Pats on the back

Pats on the back

Sometimes I feel that I do a lot of writing – and spend a lot of time thinking about writing – without ever having much to show for it. So, it’s worth stopping every once in a while to go over what I’ve been doing and to self-administer much-needed pats on the backs to sustain me for the next couple of months or so.

In the time since I last posted on this blog, I have actually been a busy bee. My buzzing may have been unspectacular, but i have written over 40 000 words of my latest novel, All Hushed, and have mapped out the rest with the help of my lovely mentor Laura of Writers’ Block North East, so that all I have to do now is actually put in the hours and write the flipping thing (easy!). I do feel that it’s finally coming together. I am so glad that I have planned this novel, rather than adopting my usual ‘pantser’ approach.

I have also been sending out my first novel to agents and presses. It is now re-named Gloriosa Superba, which means flame lily. This fits in well with the narrator Gloria’s unsettling interest in fire and poisonous plants, and I think it is a more intriguing title than Blues. I have had a fair amount of positive feedback about this novel, but each person who has read it has made different comments and suggestions to the one before. So it has been a question of deciding which changes – if any- to make to the text before taking it elsewhere if the press which is currently reading it do not snap it up.

Sales of Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir have been ticking over nicely, and I hope that they’ll be given a further boost when I am interviewed in a national magazine in the next couple of months. Georgina’s story will also be featured later this month as part of Make A Wish UK’s thirtieth birthday celebrations. I am planning to make a donation to this amazing charity from the proceeds of this book – more details to follow. If you haven’t bought a copy yet, please do. And if you have, please recommend it to your friends and write a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

I have written a guest blog post for Retreat West about the therapeutic power of writing, and a different one for Verbal Remedy about not ‘romanticising’ cancer, especially in children. I have another few guest blogs lined up and I hope that they will raise awareness of my story about losing my gorgeous girl.

I have been thrilled by the way Saltburn Writers’ Group has taken off. We have been going for six months now, and we have a core of enthusiastic members who are contributing to some fascinating discussions and giving each other support and encouragement. I’m also finding it useful in that the group is holding me accountable to word count targets I set for All Hushed. I would love to be more self-motivated, but if getting group members to demand an account of my progress helps my productivity, then I am happy. And I am happy to return the favour and wave a stick at other members, too, of course. We are taking a break in the month of August, but I am looking forward to seeing this lovely bunch of writing friends again in September.

Finally, I have been reading some of my poetry at spoken word events such as the Black Light Engine Room and the Ivy House in Peckham. I am finding that my confidence is growing and I have been enjoying trying out some new stuff on the stage (especially in front of the Ivy House’s amazing sparkly curtains). I am therefore thrilled to bits that the Black Light Engine Room Press has agreed to publish my debut poetry pamphlet early next year. Thanks to p.a. morbid for taking a chance on me. This has been a dream of mine – something I could never envisage when I first started my Creative Writing MA and watched  in awe as other people read out their poetry. Thanks to Teesside University and to Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby for instilling confidence in me.

So, yes, I’ve been quite a productive little bee. Pat, pat. Now, the small matter of keeping up the good work…West Street Marske April 2014

 

 

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Warm and fuzzy

Warm and fuzzy

I have unexpectedly acquired a free evening (having been ‘blown out’ by my very own sister – sniff, sniffle) I am resisting the temptation to watch Series 4 of ‘Mad Men’ or to empty the dishwasher whilst my husband and his mate are at the pub because we all know that telly and housework are the enemies of writerly folk. Plus, I am feeling all reflective (like a philosopher – not a high-viz jacket).

I haven’t been having much time for real, deep thinking or for carefree, non-project-related scribbling recently, what with trying to get ‘Piece by Piece’ to as many readers as possible, and setting up a writers’ group and writing a new novel (and watching Series 1, 2 and 3 of ‘Mad Men’ and filling the dishwasher): I heartily miss the daydreaming and the doodling.

Of necessity, recently I have been all go-getting and goal-setting, rather than letting my mind wander and wonder. I have needed focus to launch and promote ‘Piece by Piece’. I’m not complaining, because I’m still happy that it was published, but sometimes I also need to let things go a little blurry around the edges and enjoy  the shapes and shadows which emerge on the margins, when I’m not watching properly.

This evening,  I am going to snuggle down under a blanket and ponder. I’ll  let the random thoughts and impressions and the almost-dreams come. I might try to capture them, or I might just let them go.

tenerife sunset pool

We have lift-off

We have lift-off

I did it. With more than a little help from my friends,  ‘Piece by Piece: Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir‘ was launched at a packed-out event in my home-town on Marske-by-the-Sea on Monday 14th December 2015.

There were readings, questions-and-answers, and  there was cake. We played a video of my beautiful girl singing at a local beauty spot weeks before she was diagnosed with cancer: we reminded ourselves to make the most of these lives we have.

I spent over an hour signing copies of books for friends and neighbours and people who I know by sight but not by name, as well as for strangers who had forced themselves out into the cold, dark Northern night to show support for a bereaved mother they’d heard talking on the radio about her late, lost daughter. I am grateful to each and every one of them.

I’m not normally one to gush, but I was surrounded by love and goodwill. My daughter’s memory was honoured.The evening went well, I think. It felt…right.

The feedback I’m receiving about ‘Piece by Piece’ is that – once opened – it can’t be put down. That will do, for me. The book and e-book can be bought directly from Amazon, right now.   The book already has 5-Star Reviews, which is nice. Readers are telling me that it makes them cry and laugh and long for an impossible ending. That will do, for me, too: I am being heard and Georgina is being remembered.

launch standing

Publication day approaches

Publication day approaches

I’m pleased to announce that my book ‘Piece by Piece – Remembering Georgina: A Mother’s Memoir’ will be published by Slipway Press on 14th December 2015. It will be available on Kindle and as a paperback on Amazon and in other stores (More details to follow)

This is the culmination of a lot of writing and self-searching since I lost my beautiful 15 year old daughter Georgina to cancer, two years ago. Although I have also been busy with other projects, this is a work that has almost demanded to be written.

Georgina was a talented singer-songwriter and she told her Dad that she wanted me to continue with my writing, even when she knew that her illness was terminal. I hope that this memoir is a testament to Georgina’s bravery and to the love which has surrounded us since she became ill. At the same time, I have been honest about the effects of this horrible disease and the catastrophic effects that it has on lives. But I hope that ‘Piece by Piece’ will  show that the human spirit is strong and that it will help other bereaved parents to believe that – contrary to what they may feel – it is possible to face and survive the unthinkable.

‘Piece by Piece’ will be launched at the Frigate public house, Marske-by-the-Sea, at 7pm on Monday 14th December 2015. I will be talking about the book, taking questions, and then signing copies.

As publication day approaches, I am slightly apprehensive about ‘going public’ with my innermost thoughts, but most of all I am excited that this compelling project is coming to fruition. Deep breaths…Layout 1

 

 

So many versions

So many versions

I had a nice, bonus boost to my confidence this week, when I noticed that a certain Helen Anderson’s story ‘Emily’s Elephant’ was listed in the top slot of the Ink Tears Flash Fiction Competition 2015. I thought I remembered entering a while ago – ever-optimistic but without any real expectation of being placed. However, I wasn’t quite able to give a whoop of joy until I received the official e-mail notification, especially as, a couple of weeks ago, I’d momentarily fancied I’d won a poetry competition I couldn’t even recall hearing about. One of the perils of relatively common fore- and sur-names is that there are other Helen Andersons – even Helen Anderson – Writers out there. (I know, what a cheek) In that particular case, the triumphing Helen Anderson hailed from the US. But this time, with the Ink Tears comp, it really was me – THE (at least in my own, small mind) Helen Anderson, aka Helen VICTORIA Anderson. Whoop.

I am thrilled that my story was chosen from almost one thousand entries and will appear in Ink Tears in December. This achievement is spurring me on – helping me power through the self-doubt that’s plaguing me as I prepare to publish my memoir about losing Georgina. Piece by Piece is about to go to press, with an official launch planned for the new year. In spite of excellent feedback from respected readers, it is always nerve-wracking to finally take the plunge and get work ‘out there’, especially when you  can’t hide behind the ‘this narrator isn’t actually me – she’s purely a fictional construct who may share some of my traits’ excuse. It’s scary, sometimes, showing the real Helen Anderson. It’s scary,  most of the time, being her but the writing helps.

Inside Job

Inside Job

malton lunch with a view

After an extremely busy summer, I am just about prepared to switch into cosy-evenings-by-the-fireside mode. I have mixed feelings about the advent of autumn as I am a person whose mood is drastically affected by sunshine – in the same way that some people say that exercise gives them an endorphin rush (sadly, not the case in my case), I can feel my mood lifting as UV rays hit my retinas. But the inability of mankind to come up with a computer screen which can be read in glaring daylight means that any outdoor writing has to be done in the traditional pencil-on-paper fashion.

Hence, my desk is straining under the weight of notebooks filled with scribbles arrived at during this summer’s camper van excursions and back-garden afternoons. My task, now, is to transcribe them and put them into a meaningful order. I am making progress with my second novel, but need to buckle down to making some tricky  – and, hopefully, final – decisions about its structure. I am also about to throw myself into the alien territory of self-publishing, as I finish shaping my memoir about losing Georgina. I am aware that I’ve lots to learn about e-books and formatting and marketing but this is a piece that I have felt compelled to write and I am keen to get it out there to the reader as soon as possible, avoiding some of the delays inherent in the traditional publishing route.

But, first, before I wave a wistful farewell to summer, I am looking forward to reading some of my poetry at Staithes Festival of Arts and Heritagehttp://www.staithesfestival.com/whats-on-at-the-staithes-festival-2015/ this weekend.Cowbar flyer

I love the quirky, pretty village of Staithes, on the North Yorkshire coast. If it wasn’t so hilly (not good for my husband’s heart condition), I’d like to move there. I love the ginnels and the cobbles and the smoking, not-quite-straight chimney stacks, all of which are finding their way into my new novel’s setting. We are poeting on the Saturday afternoon, after which I can kick back and relax and see where the rest of the festival takes us.

 After which, it is back to work. Inside. On the computer. Come rain or shine.

Smashing

Smashing

I am spinning a lot of plates, right now. Aside from my domestic responsibilities, I have got a full dinner-service of writing projects on the go.

I have been working on my memoir about losing Georgina, whilst continuing to come up with pieces for a poetry pamphlet and scribbling short stories which zoom into my brain, seemingly out of nowhere. I have been asked to perform poetry at several local spoken word events. I am still seeking an agent for ‘Blues’ after a couple of near-misses and some encouraging rejection letters. After feedback from a Beta-reader who knows her way around a narrative arc, I am restructuring ‘Blues’ whilst trying to stay true to my original intentions for the book. I have also just found out that I’ve been accepted onto the Writer’s Block North East mentoring scheme, to develop a new novel.

My brain is busting with ideas, but the real challenge is not to come up with these projects, but to see them through to fruition. At the moment, in the absence of firm deadlines, my system is an informal one – I see which project I feel most driven by, on a given day. This works well – ish. What is important, I’ve found, is that I do some writing of some sort – that I keep in training.

As anyone who’s seen my ‘jogging’ in preparation for this month’s Race For Life will attest, training has not transformed me into a natural athlete, but it has taught me a lot about sticking with it, even when my lungs are imploding.

My writing life also requires stamina. I need to build up my multi-tasking muscles.Sometimes, spinning all these plates is about having eyes in the back of my head whilst I carefully polish each  one, individually. And this is how I’m aiming to build up my body of work – piece by piece – until it is fit to go on public display.messy desk

Salad Days

Salad Days

Tenerife smiley HelenI have been away for some time – not just from this blog, but from my everyday existence in the blustery North of England. For four weeks, actually. Tenerife, if I have failed to casually ‘mention’ it to you in person, by now.

It was good to spend time with my husband, whose ‘fault’ it was that we had to lounge in the winter warmth for so long (he clicked the wrong date when booking the flights, so we ‘had to’ stay for an extra week. Sheesh) It was great to spend time uninterrupted by the trivia of domestic life, even if  I had to prepare a salad or load the mini-dishwasher in our apartment occasionally.

And I got oodles of thinking and writing done, as the sun hit our sea-view terrace each afternoon, although I did – more than once- scare our neighbours with a snore/possible Mount Teide eruption,as I shut my eyes to picture a scene from my planned second novel (In my defence, drizzling a lettuce can be exhausting).

Now, it’s back to ‘normal’ – whatever that is – and to business. It’s easy to have sun-soaked,  sangria-soaked grand plans for your life and your writing, but the challenge is to make something sprout from them when you’re back to nurturing your creativity and frost-bitten suntan under a granny blanket,  desperately hugging a mug of Yorkshire Gold (What can I say? We’re posh – we sometimes even have Twinings Breakfast).

I have a love-hate relationship with challenges, but I can do this. Even in the foggy light of a Marske winter’s day, I feel it.

The one that keeps getting away

The one that keeps getting away

Later this week, it will be the first anniversary of my daughter Georgina’s death. For Georgina’s funeral, I wanted to write a poem about her, but – so mammoth was the task of encapsulating my fierce, delicate girl- I failed miserably to come up with any words about her at all.

Over the last twelve months, I have written and written, because it’s what Georgina wanted for me and it somehow seems to help with the pain. My desk has crumpled notebooks spilling out of its every orifice.  Short stories and small-to-medium-sized poems about anything and everything. All of them are, of course, imbued with my sense of loss and my love for Georgina. When I write about a flower or a storm or monsters, I’m really processing what happened to her – describing a part of our experience, albeit in a round-the-houses way. But each time I try to face Georgina’s memory head-on, it’s like I’m dazzled and she disappears into a sunspot, where I can’t quite grasp her, no matter how I flap around.

So, I am setting myself the challenge of looking directly at my shining daughter – with special specs, if necessary. I will hold her gaze, even if it makes my eyes water. I will write ‘that’ poem – one that is actually ‘about’ her . This is my promise to myself and to my daughter. Hold me to it.

georgina sepia

It’s not that complicated

It’s not that complicated

After a lengthy trial separation, my novel Blues and I have decided to make another go of it. It has taken a few “It’s not you; it’s me” conversations after my dalliances with other projects, but we have ascertained that we had the makings of a good thing. We have something to work on – something worth saving.

It was just that our timing was lousy. Life (and a devastating death) intervened.

There will need to be a few changes on both sides – we are both a lot older and (hopefully) wiser than when we embarked on this relationship. But we are setting back off with a fresh sense of focus, commitment and discovery.

I will try not to embarrass you with public displays of affection (or dirty laundry when we hit any rough patches) but hear this: my book and I are an item again ♥desk mess oct 2014