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

 

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

Dear highly sensitive soul

Welcome to the June 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Talking to Yourself

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written letters to themselves. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

***

Dear Ten Year-younger-self,

You are about to begin a new phase of your life. You are excited and a little fearful, but mostly excited. You look back on your life, your childhood, your teens and twenties, and somehow know that they were leading to this moment.

All those years of desperately NOT wanting to get pregnant well they seem ridiculous to you now, because getting pregnant is ALL you can think about.

Don’t worry, it will happen, and it will be all that you wished for and more.

The deep ache of maternal love that you can already feel the one that tugs at the fibres of your heart will grow and expand as your first child grows in your womb. This love will, at times, be all-consuming. This love, so pure, so uncomplicated by ego or shame or guilt, will make all the romances of your past ridiculous they will seem as flimsy as the film of a newly-blown soap bubble.

Mother and child sketch, by Marija Smits

Me & my girl (Mother and child sketch) by Marija Smits

But there will be more that you won’t have anticipated. Fear will be an ever-present companion to this deep maternal love. For by witnessing, and being an active participant in the miracle of birth you will also understand death better. You will catch a glimpse of your mortality, and your child’s mortality, and it will shake you to your core.

I’m sorry. I don’t mean to scare you. This knowledge, so vast, will be useful. It will deepen your understanding of the world and yourself. It will help you to grow as a person. And your husband will always be there for you, to help you absorb this new, vast, knowledge. He will hold your child with great tenderness. He will support you. He will protect you.

But fatherhood will change him too, although the change won’t be as drastic. You will have to work harder at communicating with each other. You will have to trust your instincts and parent your children in the way that you both want to, rather than how anyone else wants you to. You will have to learn how to assert on behalf of your new family unit and your husband will be your most loyal ally.

Yet it won’t be a smooth journey. You will have to learn how vital clear communication is. You will have to be creative in how to meet the needs of your little ones and your needs as a couple. Be patient, listen to each other. Know that your husband is ‘always on your side’. You will find a way.           

There will be more too… more things you won’t have anticipated. You will find birth to be an empowering experience. You will be amazed by the strength of your birthing body. You will also find breastfeeding and co-sleeping and carrying your little ones in a sling to be deeply satisfying. You will find a tribe of like-minded mothers and share the joy of breastfeeding with them. You will become passionate about helping mothers to breastfeed and the necessity of normalizing breastfeeding in our society. You will become a breastfeeding counselor and meet some wonderful women who will play a large part in your life. You will discover life-changing books and then set up a small press with the aim to publish books that normalize breastfeeding and celebrate empathy and femininity. You will sometimes wonder at how your life so suddenly changed direction, and for the better.

My girl and me, photo courtesy Marija Smits

My girl and me, photo courtesy Marija Smits        

And lastly… along the way you will come to understand and accept your true nature. Remember all those many, many times, and those many, many years, when you thought that there was something wrong with you because you somehow always felt too much, much more than anyone else seemed to? You will come to understand that there isn’t anything wrong with you. Other people have those feelings too but you (like many others out there too) experience them with a greater amplitude.

Some days you will hate being what is now recognized as a Highly Sensitive Person, because you’ll hate not having a ‘dimmer’ switch in your brain; you’ll hate that when you get an illness or an ache in your body it will niggle at you constantly and then turn into a monstrous fear that there’s something seriously wrong with you. You’ll hate that guilt and shame for past misdemeanours will often threaten to cause you to want to rip yourself apart, out of life itself, and you’ll hate that sometimes you feel as though human interactions aren’t worth bothering with because they’re a minefield of subtle physical and verbal gestures (yours and the other person’s) that are just so complicated that they send your mind reeling. And as much as you love, love, love your children, you will hate that there will be days when their arguments, shouting and never-ending stream of questions and requests will jangle your nerves so much that your normally patient self will snap! and then you’ll feel so bad that you’ll want to crawl into a hole and never, ever come out. You will hate that shopping or the school run is a big, big deal because of the noise and the possibility that something untoward might happen. You will hate the feeling of powerlessness you’ll experience when you know that politicians and giant corporations are doing scary, scary things to our planet and inhumane things to the humans and animals in it. You will cry when you see another human in pain on the news, and you’ll have to turn it off, and you’ll hate yourself for being overwhelmed by the pain and overwhelmed by the feeling that there is very little that you can do about it.        

But then there are the days when you wouldn’t swap being an HSP for anything. Those are the days when you’ve listened with empathy to a loved one and felt that you’ve helped them a little; the days when the sight of a blue sky can cause you to weep with joy; the days when you write something you’re pleased with or you make a good job of editing something for someone else; the days when you create art (something you’d always wanted to do but was frightened of doing for fear of it being wrong); the days when someone out of the blue says that an act of charity or an act of kindness you performed a while ago helped them; the days when the love for your family flows out of you and you thank God and all the stars in heaven that you got to be blessed with this beautiful family who love you so much.

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

Mother and son, by Marija Smits

I know that you’re probably weeping as you read this; I know because I’m weeping as I write. But you know, that’s okay. This is who you are. This is what you always will be, and it is better to know yourself than to not know yourself. This is the bittersweet gift you have been presented with: self-reflection.         

Try not to spend too much time worrying the future. Get yourself a couple of books Quiet & The Highly Sensitive Person (they will help you to learn all about yourself and people like you) and People Skills (so that you can learn how to communicate better and assert for yourself since passivity is another unfortunate trait of the HSP). Get hold of a couple of good books about mothering and breastfeeding (The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding 7th edition and What Mothers Do for a start) and then you’ll pretty much be sorted. Oh, and keep on reading all that fiction – especially fairy tales – that sustained you through your childhood and early adulthood. It will be a constant source of comfort and a magical escape from the everyday stresses and strains of being a sensitive soul in a life full of noise, cares and people who say you need to get a thicker skin. (You don’t, you’re fine as you are, [but knowing that a useful critique of your work is not a criticism of you as a person will help!]

Sending you much, much love.

M x

 

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Dear Me. — Meegs at A New Day writes to her decade-younger self offering a good reminder of how far she’s come, and she addresses some fears she wishes future her could assuage.
  • Reflecting on Motherhood with Parental Intelligence: A Letter to Myself — Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. at Parental Intelligence writes about raising her two loving, empathic sons with Parental Intelligence and finding they have become industrious, accomplished young men with warm social relationships.
  • A Letter to MyselfThe Barefoot Mama writes to herself in the moments around the birth of her daughter.
  • A Letter to Myself — Holly at Leaves of Lavender offers a missive to herself in the past… three years in the past, to be precise, when her little one was only four months old.
  • Dear me: Nothing will go the way you’ve planned — Lauren at Hobo Mama gets real with her just-starting-parenting self and tells it to her straight.
  • A Letter to the Mama Whom I Will Become — Erin from And Now, for Something Completely Different writes a letter to the Mama whom she will one day be, filled with musings on the past, present, and future.
  • Dear Me of 7 Years Ago — Lactating Girl at The Adventures of Lactating Girl writes to her pre-baby self telling her about the whirlwind she’s about to enter called parenting.
  • Talking to My 18 Year Old SelfHannahandHorn talks to herself as she is just entering college.
  • Dear highly sensitive soulMarija Smits tells a younger version of herself that motherhood will bring unexpected benefits – one of them being the realization that she is a highly sensitive person.
  • Talking to myself: Dear Pre StoneageparentStoneageparent enlightens her pre-pregnant self about the amazing transformations life has in store for her after having two children
  • Dear Me: I love you. — Dionna at Code Name: Mama wrote herself a few little reminders to help her be at peace with who she is in the moment. That may give her the greatest chance of being at peace in the future, too.
  • My best advice to the new mama I was 8 years ago — Tat at Mum in Search shares the one thing she wishes she’d figured out earlier in a letter to her 8-years-ago self (that’s when her first baby was 6 moths old).
  • A Letter to Myself — Bibi at The Conscious Doer sends a letter back in time eight years to her darkest moment post partum.
  • To me, with love — Jessica at Crunchy-Chewy Mama makes peace with her past and projects what a future her will need to hear.
  • To Myself on the Last Day — Rachael at The Variegated Life tells her panicked last-day-before-motherhood self not to worry.

First novel thoughts

Young Lady in Clinging Dress and Hat, by Georges de Feure (stained glass)

Young Lady in Clinging Dress and Hat, by Georges de Feure (stained glass)

I recently finished editing the manuscript of my first novel, which I started writing about 10 years ago. At this moment in time, my greatest feeling is that of relief. Yes, the MS needs to be given to my favourite editor (aka my wonderful husband) for feedback and, no doubt, it will need further editing if I want to get it ‘out there’ (whatever ‘out there’ is right for me at that time). Or perhaps it will be relegated to a drawer. I don’t know. But at the moment I am simply savouring a wonderful feeling of closure.

I’m really glad I stuck with my book. Whatever happens to it, I do feel a sense of pride for staying the course and going through a kind of ‘writing apprenticeship’ with it.

The last edit I did wasn’t too onerous in the end, though at the start I was loath to do it because the book had various continuity/timing issues and I found it difficult to envisage the novel as a whole when working on a computer. I find it much easier to see timing errors when the novel is a physical, tangible thing, in real, actual paper. But I also couldn’t face/justify printing out another 200 pages. Anyway, in the end, minimizing the size of the pages in Word (and so having more of the novel in front of me) helped me to ‘see’ the issues and get them sorted.

My last edit was no doubt a little complicated by me doing it while reading two fantastic books — Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. I knew from experience that after reading such beautifully-written books, editing my own would be a rather disheartening experience. Thankfully, though, I’m much more philosophical about this now, compared to when I was younger. (I grew up on the classics of Dostoevsky, Forster, Bronte, Austen etc. and it seemed futile then to even bother writing my own book when there were so many books by those great authors to savour again and again).

Young lady in hat by Marija Smits

Young lady in hat (graphite), based on art by Georges de Feure, by Marija Smits

But… being older and wiser now (I hope!) I have realized that we do all have our own stories to tell and each writer’s book is as valid as the next. Rather like painting though, it is the level of skill and the strength of the mysterious invisible connection (or engagement) between the painting/book and its beholder/reader that will ultimately take the book to a whole other level of popularity/success/longevity.

Another bonus of finishing the editing is that I feel the time is right to shift my focus onto my YA fantasy book (I wrote about 8000 words of that a while ago and then it came to a standstill as I became busy with work, wrote some short stories and poetry, and spent some time on reworking the first novel). Anyway, I’m looking forward to re-entering that world, when I get the chance.

Young lady in hat (coloured pencils) by Marija Smits

Young lady in hat (coloured pencils), based on art by Georges de Feure,  by Marija Smits

I know that my husband is sometimes frustrated by the eclectic nature of my work. Both of us are well aware that concentrating solely on one genre and/or age range has many advantages but, again, I’m philosophical about this. All the writing that I do — from copywriting, blogging, writing for children, writing poetry, writing short stories etc. — is useful, and helps to inform and improve my writing skills (although it inevitably means that progress in any one area seems slow). I know that my art has benefitted hugely from working on one subject but in different media.

Young lady in hat (watercolours) by Marija Smits

Young lady in hat (watercolours), based on art by Georges de Feure, by Marija Smits

Anyway, I’m glad I’ve had a chance to document where I am right now on my writing journey; no doubt years later I will look back on this, and think What?! You thought your apprenticeship was done after 10 years and one book? You have to be joking! Ah, the folly of youth….

 

Writing Bubble

Crumbs. Or, the writer as lover…

Crumbs. Where to start?

 

Really, I should have written this post about a month ago when I was in the thick of writing a children’s chapter book, but of course work and family (and illness) kept me pretty busy, and every spare moment was taken up by actually writing the book rather than blogging about writing the book.

 

But anyway… my memory’s not that bad; I can still remember that glorious feeling of being in the thick of building a literary world. As I consider myself to be more of an evening/night person I wrote for about an hour after midnight (and in spare moments during the day – such as during my kids’ weekly swimming lessons). Although I was already tired by the end of the day, I still really looked forward to my hour’s writing when I knew it would be just me, the laptop and my imaginary world. I gave myself a rough goal – to write about 500 words (a chapter) a night, and incredibly, I managed it. The book (a gift for my daughter’s 8th birthday) has been read by the said daughter (and her father who did really well with the different voices of the characters), and I’m currently processing the fact that they both enjoyed the book, although they found some bits confusing/unsatisfactory. My husband gave me more detailed feedback later on (he’s a brilliant editor) and so I’m now thinking about how to edit the book in light of their comments.

 

But it’s that wonderful feeling that I want this post to be about, not how the story is going. It’s just that it’s probably only writers who can understand that amazing feeling of being in the middle of creating a world in their head and then capturing it in words that make it onto paper (or a Word document). This feeling is akin to being in love. Or as Matt Weiner (creator of Mad Men) says of writing: It’s like having a mistress (!) It’s that wonderful feeling that catches you off-guard during the day, and makes you swell with joy. I’m writing something! I’ve got my own secret world in my head. And it’s mine, all mine! It’s the kind of feeling that makes you smile to yourself when you’re mired in chores and dealing with the everyday boring stuff like paying bills, making food, sorting out sibling arguments, loading the dishwasher, persuading my youngest to wear some shoes when leaving the house, doing the laundry etc. etc.

 

Unfortunately, I’m a little out of love at the moment — being in the no-(wo)man zone of having to decide on whether to go back and finish editing my first novel or edit my children’s chapter book or continue with the YA novel which has been sitting dormant for a while…

 

I don’t like this ‘out of love’ stage very much. And I miss my midnight hour of writing. I just don’t think that editing a whole novel will be effective when I’m already bleary-eyed. That time is fine for writing new stuff, but not really for the task of editing. And I’m pretty sure that the midnight writing hour didn’t help with warding off illness… So I’m considering shifting my body clock and getting up early to write. That’s how much I want to be ‘in love’ again!

 

Fairy cake by Marija Smits

Fairy cake by Marija Smits

Art-wise, I haven’t been able to do much. Midnight is not great for painting or drawing, but I have been able to paint a little bit alongside the kids during the day. At the moment we’re all in love with drawing/painting cakes, and so of course we’ve been busy baking, although the crumbs left behind by two messy children after actually eating the cakes drives me slightly bonkers! And there we go, we’re back to crumbs… ;-)

 

Many thanks to Maddy at http://www.writingbubble.co.uk and Chrissie at http://www.muddledmanuscript.co.uk for coming up with this brilliant linky :-)

Writing Bubble

The Art of Faerie


Welcome to ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ Carnival

This post was written especially for inclusion in ‘The Forgotten and the Fantastical’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of their latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience: The Forgotten and the Fantastical. Today our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘Fairy tales’.

Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.
***

When Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales was published I remember reading snippets of arguments/discussions online as to whether there should have been illustrations within it.

In an interview, Philip Pullman stated:

“I don’t think illustrations tell the right kind of story or add the right kind of atmosphere.

Illustrators typically turn them (the characters) into people – I don’t think they are people, I think they’re masks.

There’s no psychology in a fairytale. You don’t need to go into people’s back stories and talk about motives. Looking at other people’s adaptations, I realised what I’d like is a very swift telling that doesn’t clutter it up with description.”

Well… being a big fan of Women Who Run With The Wolves I think there’s a strong case for there being a huge amount of psychology in a fairy tale – but I guess that what Philip Pullman means is that, in general, the characters of fairy tales are stereotypes. They need to be pretty ‘flat’ so that the pacing of the story isn’t hindered by time spent exploring the character’s history or thoughts or feelings. They merely act so that the story can rattle along and impart its truths to us. Important things like:

Forests can be dangerous places if you’re in them all alone.

Never trust a stranger who is that little bit too interested in you.

Trust in your own gut instinct.

Another reason, I think, that the characters have little depth to them is so that we, as a reader, can add our own personalities to them. We give the characters our own feelings and thoughts and histories… and if we’re lucky, and not constantly immersed in the saccharine sweet reinterpretations of some of the tales, we can take away powerful emotional truths and find comfort therein.

But, but, but…

I have to (in part) disagree with Philip Pullman! Because, for me, the illustrations of some of these tales have absolutely bedded themselves deep in my memory, and I think that the best artists, the best illustrators absolutely DO “tell the right kind of story” and “add the right kind of atmosphere.” (Arthur Rackham surely being one of the best fairy tale illustrators ever.)

Grimms' Tales, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Grimms’ Tales, illustration by Arthur Rackham

Many of the Grimms’ tales are so very well-known and well-loved, and yet who can actually reliably remember and quote from the Grimms’ tales word for word? My point is that the actual words don’t matter so much, (these tales aren’t considered to be great literary works), they are simply ABOUT THE STORY. Stories take root in our minds… as do images.

I still have very fond memories of reading these books as a child. Now, I read them to my children and I’ve noticed that my daughter, in particular, loves the pictures, just as I did.

My old fairy tale books

My old fairy tale books

The pictures within these books really are somehow magical. I particularly love the quirky style of the Russian version of Cinderella. I was clearly so impressed by it as a little girl that I drew my own version of the Russian Cinderella (I found it only the other day still tucked into the book!).

Russian Cinderella

Russian Cinderella

I have always loved art, and I believe that these fairy tale images imparted in me a love of art and fine illustration. They inspired me to draw, to paint… and then of course I became all grown up and started putting up hurdles to creating (although, admittedly I wasn’t particularly encouraged by teachers). I remember walking around Tate Britain with my future husband years ago and being deeply moved by the amazing paintings of faeries and knights and other fantastical beings on show in their special pre-Raphaelite exhibition. I understood that I could never, ever, do anything as good as them. It just wasn’t a possibility.

The Dead Knight, by Robert Bateman

The Dead Knight, by Robert Bateman

Spirit of the Night by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Spirit of the Night, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Many, many years later though, my children helped me to reawaken my passion for creating with paint and pencil. Being that bit older (and surely, wiser) I realized that I had to put in the time to make my art better. And so I began to put in the time.

One of the best things about learning to draw and paint nowadays is that students of art have the amazing resource that is YouTube. A while ago I was searching for a tutorial on how to paint a face in watercolour and I found something I was blown away by…

The music, by the way, is by the amazing Green Children. I watched this video so often that I asked for their CD ‘Strange Encounter’ for Christmas. It’s now a firm family favourite.

We were all intrigued by the name of the band and my husband discovered that it was from an old English folk tale ‘The Green Children of Woolpit’. It does have a rather sad ending, but it’s maybe something that I may put my own spin on one day…

As I practised my art I realized that some of my paintings had become successful enough to be put “out there” and my ‘Lady Seaweed’ on the front cover of The Forgotten and the Fantastical was one of those more “successful” pictures. As I wrote in the book about my story ‘Lady Seaweed’ or ‘Tristesse’:

“I painted the woman who graces the front cover of this book in one of those subconsciously-driven moments of creativity.”

Basically, I was doodling and having fun while listening to music and there was no pressure to create something perfect. Surely that’s where all art has to start from — the idea of creating as a joyful process.

So nowadays, one of my favourite family activities is listening to The Green Children’s ‘Strange Encounter’ while we either paint or doodle or draw. (I simply ignore the fact that the dishwasher needs unloading!)

A while ago I became a fan of The Green Children on Facebook, and I discovered that they’re working on another album (their third I think) and they posted that they were keeping themselves inspired in the studio by surrounding themselves with beautiful works of art. This was one of those pieces:

Arthur Rackham illustration of 'The Old Woman of the Forest' from the original book of Grimms' fairy tales

Arthur Rackham illustration of ‘The Old Woman of the Forest’ from the Grimms’ fairy tales

And so we have come full circle to the Brothers Grimm and Arthur Rackham, and the power of images (as well as story) to capture our imaginations.


***

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical 2015 book cover

The Forgotten and the Fantastical is now available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) and as a paperback from Amazon.

It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.

Any comments on the following fab posts would be much appreciated:

In ‘Imagination is quantum ergo fairies are real’, Ana, at Colouring Outside the Lines, explains why we should all believe in fairies and encourage our children to do the same.

‘Wings’ — Rebecca at Growing a Girl Against the Grain shares a poem about her daughter and explains the fairy tale-esque way in which her name was chosen.

In ‘Red Riding Hood Reimagined’ author Rebecca Ann Smith shares her poem ‘Grandma’.

Writer Clare Cooper explores the messages the hit movie Frozen offers to our daughters about women’s experiences of love and power in her Beautiful Beginnings blog post ‘Frozen: Princesses, power and exploring the sacred feminine.’

‘Changing Fairy Tales’ — Helen at Young Middle Age explains how having young children has given her a new caution about fairy tales.

In ‘The Art of Faerie’ Marija Smits waxes lyrical about fairy tale illustrations.

‘The Origins of The Forgotten and the Fantastical — Teika Bellamy shares her introduction from the latest collection of fairy tales for an adult audience published by Mother’s Milk Books.

Things I have done today (and every other day for the past seven years)

Welcome to the March 2015 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Day in the Life

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have given us a special glimpse into their everyday.

***

Things I have done today: 26th February 2015

 

  1. Wake and breastfeed my son.

 

  1. Persuade my sleepy daughter to get dressed and ready for school.

 

  1. Throw on some clothes over my own pyjamas.

 

  1. Take my daughter (whilst carrying sleepy son – still in his pyjamas) to school. Cuddles and kisses all round as we wave her off.

 

  1. Come home and eat some breakfast in the kitchen while helping my son, J to make a big tower from boxes of tea on one of the counters. I pass the boxes back to him when they topple over.

 

  1. Sit at our art table and begin to draw. J sits beside me and organizes his pencils. He tells me that I should put more colour into my drawing. He draws a picture too and we (mostly) swap compliments!
Our art area, photo by Marija Smits

Our art area, photo by Marija Smits

  1. J then wants his ‘plano’ (a tinny-sounding electronic keyboard). We hunt for the plano (even going into the attic to have a look) but there’s no plano. We phone daddy who is at work. He tells us it may be hidden in the kitchen. We find the plano!

 

  1. I start to clean the bathroom (it desperately needs doing!). J plays his plano. I hope that this will keep him busy for a bit but it doesn’t. He soon wants to do some baking, and so he goes downstairs. It is quiet as I scrub the inside of the shower and take out gunky bits of goo with a pair of tweezers. Note to self: clean the tweezers before I use them on my eyebrows.

 

  1. It is too quiet. I ask J what’s going on. ‘Sorry mummy, I made a mess.’ I go downstairs and discover a ‘semolina soup’ in a Tupperware container. There is semolina on the table and the floor. It’s not too bad. I’ve seen worse. We clear up the spilt semolina and my young scientist/chef says he wants to add baked beans to his soup. He gets out a tin and I help him add JUST THE ONE SPOON.

 

  1. I help J to cook his semolina soup in the microwave. He’s adamant that it’ll be delicious. He eats a spoonful and then says it’s too hot. He goes off to make a ‘shop’ in the lounge. I go back to cleaning the bathroom, and occasionally encourage him to come up and help me.

 

  1. I try to have a shower, but J says he now wants to play with me. I get all huffy and a bit shouty – I’m feeling grubby and I want that shower! Then I feel bad and help him to build a slide out of beds. I remember to cut myself some slack: Hey, I’m doing all right! Before I enter the shower I see J playing with some blocks. The slide’s already got boring.

 

  1. Have a shower, get dressed. J goes downstairs while I dress. It goes quiet again. I go downstairs and discover black paint all over the art area desk. A big bouncy ball is sitting in the black paint, dripping with paint. I do my best to clean the desk and J. We then go to the kitchen and cook scrambled eggs and beans. J helps me with cracking the eggs into the frying pan. He even stirs them about with a fork.

 

  1. We eat our lunch and then J goes off to play by himself. I tell him that I’m taking him to pre-school soon and so I try dressing him. I try but it’s not happening. He says he doesn’t want to go to pre-school and I end up chasing him around the dining table, looping around it about 20 times. I’m puffed out and I realize that we’re evenly matched in this race. I use my mama strength and start to block him in a corner by moving the dining table. He realizes that I’ve got him now, so we talk constructively about how I can help him settle in pre-school.

 

  1. I give him a quick feed and then we go to pre-school and J is happy. He’s really involved in the counting they’re all doing and although I tell him a few times that I’m going now he doesn’t take any notice of me.

 

  1. I go home, slightly worried that J may be unsettled when he realizes that I’m no longer there. I make a strong coffee, worry a little more, then focus on the work at hand: answering emails and editing a short story. I’m a little surprised and disappointed at how little I get done in 2 hours.

 

  1. I pick up J who is happy, but then I ask the careworker how he was, and apparently he was upset for a minute or two when he’d realized I’d gone and he’d forgotten to say goodbye. He was okay soon enough though, she says, but still, I feel bad. I try to mentally give myself a hug (while giving him lots of hugs course!).

 

  1. We go home (it’s not far) switch on the telly, watch it for 5 minutes and then go back out to school to pick up my daughter.

 

  1. And then it’s snacks and swimming… When they’re both in the water I get out my note book and write for a tiny bit. Then it’s back to running after my son, whose lesson has finished. He has taken off his swimming trunks and is running into the shower. I get wet as I walk into the public showers in order to persuade him to put his trunks back on. My daughter looks on and giggles. They stay in the shower for as long as they want (well, until all the other kids have gone) and then I manage to grab a big changing room for all three of us and J has a quick feed as I’m getting him dressed.
J and I, photo by Marija Smits

J and I, photo by Marija Smits

  1. Shopping with the kids – always a bit fraught, and then home again, to a bit of social media while they watch telly, and then cooking. My husband comes home, tired and weary, and we eat together, sharing the highlights of our day.

 

  1. I help J build a machine (gluing and sticking cardboard and then painting) while trying to get a tiny bit more of my drawing done. My daughter, R does her homework with her dad.

 

  1. Then it’s bedtime shenanigans, with books to be read, ‘sneaky’ snacks to be eaten… Sandwiches for tomorrow to be made. Teeth to be brushed over and over…

 

  1. By 10 p.m. J is finally asleep. I read for a bit, then make my husband and myself a cup of tea (he’s working on his computer) and I spend an hour working.

 

  1. Another cup of tea and then I write when everyone else is in bed and fast asleep. I lose myself to the world I’m building in my head, and finally go to bed at around 1 a.m. beside my four-year-old son. I feel incredibly grateful to still be able to snuggle up next to him. It won’t be long until he’ll want his own room like his sister (although she does still love to snuggle with her mummy). My mind returns to the book I’m writing and slowly… my thoughts become dreams.

 

  1. J wakes and stirs. I feed him back to sleep and then doze off myself.

 

Blue Moon, by Marija Smits

Blue Moon, by Marija Smits (the pretty-much finished version of the drawing I started on the day I wrote about). I think J still thinks there should be more colour in it!

***

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by afternoon March 10 with all the carnival links.)