking about grief a lot recently. When I begin to type ‘Marija Smits’ into my Google search bar one of the suggestions Google comes up with is ‘Marija Smits grief’. Strange. Only it isn’t, I guess, because I’ve written about grief in the past and sometimes I try to search online for my poem on grief, ‘To Death, May He Be Pleased With His Handiwork’ (because Google is faster than me trawling through my folders of poems).

During Baby Loss Awareness Week here in the UK I read some of the moving posts on poet Wendy Pratt’s blog. What really struck me was the way that some of Wendy’s work colleagues simply couldn’t handle speaking to her after she’d lost her baby, and it made me think about how not only is this a communication issue (you could argue too that it’s an issue of empathy) but also an issue of how our society deals with death. Because, basically, it doesn’t.

Nobody wants to have to consider their own mortality, or their parents’ mortality, or – worst of all – their children’s mortality, but it’s something that we all have to do at some point in our lives. What we need are the words to express our fears and our sadness that death happens. We need words to express that we care about someone’s loss. We need to know that it’s okay to grieve.

I remember when I lost my dad at the age of fifteen; sometimes I hated it when people told me they were sorry for my loss. I hated it because it was another concrete reminder that he really was gone and this (although well-meant) phrase had the power to overwhelm me with a grief that threatened to eat me up from the inside out. I also couldn’t cope with the idea of being seen with tears streaming down my face, because crying in public was just one of those things that one DID NOT DO. I had already subconsciously taken on board society’s discomfort with grief. But now, in retrospect, I was glad that people had wanted to reach out and show that they cared.

I didn’t really get a chance to grieve properly because I had to be strong for my mum. I had to keep things together. And so I bundled away my grief and put a brave face on things and simply carried on. But when a person hasn’t had a chance to grieve properly, the grief has a way of manifesting itself in all manner of unhelpful behaviours and, depending on the individual, may lead to all sorts of problems which have to be dealt with in later life: low self-esteem, heavy drinking, drug taking, gambling, depression, OCD, anorexia, physical self-harm, anxiety, fear… in so many ways these things are all, in effect, self-harming and yet, of course, they can cause harm or hurt to others too.

And yet how many of those dealing with loss get a chance to grieve properly? Very few, I should think, because our society simply can’t handle it.

And I’m not talking only about death. How many of us are dealing with other kinds of grief? Grief for a childhood snatched away from us too early; grief for a parent or loved one who absented themselves, or hurt us, for whatever reason, knowingly or unknowingly. Grief for the loss of function in our bodies, be it infertility, the loss of a limb or damage or disability as a result of illness, accident or genetics. Grief for a birth that didn’t go to plan. Grief for the end of a breastfeeding relationship, perhaps curtailed too soon. Grief for the end of child-bearing years. Grief for romantic relationships which became distant or sour or ugly.

And then there is the grief for another kind of loss, a bittersweet kind of loss: loss of our youthful selves, loss of our children’s baby days, toddler years and even school years, loss of friends who have passed out of our lives, loss of the past phases of a current romantic relationship… I could go on.

The key thing is to acknowledge the loss. To grieve. To share your story and feelings about your story with someone absolutely trustworthy. To cry. And it is then that the path to now, and to the future, becomes a real option. It is then that the future holds possibilities – and joy – that can be seized wholeheartedly.

 

The Sad Russian Doll by Marija Smits

The Sad Russian Doll by Marija Smits

 

And as an aside, I did want to add that in my own personal experience of grief, loss and how to better communicate my feelings with loved ones I have found the following books useful:

Women Who Run With The Wolves, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Parenting Through Crisis: Helping Kids in Times of Loss, Grief, and Change by Barbara Coloroso

People Skills by Robert Bolton

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron

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And thank you to Maddy for suggesting that I link up this reflective post with #WhatImWriting.

Three year blogging anniversary and a giveaway

I began this blog 3 years ago and I’m proud to say that despite all the busyness of home and work life I’ve managed to keep it going. Yes, I’ve only ever posted about once a month but keeping to a manageable writing target has been helpful and ensured that the blog isn’t a burden. In general, it’s been a positive thing in my life — its main benefit being that it has helped me to connect with other mothers, writers, artists and kindred spirits, many of whom are HSPs like me.

So why did I start blogging? My intention was to have my own little corner of the internet to share some of my writing and thoughts on various topics which were unlikely get into print. It was also going to be a place where I could list my writing publications (although I’m currently very behind with that!) and the blogs that I enjoy reading (although likewise, I’m behind with the sidebar widget thingy too!).

What happened over those 3 years was heartwarming. I never received a lot of visitors* (I never expected many — getting ‘out there’ to promote my blog is not really for me) but I did get some visitors and I appreciated any useful or kind feedback that I received. *Strictly speaking, for me, number of visitors is probably more about ego-warming than heartwarming!

What is interesting to me now is how 3 years ago I wouldn’t have considered myself an artist and yet I do now. I’m really glad I took the plunge and began to draw and create with art materials because it absolutely fills my soul with light. Now that my youngest is at school I am going to try to organize my day so that I get a chance to work on some more art projects. I never got around to writing an installment to Anyone can draw well. Really? (Part 1) — again something I’d like to do in the future! But I hope that from my Gallery (and the below, my first attempt at using charcoal) you can see that yes, really, ANYONE can draw well. You just need eyes to see and the patience to keep on practising…

Charcoal lady, by Marija Smits (based on an image from the book 'Great Movie Actresses' by Philip Strick. The actress is Lya de Putti.

Charcoal lady, by Marija Smits (based on an image from the book Great Movie Actresses by Philip Strick). The actress is Lya De Putti.

 

Indulge me, if you will, as I reminisce on some of my posts… my Wild Woman post has been my most popular post in terms of number of views and I hope to write more about the Wild Woman in the future. ‘The Other Mums’ has also been popular as have my posts on sensitivity, communication, the creative process and ideas for art fun as a family.

My grief post was one of my most emotional posts, and on re-reading my clarity post I can see that it still very much applies to my life right now. My poem ‘The Swing’ is also another one of my favourites, and I love the Art of Faerie just for the beautiful images and amazing video.

Looking back at all this stuff makes me happy and proud, and reminds me that I’ve actually created some stuff that I’d like to share with people. As a thank you to those kindred spirits who support my blog (you know who are you, kind souls!) I’m doing a little giveaway. If you’d like to take part, simply leave a comment on this post and after a week I’ll put all the names in a hat and then my daughter will pull out a name and that’ll be the winner.

Some of my stuff to give away (one book, all of the cards, and one of the prints).

Some of my creations to give away (one book, all of the cards, and one of the prints).

 

Thank you all, kind readers, for being a part of my positive blogging experience and here’s to another productive (and happy) 3 years of blogging creativity!

 

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On our summer holiday, reading, writing and having an epiphany

As it seems to have been an age since I last blogged (though I’m still just about managing the once-a-month blog post!) I thought I’d go with a list to help me put into words all the big things that have been happening around here.

 

  1. HOLIDAYS
Blue beach. photo by Marija Smits

Blue beach, photo by Marija Smits

Our one week away to Wales at the start of August was lovely, and very much needed. The weather wasn’t great and a couple of planned trips out got cancelled for various reasons (beach inaccessible due to a completely full car park, a favourite restaurant/café closed etc.) and our youngest got a cold on the first day so, of course, we all ended up snotty/sore throaty BUT, the holiday was still hugely beneficial. It was great to simply get away from the pressures of work and the never-ending call of social media and I got some reading and writing done too. I even managed to get an hour or two all to myself to write on the beach while my husband went out with the kids. Writing on the beach accompanied by the sounds of the sea, a coffee and a pain-au-chocolate was pretty amazing. And at the end of the week I even got to swim in the sea. Bliss!

Our journey back was even more exciting since our car broke down a few miles away from home. Yes, it was a huge annoyance, and yes it has cost us a lot (the car was pretty much written off…) but I’m still very thankful that the breakdown didn’t happen on the motorway. While we were waiting for the breakdown truck to get us, I even managed to write a little more of my new book…

 

  1. READING

 

Reading has consumed any free moments, as usual. I do want to mention some books that I’ve read recently, and which have made an impression on me. I love to help out authors by writing reviews but I’m aware that there’s not enough time in my life to do each of them justice (it can take me an age to write a review) but it seems that the least I can do is mention them here.

 

Fiction:

Moss Witch by Sarah Maitland

Moss Witch And Other Stories by Sara Maitland. I love the way that Sara has taken various concepts and ideas from various scientific fields and built (or hinged) stories on them. Some stories, I feel, work better than others but each is beautifully written and page-turning. Of course, I found the bits written by the scientists fascinating too. If you’re a fan of short stories and/or wishing to learn more about science I’d highly recommend this.

I’ve got so many other fiction books on my to-read list that I have no idea what I’ll read next fiction-wise, but I’d like to make a start on White Lies by Lynn Michell (of Linen Press).

White_Lies by Lynn MItchell

 

Poetry:

The Magnetic Diaries by Sarah James

The Magnetic Diaries by Sarah James

What Sarah has done with this narrative of poems that echo the book Madame Bovary is remarkable. I thought it highly original and fascinating in the way that Madame Bovary was fascinating to me when I read it many, many years ago; Emma Bovary is a difficult character to empathise with and yet I was transfixed by her unravelling life… If you enjoy contemporary poetry or would like to read something that gives an insight into the darkness of a mind overwhelmed by depression, I’d highly recommend it.

Although I’ve got various other poetry books on my ‘to-read’ pile Ruth Stacey’s book Queen, Jewel, Mistress has caught my eye and I hope to get it one day soon! (Maybe at Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair, in London on 26th September, where I will be selling my Mother’s Milk Books books.)

Queen, Jewel, Mistress, by Ruth Stacey

Non-fiction:

How to Win Writing Competitions by Cathy Bryant

How to Win Writing Competitions by Cathy Bryant

I bought this book because I’m a fan of Cathy’s writing, although I did initially think that surely there wasn’t a lot more I could learn about submitting to magazines or writing competitions. But you know what, I was wrong. As I wrote in my Amazon review, “I’d certainly recommend this to amateur writers but also to those who think they know the drill by now.” Oh, and it includes one of the funniest short stories I’ve ever read.

 

Take It Cool, photo by Marija Smits

Take It Cool, photo by Marija Smits

 

Take it Cool by Jonathan Pinnock

When I received this book I knew very little about reggae, or the slave trade, but by the end of the book I knew a whole lot more and was glad that I’d stretched myself by reading something I’d probably not normally consider reading. This book is fascinating and as creative non-fiction goes, a highly-enjoyable read. The author is a fine writer and very, very funny; he has the kind of self-deprecating, weird humour that really tickles me and I laughed out loud at many parts. I’m really glad to have found Jonathan through my random stumblings across the internet (I won the book in a giveaway on his blog) and want to read more of his books — his short story collection Dot Dash sounds brilliant, as does Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens. What a fab title!

 

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

This book introduced me to the powerful idea that a writer must be aware of what kind of story they’re writing before they write it. He uses the acronym MICE for the four kinds of story there are:

 

Milieu

Idea

Character

Event

 

And even though many novels are a mixture of the above (i.e. there are various sub-plots in a book that can be any of the above) a writer can potentially fall into various traps if they set about, say, writing an idea story that then morphs into a character story. Anyway, I know that every writer has their own favourite how-to books but there’s something about Card’s writing style, and his approach to writing, that really clicks with me. And although I’ve seen the movie of his book Ender’s Game, it’s made me want to read Ender’s Game when I next have a free moment.

 

The next non-fiction books on my to-read list are The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron and Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. I’m also desperate to read Angela Topping’s book: Focus on ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter. I’ve asked for this several times for birthdays and Christmases but it hasn’t been gifted to me as yet. Fingers-crossed it’ll be in my stocking this year!

Focus on The Bloody Chamber

 

Work-wise, I recently read a fantastic manuscript by Becky Smith and then I re-entered the world of another fantastical literary world, as created by Alison Lock. I’m super-excited again about the fact that I get to work with writers of Becky and Alison’s calibre as part of the publishing venture that is Mother’s Milk Books. (And I also wanted to say that it was a pleasure to watch Ana Salote — author of Oy Yew — in action recently at a bookshop event for children. Seeing the children lose themselves in the words of her book was simply magical).

 

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

 

  1. WRITING

 

Although now it seems ridiculous that I ever had an ‘epiphany’ moment about my writing, I must say that this is what happened to me this summer. My first novel was mainly a character story (it was a commercial fiction book set in the contemporary world. Well, mostly the 1990s, but to my mind that’s still pretty contemporary!). Various events powered the story along. For a good long while I toyed with the idea of getting it ‘out there’ but now that I’ve re-read it I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really want it out there. It was written as part of my own personal writing apprenticeship (a 10 year long apprenticeship!) and now I want to move on to other things. Quite honestly, I just don’t think it’s good enough to be published. And I don’t think it’s necessary (or a good idea) for me to expend time and energy on trying to edit it further and publish it. Also, it made me think long and hard about what I do want to write and try to get published, and as I’ve got a fair few story and novel ideas in my head that are of a fantastical nature I suddenly realized — WOW! — I’m a sci-fi and fantasy writer.

TB The Forgotten & The Fantastical cover 2015 version 5 colour Lt Oksana font with outline scaled

That was my big epiphany (which kind of seems silly now as only in March I was writing an introduction to The Forgotten and the Fantastical and explaining how my name means fairy tale in Latvian, and how books of a fantastical nature had always been a big part of my life). Hmm… why didn’t I get it back then? Anyway, no matter, I’m thoroughly enjoying focussing on writing my second novel which is, yes you guessed it, a great sprawling work of fantasy. I’m not ever going to completely pigeon-hole myself into just that one genre – I’m still enjoying writing poetry and I do have the odd short story and novel idea not in the sff genre, but on the whole, yes, I’m a writer fascinated by the fantastical…

31emljRrCpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

Which is also why I simply had to read How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. For someone fresh from their epiphany of ‘I’m an sff writer’, this has been a pure joy to read and I want to go out and buy the following two books that Card mentions in his How-To book: Helliconia by Brian Aldiss and Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. In fact, I want to get all the SF Masterworks. I’m smitten!

 

  1. ART
Broken engine in the boot, photo by Marija Smits

Broken engine in the boot, photo by Marija Smits

Sadly, because of work busyness and writing busyness and family busyness (not to mention the pesky business of dealing with a knackered car – see above!), I’ve only managed to do a little sketching. But, and this is a very bittersweet but, but when my youngest starts school in September (just a few days away) I’m planning on spending a little time focussing on painting and drawing. I think it’ll help me to adjust to this huge shift in our family dynamic. I’ve been an at-home mother with either one or two kids at home for 8 years now and yes… although I will welcome not having to deal with holiday sibling squabbles every 5 minutes and not having an audience when either on the loo or in the shower, the house will seem strangely silent, and yes, no doubt, I will weep.

***

I hope you all had healthy and happy holidays and I wish you all the best for whatever autumn brings. It’s currently bringing us the joy of blackberry smoothies and homegrown green beans and tomatoes!

Fruit & veg snack, photo by Marija Smits

Fruit & veg snack, photo by Marija Smits

Thank you also to Maddy and Chrissie for once more taking on the fine thing that is What I’m Writing. Welcome back y’all!

Writing Bubble

Overwhelm, publishing and our favourite children’s books

Things have been super-hectic here, what with the usual summer activities – Sports Day, the school play and the village fair – but also my own work publishing other people’s books has kept me very, very busy. I recently published a middle-grade children’s/crossover book called Oy Yew, by Ana Salote. It is simply a superb book and I really do mean that – during the editing, copyediting, proofreading, typesetting and conversion to kindle process (I’m still in the middle of that last one) I must have read the book about 10 times, and I STILL love it. However, I have suffered with eye-strain and ‘writer’s bum’ from being slumped over a computer at every available moment so I’ve tried to take every opportunity to get out into the fresh air, to exercise and to take a break from the screen.

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

I have, at times, felt overwhelmed by everything (particularly as there is little time for my own artistic and literary endeavours – doodling and writing the odd paragraph or two is all I’ve managed recently) and so sometimes I’ve pictured myself as a little boat on a stormy sea.

Doodle of a little boat on a stormy sea by Marija Smits

Doodle of a little boat on a stormy sea by Marija Smits

BUT, my supportive family have been my one constant and every night I’ve been reminded of just why I’ve been doing all this ‘bookish’ work – because I simply love reading to my kids and sharing books with them. This is surely why all (well, at least, most) writers write – for that vague feeling/hope that someone, somewhere, right now is getting lost in the world created by the writer. I know that sitting with both my kids at bedtime and reading to them has been a wonderful escape for me from my everyday concerns, so I thought I’d share some of our favourite books here. As my children are 8 and 4 it can be difficult to find books that engage them both, but the below seem to have captured their imaginations. No doubt you’ve heard of many (if not all) of these wonderful books/writers but if you haven’t I’d encourage you to give them a try (and if you can’t get them at the library, why not support your local bookshop and buy from them?). And if you think I’ve missed some that our kids may like please do let me know.

  • The Findus books by Sven Nordqvist

Findus Plants Meatballs by Sven Nordqvist

 

  • And Sven’s Where is my Sister is absolutely stunning illustration-wise.

Where is my Sister by Sven Nordqvist

 

  • The I Spy books by Jean Marzollo and Walter Wick

I Spy Fantasy by Walter Wick and Jean Marzollo

 

  •  Long Tail Kitty by Lark Pien (my kids always howl with laughter when I do the different voices for the alien characters at the end of the book…)

Long Tail Kitty by Lark Pien

 

  • Frederick by Leo Lionni (particularly good for children – or adults – who wonder what the worth of poetry is…)

Frederick by Leo Lionni

 

  • Most of the Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler books are a hit (though Tabby McTat is our favourite, and not The Gruffalo!)

Tabby McTat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

 

  • Virtually anything by Oliver Jeffers is a hit too, though Stuck and The Great Paper Caper are probably our favourites (and a grumble about The Day the Crayons Quit: it seems that most of the crayons are boys… hmm).

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

 

  • Christopher Nibble, by Charlotte Middleton

Christopher Nibble by Charlotte Middleton

  • Virtually any of the Mog books by Judith Kerr
Mog's Bad Thing

Mog’s Bad Thing by Judith Kerr

 

  • And any of Shirley Hughes’s books

Alfie's Feet by Shirley Hughes

 

  • Me by Emma Dodd is another favourite

Me by Emma Dodd

  • Any of the Percy the park keeper’s books (the below is perfect for wintertime)

One Snowy Night by Nick Butterworth

  •  We really like Mick Inkpen’s creation, Kipper, but we also particularly like the story of Threadbear.
Threadbear by Mick Inkpen

Threadbear by Mick Inkpen

 

  • Topsy and Tim my kids both love (although I’m not as big a fan as they are!)

Topsy and Tim

  • And I especially appreciate Cover to Cover: How a Book is Made by Rob Lewis as it explains beautifully what is involved in mummy’s publishing work… :-)

Cover to Cover by Rob Lewis

Enjoy!

And many thanks to Maddy and Chrissie for being such hard-working and lovely hosts :-)

Writing Bubble