Books that raised me

Revisiting a book from my childhood has made me reflect on which books stayed with me, in fact shaped me.

I was recently rereading Ballet Shoes, a book that was such a favourite from my childhood that it was a gift from my mother, who knew it would give me great comfort to reread it. I think I was surprised to learn how much I remembered, including what was said and also how it made me feel as a child. These earliest books stuck with me, and affected me deeply as a child.

Ballet Shoes is a book about three adopted girls – the Fossils, – who get the chance to go to stage school, Noel Streatfield wrote many different stories where little girls achieve their dreams, including White Boots which was another favourite book of mine all about an ice skater. Though the story maintains the desire that these little girls: Pauline, Posie and Petrova maintain their ladylike qualities, they must learn certain manners from the inimitable Academy head Madame, for example, it still spoke to me. A product of a different time that valued propriety more highly, it is quite dated on a reread. But it is also empowering. Unsurprisingly for a children’s tale, they overcome their obstacles and achieve what was certainly my dream as a child: to act, to dance.

Another few book series from my childhood, helped my obsession with the theatre including Dream of Sadler’s Wells by Lorna Hill and The Swish of the Curtain and the rest of the series by Pamela Brown. These books shaped my life because I was obsessed with theatre. My aunt had been to ballet school and these books were remnants from her childhood that got passed down to me along with a make-up box with real greasepaints. I went to numerous dance classes growing up, and performed in contemporary dance pieces as a teen. I was part of a theatre group and was in musicals during each summer holiday. These books seemed like my destiny.

As it turns out, I didn’t end up pursuing my dream of drama school. Of course I know a handful of people who did make it to drama school and even made careers from our shared childhood start, but in the most all-singing, all-dancing children don’t all “make it”. Boring reality is that not quite so many doors open in real lives as the children in these books. But even though I didn’t end up a ballerina or a musical theatre star, revisiting these childhood memories help tap into something that can bring me joy.

Rereading these books has opened that part of my heart that dreamed big, even if it was unlikely. That childlike quality to see possibility should never leave us. Being an adult is so uninspiring if we don’t sometimes at least indulge in the dreams of the things that could happen. Now I know that the only way to make dreams a reality is real actionable goals, but I also believe that the creative adult, is the child who survived. These books remind me of that but also prompt me to take action.

Time to dust the dance shoes?

At the back of my wardrobe is a pair of ballet shoes and a pair of tap shoes. I have promised myself as I get better I will reach for them again this year. Reaching for them because your old hobbies are languishing in their hiding place collecting dust is a good enough reason. But really I know that reaching for a part of myself from my childhood sparks for me the creative and expressive person I really am.

It’s Always Possible to Write Something

If you are feeling uninspired, or held back by life, then you can always do just a little bit on your creative projects

I thought it was time to review what I had managed to achieve in 2021 and whilst I would like to say that I have finished the damn draft (that one has been on the list going back to 2019, you can see here) I can’t. And life has really got in the way. Though the imperative Mum, Write NOW shouts from the title of my blog, the order doesn’t always work. Sometimes, I believe in a wondrous future when I will have all the time and energy I need to write. And other times I remember to just do a little bit of what I love.

So despite at times crippling fatigue, I have spent slivers of time working on the creative works-in-progress this year and got maybe somewhere along the way. I think it is a good idea to review each project. And I hope to keep up these tallies on my work going forward on the blog and Instagram to hold myself more accountable.

The largest project I have worked on is a comic novel that occurred to me last November which I even plotted a bit – a miracle – since November 2020 and September 2021 I managed to write just over 20, 000 words on this project. I got a bit stuck because I reached the beats of the story a bit early and I am wondering whether this could be a short novella or it is worth developing into a larger novel. To find comedy in some of your own foibles and also laugh at the pressures of motherhood has been a light relief and I think suited the brain space I have had available this year.

The unwieldy work-in-progress without any ending still has been languishing in my proverbial bottom drawer. I can see that I tried to write missing link scenes in April and May this year and managed just a few hundred words. But I took the chance to challenge myself to re-read it over the Autumn. It is not as bad as I had remembered, so that seems like a positive. I am just deciding whether it is time to “kill the darlings” and start over the story now. It has been going on so long that a pandemic happened in the mean time. It feels that writing about a woman living all alone and closed off from society was a bit too heavy to face this year, even when I had some energy back.

Trying to get back to that cafe life

The final piece of the puzzle of my writing projects are the pieces I have written by hand, I decided in planning my Autumn refresh that I also needed to get back to notebooks. There is something about slowing the brain enough to write by hand that helps with my creativity. I have done some research notes, some short stories and ideas about my characters. As my strength is building up, I really hope that I can take more trips out, notebook in hand, to enjoy cake in cafés and at least pretend I am being creative.

So, despite living with fatigue for eleven months now, my creativity has still happened. I am taking a resolution into the new year to value the time and energy I have by using at least some of it for these projects. And even if this time next year I am not a published author or a millionaire, I will be able to understand that it is imperative that I write now.

How was your writing year?

Find someone to inspire you

Comparison online can be quite demoralizing, but it can also be a great place to find your mentors.

With Instagram accounts and other creators online, you can often find a tribe of people with similar tastes without even trying. By the time you have clicked on a few accounts that have insterested you, watched a reel or tiktok for a short time or followed certain youtubers the imperfect but still pretty savvy algorithm finds you a load of people to follow or see in discovery or FYP (for you page) and before you know it you are embroiled in a community you didn’t know that you needed to find.

I have seen this in action because I have a personal account as well as my account attached to this blog. The MumWriteNow instagram links me up to lovely bookstagram accounts, gothic images, nature imagery and other people interested in folklore. It’s a serene and beautiful place though I admit I only play at photography, looking for bright spots that inspire me, as I have shared before. Meanwhile my personal account is a messy place full of Real Housewives content. There is nothing wrong with either, we are all multitudes, but it is interesting how in modern life you can curate yourself into certain communities.

A random sample of my more aesthetic Instagram feed

In discovering these different areas, I have also noticed there are some accounts who are inspiring for me. Whether it is interiors and décor on my own account or book ideas or information about folklore, it is apsirational and inspiring if you are careful to follow those that give you what you are asking for. As long as we remember that this is a higlight reel, I find this open access to other creative people as well as other people with the same interests as me can act almost like a mentor even if you do not know that person.

There is a certain value in understanding what you admire in another person. They could tell you what you want to be doing, Though I do not pretend to have some of the time and patience of bookstagram accounts who feature décor and books placed beautifully, but I love it. I find the reverence for books, the atmosphere it creates is alluring. For me, taking time to appreciate the beauty in the art is important.

In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron shares that “Jealousy is a Map”. And I think that these things we are attracted to act in a similar way. Often what attracts us are things we have within ourselves and they can guide us to find more of that in our life. My experience of the Artist’s Way programme was that jealousy was pushing me to explore more in different types of writing, reminding me of my interest in drama as well as novels. I went away and wrote the first scenes of a play that has been whirling around my mind for a while.

In reviewing what inspires me in these accounts, I thought of a real life mentor that I met in my younger years. She was always so careful in the way she would lay out even the simplest thing like a snack, using beautiful crockery. She would have flowers arranged on a tray, her house had an artistic flare that stretched into the garden. When I browse through these curated images now online, it reminds me of that same attention for detail. I was told that she worked really hard at making everything so lovely and you could tell. I know just how much time to it takes to make things clean and tidy, let alone allow your artistic side spill into your everyday living. I can admire this aethetic lifestyle even more as an adult.

When we find these people, a community who cares more about aesthetics and beauty they can be so aspirational but we can also allow them to direct us to what is truly important to us. Making more of an effort, having attention to detail is hard but the rewards reach so much wider than we realise. Sadly the woman who inspired me passed away, but the strong and lasting impression she has left on me will stay with me always.

Looking for Bright Spots

How taking more mindful walks can help

Enjoying a mindful walk in my neighbourhood, I often take a random picture of something I like: a flower or a tree in bloom, a kite caught in wires. Reflecting on my gallery from the Summer, I can see the optimism I have tried to find in my area.

Sure you will see more professional photographers, but I love to look for bright spots that catch my eye when I am out and about. This may just be the modern habit; I am guilty as the next of putting a photo of my coffee on the gram, and I do think we have an instinct to capture our lives more than I had growing up. It helps that there is practically no limit on how many photos I can take on my phone (you remember 36 photos on a film too, right?) So when I am out on my walks, I might take a picture of something I think is pretty just because.

My Instagram is MumWriteNow although don’t expect regular content, it’s more like a place to sporadically remember to post photos. I have started a series called #treesnearme It’s a feature of the fact in recent months I have been on short walks to the same places over and over, gradually building some stamina in my exercise without crashing from a long walk. Though I walk the same way regularly, having this vague project to notice the trees around me, whether their blossom or bark, it’s just being mindful to my surroundings.

I have set it as a goal to continue mindful walks throughout the Autumn so expect a lot more leaves and bark patterns from me in the next months. I have plans to learn more about foraging too so that next Spring I am ready to identify elderflower over cow parsley and other berries than blackberries. This ties in well with the research I have been doing around folklore and woodland life but it is also a simple and achievable way for me to take Artist’s dates.

If you haven’t come across this idea before, Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way recommends that you take two hours out each week to explore, create and play. I have a list of great Artist’s dates you can do on the cheap and woodland walks have definitely become important to me in nurturing my inner artist.

I can’t say it’s a full digital detox but for me it is a good compromise to go for quiet and mindful walks, just occasionally getting my phone out to photograph something that has caught my eye. I am hoping as I gradually build up to longer walks, I can spot some more interesting finds. It is also one that I can do with my little man alongside me at times. Often, he finds a really good stick or brings home a pine cone. It is fascinating to me that part of what I am learning to do on my walk, – whether I take photos or sit up in a tree – is what comes so naturally to children. I really think that the creative mind is playful, looking at the world with fresh eyes. In taking these observant and mindful walks we can do more than appreciate nature, we can find that natural and playful side to ourselves. And if you want to build your creative practice, being more playful is a great place to start.

Autumnal Ambitions

Planning to be a bit more productive in my favourite season

As soon as I get a sense of the sharper cold of autumn in the air, I get excited. I have written before there is really no better season to get inspired. A time of finding inspiration in nature and curling up in warm socks to write. But this year, Autumn feels even more important. My life is shifting to our new patterns, my husband back to full time in the office and for me managing my condition knowing I have little help for childcare. I am seeking now to establish the baseline level of energy I have, in the hopes that soon I will not crash every weekend and feel able to socialise a bit again.

I am getting asked a lot how is my “long covid” but like many invisible conditions, it’s just there, in the background and for now part of my life. Usually when people ask you about illness they want you to say you are better but instead of saying “I’m getting there” with the usual passive politeness. I am respecting the condition and fatigue “I am learning to manage it.” I am more comfortable with this honest answer even if most people what want you to say is you are fine. Coming in the next few months I have some medical appointments which may help but in the meantime, Autumn will be the time for me to work out what works for me. I need to continue to listen to my body, but also listen to my mind which is calling out to be more creative.

For now it may be more quiet craft sessions though there are added issues I didn’t have to think about before: my markers now trigger asthma, planning out a card to make can be surprisingly fatiguing, I don’t want to add to my tidying up duties by making a mess. Being more aware of what is tiring is interesting. I know my Mum has said to me a number of times that it is very similar to ageing. Simple day-to-day tasks like taking a shower are just more noticably tiring than before. Equally you have to make plans to build in rests more often even if you do manage a busy day.

As I sit to my journal and make some Autumn goals I try and identify what exactly has held me back from writing. I then have tried to add in the element that might make the task easier in my current condition.

Plan a few research trips. It will need to be a Friday so have the weekend to recover. I love exploring the Newspaper Archives for the historical elements of my work in progress. At the British Library, there is free access and I just find being closeted amongst the books so inspiring. I know already that I probably have to build in a rest if not a sleep to travel into London so I may choose to make my next trip on a day my husband could help out.

Continue mindful walks These have helped so much whilst I recover. Getting out in nature continues to be good research particularly as I have gradually been teaching myself about the wildflowers and plants. Finding bright spots of nature nourish part of me that rejects my urban lifestyle and gives me much needed alone time.

Carry a notebook around I noticed that I have written less in notebooks in the recent years. I find that writing by hand really helps. In addition it means I can do just a little work, sketch out ideas and not feel like I have to sit and edit work in the same way because as I type up whatever I have written, I polish the words.

Re-read my work-in-progress It’s been so long since I have been working on my longest, unwieldiest project that I can use this as a chance to look at it all with fresh eyes.

It probably doesn’t sound like I am pushing myself much in the next few months. I haven’t set word counts or minutes per week. Instead I have defined the things that can help me gradually build up to doing more. Knowing that I adding a few things into my life in a realistic way is far more helpful as I recover. It feels like the right next step to get back to what I love.

How do you make progress when life gets in your way?