Goodbye 2020

I considered not writing a 2020 roundup style post, even though it’s something I’ve done every year since I started this blog. It somehow felt wrong to look back at writing goals and reflect on what went well (and what didn’t go so well) when for so many this year has been such a struggle.

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Even writing a paragraph, or finding time and/ or headspace for any kind of creativity this year should feel like an achievement. And if you’ve taken the whole year off from writing, that shouldn’t be considered a failure to meet a goal.

I wrote a post towards the beginning of the pandemic called ‘Is it OK to not be writing?’. I’ll answer my own question: yes, it’s OK. Please ignore all the social media posts about how lockdown has carved out the perfect time to write a novel or complete another creative project you’ve had on the backburner for years. For some, that may be true, but for many, lockdown has been the complete opposite. Social media is really good at making us feel really bad… It’s completely fine if lockdown hasn’t felt like a creative opportunity for you.

I’m not going to look back at what goals I set myself at the end of 2019. They feel somewhat irrelevant now. 2020 was so unexpected, that any opportunities that were thrown my way were things I could never have predicted or planned for. Who knew lockdown lit would become a genre? Or that ‘lockdown’ itself would enter our lexicon? I could never have predicted my most successful short story would have been one about loneliness and hope set during the pandemic. Or that I’d find comfort in writing short stories about the everyday, set in such an unusual time.

I met with my team at UCLAN just before Christmas (virtually, of course. How many people had heard of Zoom pre-2020?). It was amazing to hear positive feedback on my novel, Lost in Galderwood. It gave me a slight glimmer that maybe my book is viable. Maybe it’s not a complete disaster and something I should chuck in the bin.

It’s also great to have an idea of what the next few months are going to look like: Zoom meetings with feedback, rewrites, and editing. It’s the first time in my “writing career” I’ve got a semi-clear route ahead of me (well until Spring, at least), and it’s a lovely thing to have.

Yet I’m not going to over-plan 2021. And I’m not going to goal set. 2020 has taught me that our best laid plans can all go wrong, and we’re much better off taking each day as it comes. Beyond working with UCLAN on editing Lost in Galderwood, I have no idea what 2021 will hold for my writing. It could be another year of short stories, or another novel, or a sequel to Lost in Galderwood. Or maybe the editing will take up all my time, and I won’t write anything new at all. It’s kind of exciting to just go with the flow…

With only 2 days left of 2020, all that remains to say is Happy New Year! Let us hope that 2021 is a different year, and a better year than 2020.

UCLAN Publishing and my novel

I’ve been quiet regarding my novel recently, and it’s because I received an exciting piece of news back in September but didn’t want to jinx it by sharing too soon.

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But today I’m delighted I can confidently announce I’m going to be working with UCLAN Publishing for the next academic year. Lost in Galderwood, my middle-grade time travel novel has been selected for an unusual opportunity.

UCLAN Publishing are based at the University of Central Lancashire and involve students from the associated Masters in Publishing course at every stage of their publishing process. Lost in Galderwood has been selected to be worked on by students from the MA Publishing course. The students will advise on rewrites, and work on every aspect of the publishing process from design to editorial to complete a print-ready document.

Although this is not an offer of publication, it is a fantastic opportunity to get detailed feedback on my work, have my manuscript edited, and learn more about the commercial publishing process. And although I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, all manuscripts get reviewed by UCLAN Publishing when the student’s projects are completed, and some are considered for publication.

It’s funny how these things can happen when you least expect it! The last time I blogged about my novel, I was talking about having one final go at rewriting it before “giving-up” and starting on a new project. It was only days later I received the email from UCLAN Publishing informing me my novel was being considered for this project.

The problem was, I already had ideas for the rewrite in my head by that point, and I didn’t want to see a less than perfect version of my manuscript be put forward for consideration. I had a very frantic few weeks spending every evening and weekend rewriting my entire manuscript, so that I could get it to UCLAN before their November acquisition meeting.

Whatever happens, and whether Lost in Galderwood goes on to be published or not, this feels like a massive step in the right direction. After what has been a strange year, it’s fantastic to have an opportunity associated with my writing, and something exciting to work towards.

I can’t wait to get started!

Reading as a writer – my favourite reads of 2020 so far

There are two pieces of advice I hear repeatedly: to be a better writer you must write more, and you must read more.

As England enters its second lockdown of the year, it’s fair to say 2020 has been a strange and stressful year. For me, this has been reflected in my writing habits. I’ve posted before about how, during the first lockdown, I initially struggled to concentrate on writing. Later on during the lockdown I preferred to focus on writing short stories, rather than big novel-length commitments.

However, one thing that has been consistent throughout is my joy of reading books.

As you will see from the below selections, I’ve read a range of books this year, everything from children’s fiction to non-fiction. I think it’s important to read a diverse range of books and experience different styles of writing. It can help you to identify what works best in your own writing too.

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Lockdown Book Recommendations

Here are some of my favourites. Hopefully, they’ll give you some ideas if you’re looking for a lockdown number two read!

1. The Foundling, by Stacey Halls

Released this year (2020) The Foundling by Stacey Halls is historical fiction set in 1754, London.

“Six years after leaving her illegitimate daughter at London’s Foundling Hospital, Bess Bright returns to collect a daughter she’s never known… but, her daughter has already been claimed, by her…”

I love Stacey Halls as a historical fiction author, as I find her books really plot driven, fast moving, and accessible. Although this is fiction, there are some many fascinating facts about this era of history woven in.

My enjoyment of reading historical fiction encouraged me to make my first attempt at writing historical fiction. My short story, Florrie Moore is Innocent, was recently shortlisted in Writers’ Forum Magazine fiction writing competition.

2. This Lovely City, by Louise Hare

Another historical fiction read, This Lovely City is set in post-war London. It tells the story of jazz musician Lawrie Matthews who arrived in London from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush.

“Playing in Soho’s jazz clubs by night and pacing the streets as a postman by day, Lawrie has poured his heart into his new home… until one morning, while crossing a misty common, he makes a terrible discovery…”

3. The Boy at the Back of the Class, by Onjali Q. Rauf

This is a children’s book, offering a child’s perspective on the Syrian refugee crisis.

“There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy Ahmet is sitting in it.”

This is a wonderfully heart-warming story that really made me smile. I’ve been trying to read more middle-grade fiction this year (as it’s the age group my novel is aimed at), but this a great book for adults to read too.

4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

I am also trying to read more classics. This is honestly one of the most beautifully written books I’ve read. Du Maurier not only writes beautiful descriptions, but also writes a plot driven, gripping story here. Highly recommend!

5. The Salt Path, by Raynor Winn

Non-fiction life writing. Raynor learns her husband, Moth, has a terminal illness. In a short space of time they also lose their business and family home, making them homeless. This is the true story of her and her husband’s decision to walk the south west coastal path together. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, emotional, and inspiring. It’s also left me wanting to walk the south west coastal path too!

I’ve read a lot of great books this year – but I think these have been my favourite!

Do you have any great lockdown number two book suggestions?

Diary of an aspiring author IV

I received the worst feedback a writer can receive this morning: a short story I’ve written is PREDICTABLE. I can deal with criticisms on grammar, or suggestions to restructure or rewrite part of a story, but being told something I’ve written is basically boring hurt.

When I receive critiques, I try and leave it a day minimum before returning to that story and addressing the comments. You can read my post on ‘The Stages of Receiving Feedback’ here.

Today I’ve instead turned my efforts towards writing a diary style blog post. I haven’t written a “Diary of an Aspiring Author” style post for a while. For me, they can feel a little self-indulgent. But in the spirit of producing at least one of these per year, here we go.

diary girl hand journal

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If you’re interested, here are some of my previous diary pieces:

Diary of an Aspiring Author

Diary of an Aspiring Author II

Diary of an Aspiring Author, my first review

2020 has been a strange year for many reasons. From an aspiring author side of things, I started the year feeling optimistic. I hoped to push forward with my novel again. Then coronavirus hit, and I struggled to do anything creative at all (see my post, “Is it OK to not be writing?”). This was followed by a flurry of short stories and some success, with one story being published and read on BBC Radio.

For a long time now, I’ve been dwelling over whether I should call it a day on my first novel, Lost in Galderwood. Despite some early interest from an agent, I’ve never managed to achieve what I hoped for it. Maybe it is time to give up and try something new.

However, there’s something keeping me holding on: I still really believe in the overarching plot. I know it has potential. Yet I wrote the novel back in 2017, and my writing has come a long way since then. And not just my writing abilities, my general knowledge of plot and experience of the writing world has improved too (lets ignore the short story with the predictable plot for now).

That’s why I’ve decided to give it one final try. I now realise when I attempted to rewrite Lost in Galderwood before in 2019, I was trying to hold onto too much of the original plot and writing. Stepping away and focusing on short stories this year has allowed me to understand that what I really need to do is start over with a blank page.

I’m going to keep the overarching plot, but change sub-plots, some characters, and some locations, and focus much more on character’s motives. I’ve hoping I’ll be able to make a good start on this before the end of the year.

I’ve still got the short stories I wrote during lockdown and will continue to submit these with the hope they can find good homes. And I will finish that final short story once I’ve figured out a way to make it less predictable! But I may be tucking myself into the slightly secluded world of novel writing for the next six months. It’s a scary but exciting place to be!

fresh magnolia flower on green diary

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Imposter Syndrome for Writers: how to stop feeling like a fraud

Am I allowed to call myself an author? This was the title of the first blog post I ever wrote for this site. I was confused what to call my blog. Should I refer to myself as an author, or an aspiring author? And when do I qualify as a ‘real’ writer and give myself permission to drop the ‘aspiring’?

An author is somebody who writes. There are no further rules than that. Some authors write short stories, some novels. Some authors publish via the traditional route, others self-publish, and some write for the pure pleasure of it. There is no magical number of publications to achieve. So why do I, two years later, still question whether I am ‘allowed’ to call myself an author or not.

woman in gray sweater using laptop beside glass window

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What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can be defined as feelings of inadequacy. Those suffering from imposter syndrome may have feelings of self-doubt; they may feel like they’ve only achieved things due to luck, or by fooling others, that their success isn’t deserved. They may feel like they don’t belong and worry they’ll be exposed as a fraud in their chosen field at any moment.

Imposter Syndrome and Writers

Whereas writers block is not knowing what to write, imposter syndrome is more about doubting yourself as a writer, and questioning if you should be writing at all, or whether you’d be better off giving up. This is something I’ve been fighting ever since I started to take my writing more seriously a few years ago. These are some of my previous posts:

Do you ever find yourself making excuses when you tell people you are or want to be a writer?

I’m a writer, but I have another day job, it’s just a dream really…

I’m a writer but it’s just a hobby…

I’m a writer but I’m not that good…

I’m a writer but I’ve only had one thing published, I’m not a real writer…

Why are we always putting ourselves down like this?

Writers with imposter syndrome will find even when they do get a story shortlisted or published, or receive some positive feedback on their work, they’ll attribute that success to luck, rather than to hard work and skill.

Imposter syndrome isn’t very nice. It’s not good for our wellbeing, but it’s also not very good for our writing. It could make you overly critical of your work, make you more reluctant to show others, hesitant to put your writing out there, and in the long run could result in you stopping writing altogether.

How can we beat that ‘I’m not a real writer’ feeling?

The first thing to do is to understand A LOT of writers get imposter syndrome once in a while. And I don’t just mean emerging writers. Even incredibly successful authors such as Neil Gaiman and Maya Angelou have both reported suffering from imposter syndrome. And just look at how amazingly successful they are. Knowing you’re not alone in these feelings can help you to move past them.

I’d also suggest talking about your feelings with other writers. Writing can be lonely, so it’s important to find a writing community. This could be a friend who is also a writer, it could be a local writing group, or an online group. The main thing is to talk to other writers, share in the highs and lows. This will help you to realise you are not alone in your feelings.

The third thing you can do is to look back over your successes, however small. This doesn’t need to be a publication. Even re-reading positive feedback about your work can remind you of why you’re writing. I’ve mentioned before how much of a fan I am of keeping diaries. I have a five year one, and whenever I’m feeling a bit down, I love to go back and look at what I was doing in previous years. It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come; sometimes we need to remind ourselves.

But the most important thing you can do is to be kind to yourself. Treat yourself the way you would treat others.