Autumn Instinct, Homeward Flight

29/08/2013 at 12:06 (Personal, Poetry, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

If this year has taught me anything, it’s that nothing is secure. Things unravel in a breathspace. One by one, the fragments of life I’ve carefully pieced together in the city, are falling away. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing. Maybe my time is done here.

I try not to expect too much of any one day, person or feeling now. With the year already starting to look old in more ways than one, my face is turning to the south, to my old hometown. I fled it three years ago, to escape ghosts of my past.

I’m starting to miss their pale touch. Especially when the geese thrum overhead. Instinct is pulling me to wherever I’ll feel at home.

Now when the light among the trees
Has frayed from summer’s gold, to brass
The geese make chevron smiles at me
And I shall wave, to see them pass

But now the hawk, his keening cry
Has sold my soul within the haze
I watch him leave and mourn the loss
Of diamond love, within his gaze

Your hand was warm inside the spring
A green-gold hope, a vagrant lust
I couldn’t hope to rein you in
And distance bides its time on trust

But here again, the road shall part
My breath is twisting with the wind
And melancholy rides the grass
Towards the winter chill within

My home, my time within the walls
Of ancient stone and modern face
Are dialling down towards the sun
Lost in the west, his empty grace

And soon the autumn, with his geese,
His brassy sun and fading light
Shall lift the hope and set me free
Where instinct points me home, in flight.

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Writing Reality: Balancing Act

29/08/2013 at 12:05 (Anorexia, Personal, Reviews, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

As writers, we are obliged to sacrifice parts of our lives in order to fulfill the promise of well-nuanced writing. How often have you begun a day in the lightest spirits, only to find yourself stuck in the deep blues of nightfall, because a character has had some calamity befall them? Sometimes, I’m not entirely sure whether what I’m feeling is my own irritation, cheerful spirits or doldrums.

Try explaining this to someone not of a creative bent, and the inevitability of crossed-wires generally sets in. I’ve been asked more than once, why I bother to put myself through such experiences as field research in dodgy areas, for the sake of a story. My response is always, “Why not? I’m curious. I want to know, the better to write.”

That being said, I’m already aware of my somewhat obsessive personality when it comes to creative detail. I don’t know about you, but the serotonin rush of brandishing a new article to the breaking light of dawn, generally kills the red-eye pain of no sleep … for about half an hour. Then I have to go to work, in the regular day job that keeps my income flowing. Living the dream, huh?

So I’ve recently begun to take note of certain aspects of my welfare, which might need fine-tuning in accordance with energy levels x writing output. Let’s face it, there’s only so long the average human can subsist on Red Bull shots at 3am, and snatched sleep on lunch breaks. I’m as guilty of these health faux pas as the next. The trouble is, after years of sustained low weight due to anorexia – now thankfully more a shadow of the mind – my body is already something of a chipped plate, liable to fracture if I’m not careful. Pushing a grueling writing schedule, alongside the day job, will catch me up all too soon. As a chronic insomniac, I’ve already felt the twinges of production-guilt if I’m not at least utilizing those wakeful hours in some writing format or another.

Having trained as a fitness instructor in 2009, and with a keen interest in general health, I’m always on the search for ways of setting that all-too-necessary balance between body, mind and soul. Kooky it might sound, but I wholly believe in the need for such things, in order to benefit fully from any one aspect of our lives. I thought I’d share a few ideas with you; not so much rules, as guidelines.

1) By day, in part due to my job, I am very active. High energy levels, dating from childhood, can be also accredited. I’m never truly happy to sit down to writing, until they’ve been somewhat blunted with exercise of any kind. Whatever your own physical state, energy levels or views about exercise, do bear in mind that writing is essentially a static state of productivity. We can spend hours at a time in one spot, and though this is great in terms of output, it’s not such good news for the muscles and bones, which over time may become depleted from lack of use.

Take time to move about during your writing day, especially if this is your dominant career. A break every two hours or so, to move about and breathe, think over what has already been written and what is to come, is beneficial both for physical and mental well-being. It segments the long block of being sedentary, keeps blood flowing and your appetite regular.

2) In this context, I wholly recommend resistance training as a means of both staving off excess weight, and for building up lean muscle mass. The latter is nifty, in that it’ll chew up calories even while you’re sitting still, and will keep your metabolism revved for hours after a workout. The weight-resistance requires the body to lay down new bone minerals – a real plus, particularly for women, whose calcium / estrogen levels drop dramatically as we age. Osteoporosis is an ever-present fear for me, after years of depleted nutrition in my youth. I use resistance training now to keep my skeleton as strong as possible, against the chance of porous bones later in life. I find that the controlled movements are also a great way of releasing a build-up of mind pressure. Writing, post-exercise, is far more free-flowing.

3) Walking / running for cardiovascular health, is the simplest and most inexpensive means of keeping your heart and lungs healthy. This can be coincided with field research. If you’ve some location that is hazy on the details, take yourself to it on foot wherever possible. The rhythm of pace is another great way of promoting freeflow-thought.

I don’t know about you, but the completion of a written piece charges me with an endorphin rush similar to that released post-workout. I always feel the need to move. Use this to your advantage where fitness is concerned; if you’re riding the crest of a writer’s wave, turn it into a jog, a weights session, an impromptu dance. Heck, people generally think writers are weird anyway. Give them more ammunition. Best of all, prolong that fantastic feeling for as long as possible.

4) We may be stuck behind a screen for hours at a time, or poised over a writing medium that requires our eyes to be constantly alert. I use eye-drops every two hours to keep them fresh, and always have a bottle of water nearby (and if you’re of the same mindset as me, in that a little alcohol helps unpin inhibitions and settle the mood, then the water is doubly essential.)
An hour before bed, I’ll turn the computer off, and try to avoid overuse of my phone. According to research, those bright screens have a habit of messing with our sleep patterns and mine’s botched enough.

There’s also the content of your writing to consider. If your last piece was particularly emotive or dark, chances are it might hangnail in your mind. Try reading something light before sleep.

5) If, like me, you have an internal deadline-demon that kicks your butt each time a piece isn’t finished by such-and-such day, you’re probably experiencing some kind of productivity-powerplay. Once the computer is on, my mind switches to Work mode and sleep is a sure impossibility. Likewise, pushing back the boundaries of bedtime in an effort to keep on top of an ever-increasing workload, isn’t exactly conducive to relaxation. Unless you’re actually employed for writing to a set deadline – in which case, a regular routine should be adhered to, more stringently than those of us who set our own lines – it’s You playing the taskmaster, here. That’s fine, in terms of keeping up a regime. But allow yourself breaks, too. Athletes certainly don’t train to peak performance each time, and neither should we expect this perfection of ourselves. It can become very addictive, with each new achievement of output meaning another push against boundaries, and less downtime considered.

Only you know how much sleep is required to keep yourself functioning. Bearing in mind that cognition rapidly depletes with each hour lost, it’s not great news whether you’re in freeflow writing or editing form. Along with these side effects, emotional stability as a writer is thinned. I know I’ve reacted badly to criticism before, taking its objectivity personally, after too little sleep.

Listen to your body; learn from your activity levels. If you’re alert enough to juggle daily life and its pressures, have enough mental input to form creative output, and can engage in physical activity with the required cognition, then chances are you’ve got the balance right. A few missed nights sleep here and there won’t make too much deficit. But prolonged bouts of insomnia can have bad effects on your well-being. Don’t give your writing demons the chance to use more-than-average wakeful hours to press an advantage, which might ultimately undermine your health.

6) Eat to suit your lifestyle. It sounds simple, right? The concept of intuitive eating is nothing new; it’s something we practised as kids, relying on appetite levels rather than social trends and advertising campaigns. By all means, give yourself the food that you’ve a taste for – so long as you’re aware of when it’s time to stop, to realize when you’re putting food inside as more than just a means to an end; when it becomes about finishing the plate out of manners, or a loathing to see food go to waste.

Become familiar with what your body’s telling you. If you’re feeling real hunger pangs, don’t drown them in coffee etc. Don’t be afraid to break the writing flow to grab something to eat, and if – like me – you happen to forget a meal due to writing, compensate by eating more calorie-dense health foods (oats, bananas rather than apples, pasta/rice as opposed to bread, etc) to make up the difference. Likewise, if writing about a particular food stuff triggers a craving, more often than not this is all it is – an evocation of the senses, a memory of an enjoyable experience. Don’t let these become a substitute for feeding your body as and when required.

As a recovering anorexic, I’ve learned over time to tap back into my body’s basic needs. From having to set alarms to remind myself to eat, I can now differentiate between real hunger and thought/emotion-appetite. It’s a newfound sense of freedom, one I nurture; along with the knowledge that my productivity will only ever be constant, when the most important aspects of my life – those I can control – are well set.

In short, it’s about looking after ourselves, as individuals and writers.

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Coffee Fever

26/08/2013 at 17:41 (Personal)

Totally awesome. Coffee fans unite!

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A recessional in the Terminal

22/08/2013 at 21:16 (Personal, Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Well. After three years of drafting, cooling, forgetfulness of self in the face of the world … I’ve published my first short story, “Terminal”, up on Kindle.

This evening has splintered with angry words. My housemate has taken himself down a crass new route, and though I can’t be bothered to list everything that was said / inferred, rest assured that it was the final cutting blow to my patience. I cried. I hate doing this in front of people. But after a doctor’s appointment for a lump in my chest, still growing, and continuing pressures at work … It all made my head scream. Tonight was the closest I’ve come to lashing out and hurting someone, in a long time. I don’t like to think of the damage done, if I had.

Too bad. Too loud. Too much of one thing, not enough of another. I’m not coming apart at the seams, not yet. He had the gall to tell me to “be stronger” in the face of all that’s happened. Yes, because surviving anorexia, and sexual abuse, and parental breakup and a mental breakdown, isn’t enough to warrant being strong in this world.

I had no words in my throat to fling back. I won’t sink to his level of intimidation. I can prove my “strength” in this. He is a bully. But I’m not about to give the guys at work the giggle-factor of seeing ME behind bars for a change 😉

Tonight, I made myself a published author. It feels pretty damn fine. I’m finally starting to live up to my own expectations.

And I owe it to this lovely lady, and her song:

Despite everything, I can smile tonight.

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Writing Reality: Fighting the Block

21/08/2013 at 13:11 (Reviews, Writing, Writing Reality articles) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s the head ‘flu we all suffer at some point or another. Symptoms may differ from person to person, and I wholly believe that – like ‘flu – there are different strains of writer’s block.

So when it hits, I’ll step back and analyse. Break things down to Where and When and How. Was it a character’s lack of depth that snarled me up, an inability to find their voice? A scene falling flat? Or perhaps it’s other, extraneous details preying on my mind, so that writing simply has to fall as a priority?

If it’s the latter, outside of what I can control, then I’ll allow myself leeway. We all should. Life is full of its pressure points, and that’s not to say that anything outside of writing, is an unnecessary burden. Far from it. Our external lives must balance our internal literary lives, to keep us whole. Too much of either, and we’ll still fall prey to the Block.

Make a point of prioritizing. Only you know what is most important in your life; no one has the right to question your lack or surplus of output, unless you have made it clear you are responsible for others’ needs and cares. Then feelings must come first, the outside world taking precedence over imaginary ones.

Believe me, this is hard to admit to myself, let alone advise it. Writing for me is the safe-guard against internal inertia, the salmon-leap of serotonin, which I run parallel with a bloody good workout, or sushi for dinner. But it is a solo project; it doesn’t take other’s feelings or needs into account. So if a more pertinent issue crops up, kicking my creative self into orbit, I’ve learned to wait until said issues have been dealt with; until I can focus again. When that colourful ball of creativity drops back, I’m ready for the catch.

Sometimes, what’s needed is a a reaffirmation of Self. Learning again what and who your influences are. In this sense, I go back to basics when writer’s block – of any variety – hits.

Past Influences

If you have a library pass, exploit it. Take out old favourites from your childhood days, the stories that sang to you with vivid colours, impressing on your mind the formulative images that would sew the seeds of creativity. Don’t be ashamed to refer back to these little gems; they were the building blocks of your writing career. I make a point each year, of rereading every Beatrix Potter story. Revisiting those beautiful pictures, in juxtaposition with often dark tales spun of gentle words, takes me back to when my mind was first sparked with ideas.

If you still have the beloved, battered copies from your own childhood, so much the better. Thumb fondly through those pages, and revisit those precious moments when you were read to, or snuggled in some cozy corner of a rainy afternoon. When you first felt the stirrings of a writer’s desire to emulate.

Alternative Courses

While in the library, make a point of visiting the reference section. I can’t extol enough the wonders of curling up in a corner with an Encyclopedia or book of photography, flicking through facts and prints. I personally favour collections of abandoned industries, derelict houses – nature reclaiming what was taken, to present starkly poignant mindscapes. These can also be found online:

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Picture credit: Francesco Mugnai

Look at these pictures long enough, and images start to leap out. Stories begin to walk through the mind, faint at first, growing stronger.

Look up natural history, local history – world-changing events. Twist circumstances in your mind. Steampunk is an excellent example of the what if genre, a web filled with alternative strands.

Visit sites like, to find examples of steampunk paraphernalia. I get a creative headspin just poring through the amazing creations of featured artists. If you’re going to borrow an inspirational point for a plot, character or scene, do make sure to refer back to source, with a dropped link and perhaps an email-request to the relevant artist. Also, be aware that many libraries withhold the right to check out reference books, so make sure you have your own recording equipment to hand, for taking notes.


Interact with others. Try not to make it too obvious what you’re after, which is Live Inspiration. Listen carefully to anecdotes told down the pub; keep a keen ear open for strangers’ talk, if you’re barflying. Go to social scenes where one of your characters might put in an appearance; if you really feel like a bit of method-writing, dress like them too. Put yourself in their shoes / slippers / hooves, whatever fits. I make a point of recording fairytale snippets that come to mind, in a journal supposedly kept by one of my novel’s protagonists. Because her diary is a cornerstone of the plot, I embellish the one I have to hand with cut-outs from magazines, of dark leafy places and twisting brambles, thunder-struck skies and stormy seas. These images suit Siobhan’s personality; they are what she would surround herself with. In turn, it puts me in her mindframe to walk outside late at night, to follow cats around corners. I then rattle off quick blog entries while still inside her mind, such as this, to refer back to when stuck for a song, or a thought.

Talk to older members of your family about distant relatives, or about their own youth. I personally love nothing more than to sit in my Nanna’s kitchen while she sets the table for dinner, listening to her stories from growing up as an orphan in Newcastle, with a stern Victorian grandma and the fallout from WWII. She tells me about rationing, about making-do and playing outside all day; about the resultant scrapes she and her playmates got into. About the day-to-day bravery and stoicism of the local coal miners and shipbuilders, from which I’m descended. So many pockets of time, inspiration waiting to be found.

Echoing the greats

Hunter S Thompson had a fabulous method of refreshing his senses with old inspirations – he “used to type out pages from The Great Gatsby, just to get the feeling, he said, of what it was like to write that way.” Open up copies of your favourite books, and try it yourself. Find the rhythm of sentence structure, the black humour, the gorgeous metaphors that first struck you, and inspire you still. Rewrite them to feel where that author was coming from, what made them choose to write in this certain way – how can it benefit your own style?

Look to TSR’s Dragonlance saga, as an example of what might be born when the creative input of others is put to innovative use. Beginning life as an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons campaign, written and designed by authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, it is still one of the most popular fantasy series in print. The character Raistlin Majere is famously cited as Terry Phillip’s creation, with the latter putting on a hissing voice full of bitter cynicism, which would become the mage’s trademark. A character was reborn from the barest threads of an idea, into a man filled with twisting ambition and desperate pathos.

If you’ve got the guts, ask open-minded friends to assist in discovering the hidden nuances of your characters and/or narrative structure. Have them read lines aloud; encourage them to put on voices, to branch out in ways they feel are applicable to a scene or personality. Jot down everything, or better yet record it. In the meantime, have a bloody good laugh, while finding reality inside your characters.

Stream of Consciousness (AKA fuck linearity)

Another tactic I like to use is stream-of-consciousness music-writing. My personal method involves a little alcohol to loosen inhibitions, to let thoughts freefall, but it’s not mandatory. Just put yourself into a solitary environment, where you can find internal quiet.

This is where listening to lyrics is useful, as opposed to when writing in earnest, when they may seep through to permeate what you’re trying to write. In this case, you want that to happen. I’ll let the message of the artist hangnail in my mind, turning up fresh inspiration with each second my fingers blur. I won’t let myself pause for breath, or raise my eyes to edit what’s been written.

Become heedless of time, word counts, genre and characterization; of such tedious things as narrative and plot. This is freefall writing, letting the mind go wild. Whether it ends up in a manuscript afterwards is irrelevant. This is You, upending your mind and everything it holds; whatever emotions bind you at the time.

This entry was the result of a recent stream-writing episode.

You’ll know yourself when it’s time to stop, to analyse. There may be lines of dialogue or internal monologue; there may be the sparks that will set an stagnating story ablaze with colour.

It’s about allowing your mind to feel unfettered by choice, by fear of responsibility. It’s about relearning the basics that got you started on this wild road in the first place, full of its tangled lines and open fields and dark thorns.
It’s about this:

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Finding the beauty and power in words, and letting them come back to you of their own accord.

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