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Monday, 19 August 2013


It isn't, but the title might hook you in enough to see what on earth I could possibly mention alongside those wonderful things. HINT: death.


My American chum Christina is brilliant and writes about brilliant things, such as the science behind love, which is something we've chatted about. Basically, your body produces oxytocin to make you feel nice. This could be thanks to a kiss, a cuddle, a kind word...etc. But do you need to be in love with someone to feel it? I don't think so. Although a boy/girlfriend may produce such feelings on a more consistent basis, you're quite likely to feel lovely if you're around your BFF or maybe even simply thinking about someone you like. Or, quite possibly (and here's the crux of the matter) by doing something you like. Sex is the obvious 'thing', but if you get your mind out of my pants for a moment I'd like to proposition your brain with this startling revelation: I'm talking about true, unadulterated passion here. Pure enjoyment. Think about what it is YOU enjoy most, that doesn't involve physical contact with another human. Gardening? Walks in the country? There's no right or wrong answer. Mine, to no one's surprise, is WRITING. Writing stories, writing music...as long as I'm creating, I'm happy as a pig in poop.

Now, here's the thing. I'm sure pretty much everyone on the face of the planet is enamored with the idea of success. I like people saying nice things about my stories, and at the moment I'm pushing my music, and getting some nice things said about this, too. Praise is ace. Praise might as well be the street name for oxytocin. But I've been giving a lot of thought to what I love, lately. A LOT of thought, and the upshot is that I can do what I love, what gives me pleasure and the warm fuzzies, anywhere. Literally anywhere. I could write on the moon if I had a spacesuit. And a rocket. Or very tightly-coiled trampoline to bounce on. This has proven to be an extremely liberating thought.

I was in a serious relationship a few years ago, back when I was, frankly, directionless. I had my love of music, was in a few bands, had started writing stories, but had a severe lack of focus. I was with an attractive lass, so was getting my fix of oxytocin, but there was something missing. I'm still reluctant to qualify it as 'happiness' as a) I'm always happy - there's no point wasting energy being grumpy, and b) I'm sure I was happy, since I was doing the things I loved. But there was no success. I wasn't successful at anything I was doing. The bands were enjoyable but we were hardly selling out gigs. I'd lost my job and was being forced (sorry, but I was) into taking some godawful office job (I cannot think of anything more soul-destroying for a creative than to be stuck behind a desk). Turns out I wasn't actually that good at being a boyfriend, either (I didn't do anything shady, just took certain things for granted, I think). Anyway, it all fell apart and I came back home (as mentioned in my previous post).

This is the scene that greeted me upon my return to Scunthorpe.
I'd said, many many many times, to my girlfriend that coming back to Scunthorpe would be a "career kiss of death" as there's nothing here for someone like me. I was, of course, hilariously wrong. I now work in an art gallery, and on a daily basis engage with kids to make things. It is excellent. I also run an arts event/workshop business with my BFF. Which brings me back to the start, and the idea that you don't necessarily have to be sleeping with a person to get that sweet, sweet taste of oxytocin. We've (my bestie and I) often talked about how it's deeply ironic we both came back to Scunthorpe under similar circumstances, and with the firm belief that there's nothing here for us. She's like a little sister to me, and has been a defining presence in my recent past, basically as an extremely strong force of support, about a great many things. I could easily, and happily, write a million words about why she's ace, about why many of my friends are top people, but that's implied by the fact they're my friends, so I'll comfortably move on ;)

So I have now found success. Success is liberating. Success tells you that, now you've achieved something, you can achieve anything. If there's a will, there's a way. If you have a clear intention to accomplish something, then by god you'll do it. The biggest barrier to success is your own mind, if you'll forgive me for sounding like a life coach. My parents have taught me many things, but the best advice they've ever given me is "Give anything a go". Don't be scared of failure; embrace it and learn from it.

What's so liberating about realising, truly realising, that I can do what I love anywhere? The answer's in the question. I can go anywhere. I'm no longer tied to one location. If I can start my own business out of thin air then I can feasibly do the same thing again and again, anywhere there's a potential niche. Or find a niche and exploit it, like any good business haha I no longer feel the need to stay still. I'm partly inspired by my younger brother moving back to Australia and getting the life he's always deserved, partly by meeting awesome people like Christina who travel loads, or consciously make plans they fully intend to follow through on, partly by the cold hard fact that things have to change. I do not like change, and don't always handle it very well, but I accept it's a part of life. What we can do is shape that change to suit our needs, and in this respect I'd like to shape change to get more delicious oxytocin. I'm just not sure yet how...The future is yet unwritten. It is what we say it is. With any luck :)

And so you know I wasn't lying about this blog post also involving death:

Monday, 5 August 2013


Here's a fantastic article by Brain Keene in which he succinctly states

"A professional writer spends more time writing than they do talking about writing."

He also discusses how real life impacts on writing, and what's really important in terms of being a professional writer and a "hobbyist". If you've got a spare ten minutes, give it a good read. I've mentioned many times before (including at the start of my last post) about how life can, and will, get in the way of my own writing. It's kind of irritating, but ultimately there are more important things to worry about than whether I can write 500 or 5000 words in a day. What I would like to talk about today is Mr Keene's quote.

I know people (naming no names) who can, and will, talk about (their) writing until the cows come home. What ideas they've come up, what plots they've made a note of, what the grand scheme is in terms of a main character's continuing adventures past the initial novel...and so on. The only thing is, these people have never done anything. Maybe they've written a few chapters, or an outline, but that's a world away from writing a complete story and then selling it to a publisher. Talking about writing does not make you a writer, the same way talking about starting an amazing band does not make you a rock star.

I know a few too many people who are full of big ideas but no will to make them happen. Don't misunderstand me - there is absolutely nothing wrong with having dreams and aspirations, or talking about those things. The difference is in when a person talks about something with the certainty of accomplishing it, when they don't possess the wherewithal to actually do anything. Simply put, don't tell people you're going to do something if you have no intention of doing it. We all fall into this trap from time to time (usually because life gets in the way) but once you recognize the pattern, why not take steps to avoid or even prevent it? I think the answer to this is, unfortunately, some people are so used to the idea of talking big potatoes that they are unable to see that they're repeating old behaviour and that, until they break free from this routine, they'll forever be small fry.

I made a deal with myself a few years ago to refrain from telling people I'm going to do something until there is an extremely strong chance of that thing actually happening. Which brings me back to writing, specifically. I've always enjoyed writing - I used to fill exercise books with stories when I was 6, used to enjoy writing stories at school when I was 10, used to spend every Sunday afternoon writing when I was a teen...I asked for a typewriter for my birthday when I was around 13, and to my eternal gratitude, my parents got me one. It was a nice big chunky grey Smith Corona model. I would write at the kitchen table in-between painting my Warhammer undead army, as my mum cooked tea. Then, when I was 15 my dad managed to swap my typewriter for a Brother word processor. It was a huge thing, and had a little screen that displayed TWO WHOLE LINES of text. The fact I could now write and save and edit stories on/within one machine, rather than type, correct, re-type, was brilliant. I think my dad didn't just improve my writing life when he got that Brother, but saved several rainforests from being turned into paper for my efforts.

I let my writing slip during my late teens and most of university as (yes, you guessed it) life got in the way. But it's okay - I had the chance to indulge my other two passions: music and film. Then, in around 2005, maybe 2006, I was living on my own for the first time ever. I couldn't get a TV signal, so I steadily worked my way through my entire VHS collection. I also, and I can't remember quite what sparked it, decided to crack back on with my writing, properly. I spent several hours a night working on a novel (which is currently floating about). Once I'd finished it, some friends read it and gave their honest opinions. I reworked it. I sent it off. By the time I received my very first letter back about it, I was living with my friend Katy. I showed her the envelope and said to her "This'll be my very first rejection." I opened it, started reading it, and my brain exploded.

I'd sent fifty pages worth to Anthony Knott, at Bloody Books (they'd recently published Joseph D'lacey's debut novel). He replied with a lovely letter saying he found it "original, unusual and extremely well-written" which as you can imagine, for the first professional response/critique of my writing, was INCREDIBLE. I sent him the full manuscript, and we then held an email conversation for a while as he waited to hear from his boss what he thought. SPOILER he didn't like it as much as Anthony, so it didn't get published. But this was okay. Better than okay. I had received an unbelievable boost to my self-esteem and knew - knew - I wasn't wasting my time.

So, I ended up back in Scunthorpe in 2009. This was, for various reasons, the worst time in my life. BUT, I made use of my ridiculous amounts of free time to write, write write. I started getting published, first in free zines and online, then in paid anthologies. I had, by all accounts, a pretty mental hit rate for a new writer; typically getting two acceptances a month, for over a year. First token payments, then semi-pro rates. Then, thanks to a steadily growing network of super supportive writers, I ended up in the M is for Monster anthology, alongside top notch writers such as Simon Kurt Unsworth and John Palisano. From this, I received an invite to write a story for Phobophobia, which also features Simon, as well as Adrian Chamberlin and Jonathan Green. I attended my very first book signing, in London, and signed books for people who had never heard of me haha

I was suitably over the moon to be a part of this, and it was THE best night of my life. If I have kids, I can't promise they'll take this mantle - sorry, future-wife-who-I-haven't-met-yet. JOKING. Make babies with me, whoever you are.

Jonathan and Adrian took part in the signing, too, and they (as well as the other writers, such as Greg James) were really nice and friendly. I had a chat with Jonathan, in which I (probably acting like a starstruck spaz) blurted the fact I couldn't believe my luck, that someone at my level was involved in something with writers of Jonathan's calibre. He, basically, told me not to be daft, that (and here's the thing) if I was deemed good enough to be in a book with writers who class themselves as professionals, or are certainly seen as professionals, then surely that means I must be a professional too? TOO and indeed SHAY.

"A professional writer spends more time writing than they do talking about writing."

So according to Brian Keene and Jonathan Green, I am a professional writer. This is a very nice thought. I rarely (in fact don't think I ever) initiate a conversation about my writing, though I am of course very happy to talk about it HINT HINT. However, I don't think I can comfortably think of myself as one until I have sold something at a pro-rate level. But that's just me ;)