Girl Power

Growing up in the 1970s, I was acutely aware of gender stereotypes. I was a very ‘girly’ girl as a child – fond of dresses and dolls. I didn’t climb trees, I didn’t like getting dirty. Then I moved into the 1980s, and adolescence, and I became more aware of the imbalance between girls and boys. And it seemed unfair. I figured out very early on that I didn’t want to have kids, and I liked doing things that girls weren’t supposed to like doing. I started writing horror stories at age 14. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at 15. I was the only girl in the group for much of the year, and I have already talked about how all the boys ganged up on me in a previous post.

Fortunately for me, when I want to do something, the fact that other girls don’t do it has never put me off. But this isn’t always the case. A lot of girls are put off pursuing an activity or career they enjoy, because being the only girl can be off-putting, especially if you get picked on, as was the case in my first D&D group.

This is why it’s crucial to have role models, especially for girls. Why are there not more women playing lead guitar, or bass guitar, or driving race cars? Why are there not more women pilots, or women fire fighters? There are, of course, women doing these things, but they are still very much in the minority, and they need to be a lot more visible in order to inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their wake.

My inspiration for playing bass guitar was Suzie Quatro, who I remember seeing on ‘Top of the Pops’ in the 1970s and I thought she was a cool rocking chick. My inspiration for writing horror was Stephen King, who of course is male but he writes sympathetic female characters – something some male writers aren’t able to do – and it never occurred to me, as a teenager, that writing horror was something women weren’t supposed to do. Over the years there have been a number of people who have said to me something along the lines of ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing writing horror stories?’ but it does happen less frequently these days, and I hope people are more enlightened. After all, in the view of many people the first modern horror novel was FRANKENSTEIN – written not only by a woman, but one that was only seventeen years old at the time.

Mary Shelly. Image (c) National Portrait Gallery

I’ve considered myself a feminist since the 1980s. Although we have made some inroads since then, it seems we’ve still got a long way to go. I was touched recently by a news article about four-year-old Esme, who told her mother she needed to be a boy because she wanted to be a fire fighter, and she’d only ever seen male fire fighters in books and she ‘didn’t want to be the only girl.’ This prompted fire crews all over the UK to post tweets and videos from their female fire fighters, to prove to Esme that you can be a fire fighter if you are a girl. The story is encouraging, but also highlights how important it is for female role models to get more coverage.

We also seem to be making some inroads in sports. The women’s football league got national TV coverage on terrestrial TV for the first time this year, and had the best viewing figures ever. And the England team did quite well, I note – getting to the semi-final. I am not a follower of football, but this made even me happy.

I am also happy that there is a series of races for women drivers, again on terrestrial TV, for the first time this year. I have been a fan of Formula 1 for over 25 years, and I’ve been banging on for just as long that there aren’t enough opportunities for women racing drivers. This year we have the Formula W. OK there are only six races, of only half an hour each, which is nowhere near equivalent to Formula 1, but they don’t have anywhere near the investment, and it is a start. If people watch the Formula W races, and support them, they might get more investment and most importantly these young women (and they are all young, but so are the male drivers), will pave the way for little girls who dream of becoming racing drivers to understand that this is a dream within reach.

We need these trailblazers. We need women of courage, battling against the preconception that women can’t do these things to prove that they can, and the fact that they are doing these things needs to be publicised so that young girls can see that they can do these things and they won’t be ‘the only girl’.

The final Formula W race takes place at Brands Hatch in the UK next weekend, and I have tickets. I will be there in the stands, cheering on these trailblazing women.

In a small way I hope I am also encouraging a new generation of women bass players. When I have my bass guitar lesson, there is a young girl – maybe about 12 – who watches me through the door for the last few minutes while she waits for her own lesson to start. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching me play, and always gives me a ‘thumbs up’ at the end of my lesson.

I feel that at last we are taking steps towards gender equality. They are very small steps, but at least they are being taken. Which is why it’s so important to support trailblazing women when they come along, forging a path for others to follow in their wake. And it’s why I am so excited about going to Brands Hatch next weekend for the final race in the Formula W series. It doesn’t really matter who wins the championship. In my opinion, all of these women are winners.

I’m finishing this post with a video of the trailblazing woman I still see as an inspiration: Suzie Quatro, performing ‘Devil Gate Drive’ in 1974.

Advertisements

My Life in Music: 1980

On 31 January 1980, I left England to move to Canada, with my mother, my stepfather and my younger sister. I was ten years old and it was the biggest upheaval I had ever experienced in my life.

Four days before the move, my dad and my stepmother got married, because they wanted my sister and me to be at the wedding. My dad is passionate about the American West, and they had a western-themed wedding – at the local Salvation Army Hall, where he was a member. It was such an unusual wedding it made the local paper. The attached photo is the four of us, on that day, near my dad’s house in Ashton-under-Lyne. This is another photo taken by my grandfather.

Life in Lancashire at the end of the 1970s was somewhat depressed. We were living in an area where factories provided the main source of employment, and when they all started to close down the result was mass unemployment. At that time, emigration to Canada required a sponsor. My stepfather’s sister and her family were living in Canada and they were prepared to sponsor us, which made the move possible. But I was not happy with such a major change in my life, and I didn’t want to go. At age ten, you have opinions of your own, but you are not mature enough to express them in a way that will make people listen.

In those days, we were all regular visitors to the library. I enjoyed picking books, and then taking them back a few weeks later to pick out new ones to read. My mother was an avid reader as well, but she also used the library to borrow albums and discover new music. One of the albums she found in the run-up to our move to Canada was a ‘best of’ album by Roger Whittaker, which included a song called “Canada Is”, a patriotic anthem to the country. My mother played this song constantly in the weeks before our move, possibly trying to convince us all what a wonderful place we were moving to.

The first year in Canada was very difficult. Everything changed and I was expected to adapt, and I struggled with that. Everyone dressed differently, spoke differently, did things differently. There is a mindset shared by the people of a country that differs from other countries, and you don’t realise until you spend time there how different that mindset is from your own. I had never been ice skating before we moved to Canada. Canadian kids are put on ice skates the moment they learn how to walk. The first time I went ice skating with my class, I spent the session clutching the side of the rink, while all my classmates sailed by in disbelief, because they had never met anyone who didn’t know how to ice skate before.

I got very homesick. I missed my friends, I missed my family: grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. But most of all I missed my dad. In those days there was no email or internet. The only way of staying in touch with people was to write letters, or speak on the phone, and international calls were so expensive they were infrequent and limited to three minutes, and really what can you say to people in three minutes?

Ironically enough, the song that made me feel the most homesick was a song about Canada, because it reminded me of those last few months in England when I was sick with dread about the move.

This year’s song is a bit of a cheat, because it was actually released in 1974, but it became so integral to the changes in my life that year that it’s really the only choice for 1980. So here’s Roger Whittaker’s “Canada Is”, accompanied by a patriotic video with images from across Canada.


D&D Girls

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons in the mid-1980s. It was September 1984, the beginning of the school year and I had just started Grade 10. There were various announcements at the start of the year about all the clubs that the school ran, and if you were interested you had to turn up to a particular room after school that day. I was persuaded to go along to the first D&D meet by a friend of mine who was keen to try it out. She did not carry on through the year, having been persuaded by her church that anyone who played D&D was doomed to everlasting fire (we had to contend with a lot of that sort of stuff, in those days). But I enjoyed it, and continued playing. The group met in one of the science rooms, and we played once a week, after classes. We were playing version 2, and I rolled up a thief called Tera.

The cover of the Version 2 Player’s Handbook

For most of the year, I was the only girl in this group of teenage boys, who seemed to treat me, on the whole, as some kind of alien species. In the final game of the year, before we all finished school for the long summer break, all the boys in the group decided it would be fun to gang up on the only girl. They attacked my character, intending to kill her so that they could steal her stuff. Fortunately for me, the DM decided that this really wasn’t fair and he stacked the dice rolls allowing my character to escape and run away.

In those days, girls apparently didn’t play D&D. Is it any surprise, frankly, given the way we were treated? Fortunately I am made of sterner stuff. As a teenager I never really bothered too much about what girls were supposed to do and not do. I enjoyed playing this game, and I was going to continue. When the school year started again after the summer break, I joined the D&D club once more. This time I was one of three girls. We decided to break away from the boys and run our own all-female game.

Thirty-four years on, and I’m still playing D&D regularly. In 1989 I met my husband playing D&D. Not only do we still play together, but we now have three different groups. They all feature different players, but he runs them all, and I play them all. We normally manage to play each game once a month. For us, this means we’re playing three out of four weekends a month and I have to remember which character I’m playing. I make notes for each game. It helps me to remember, at the start of each game, where we were for the last one.

In the years since I started playing, things have changed a bit. For starters, it’s apparently now socially acceptable to admit to playing D&D, or at least it is according to this article. In the 80s it was very much the domain of nerds (or sinners, apparently).

It’s also acceptable now to be a woman who plays D&D. Of our three groups, there are two in which women out-number men. One of the female-dominated groups also consists entirely of people under the age of 35 (except for Hubby and I, who bring the average age up quite considerably). This makes me happy, too. The generation that has never known life without computers, mobile phones and social media, are enjoying the interaction of face-to-face tabletop role-playing games, and the unique thrill of rolling dice and recording character stats on a crumpled piece of paper covered in coffee stains.

There are still arseholes out there – mostly online, it seems, hiding behind the anonymity of digital alter egos – who seem to feel the need to give women role-players abuse. But on the whole, I think women who game have an easier time of it than they did when I started playing. And that does make me feel like we’re making a bit of progress.

Monthly Round-up: February 2019

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

February is, of course, Women in Horror month. A chance for we women horror writers to blow our own horns and remind people that we are out here, jostling for space amongst the men. I went to a social gathering of fellow horror writers a couple of weeks ago, in London. It was a very pleasant evening, and good to chat to fellow horror hounds. Chatting to another woman, I explained to her how many times over the years I’d had people say to me some variation of, “what’s a nice girl like you doing writing such horrible stories,” and she nodded in agreement. Meanwhile another writer (male) involved in the conversation looked at us somewhat incredulously and said, “I keep wondering if we still need a Women in Horror month, since women in horror are so well established now. But I guess we do.”

As we still need Pride parades because there are still bigots out there who refuse to accept that LGBT+ people have the right to exist, we need Women in Horror month because there is still a preconception that women don’t do horror. Things are changing, slowly, but there is still work to do (in both of the aforementioned groups).

Hence, I have been busy pimping myself this month, and I have things to report.

OUT NOW

I am pleased to announce that the 43rd edition of the e-zine ‘The Siren’s Call’ – an all-female edition for Women In Horror month – is now out. It contains my story ‘Cigarette Burns’ as well as lots of other stories and poems by fabulous women horror writers. The issue is available to download free of charge from The Siren’s Call site now.

PUBLICITY

I had a guest blog post on Colleen Anderson’s site this month, about why I write horror. You can have a read here.

WORK IN PROGRESS

More good news to report here – the sequel to OUTPOST H311 is officially underway. I haven’t written too many words yet, but I have made a start on the first chapter, and I’ve made progress in plotting and character sketches. I feel like I am gently, but firmly, coaxing my muse out from the rock it’s been hiding under, and it’s starting to wake up.

I have also thought of a title for said sequel. I want to call it ‘OUTPOST: ARMAGEDDON’. I’d like to know what people think of this.

And that’s it to report for this month. See you at the end of March!

My Life in Music: 1979

There’s a bit of a convoluted story attached to the song for this, so bear with me.

In 1979 my mother married my stepfather and he moved in with us, and my sister and I saw my dad during weekends and school holidays. I guess we’d more or less got accustomed to this arrangement now, but I was still suffering badly with nightmares. And one of the things that always seemed to trigger nightmares – from early childhood it seems – was distorted and featureless faces.

There were a few things on TV in the 1970s that I vividly remember giving me nightmares. One was the fembots episode of  ‘The Bionic Woman’, when the fembots took their face masks off, revealing a pair of eyeballs in a maze of electronic circuits. There was an episode of ‘Sapphire and Steel‘ where the supernatural entity removed Sapphire’s face (I can’t find the name of that particular episode). There was also an episode of the original ‘Star Trek’ where a supernatural teenager removed the features from a woman’s face for laughing at him.

All of these things rather jumped out at me without warning while I was watching TV as a child, freaked me out completely and gave me nightmares for weeks.

And there was the album cover of a band called Sad Cafe, called ‘Misplaced Ideals’, which I am including below.

My memory of this is that I was walking through Ashton during the Whit Walks with my sister (referred to in the post for 1978), and this poster was stuck up everywhere. We talked about how it freaked both of us out, and we didn’t know exactly what it was advertising, but I thought maybe it was a film.

Since then I’ve done some research into this. The band Sad Cafe were from Manchester, which explains why posters advertising their album were all over Ashton-under-Lyne. But the album ‘Misplaced Ideals’ was released in 1978, not 1979.

I do remember that this image featured in my nightmares for rather a long time. And the next time I came across Sad Cafe was when their biggest hit was in the charts in 1979. And every time I heard the song on the radio I remembered what I thought of as the scary Sad Cafe image and it gave me nightmares all over again.

I look at this image, and it still freaks me out, although as an adult I don’t suffer from nightmares the way I did as a child. I have been trying to analyse for years what it is about blank or distorted faces that freaks me out so much. I think perhaps it’s connected to a primal fear of loss of identity. Is this a common fear? Does anyone else get freaked out by images of distorted or blank faces?

The story connected to the photograph for this year is slightly happier. It was taken by my grandfather, who was a keen amateur photographer. He had a real eye for detail and probably was good enough to be a professional photographer, but he was a working-class Lancashire mill worker and probably didn’t consider that such a career was open to him.

This is my favourite photo of me as a child, because I think it captures the essence of who I was then, and I still look enough like ‘me’ to be recognisable as the adult I would become. I recall it being taken – in the local park. My memory is that it was taken on or around my tenth birthday, so it was autumn.

Life would change quite dramatically for me, for the second time in my short life, in just a few months, but we’ll get into that in the next post.

Meanwhile here’s the song for 1979, and one that still makes me think of that creepy album cover: ‘Every Day Hurts’ by Sad Cafe.

Monthly Round-up: January 2019

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s been a while since I posted a monthly update. Mostly because I haven’t had much to report.

COMING SOON

I am pleased to announce that my short story ‘Cigarette Burns’ will be appearing in the 10th Women In Horror issue of THE SIREN’S CALL‘ e-Zine (issue #43). This is the second year I have appeared in the special WIHM issue of this e-zine.

PUBLICITY

I’ve really not been pimping myself of late, so nothing to report.

WORK IN PROGRESS

This is where it gets difficult. I’m still trying to get my writing mojo back. I have several works on the go, but struggling with all of them.

The fourth Shara Summers book I have recently done a bit of work on, but since I still don’t know what’s happening with the third Shara Summers book, and the first two really aren’t selling, I am not sure if there is any point in my carrying on with this series.

The collaboration I have been working on with Hubby – a rather sweeping crime thriller set in the 1960s – I have put to one side because I think there are so many problems with it I don’t know how to fix it.

And finally, there is the sequel to OUTPOST H311. Which I do want to write. The first book seems to be doing reasonably well, sales-wise. The problem is I haven’t finished plotting the sequel yet, and that stage of staring at a blank page wondering where to start is even more overwhelming than usual.

Hopefully by the end of next month I will have something more positive to report. In the meantime, if you’ve read any of my books I would really appreciate it if you could consider leaving a review. Knowing I have a few readers out there provides more encouragement to a writer than you could ever imagine.

Best Books of 2018

(Cross posted on the WriteClub blog)

Once more it’s time for me to review the books I read in the previous year and blog about the ones I liked the best. My criteria for this is quite simple. I log all the books I read on Goodreads, and those I give a 5-star rating make my ‘best books’ list.

In 2018 I set a goal of reading 70 books. I fell a bit short of that, managing to complete 68 books before the year ended. However, there was an unusually high number of books I gave a 5-star rating to last year. Seven have made the list. In the order in which I read them, they are:

Ready Player One: Ernest Kline
Everything is Lies: Helen Callaghan
Y is for Yesterday: Sue Grafton
Cross Her Heart: Sarah Pinborough
The Roanoke Girls: Amy Engle
If She Did It: Jessica Treadway
Tombland: CJ Sansom

This list includes one science fiction book, two crime novels (both sort of historical, but one decidedly so), and four psychological thrillers. Further details on each book can be found below.

Ready Player One

The only science fiction book on my list, this is a novel that was recommended to me and when I went to buy it on Kindle I discovered my husband had already bought the Kindle version – we have linked our accounts, so we can each access books bought by the other. Someone else had recommended it to him, completely independently. We both read the book, loved it, recommended it to our D&D group and then when the film came out a couple of months later we all went to see it together.

Set in a dystopian near-future, where everyone escapes their appalling reality by spending all of their time in an idyllic Virtual Reality universe, part of what makes ‘Ready Player One’ so enjoyable are all the references to 80s pop culture. Anyone who grew up watching films, playing video games and playing D&D in the 1980s will recognise all the references.

The film is quite different from the book, but equally enjoyable. If you saw and loved the film, do yourself a favour and read the book as well.

Everything is Lies

In my review of ‘Everything is Lies’ I described it as ‘a near-perfect psychological thriller’. Helen Callaghan is a member of my writing group, and it’s so lovely to be able to watch an author grow and develop in their craft, and eventually produce something of this calibre.

This the first of several psychological thrillers in my list. It’s a genre that is in danger of being overexploited. To be able to do one this well, in such a crowded market, is exceptional.

Y is For Yesterday

I was given this book for Christmas in 2017, and I had no idea then that it would prove to be the last Sue Grafton book ever. She sadly passed away not long after, and her family announced they would not be finishing the series on her behalf.

I’ve been reading the Kinsey Millhone series for decades, and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. Because I had this one in hardback, therefore making it difficult to carry around with me, I read it when I was confined at home recuperating from surgery in February 2018. The fact that it was Kinsey Milhone’s last case added extra poignancy, but it was an outstanding story. I have a great deal of admiration for a writer who had 25 books in the same series published, and there was never any drop in quality. Ms Grafton left us too soon, and she is greatly missed.

Cross Her Heart

Sarah Pinborough made my list last year with ‘Behind Her Eyes’. This year I read the next psychological thriller she brought out, and while the twist ending is perhaps not as legendary as BHE, this is still an excellently written novel that had me gripped to the end.

The Roanoke Girls

Everyone had been raving about this book, so I thought it was about time I got around to reading it. It’s a psychological thriller about a family that produces extraordinarily beautiful young women, but there’s a dark secret running through it.

It’s not exactly a happy read, but it stayed with me for a long time after I read it, and it’s rare for books to do that. You can read my review on Goodreads here.

If she Did It

Yet another psychological thriller, this is a story told from the point of view of Hanna, mother of two daughters. Three years on from a brutal attack that killed her husband and left her disfigured, Hanna is still trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. Her youngest daughter’s boyfriend was arrested and found guilty of the attack. Hanna can’t remember exactly what happened the night of the attack, but is fixated with finding out. Because she finds herself entertaining the unthinkable suspicion that her daughter was somehow involved.

Again, this is a somewhat disturbing read, but it had me gripped. Find my full review here.

Tombland

The latest book in the Matthew Shardlake series is the most epic yet – spanning 850 pages and dealing with the peasants’ revolt in Norwich in 1549.

I really hope that this isn’t the last Shardlake book, but I understand that CJ Sansom has cancer. This illness has taken far too many fine writers from us in recent years.

This concludes my list of recommended reads for 2018 – those books that I thought stood out above all the rest I read throughout the year. This year, I’ve once again set the bar at reading 70 books. I have high hopes that I will make my target this year.

Exercise and Me: Reaching An Uneasy Truce

I make no secret of the fact I hate sports. I have no hand-eye co-ordination and no dexterity. I can’t catch, I can’t throw, I can’t run without falling over. It’s been this way for me since childhood. I was always happier curled up reading a book than I was running about outside.

I hated physical education lessons and I was always last to be picked for teams. And because I am assuming this barbaric practise doesn’t happen in schools any more, let me enlighten those of you too young to experience this. ‘Picking teams’ was when the teacher couldn’t be bothered to divide the class into teams, so they would get the kids to do it instead. The teacher would choose two team leaders – generally those who were good at sports. The team leaders would then take it turns to select the people in the class they wanted on their team. Naturally they picked their friends first. Then the kids who were good at sports, and the cool people.

When it came down to only the unpopular and nerdy kids that were left, the choice for the leaders became more difficult. After all, you don’t want your street cred to suffer by picking one of the kids everyone made fun of. Whenever this ritual happened at my school, the outcome was always the same, regardless of which school it was (and it happened at several). At the end there were always two kids left: the special needs kid, and me. The special needs kid was a bit clumsy and a bit slow, but he or she had a reason for being that way. The special needs kid got picked before me. And as if being the one no one wanted wasn’t bad enough, as I made my way over to the team that was stuck with me by process of elimination, I had to listen to none-too-subtle complaints of my team mates. “Oh no. We’ve got her. We’re going to lose.”

This is why I hated PE. And then we moved to Canada when I was ten years old, and my misery was exacerbated in a country that places a great emphasis on sports. Canadians are born knowing how to play baseball, it seems, and they all get put on ice skates at the time they learn to walk. I was made to play baseball with the school, but I didn’t know how to play and I was too shy to ask, and everybody shouted at me when I got it wrong. A few weeks into our new Canadian life my class went ice skating. It never occurred to anyone to ask me if I’d ever been skating before (I hadn’t). I spent the session holding onto the side of the rink, and my classmates were fascinated – they had never met anyone who didn’t know how to ice skate before.

Things came to a head with my eighth grade gym teacher. She felt I was being wilfully lazy, and singled me out for punishment. Her name was Mrs Parker, and she still appears in my nightmares sometimes with her shrill cry of, “come on ladies, hustle!”

All this led to an insecurity that persisted through adolescence. Because I was no good at sports, I was somehow inadequate as a person. An inferior human being. Worthless.

When I got to high school I was able to drop gym class, which I did, like a stone. But it took me a long time to get over those feelings of inadequacy. That not being good at sports did not necessary make me worthless. That it was OK to be a non-sporty person and that there were other things I was good at instead. Like writing stories.

The psychological scars of all this are still with me. But I have learned to regard exercise the same way I regard vegetables. I don’t like either, but they are a necessary part of a healthy life, so they must be tolerated.

I have spent all of my adult life trying – and failing – to get fit. I have listened to all the advice: “look for an activity you enjoy”. But I don’t enjoy anything. Some things I can tolerate, like swimming. Some things I can’t, like pilates. “Stick with it, and you’ll eventually get that buzz from a good workout”. For over 35 years now I have been embarking on various forms of exercise, and I have never once experienced that “buzz” that people talk about.

But I am turning 50 this year, and I am now worried about the consequences of poor health in old age. So I am trying a new tactic. I am going for regular sessions with a personal trainer.

I was very nervous about starting this. I was imaging someone like Mrs Parker, who would shout at me for being lazy or not trying hard enough. Thankfully, this fear proved to be unfounded. For a few weeks now I have been doing weekly one-to-one sessions of 25 minutes, in the local park. I haven’t been particularly enamoured about this – as well as not liking exercise, I’m also not a fan of the outdoors. But Karen has been very supportive. Each week we try different types of exercise and she guides me through what I need to do, being mindful of what my limitations are (arthritic knee for instance) but always trying to get me to push just a little farther. Today she said she was impressed with the speed at which I was picking things up. The exercises involved a medicine ball, with some throwing and catching, which I was better at than I was expecting to be. “Who said you were rubbish at games?” she asked me. “Everyone”, I said. And she said that I just need more confidence.

So far, then, this mode of exercise has been going quite well but I am aware it is early days. Having someone who’s expecting me to turn up has helped me stick to this, and I do appreciate the one-to-one session, as Karen can focus on my technique and correct me when I’m not doing something right.

So, a shout-out to Karen of Be Epic, for her patience and tolerance and willingness to help me improve my fitness level. It might be slow going, but at least I’m doing some form of regular exercise now.

And to finish, because it sums up my attitude to exercise and weight loss, here’s a spoof of Adele’s ‘Hello’ by Dustin and Genevieve, called ‘Hella Cravings’. It makes me smile and nod every time I watch it.

 

Year in Review: 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This year hasn’t been a particularly good year for me, for various reasons. At the beginning of February I had to have surgery for a vaginal prolapse, and although this is a fairly minor operation, the recovery time took far longer than I was anticipating. It was two months, really, before I felt fully recovered and I had underestimated how much the recovery process would take out of me.

Then, in June, I was hit by a bombshell when I found out I was to lose my job. Having been with the same organisation for nearly 13 years, the prospect of having to go back out into the job market was daunting, to say the least.

The worst part of it all is that since that day in June, when I was faced with this news I haven’t written a single word. Not one.

Initially, all my energy was going into getting my CV up to date and applying for jobs, a process I hadn’t had to do for so long I had forgotten how time consuming it can be. Fortunately I found another job fairly quickly, but after having been so long in one organisation, having to be the ‘new girl’ again and learn everything from the ground up was quite exhausting. And then by the time I’d settled into the new job and felt comfortable in it, I had just been too long away from the writing routine to get back into it.

Hence, my resolution from last year of completing another novel by the end of 2018 remains depressingly unfulfilled.

So all in all, I will be glad to see the back of 2018. 2019 is a New Year, and I am in a new job, but it’s an uncertain time in British politics and I am also acutely aware of the fact that nobody’s job is guaranteed in this day and age.

The wider picture is too overwhelming, so I am starting the new year with a few personal goals to focus on.

  1. Get back into a healthy diet and exercise routine. I always say this every year, but I am currently facing the depressing fact that I can’t fit into half my wardrobe these days. I have already made a start on the exercise routine, because I’ve just commenced sessions with a personal trainer. But I need to stick with it, and I need to be more disciplined with the eating regime. More fruit and veg, less chocolate. Realistically this is not going to start until all the Christmas chocolate is gone.
  2. Make more time for friends. Social media makes it easier to stay in touch with people we don’t see very often, but it doesn’t match face to face contact with friends. There are people in my life I consider good friends, and I haven’t seen nearly enough of them this year (in some cases, not at all). That has to change next year.
  3. And finally, and most importantly, I need to get back into the writing routine. Back to the early-morning writing sessions in a coffee shop before work. Back to regularly scheduled writing time. I am not going to set a goal of finishing a particular manuscript this year, because at the moment that seems too overwhelming. I just need to get back to writing.

So these are the resolutions I am making as we head into 2019.

Happy New Year to all. What are your goals for the forthcoming year?

What I’m Doing at FantasyCon 2018

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This year, FantasyCon is heading up North to Chester, a town I remember visiting as a child – mostly because there was a nice zoo there. That was over 40 years ago, and no doubt it’s changed a lot since then.

However, this weekend I go back there again for my annual fix of all things horror, SF and fantasy. It seems I’ve got a rather busy programme this year, and all the cool kids are posting their FantasyCon activities, so here are mine.

Friday:

9:30pm – ‘Occult and Supernatural Adventures’ panel in the Edward Room. Pete Sutton moderating. My fellow panelists are Mike Chinn, Sue Tingey and Georgina Bruce.

Saturday:

2:00pm – I am doing a reading in the Disraeli room, with Ray Cluley and Rosanne Rabinowitz

3:30pm – ‘Writers and Roleplaying Games’ panel in the Edward Room. Alasdair Stuart moderating. Fellow panellists are Danie Ware, Allen Stroud and Gavin Smith.

I will also have copies of both ‘The Whispering Death’ and ‘Outpost H311’ for sale on the BFS table in the dealer room, and will likely be hanging around in the bar for at least part of the time. And I might make an appearance at the karaoke on the Saturday night. I never could resist a good sing.

So, looking forwarding to catching up with friends old and new in Chester this weekend. Don’t be afraid to come say hello if you see me. Don’t listen to the gossip – I am quite harmless really , and I’ll be wearing a prominently displayed name badge so you can identify me.

Now all I have to do is figure out what I’m going to be reading. And get past the customary dilemma of what to pack for a Con…