Category Archives: adventures

Trying not to be overwhelmed

The downside with doing events, is overload. Events tend to be noisy and full of people and movement, and at best I find this very tiring to deal with. At worst I end up trying to find some small corner to hide in for a weeping meltdown. I’m becoming more aware of the kinds of spaces and events I can manage, and the ones I really can’t afford to deal with. I’m also figuring out things that help me cope.

This bonnet cuts down my peripheral vision. While I can see through the lace on the sides, it will encourage my brain not to pay so much attention to that part of my field of vision. My krampus hat also has this effect, but it’s a bit warm for summer wear, and this bonnet should also give me some helpful face-shade. Hopefully cutting down my peripheral vision will help make events less challenging by reducing the amount of visual input I’m dealing with.

This is an entirely upcycled project made of things that were around while I was ill. The underlying structure comes from an old cricket hat that was in poor condition anyway. The black lace was from my fabric stash, and the pink and purple band was originally bought as a headband but I don’t wear it much and it seems to work better as part of a hat. The little green creatures were made by Tom, and are Hopeless, Maine entities. They were previously part of a glove puppet, but haven’t seen much use in a while so I re-purposed them.


Adventures in Poetry

I’ve written poetry since childhood. Child me was very much a nature poet. Teenage me wrote a lot of angsty emotional stuff – which wasn’t that original of me, but there we go. The habit of using poetry for catharsis and processing stayed with me. These days I try to work it into something another person might find interesting or entertaining before I put it in front of anybody.

For some years, my writing poetry has depended a lot on having an audience for it. I put the odd poem on here, and there’s one on Patreon most months. I was at my most prolific as a poet when I had a local, monthly poetry event to go to. There’s nothing like the promise of an audience to focus my thoughts and get me interested in writing. Making people laugh is deeply attractive to me. Just occasionally I managed to spellbind hard enough to get deep silence in response to my words, and I find that highly rewarding, too.

Of course lockdown meant there were no poetry events to go to. I rapidly discovered that Zoom events with more than a couple of people stressed me to the point of malfunction, so while there was a big online poetry scene during the pandemic, I wasn’t part of it.

I’m currently in the process of reviewing the poetry I’ve written in the last two years, to see if I can make a viable collection out of it. When I’ve pulled it together, people on Patreon will get first dibs, and then later in the year I’ll put it in my ko-fi store – https://ko-fi.com/O4O3AI4T/shop – where I already have a number of ebooks, and two poetry collections. You can pick any of those books up for free, or pay what you want. I’m a firm believer in gift economy, so if you have limited resources, please help yourself to the free stuff with my blessing.

If you have resources, throwing a few coins in the hats of creators you like is a really good choice. It makes a lot of odds. It doesn’t have to be my hat – if you’re able to support other creators then that’s entirely cool so far as I’m concerned. I also benefit from other creators being able to afford to keep going.


The trouble with murder

To be clear, I have no issue with self defence. I also have considerable sympathy for anyone who kills to escape unlawful imprisonment. It happens – and it tends to be what’s going on when women kill their abusive partners. Otherwise, the standard reasons for murder are really crappy when you look at them. Jealousy, greed, revenge. For the domestic abuse escapee, the point at which you get out is the point at which you are at most risk of being killed, because loss of control over a person feels like a reason for murder, for far too many people.

As a starting point then, I have problems with books that present murderers as interesting or sympathetic. I have a particular distaste for the ‘clever serial killer who toys with the police’ trope. I’ve read and watched enough murder mysteries to have developed a certain amount of unease. I also struggle a lot with the ‘amateur detective who just happened to be there’ model, with all due reference to Murder She Wrote, and things of that ilk.

I am perpetually uneasy about the way murder can be presented as a mental health issue – as is often the way of it in the news. On one hand I think a person has to be a particular kind of unhinged to think that killing someone is a good option in most circumstances. On the other hand, stigmatising mentally ill people is cruel and unhelpful. Most people with mental illness are a danger to themselves and not to anyone else.

It has therefore come as a bit of a surprise to me to find that I’m co-writing a cosy murder series. I like a challenge, and it’s a good opportunity to look at my beliefs and assumptions around the genre and to also consider whether I could do this on my own terms. I do want to explore what the hell has to be going on in a person’s head to make murder seem like a reasonable choice. Not to validate that choice, but to make people question the kinds of thinking that might take you there.

I don’t believe that the inclination to murder is innate, or that it comes out of nowhere. The choices we make, the beliefs we adopt, the entitlement we feel and the way we justify things are all going to contribute to a trajectory. If it isn’t an accident, and it isn’t in self defence then there’s been a journey to the point where it seems like a good idea. That’s something I’m interested in exploring.


Dorset adventures!

I’m delighted to announce that I’m going to be co-writing with David Bridger. Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve reviewed several of David’s books recently, and am really taken with his work. He’s also read some of my scribbings, and the outcome was a conversation about co-writing. I’m very excited to be working with him, and feeling enthused about where this project is going.

I’m happiest when I’m co-writing. I don’t do well with the author model of disappearing off, alone, for ages, to make something no reader will see for a couple of years. I need my creative processes to be much more interactive, so I thrive when I have someone to write for, and with. It’s also why I put a lot of stuff out into the world – I need the feedback and the sense of involvement.

I expect I’m going to be fairly guarded with the content for this one, but that there will be interesting things to say about the process. One of the many things David and I have in common is that we’re interested in tradition, and in the spirits of places. Which is how we get to a photo of me reading an excellent book of Dorset folklore. Cover by Katherine Soutar, who is a friend of mine. I don’t know Tim Laycock personally, but I’m really enjoying his storytelling style. The History Press, who publish this, are local to me, so they were my go-to starting point.

I spent some time in Dorset as a child, which is an interesting thing to draw on. Those childhood memories have dreamlike qualities. I’ve also read some Thomas Hardy – Tess of the D’urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, neither of which I actually liked. However, in terms of fictional Dorset, Hardy is a force to be reckoned with, so I’m going to dig in and read a few more. He’s also, according to the internet, a very good source for Dorset conjuring traditions. Hold that tantalising thought!


What has it got in its pockets?

String, obviously.

And a magical ring, with an unlikely back history. Shiny. We all know how this goes. It is important to have something shiny in your pocket.

A really cool rock that you found while wandering about. Maybe also some twigs or an empty snail shell. Do not put the dead beetle in your pocket – yes, it is wondrously shiny but it isn’t going to be friends with the cool rock. Yes, you really should have added a beetle pocket last time this happened.

Old tissue. A bit gross but usable in the kind of emergency that tissues help with. Like bad decisions around putting your face in a flower, or unexpected peeing.

At least three gloves. Never an even number of gloves. No. That would be weird.

The item of mystery. Did you mean to eat it? Were you intending to identify it later? Did it climb in all by itself? No one knows. It is important to make room for the mystery, and pockets are good in this capacity.

A broken thing. Because you were sad about it and thought that it might be lonely. Because you hoped to fix it, or use it in some way. Maybe you will. For now, it is a pocket denizen and you stroke it fondly and try to imagine what it’s new life should be.

Bird seed. You had a bag at some point. Maybe you were feeding birds. Maybe you were spreading sunflower plants again. Enough seeds to play with, and maybe someone will come to your hand for a few grains.

The mortal remains of a bag, whose previous and heroic purpose has been forgotten. It may still prove useful.

Your hands – of course – are in your pockets some of the time, in skin conversations with everything else. Touching. Feeling. Remembering. Wondering if the little hard dry things are from last time you tried to take a dead beetle home with you.

(With thanks to Potia for the goblin prompt that led to this.)


Hopeless Optimists

Hopeless, Maine – Optimists is the fourth book in the Hopeless Maine graphic novel series I create with Tom. At time of posting it’s available for pre-order in all the sorts of places that sell books. My publisher for this – Sloth Comics – tells me there have been a happy number of pre-orders places already, which is cheering.

Sloth is not a big publishing house, and in normal years has depended a lot on direct sales at comics events. These have not been normal years, and many events haven’t happened. The creative sector has been even more precarious than it usually is. With the cost of living rising, people will, of necessity, cut their budgets for fun things first. Throwing coins at people makes a huge difference.

Of the covers we’ve done so far, this one is my favourite. I’ve only been involved in creating some of the covers, having taken on the colouring part of the work after several books had already been put out there. 

Hopeless, Maine graphic novels are generally available from places that sell books, including book shops – although you’ll probably have to order them. Optimists is, at time of posting, available for pre-order and due out at the end of March.

As Sloth isn’t huge, we don’t have much distribution outside of the UK for these editions BUT we also have an American publisher bringing out hardback editions, which makes it easier for people to get copies should they so desire.


Being a krampus

This fantastic piece of headgear was crotcheted for me by Marieanne McAvoy. It was designed to cut down my peripheral vision, which may help me with not getting so stressed at events.

This is also part of an ongoing exploration for me around what makes me feel more comfortable. I’m definitely happier when what I’m wearing is outrageous. I don’t like presenting in sexualised ways, I don’t even like feeling as though I’m trying to be attractive or appealing any more. I like being a krampus. I’m going to be doing more exploring o a goblin aesthetic as well.


Voices from Hopeless

On the 22nd of January, there will be an online Hopeless Maine festival, which is an exciting prospect. I’ve already got some brilliant content in from people involved in the project, with more to come. One of the things I love about Hopeless is that it has always been a community thing and that’s very much part of what it’s for.

I had a number of reasons for wanting to do this. One is that everyone being online during the pandemic opened up a great many things for disabled people, and now those things are going away again, which isn’t ok. I wanted to offer something. I also know that in the UK January tends to be a miserable month with not much happening, unpredictable weather and post-festive crapness. So I thought it would be nice to do something fun where no-one has to travel.

The third reason is that it’s a good way to promote the Hopeless Maine project as a whole. This is a project that started life as a graphic novel series, but now also has prose books, poetry, a role play game, a tarot deck, songs and live performance and a film in the offing. This event is a chance for me to showcase all the people who have come in to make those various things happen.

You can find out more about Hopeless, Maine over here – https://hopelessvendetta.wordpress.com/

Join in with the online festival over here – https://fb.me/e/19hFkPKC1

Videos are also likely to show up on Youtube after the event and I’ll post about that once I have links.


Doing it for money

Living by creative work is a bit of a gamble, to say the least. Most of my working life I’ve had other jobs on the go as well – often also in publishing, because marketing and editing pay more reliably than writing does.

I spent this last year mostly working on my own stuff, when I wasn’t being horribly ill. Given the many rounds of being horribly ill, it’s as well I wasn’t trying to do much else! But, I gambled on a couple of things and it hasn’t worked out. This happens. Opportunities melt away, or turn out not to be as good as they looked. Currently the entire book industry is being sorely challenged by distribution issues, paper shortages and whatnot, especially in America. Royalty payments are down, because American book sales are really low right now.

What you earn as an author tends to depend on work you’ve done in previous years, and there’s often no knowing how long it will take for the work to lead to money. One of the advantages of self publishing is that you get the work out and sell it. Big publishers move slowly and can take years to make decisions. Graphic novels are slow to make, so the books we’re working on were first drafted ten years ago. With the series complete, that set of books will be more interesting to other publishers, and Sloth may be able to pitch it on – but who knows?

Once upon a time, I wrote a novel in six weeks because someone offered me something like a thousand pounds to do it, and that’s more money than I’d ever made from writing before that point. By the end of it, I had days where I was mostly just shaking and crying – multiple drafts of an 80k novel is a lot to do in six weeks and I didn’t sleep much. I didn’t do another one. I couldn’t have sustained it, although it turned out that my first husband thought I should have done.

I gambled and lost, this year. I lost money on an event where I really needed to come out ahead. Everything has been slower than I needed it to be. Releases are delayed. Various projects have been hit with problems and some things I’ve just had to rethink. Meanwhile energy costs, and food costs are set to rise. I have a safety net, but it’s finite, and shrinking. 

I spent New Year’s eve looking at local employment possibilities. I’ve done all kinds of work along the way, I have no qualms about jumping back in – shelf stacker or dinner lady maybe. My skills aren’t much use for conventional employment outside of publishing, I don’t have a car, and that means I’m pretty much obliged to look at minimum wage jobs if I can’t get the writing based work to pay. At one point a few years ago I was doing half a dozen small jobs to make ends meet, and it was tough. So, I was bracing myself to get back into all of that.

Much to my surprise, I find that instead I’m going to be writing a novel to a tight deadline and for a flat fee. I’ve got three books to read as a matter of some urgency, and I’m going to be flat out for the next eight to ten weeks. So if the blog is a bit brief, or sporadic, this will be why. But it will pay better than being a traffic warden, and I was going to have to lie on that application about how well I handle aggression and conflict situations…


Online and accessible

One of the consequences of so much moving online during lockdowns, is that many people who are normally excluded became able to participate. Clearly we could do more to include people who cannot travel to events, but as the people who always could do the things get back to normal, people at the margins are again left out.

There are many barriers to attending real-world events. Illness and disability can make it really hard to go places. Poverty is a big barrier to participation – travel, accommodation and event tickets aren’t cheap. People who are carers can have a hard time getting out to events. For people on unpredictable zero hours contracts or with massively involved jobs – such as farming – can find it hard to take breaks. When you start to consider the number of people excluded from venue-based events, it’s hard to see why we don’t take this a lot more seriously.

I’ve been involved with online events for years – the Pagan Federation were doing them long before covid struck. I put a lot of content online in no small part because I know what it’s like not to have any disposable income for nice things. But, I want to go further. To that end, I’m organising an online festival for late January. It’s going to be based around the Hopeless Maine project and will include many of the people who are already involved. It should be highly entertaining.

My hope is that I’ll be able to do this every year. January is a miserable time (for me, anyway) and I think getting out to things is harder when the weather is against you. And hopefully it will provide some cheer for people who might otherwise be less cheered.