Category Archives: Blethers

What Happens When You Give Up On Facebook

Flower alone

I gave up Facebook for Lent when I discovered that I was frantically checking it to see who would wish my son a happy birthday, and getting upset when there weren’t enough ‘likes’ for my birthday-related post.

That was when I realized I was losing my mind. My FB use was unhealthy. It was Ash Wednesday. So FB had to go.

At first it was…weird not to know what was going on with all my neighbors and friends.

Then, people started sending me personal emails when they needed me. That was glorious.

Next, I discovered that pushing towards a hard deadline without the distraction of FB was a joy and a privilege.

Now that my deadline has passed along with four weeks of Lent, I’ll admit I’m feeling a little isolated.

The phrase I hear most often these days (from people who don’t live in my house), is “Oh, that’s right! You’re not on Facebook” before they fill me in on something that happened that everyone else knows about.

Yes, we’ve become so reliant of FB that no-one hardly anyone contacts friends directly to talk about stuff anymore.

I’ll admit it’s partly my own fault. I’ve come to loathe the telephone. But one nice friend did text me directly to ask if I’d heard the news about Terry Pratchett. The fact that she texted me (just me, not a random blast of friends on her wall) told me that she had thought about me and conversations we’ve had in the past. It meant a lot, and highlighted just how little we (I?) do this kind of thing anymore.

I have another friend who sends me things she thinks I’ll like *through the mail*. Not expensive things. Articles, fliers, books-she’s-finished-with. But things she knows I’ll like. Me, not some random subset of her audience of social media.

It seems very odd to be saying all this, given that I am the queen of the blog/social media network/text message. But I think my Lenten sacrifice is teaching me something. One-to-one interactions are meaningful. I shouldn’t assume that ‘putting something out there’ is enough. Sometimes a tailored, personal contact is exactly what someone needs.

I will stay strong. I will stay off FB. I will try to be better at taking the narrower path.

A Love Letter To My Library

Posted as part of The Guardian‘s Love Letters To Libraries campaign

Dear Troon Library,

Troon Library

I’ll be honest: I’ve been in a lot of libraries that are prettier than you.

But you were my library.

Your ugly, low-ceilinged children’s room was inviting, on my scale and stuffed with books for me to devour. I have no idea what happened to my parents whenever we visited, because all I remember is hunkering down with my new friends: Flicka, Ann Shirley, Emily of New Moon Farm, the folks in Narnia…and when I discovered your audio book section? Well, that was the start of a love affair I’ve now been able to pass on to my own children.

Now that I can afford to buy books, I still use the library. Otherwise my reading would become an echo-chamber of careful investments chosen because the reviewers made them sound like something I’d agree with. There would be no casual stumblings-upon, no cost-free I’ll-give-it-a-trys, no delightful discoveries.

Thank you for giving me companions, new worlds and all my best dreams.

Love,

Julie

Me and The Nobel Prize Winner

I don’t know for sure how I’d vote if I still lived in Scotland, but this is a very interesting article, quoting Nobel economics Prize winner (and former Us Govt adviser) Joseph Stiglitz.

I wholeheartedly agree with these statements:

“One of the things as an outsider I’ve looked at the debate, particularly from the No side, I’ve been a little bit shocked how much of it is based on fear, trying to get anxiety levels up and how little of it has been based on vision.

“There is a vision on the Yes side that I see – what would an independent Scotland be like, what could it do that it can’t do now.”

He’s not saying “vote yes”, but rather pointing out the more positive approach of the “yes” campaign.

And on the issues, I agree again:

“The main issues here are not currency, they’re probably not even North Sea oil. I think the main issue again as an outsider, and not wanting to intervene in any other country’s politics, the question is the vision of society, what do you want to do.”

I particularly liked his point (following on from the second quote) that, by following the American model in education (higher fees), England has become a society of greater inequality, like the US. Scotland has gone the opposite way (no cost to the student for tuition), and it is illustrative of the differences in priorities in the two societies. Likewise the differences in funding the NHS (the govt picks up prescription costs in Scotland).

I don’t see how you can have two such different approaches being governed and funded from the same pot. Surely it will lead to massive resentment from the English about how many benefits the Scots get, and from the Scots that their priorities are being hamstrung by the fact that political decisions on finance are shackled to the contrary English approach to public money and social justice.

Looked at from that perspective I think that, in answer to the question, yes, I think Scotland should be an independent nation.

An amicable split, then? Maybe the Scotland and the rUK would be like one of those divorced couples who get along much better once they remove the stress of trying to live together and constantly comprise their individual needs and values.

“There are risks always in any economic course, there’s risks of doing something and risks of not doing something.”

Further reading:
Canon Kenyon Wright on the The Scottish claim to self-governance and the Road of Fear
– What our UK compatriots will ask for if we stay

Subversive Children’s Literature

20140628-122905-44945753.jpg
E. Nesbit was a staple of the British children’s library section and I’m sure I must have read some of her books (as well as watching Jenny Aguter waving her petticoat at steam trains: another rite of passage for those of us of a certain age), all the while assuming that the “E” stood for something like Edgar or Edwin or something equally Victorian and male.

It was only a couple of weeks ago, while enjoying “Raising Steam” by Terry Pratchett, with it’s sly references to “The Railway Children” and the spirited “Edith”, that I twigged: E. Nesbit was a girl?! 1

But I don’t think I really appreciated how good E. Nesbit was, or how subversive.

She does a fabulous job of showing the world from a child’s perspective, by showing how clueless most adults are. In this exchange a small boy who has, unexpectedly, been made king, goes off to fight a battle against a dragon he has unleashed. It’s a pivotal point in the story, because the king has decided to face up to his mistake and try to correct it, no matter the cost. And his nanny responds just as you’d expect, if you think about it:

20140628-122138-44498172.jpg

Is it any wonder kids stop listening to us, eventually?

I also particularly liked this throwaway line:

20140628-122231-44551529.jpg

I’m not sure you could get away with that now. Not in the US, at least!

People used to think that writing for children was somehow a “lesser” pursuit, which probably has something to do with why women were “allowed” to do it. But this brilliant stuff!

When I read this (and T.H. White2)
I think it’s pretty clear which tradition Neil Gaiman comes from. He has that gift for seeing the world from a child’s perspective too. And for being clever without being pretentious.

Anyway, enough if this. I’m off to read the book I allegedly bought for my nine year old….

Thanks, Retold Tales, for bringing me this gem!


  1. I was also told recently that S.E.Hinton, of “The Outsiders” fame, was not only female but actually a girl, having published the novel at 16!
  2. Not, I’m fairly sure, a woman hiding behind her initials.

Writer, Interrupted

I was having a great writing morning, after a day when I couldn’t get my head to either wake up or focus on one thing for more than four seconds (I think that was, actually, my personal best).

I had just written most of a short story (a new episode in the Forgetown series) and was firing up my laptop in order to transfer my handwritten version into Scrivener (the program I’m using for this and most of my writing now).

“Just about to” I say, because then my 11 year old (wow, that still shocks me. I did so much blogging when he was a baby and toddler, that typing about him as an 11 year old seems weirder than looking at the evidence in front of me) burst out through the door to the deck, clutching handfuls of fabulously creative figures made from bits and pieces of Lego Hero Factory in a cross-over (in our minds at least) with Doctor Who. He wanted to tell me all about what he had created.

And really, how could I say no?

I see it as a mark of my increasing maturity that I did not run flailing around the deck, stamping my feet, wringing my hands and crying ‘No! No! No! But it was all going so well!”. Instead I listened to my child tell me all about his daydreams, made manifest in shades of plastic.

Eventually, of course, I dismissed him with the excuse that I had to get some stuff done before we went out to pick up his brother, and that was perfectly true. But I did listen and nod and even offer a thought or two during the 25 minute oration, which shows I was paying attention and not merely thinking about my own story behind fake-interested eyes!

In the Good News department, I finished the story and typed it up (with roving edits) this afternoon while said brother rotted his brain on a new twitch-video game. Will make amends later.

I’m up to 9 episodes complete in the Forgetown saga. When I get to 10 it might be time to start putting them online.  What do you think?

 

20140418-174758.jpg

Stopped in at an independent bookstore today (yes! There is one within 20 miles of me!).

Since I had loved Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like An Artist” so much, I immediately wandered over to the display of his work, including this one: “Show Your Work”. After leafing through a couple of pages I knew I wanted it. So while I have the other one in Kindle edition, I have this one as a paperback.

“The Tenth of December” has been on my list for a while because, hey, short stories! And it has been winning prizes and every one is raving about it. that’s not always a big selling point for me, but I like the things people have been saying about it, so we’ll see.

The third one I picked up on a whim. It looks very literary and is set in Paris. 1 I don’t have anything very literary on the go at the moment2, and I am going to Paris in July, I thought I’d give it a try.


So that’s what’s on the new reading list.

I have already started “Show Your Work”, which is, in part, why I’m posting this. At one point he advocates sending out “a daily dispatch” from your creative life: if you’re in the planning stages, share what’s inspiring you; if you’re working, share excepts etc.

So this is what’s inspiring me today, among other things.


  1. “Paris: The Novel”, by Edward Rutherfurd. Now that I think about it, that definite article sounds a bit arrogant. And his last name is spelled unexpectedly, which seems pretentious, but probably isn’t his fault. I shall try to overlook these things.
  2. I always have multiple books on the go at one time. Do you? I like to have different books for different moods…

So That’s What Was Hiding Under The Snow Drifts

Every year this strikes me as something of a miracle.

20140320-161145.jpg

A scientifically explained miracle, true, but that robs it of none of the thrill.

20140320-161424.jpg

This year has been such a hard winter, and my borders have been crushed under so much snow, that I wasn’t sure I was going to see Green for quite some time.

20140320-161622.jpg

But here we are, March 20, and the plants know what they have to do.

20140320-161759.jpg

If it had been up to me,
I’d have given up hope and thought “maybe I’ll have color next year…”

20140320-161852.jpg

I’m so glad I’m not in charge.

20140320-161934.jpg

Everybody Needs A Garrett

I’m working in my garrett today.

20140312-101315.jpg

I highly recommend seeking out some cheap co-working office space to rent if you are trying to take your writing seriously and have the means. I also recommend biting the bullet and taking as little stuff with you as you can get away with. There have been days when I haven’t come here because I’d “need” all the notes I’ve been gathering for four years about the novel-in-progress, or because I think I *might* want to work on admin tasks that really call for the big computer, or, or or…

What happens, when I actually get here, is that I pick a task (a short story or a blog post series or the novel or some outreach to potential interview subjects) and I work on that thing. Until it’s done. Or until I run out of time.

Can you imagine?

I focus on one task.

And can you guess what happens next?

Stuff.

Stuff happens. I achieve things. Word counts grow. Ideas are put into practice. Progress is made.

#HeadsDesk

So the family might not get a lovingly slow-cooked dinner tonight (“Oh, squirrel! I could make keema in the slow-cooker. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about dinner later, only I don’t have beef, so I’ll just run to the shop and buy that and mix all the spices and put the keema on before I start writing and oh! ‘Nother Squirrel! I could whip all the sheets off the beds and put them in the washer before I go, so that they’ll be ready to go in the dryer when I get back. Look at me! I’m so efficient! That’ll leave me lots of guilt-free time to write. But before I do any of that, let me email the tax lady, find the tax documents and call the doctor, just to clear those things off my to-do list so that I can have a guilt-free time to write. And squirrel! Wait, how did it get to be 2:44pm and why are my children coming home soon?”)

Instead I am at my paid-for-and-potentially-peopled-by-other-working-folks garrett, thinking about how much I pay per minute to be here (not really) and how I should really be thinking about doing something writing related if only so that, should someone else ask me what I’m working on, I can smile and be honest.

And yes, this blog counts. It’s my warm-up writing, my Morning Pages.

Now, back to the long-overdue novel-in-progress.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I’m making some changes. Good changes. Commitments to things. Goals. Stuff that’s hard but good for me. And guess what? It’s hard. But good.

First I worked on my work. I’ve been trying to work to a set schedule; get my most important/creative work done each day while my energy levels are high and before I get distracted. Surprise, surprise, I’m churning out a lot of stories that way. And I’m excited about them.

(I’m working on an ebook of a series of Christmas stories. Don’t forget you can sign up to find out whenever I release new fiction.

I’m also working with other people, to give and receive feedback on writing projects. It makes me accountable (not just to do my own work, but to take time to read and think about theirs). It takes time management and means I can’t spend 14 hours a day checking social media and pretending it’s work. It’s tiring, but rewarding. I get a lot out of giving critiques as well as receiving them.

And now I’m working on my health. This is one more thing to shoe-horn into my schedule but I’ve finally realised that I’m getting older and things are going to stop working if I don’t do some routine maintenance on them. So I’m seeing a trainer, and following a meal plan and my calendar is full of little red appointments for this and for things I don’t want to forget that are related to other people in my life (including the big behemoth: school).

But we just had a fantastic vacation and all this planning and organizing doesn’t seem as bad as it does when you haven’t had a break for a while. (Note to self.) It was nice to come back to an empty refrigerator and go out and refill it with only healthy foods. Expensive but nice. It was nice to take a day today to go through all the stuff I’ve been ignoring for over a week, and put things on the calendar, delete other things, and view the upcoming months as the start of something, rather than the unending middle of things.

And all these things are hard for me, who resists plans and likes to feel spontaneous. But I have finally realised that making everything up as you go along is so much harder than having some essentials in place. So I’m trying to learn to plan. It’s a big change. One among many changes. And it’s hard. Hard but good.

And now I have to go and let someone torture my muscles.

Happy happy.