Being Mum

Some weeks I don’t get to be me, I don’t get to write, I am just Mum…

The last few weeks have been tough. We are applying for funding for support for my son and out of the blue the paperwork turned up. If you have ever received a document that goes into depth not just about your child’s strengths but all their difficulties too, you know this is a very emotional and difficult thing to read.

The way it has set me back most though is having to rely on others, whether trying to get hold of staff, getting an advocate to respond to the laughable offer we received from the local authority. And in the mean time trying to entertain little one over half term, deal with sickness, deal with household things. Sometimes the motherload comes crashing down upon you.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com : Learning Education Law now as well as Child Development, apparently.

This has been very hard to handle. I made mistakes at work, I didn’t get things done I needed to, I have spent the week feeling ill physically and having aches and pains. Stress does this to you. It also robs you of the chance to be you, to write, to be creative.

Your circumstances may be different from mine, in terms of the difficulties I am currently facing I hope for you they are. But I know too that I have many things that make my life so much easier than others. So if you do get a week, two or three when the weight of the world tries to crush you what can you do?

  • Still go on Artist’s Dates. A couple hours a week to indulge in something that makes life a little more interesting. This was lucky because my birthday treat came in the middle of this mess so I had one already booked. I hope to share more about seeing the treasures of Tutankhamen soon, it was wonderful. Doing something for you but particularly for your creativity is a real lift at a tough time. I have written about some cheap and easy date ideas I would also recommend.
  • Use your journal. As you may know I use morning pages, and have written about how I try and fit in a few pages of journaling each morning. Boy did I have a lot to moan about in the last few weeks! It does help me to get down my worries, my fears and sometimes inspiration strikes.
  • Re-evaluate what you can achieve in a short time. I had half an hour this week where little one was entertained and I sat down and wrote. I surprised myself by revisiting the ending of the dreaded draft. I have been struggling with this ending for months! Something about the urgency of the little burst of time, a self-imposed deadline, helped me start to fit some pieces together I have been puzzling on for a while.
  • Cleaning up around my space has helped me. I find having a quick sort, doing a job I had been putting off like dusting the light shades, they gave me a small sense of control when I have very little over anything else. The burst of writing only happened after I finally cleared through some paperwork that had been cluttering up my dining table. It helps.

This month won’t go down as my most successful writing month, which is ironic given the #WritingCommunity are ensconced in #NaNoWriMo. But for me, if I just get through all the things I am being asked to do as my darling boy’s Mum, then I will chalk it up as a win.

Books I didn’t finish

Do you always read to the end? I am learning to give up…

I hope no-one is offended by some of the books I didn’t finish. I feel a sense of guilt if someone recommended something to me and I can’t get along with it. But life really is too short to always read to the end.

I have experience of not finishing because I ran out of time. When I went to a book club when my son was very young my brain was fried by little sleep and, even having a month to read, I didn’t get through the books quite often. I gave myself a pass but saved those books to a Kindle collection assuming I would go back to them when my brain was in tact.

Even when my brain was lively at university, I didn’t always finish the reading. I don’t feel too much guilt about this though I know I missed out at times. In both circumstances I did not get enough sleep to really concentrate.

I have shared my difficulties of finding time to read before, but more than that, the time I do have I have to be ruthless and if the book doesn’t grab me I have to consider stopping.

Here’s a few things that have made me stop recently:

Violence against women or anyone if it is done to shock but has not been shown to work in the plot. I haven’t got past the first chapter of Bad Teacher. I love a thriller but I am afraid I didn’t connect enough with the story first so my stomach was turned by the violence in the first pages. It is probably a great read but I didn’t finish it.

Complex plots. This is ridiculous of course, I love complexity and a thriller doesn’t work if it’s not cleverly plotted. I recommended The Perfect Girlfriend earlier in the year and read thrillers like it. So I don’t know why some books I just can’t get on with. I know at some point I will love the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle as it has been rated very highly by reviewers I like . But this year when I tried I just couldn’t come back to it often enough to keep the twists in my head. This is one I am sure I will come back to but I didn’t finish.

The wrong season. Another book that has been highly rated is The Toymakers I started and decided it was a wrong season and am looking forward to this one over winter. This may prove to be wrong but the snow on the cover made it hard to start in the Spring.

A trilogy. I love a trilogy. I am currently reading The Winternight Trilogy and can’t wait to start the new Phillip Pullman but honestly it’s a big decision to start a series. I just know I will want to read it all when it’s complete but I put down Labyrinth earlier this year because it felt like too much reading ahead of me.

Too close to home This is a difficult one to explain without talking about some of the issues that I relate to too much. But I will say that I am very aware of portrayals of Autism in fiction (and TV for that matter). As a mother of a child on the Spectrum, I found the portrayal of Asperger’s Syndrome in The Golden Hour hard to read. Sometimes it might be that something chimes too well with a reality and I will find myself upset, triggered I suppose.

to-be-read pile (TBR)

One of the main reasons that I haven’t finished some books though, is that my to-be-read pile (TBR) is just huge. If something doesn’t appeal, I can happily replace that book with another or six that might take my fancy. It feels fickle at times but I am starting to forgive myself for not always finishing.

I’d love to know what you haven’t finished and why?!

Swimming: which lane do you swim in?

I have always enjoyed swimming and then a few years ago I got an injury that ruled out running so it had to become my main form of exercise. Add to that my current gym has a spa pool, I am motivated to go for a swim most weeks. Because I am lucky enough to go in the week when the pool is quieter, I can find I am all alone; I consider it my pool to be honest. Which means when I find others in the pool I become very wary of the right etiquette and rules to suddenly share my space.

Much like with walking, I find swimming laps inspires my brain to clear and I work through problems in whatever I am working on. There is one disadvantage of course, no pen. The other day though instead of trying to memorise a bright idea for a new scene, I was thinking about how my swimming is so much like my writing life.

Firstly, inspiration strikes but it is not the right time or place and you can’t write it down immediately. This is true as I swim under water as sitting at my desk trying to grasp and idea or being on the edge of a dream. The problem I find in the water is that I really want to count lengths, but I get distracted and lose count. Please tell me I am not the only one who likes to leave the water after an even number, preferably in the tens. It disturbs my balance the rest of the day if I stop at 28 lengths as much as it disturbs me if I have an idea but didn’t write it down. Like a buzz that irritates your ear that you can’t place.

In the water I am constantly assessing the other swimmers, not so much to see if I am in competition but to check I am in the right lane. It feels risky to go into the slow lane because I am a medium person and I may get stuck behind someone using a float or feel like I am holding someone else up. I think that this is how I often feel following the #writingcommunity. You see, really in my writing I am just plodding on at a gentle speed. I only discovered recently I may be considered a turtle writer. I find people are talking about their finishing their drafts or making their edits and I thought we were swimming at the same pace.

I often lose direction when I am swimming, whether because I am quite distracted by an idea whirring through my head or just because I am not a great swimmer; it’s hard to tell. I love the sensation of swimming underwater which makes me a liability if the pool is busier. This strikes me as like my butterfly approach to writing. I have to make myself sit to one thing but often my mind has floated off to other thoughts and I have snippets and snatches of ideas on my phone, in my files and in my journal. I don’t think my brain was made to swim in a straight line.

What I need more than anything from swimming is time to relax. It may sound like an expensive luxury to use a gym with a spa attached but it has become an essential indulgence for me that I justify. Well making time to write has been something I know now I need as much as anything else I do for myself. Bubble baths are all very well, but expressing in my inner creativity is the best self-care there is.

So, yes the swimming metaphor is spent now but I think it reminds me that I spend a little too much time comparing my writing to others and I just need to focus instead on where I want to go.

The danger of civility

Who else was brought up to always be civil?

Politeness is a premium for a lot of people. That means that if you don’t agree, you find a way to navigate the conversation by agreeing to things you don’t agree with or by maybe making a tactful counterpoint. To make any argument you are expected to keep your voice calm, demonstrate control over your body and finish off conversations with polite enquiries. I heard myself thank her though I was I left angry by a call.

But what if there are many things in your life that make you angry, make you want to rage. I have been exploring these thoughts in my writing. Mainly it seems through pathetic fallacy where storms rage around a character as the anger bursts out. But when anger burst out in real life, I am not sure that it does feel like a massive storm.

Pain, the place from where your anger spurts forth, is interior. I studied the excellent The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World by Elaine Scarry many years ago and I think about how it reduces the body to a mind without language. It is possible this is true for psychological pain as much as for a body harmed. Pain, anger, both of these things are all-absorbing. The world outside us swallowed up and if we truly give in to this pain, any wail comes from gut-deep. It bursts from inside, Alien-style, truly gut-wrenching anger is barely a metaphor for what happens inside.

Feeling out of control, at the mercy of outside forces, that is like the storm metaphor that comes up over again in my work. The world seems chaotic. No one can agree. The politics that I can’t bear to mention that seems to be ripping us apart in this country, well that should cause us pain. There are problems that are not being solved because we are so focused on Europe right now and we do have a right to be angry about that.

And isn’t that the real problem of learning civility at your mother’s knee? Born into people-pleaser people, let’s not make a fuss. Keep quiet about your anger or if you are seeing things going wrong: don’t make a scene. Does that ring true for anyone else? Because at times I wonder that we are not all more angry.

I write under the influence of my own anger. Right now, this week, I am trying to tackle the system. The one that is supposed to offer the right support for my son. And it makes me angry. Our needs, his needs being ignored are hard to stomach. Negotiating a complex system is hard enough but it comes with a side of this anger at a broken system. Because when people say the right thing but do not do the right thing, they are playing the civility game too. Built into our bureaucracy. When I deal with people, whether they are being helpful or not, I have to be polite. It is supposed to be collaborative you see.

And so when I write about anger I know I may never get down on paper how this feels. I hear instead the charge in my head of another’s more powerful words, “RAGE, RAGE, against the dying of the light…”

And then sit down politely at the meeting, smile, wish you good afternoon because we were all raised to be civil, weren’t we?

Undue influence

Having a reading detox is supposed to help creativity but I wonder does it help your writing too?

All the times I have felt my creativity blocked, I have turned to reading. As well as setting a reading challenge and making time to read, I keep myself up-to-date by following my favourite book bloggers (see below). Reading is comfort and if you ask me to go to my happy place it would be a beautiful chair in a quiet cottage, blanket, coffee and a book.

I find it odd if I hear others say they don’t read at all. I have no idea how you survive without books in your lives. Apart from a week off for a detox, I am always at least trying to read something. Several things in fact.
But as I return to read this week, I do think about the influence what I am reading has on my writing.

As the dark night’s draw in and after the interview on the Spirits podcast I picked up Garth Nix Old Kingdom trilogy. They are books I have seen for years and done nothing more than admire the typeface. I have also started the next book in the Winternight trilogy by Katherine Arden. I don’t know if both these books would be considered Young Adult (YA) and/or fantasy. I just love at tale with dark twists and turns. The Winternight Trilogy has the advantage of having the historical setting too, medieval Russia is cold and full of courtly rules which feeds my fascinations too.


I share what I am reading to recommend the books if you want to curl up in this cold weather but also to show how this influences me. I start to think of the spookiness of my setting and wonder if i should lean in to it more. I have been writing about a sickness in the trees and I can see how the richness of descriptions in the books I am reading at least inform my word choice as I write, if not the genre.

I also think reading can lead you to adopt a style. I know that the strength of voice of Jane Austen has informed earlier attempts of other books I am trying to write. That aloof and witty narrator is quite irresistible as one writes ones prose. It’s like you are hearing voices, and letting them tell you what to do. That’s the power of strong voice.

I find that listening to audiobooks I particularly take in a style or voice because I learn so well through aural input. Despite my negative thoughts about my ability I have found myself writing poetry in recent months. I find short lines and sharp turns a great way to throw out my anger. They are political and I don’t know yet if they will see the light of day. But I notice too that the cadence and search for internal rhyme is influenced by rap music. I do not of course claim to be rapping, I can just hear the beat in my head.

Should I read less?

So at what point do we see it as positive to avoid reading or even listening to lyricists in order to write?

I think first, there is no way to avoid influences. To stay relevant you need to know what is being published. To be a human of many experiences you need to read. But really if my work does swoop from high fantasy, to Austen via rap I probably have to question: have I found my own voice?

The search goes on.

If you enjoy great book reviews an recommendations, you can’t go far wrong with these women:

Continue reading “Undue influence”