The Return of the Tax Return

 

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The above image illustrates almost exactly how much I earned as a writer this year.  Yes, it’s the most magical time of the year, when the self employed have to face the music after procrastinating over it for twelve whole months. There is always much panicked printing of bank statements, marrying up of invoices and of course the last minute flurry of searching for receipts which you are sure you left in a plastic bag under the desk but then remember tipping them into a box so you could use the bag and then remember tipping them into another bag so that the cat could use the box until, like a natural part of the earth’s cycle, the receipts have disappeared into the caverns of cluttered guest room and are logged officially as ‘gone’, only to resurface two days after you press ‘send’ on the tax return. At this time of year there is a lot of swearing on social media by the self employed, and if you bump into a fellow writer you end up rocking backwards and forwards, commiserating with them as you both panic. There are many, many google searches. I have asked the WWW to define so many tax related terms that I think I could probably write a really boring book about it.

But it is done. And I am determined, again, to not have this panic next year. The strangest thing is that actually, when I get sat down and start sorting it out, I really enjoy it. It gives me a chance to listen to all the stuff I’ve missed on Radio four.  I listen to the entire series of Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman while I was printing PayPal receipts and worrying about how to prove stuff from the receipts that had mysteriously disappeared. I would heartily recommend How to Be a Woman, by the way, it’s funny, moving, brilliant writing and delivered perfectly. I felt a real connection there.

I’ve realised that my tendency to procrastinate is not really part of my process at all, but rather an automatic knee jerk fear of failure, which seems to effect quite a few areas of my life. The fear is so strong that I end up putting things off to avoid what my brain tells me will be inevitable failure. I’m working on it. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of these people that don’t worry that they are a bit shit at everything and everyone else has it all sorted etc etc, but I AM able to recognise that the feeling of tackling something head on is so much more pleasurable than the days, weeks and even months of low level anxiety at the back of the mind which tugs away at anything pleasurable because your brain knows that FAILURE IS IMMINENT . So, new year, and new habit forming: the accounts are getting updated every day and I will be joining a few professional bodies because now I am able to class myself as a full time, professional writer. I did it. I earn a pittance, but I did it. The year of accounts that I have just concluded was the year in which I began to move away from the small animal care business that i had set up when I left my job as a microbiologist, after Matilda died and after the investigation into her death, and maps the time when I took the plunge and decided to build my presence as a writer, and not just a poet. It was a learning curve. At the beginning of that year my planner is full of dog walks, horse parasitology, cat visits, and bunny boarding. It brought back so many memories, lots of nice ones and feelings of pride, but also memories of how many hours I was having to put in to make a living, alongside my PhD! Animal care and writing are both appallingly low paid professions, but the over heads as a writer are a lot less, and there is a broad range of pay scales in the writing world, where as you do tend to struggle to increase rates in the animal care world and people expect a great deal from you for less than five pounds per hour. I feel much more in control of my own earnings as a writer, and confident too, in my own skills. There is a point in my accounts where I start doing the industry journal abstracting, which was my first real regular writing job, and I remember the utter pleasure of being able to not wear waterproofs to work, to sit at a desk in the warm and drink my coffee and watch the birds. I gave up the dog walking part of the business not long later. I did not regret it. After that I was able to secure my regular column at Yorkshire Life and began to drop some of the bunny boarding jobs. And then the work dried up and I had several months with very little money and I remember that as being just awful, selling possessions to get through the month, and trying desperately to keep the faith. But then I started to have more articles accepted, I began building on the mentoring part of my work and started running my online courses and found a way to do lots of small jobs that would constitute an over all income which is, I am surprised to say, liveable. I gave up the industry journal abstracting because it was woefully badly paid for the hours I put in, and haven’t looked back. This year I increased profits on last year, again. It is a steady and slow rise, but it is a rise.

This twitter thread on the difficulties of making a living just a writer says everything I want to: Rebecca Schuman. The hard fact is, I would find it impossible to pay my mortgage with just writing on its own, and that was quite a steep learning curve for me, but I climbed that bloody hill and made it over the top. All of this meant that when I did hand my tax return in, although I hadn’t earned enough to pay tax, which will give you an indication of how hard it is to make a living in the creative arts, I felt really proud of myself. I worked hard, it’s paying off. And actually, without the PhD taking a big chunk of my earnings and adding and extra twenty – thirty hours on my week, I am happy and balanced and enjoying my life. I love working for myself and I love the work that I do. I have surprised myself by how much I actually enjoy working with people. And I am determined to build on that. However, there is still no room in my days for my own creative work in the form of writing the play, which is the project I am trying, trying to work on. After much discussion with good writerly friends, I am considering a kickstarter to buy the time I need to write it, but I’ll save that for another post.

And now for a quick round up of tis week’s crazy work load:

On Saturday I went to the prize giving ceremony of the Set Riding Festival of Words poetry competition which I had judged with the super lovely James Nash and Matthew Headley Stoppard who wasn’t able to come to the ceremony. It was a hugely positive and life affirming event, with so many poets attending. James one of those quiet, unassuming poets with a very powerful undercurrent of emotion and I really valued the couple of hours I got to spend with hi, his enthusiasm is contagious. James hadn’t looked to see who the winners were (judging was anonymous) until the last minute, but I can’t bear to not know, and had looked as soon as I got to North Bridlington Library (which is an excellent library, incidentally) I was really happy to see some known faces. However, the winners didn’t know who had won either, so there was a real ‘Oscars’ feel to the event. I was very grumpy when I set off for the event because I was still in tax return Hell, but felt light as a feather when I left, and full of the enthusiasm that people have for poetry, from beginners to the experienced, and how it is still a means of communication, poetry is still relevant, is even more relevant than ever.

The next day I headed over to York, to According to McGee where Dream Catcher 38 was launched and the editorship officially handed over to myself. It was a smashing event, loads of very talented readers and a lovely buzz with three generations of editor there. We are open to submissions, incidentally and I would LOVE to see some new blood from all the talented poets that I have come across on social media and in real life. We’re still on paper submissions right now but watch this space for more news of email subs taking place. In the mean time, get sticking stamps on envelopes and kissing them into the post box for me and make my day with your wonderful poems and stories: Dream Catcher Submissions

by the way, here’s a little video of the gallery, I am so proud as editor of DC to be associated with such a vibrant, energetic art space: Video

My pictures are a bit crap, I was all of a jitter preparing myself to do a reading and trying to give a good impression. It was a bitterly cold day, but a wonderfully warm event with loads of energy and it was great to see some familiar faces and to have poetry and prose friends reading.

 

The rest of the week was spent critiquing poems for my just ended course: How to Write a Poem and preparing the notes and prompts for the next course, which you could still just slink into if you are quick: Poems to Save the World . I was also coming to the end of a fantastic four week mentoring period with a lovely poet who was working on a fascinating pamphlet. I love how her work has developed, how she has expanded her idea and taken some risks which have paid off and I am hoping she’ll be picked up quick. She deserves to be. If you’re interested in mentoring, have a look at the testimonials and drop me a line: Testimonials

Then finally the tax return, which fluttered off to HMRC with a whole day’s grace, meaning I could finally allow myself a day off. It was lush. I swept my patio and spent time with my guinea pigs, took the dog for a good long walk and watched a film that I knew my husband wouldn’t want to watch – Roma which is a beautifully filmed, beautifully plotted film about women, hierarchy and day to day life in Mexico. One of the things which struck me about it was the soundscapes, and it reminded me so much of when I was in Mexico, how vibrant the sounds were, how different. Beautiful film. Little spoiler because I know there are a few people who have suffered stillbirths who read this blog, it does have some scenes of baby loss in it. It took me by surprise and on occasions when this has happened in the past (though not on this occasion, which is progress) I’ve felt quite shaky and upset and have been dragged back to the hospital and my own baby’s death (PTSD) so wanted to give a little warning. Don’t let it put you off though, it is such a wonderful, wonderful film, do check it out.

And that was that. January is finally over and February is shaping up to be slightly less chaotic, thank goodness. Speak soon!

x

 

 

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Poems to Save the World

 

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The new online workshop/course is open for bookings, places are going very fast. But you can still book onto it by following this link: Poems to Save the World

 

This week an anonymous donor sponsored two places so that two people who might not otherwise be able to spare their hard-earned £10 could join in on the course. It was such a kind, thoughtful way to give back and I am truly grateful. it also sparked a flurry of others wanting to do the same. WHAT A GREAT IDEA.

If you’d like to anonymously sponsor places on this course, or any other course I am running, please do get in touch. It could make a huge difference to someone, and your generosity might enable a person on low-income to go on and make a success of their writing.

Thank you!

New Year, New Challenges

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I hit the new year with my head up and my hands busy as I had so much work on. Between running the latest online course, mentoring a wonderful mentee, writing my regular column for Yorkshire Life, writing  a couple of small freelance articles, trying to find time to catch up on my book work so that I can submit the dreaded tax return and judging the Bridlington poetry competition, I have been feeling a bit run down. This was not helped by catching a bad cold which affected my sinuses and made sitting at the computer a real pain, at a time when I had scheduled back to back seven-day weeks until I was caught up. Sadly, as a freelancer I don’t get paid for sick time and any deadlines I miss directly impacts on the money that goes in the pot for bills, mortgage, car repairs (which seem to be every other week at the minute) which is a tad stressful.

Despite feigning nonchalance over the Arts Council England Grants application I made nine weeks ago, I had also worked myself into a state of nervous anxiety waiting on the results and when I found out yesterday I’d been unsuccessful again it really was a bit of a blow. I know full well that rejection is the name of the game in the writing world, but it’s still quite hard. I’m a full-time writer, a professional writer, but I don’t make enough money from my own creative writing to live off, so my main income is via running workshops, mentoring and running online courses. I’m very passionate about helping people to develop their writing skills and developing the confidence to write, and in my neck of the woods we are a fairly low average wage, so it’s also important to me to provide the services I do at a rate that people on low incomes can afford or at least have a chance to save towards. I work mainly online with clients because  it makes it easier for clients to do coursework and homework around their own lives. Most people I work with have family and work commitments and would struggle to afford travel etc, I know this because I struggle to afford to travel and I can’t afford expensive courses or retreats.

My main project at the minute is  my stage play, which looks at friendships between classes and the drinking culture of of a northern seaside town, the sort of town that I come from. The funding would have helped me to work on it to completion; allowing me to be able to pay my bills and focus for a couple of months on researching the topics I was writing about and actually sitting down to write. It would be incredible to be able to sit down at my desk and just write, just be a writer with no extra pressures to do any thing else. Awards which allow writers the time to write are a godsend. I’ve seen a few snarky social media comments about the TS Eliot prize and how it’s a ridiculously large amount of money, but for someone like me, and most professional writers are very much in a hand to mouth situation, it would provide two years of serious writing time, probably enough time to write a novel, or to research and write a full collection of poetry. That’s why prizes and awards are so important. Which is also why it’s a bit of a blow when you don’t manage to reach that goal and get the funding. I had a bit of a meltdown, because it naturally brought out quite a lot of feelings of not being wanted, of not being good enough, of not being successful enough to warrant the gamble from an organisation like the ACE, that is giving me money to work on my own creative endeavours. Readers, I had a junk food and wine night and a really good long cry. But my mood was boosted by some messages of support I received, especially from someone whose work I really admire, who had been successful with the ACE funding. Her project sounds absolutely brilliant, in fact looking at the list of projects that have been successful, they all sound relevant and necessary and the people who have won the funding are all talented and filled to the brim with potential, so there’s certainly no sour grapes here, I just feel disappointed that I aren’t able to make the step forward in the way I would like, it’s become harder again and I’m quite tired.

But I ain’t no quitter, and I know lots and lots of people who are having a crappier time of it than just the frustration of being turned down for a grant. I’ll just have to find another way.

In other news, the current online course is going brilliantly, I’m so impressed with those attendees who are really challenging themselves with sonnets and sestinas and actively considering how they are making their free verse poems work for them. The FB closed group is a hive of activity and I am seeing some genuine moments of support there, which pleases me and I’m pleased to be involved with this group, they really are a good bunch.

Which leads me to my next plug – I’m going to be running another month-long course/workshop in February, this is one of my ‘daily prompt’ courses, and you can find details Here it’s just £10 for the whole month and that includes access to the online closed group, where I am generally about on a daily basis to offer a little bit of support and guidance, though I can’t offer full critique on your poems with this one. These online courses are quite popular so book early to avoid disappointment. February’s course is Poems to Save the World and I hope that, in the current climate especially, it will provide a poetic vent for frustrations around the state of politics, the environment, the world at large etc as well as celebrating the good stuff in life. I hope to see you there!

Finally, I have a couple of readings coming up:

Readings

 

Fancy coming to see me and some other fabulous poets read? I’ll be doing a short set at Bridlington library on Saturday 26th January where we’ll be announcing the winners of the competition. I’ll be reading with fellow Valley Press writers James Nash and Matthew Headily Stoppard so get yourself down there, 11-12.30

And do you fancy coming and seeing what Dream Catcher Magazine is about? Then get yourself to According to McGee in York on 27th January, where we’ll be launching issue 38 with readings from contributors and the editors. There’ll be three ‘generations’ (we’re a bit like Dr Who) of DC editors present and there will be WINE. 2pm for 2.30 start

 

Catch you on the flip side

x

What I read in 2019: The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

The Essex Serpent

 

A Mini Review

The Essex Serpent

by Sarah Perry

Published by Serpent’s Tail

ISBN: 978-1781255452

When I first picked this up, drawn to it by the beautiful cover illustration and the fact that it was the Waterstones ‘Book of the Year’ 2016 and shortlisted for the Costa novel award 2016, I had high hopes. I thought it sounded engaging and thrilling with an interesting concept that excited me. I have a fairly eclectic taste in books but I was looking for something I could really get my teeth into and fall in love with. Unfortunately, as soon as I started reading The Essex Serpent, it started to irritate me. Now, this is entirely subjective and a completely personal opinion. I actually asked on social media for other reader’s options of it and got a mixed response, but there were a lot of people saying how much they loved it, how beautifully written it was how it was definitely one of their favourite books. I try very hard not to read forewords or author’s notes before I read a novel, because I like to make my own mind up about it, I like to be surprised and I like to go on a journey with a book and, for me, that involves not knowing it before hand, except through short reviews and recommendations. However, in this case I actually wish I had done, because I found the book so hard to place in a historical context without knowing the intentions of the author. There were not enough definite markers for me that would help me to place it, I couldn’t quite recognise the style of dress, housing or transport, even though all of these things are mentioned many times.  I had it anywhere from Georgian right up to the 1950s, but it turned out to be a ‘Victorian novel’.  I have now skimmed through the author notes and can understand what the intention was (to recognise that nothing much changes in people’s actions and the problems and superstitions which prevail in society) but for me that didn’t quite come through enough without some definite place markers.

Although I found the characters interesting, I never quite fell in love with any of them, I felt that I didn’t really know them well enough to do that. The book is written in such a style that it opens each chapter in a very scenic way, zooming in on the characters, as if starting a new story, I kept seeing the chapters opening up like a film, films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button or The Shape of Water come to mind. But for me this stylised method of telling the story meant that the characters got separated far too much, causing me to keep checking to see where they fit in relation to other characters. I also felt it was a bit too romanticised, and there were scenes where I rolled my eyes a bit. For example, without wishing to ruin it for anyone, there’s a scene in a slum area of London where some upper middle class types are being shown round to highlight the housing crisis and we turn to see an urchin girl child smoking a cigarette in a torn and raggedy dress while wearing beautiful feathered fairy wings. One of the feathers floats down to land in a puddle as she flicks ash out into the street. I’m paraphrasing or paraphrasing the scene at least. It is like an Athena image of a poor child, the pedant in me insists that a girl in rags would not have own beautiful feathered fairy wings. There were quite a few scenes where I felt that way.

 

Having said all that, and I do feel bad because I wouldn’t want to criticise an author’s work, I did in fact stick with the book, right through to the end because I wanted to know what happened, and that’s a real skill for a novelist to have, to be able to suck someone in enough that even when they have doubts about their own enjoyment, they actually want to finish the book. I loved the idea of the serpent and the constant guessing, the manipulation of reality and imagination, and towards the end, in the last chapters when the characters are put to smaller tests of character and morality I felt they came to life a bit more, I started to feel sad on their behalf.

It’s not like anything I’ve read before, really, partly I guess because it does cross genres and maybe that just makes it difficult for my brain to contain it. Perhaps that’s why it is an award winner and so very popular. I would definitely recommend reading it for yourself and I would love to know your thoughts on it.

 

x

 

 

My 2018 Bests

 

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I thought it would be nice to round up the year with what I’ve enjoyed in the arts from people to films, art exhibitions to poetry. So here goes, if you don’t feature, by the way, it’s not because I didn’t like your work, I’ve enjoyed countless books, films, events and exhibitions this year, so thank you for enriching my life!

Best Novel

A tough one, I’ve read many this year. The one that stuck out for me was The North Water, by Ian McGuire, published by Scribner. You can buy it here. This is a terrifying, dark story. I read it almost in one sitting it was so gripping, but more than just a fast, electrifying, gritty plot line is the style of writing, both elegant and satisfying. I’ve just lent it to my husband and am already itching to get it back and re read it.

Best Full Poetry Collection

Again, a tough one. But the collection I’ve just read, Girls are Coming Out of the Woods, by Tishani Doshi, published by Bloodaxe Books, is one that I will keep coming back to. In fact I have only just finished reading it and I am re reading it. You can read about it here. What did I like about it? Powerful, unapologetic poems on difficult subjects, told without prevention. It blew me away. Go read it, go!

Best Short Collection

It’s got to be Liz Berry’s The Republic of Motherhood published by Penguin. You can read about it here. If you’ve not heard of this collection you’re missing out. Liz Berry has a light touch and a wonderfully transportive style and these poems are doing what poetry does best, challenging perception through personal narrative. Brilliant, brilliant collection.

Best Film

Film is the medium I turn to when I need to unwind. I like films that are layered, interesting but also aesthetically pleasing. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri does all of these. It is dark, funny, brilliantly acted, brilliantly filmed. It’s moving and wonderful. Go watch it. Here’s an article about it in The Guardian.

Best Play

I saw Jess and Jo Forever at the wonderful Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, I reviewed it for The Stage. It was phenomenal, a true masterclass in gentle, humorous story telling. Great use of stage, great acting, there was nothing to fault. Bring hankies.

Best Art Exhibition

Another Scarborough experience. This was the Sylvia Pankhurst exhibition at Scarborough Art gallery. You can read about it here. The paintings are moving in their simplicity, and presented elegantly, with space to think. It’s something of a revelation, in the context of the suffragette movement, and made me think about the different ways in which we protest. I believe some of these paintings are now heading to The Tate, but it would be brilliant if you could go and support a small, but brilliant, art gallery in Scarborough!

Best Museum

The last time I was in Manchester was for the Northern Soul awards. While we were there I was dragged to the National Football Museum by my Derby County loving husband. I expected to be bored stiff, but it’s actually one of the best museums I’ve been to. It’s interactive, fun, interesting, historical and the staff were bending over backwards to present items and answer questions. A really great experience. Read about it here.

Most Admirable Poet

I’ve talked before about Antony Owen before, his work as a peace poet is something I admire so much. Here’s what I’ve written about him before: Antony Owen

Most Admirable TV Personality

David Attenborough, who is using his life to bring attention to the state the world is in. He could be enjoying a lazy retirement, but instead he’s out and physically spreading the message. I loves him. Read a bit about what he’s doing here.

Best Cookbook

I’m still in love with the Thug Kitchen books. Honestly, great recipes, lots of swearing. What’s not to love? Read about them here, mother forkers.

Best Cookery Blog

Less of a blog, more of a resource, I love drooling over the video recipes and have just bought their book: BOSH

Best Poetry Blog

Another tough one. Lots of poets blogging about poetry, about being a poet, about where the creative impulse comes from. Roy Marshall’s blog and website is one of those that covers everything and does it eloquently and thoughtfully. Read it here

Most Hardworking Editor

Has got to be the champion of the North: Helen Nugent. i watched her put together the Northern Soul Awards and am in awe of her abilities and stamina.

Best Instagram account to Follow 

There are many, but one of my favourites is natgeo – gorgeous pictures.

Best Twitter Account to Follow

Ian McMillan – worth following for his early morning strolls alone, as well as his gentle, friendly humour and passion for poetry. @IMcMillan

Best Poetry Magazine

I can’t really vote for Dream Catcher Magazine, being as I’m the editor. So I shall choose another fab magazine, this one is an online magazine which makes it accessible to all, something us poor poets appreciate! Ink Sweat & Tears are consistent in both quality and passion. Get yourself over there.

And that’s that. I hope you enjoy these as much as I have.

x

 

 

Endings and Beginnings: The 2018 Roundup

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So much has happened this year, it’s quite difficult to work out how I fit everything in. I set out in January to spend the year working on myself, as much as I was working on my writing career. I was turning forty and having a bit of a melt down (massive, massive understatement) because this coincided with the decision my husband and I had made way back in 2003, that when I turned forty we’d stop trying to conceive our much wanted family and accept childlessness. In reality we decided after the last disastrous IVF cycle that that would be the last cycle, and we wouldn’t go down the donor or adoption route, but I still clung on a little to the idea. Accepting infertility, embracing childlessness is never easy for anyone. It was especially hard after the incredible journey we had been on before reaching that point. However, I did feel I’d done quite a lot of the grieving around it beforehand, in the thirteen years of drugs, IVF cycles, miscarriages and of course the loss of our daughter, but it seems there was quite a lot more grief to come out. When I hit that age- boom – I imploded. My fortieth wasn’t anything like I’d wanted; we had no money, I felt like my career hadn’t progressed, I didn’t even look the way I wanted, I was still struggling with a bad relationship with alcohol and with food and diets. Fast forward to today and I am loving being forty. I can’t wait for my forty first. I am loving that I’ve done the hard work in grieving for my daughter and grieving for the family we’ll never have, and I can just get on with enjoying my life. And I am, I love my life. I still have some very bad downs, but 90% of the time I love who I am, what I am and where I am going. There are lots of things that have helped me reach this point, but two major ones are walking away from the diet industry, and changing my thought process around alcohol. They are both related, in a way, because my thought processes to both were about restriction and a punishment and reward system. I had to abandon a way of thinking about both of them which I feel society pushes on people to make it acceptable to be miserable. I’ve talked about The Diet Trap before, but that revelation: that this multi billion pound industry was standing on the misery of the little people at the bottom, ME, was a real eye opener.  Far from helping me to become healthy, restricting myself around food had enhanced feelings of good/bad failure/achiever in me and made me miserable. I bloody loved eating what I wanted at Christmas this year and I drank far too much without any guilt or remorse, weighing in on Thursday with just a 2lb gain and no panic or need to revert to starving myself to atone for it. I’m back at my beloved spinning class tomorrow morning with a clean head and a joy in what my body can achieve. Booze wise, I’d always thought that not drinking as much, or not drinking at all was about restricting consumption. But if you think of yourself as a drinker who isn’t allowed to/can’t drink, then it just makes the desire to drink even more crushing, in the same way that diets do. Before I’d say ‘I’ll be healthier, not drink in the week and only drink at the weekends’ which meant I spent the whole week waiting to have a drink and then drank two week’s worth of Sauv. Blanc in one sitting. As a society we have a funny relationship with booze, we tend tho think that if you can exert enough willpower over it and not drink whiskey on your cornflakes then you are fully in control – we will look with pity on someone drinking a can of lager on a park bench at 10 am, but won’t think anything of someone drinking a bottle of wine in the bath as part of their answer to a busy day, as a relaxation aid. Both liquids have the same chemical composition, they are both a drug which causes the drinker to feel an effect, the lager drinker and the wine drinker both get high. But we cling dearly onto alcohol as something fun and celebratory and acceptable, so we make rules around it to make ourselves feel better about the truth, which is that we are taking a strong, cancer causing drug whenever we drink. Anyway, back to me. I still drink. I think recognising that I was, at least in part, using alcohol to medicate quite a bad anxiety problem helped. But it also helped to be honest with myself about booze and to think outside of the general view of alcohol that society wants us to have. There’s a lot of money to be made in booze and the government does well on booze tax – just saying. Anyway, I have chugged through a fair old amount of booze over the festive period and loved it. But as a general point of view, I now think of myself as a non drinker who drinks sometimes, because I like getting a bit drunk. There’s no restrictions, no rules, I just changed my default setting to ‘non drinker’. I don’t really drink at home anymore, but if I’m going to the theatre I’ll have a glass of wine and then share a bottle with Chris when I get home, and that’s it. If we go to friend’s for tea sometimes I drive, sometimes I drink. It’s no longer a big deal. There’s no longer a feeling of ‘can’t go here or here to celebrate because one of us will have to drive’ – meaning that the night won’t be worth it without a drink. The night is worth it, if you’re wondering. I have discovered a love of good company and a real joy in experience which outdoes my enjoyment of alcohol. I’m enjoying stuff more as a result: using my camera to take early morning pictures, out in the car first thing knowing I’m not over the limit. I love it. On NYE I’m driving us to Flamborough for the Viking fire festival, and I’ll drive us back and then I’ll share a bottle of bubbly for the bongs and then probably go to bed so I can enjoy a nice fresh NYD dog walk.

It took a long time to get here, and I think part of the change in how I feel about things is the natural end to my grief over Matilda. I finished the collection that maps my relationship with her, and myself and my body and my self-image as a bereaved mother this year, and went right over the edge and into the underworld while writing it. I’ve not written about her since, in poetry, but I have just finished a long form article about her grave and the importance of grieving naturally without restictions. I will probably write about her again, but I do feel that the new collection, for which I am about to sign the contract, was almost like the end game of my grief, a fiery, primal retelling of myself which I am very proud of and will still be proud of even if the book flops. I started giving her things away, and that too felt right, and I started to look to a future with projects that aren’t based around stillbirth, I started letting her go, and am still, slowly letting her go.

If you’re on the journey of the bereaved parent, or the would be parent who is facing a future without children – it gets better, it gets easier, you can be a real, whole person again. I promise.

So that was my personal development year. Career wise I’d wanted to finish my next collection and have it accepted for publication, which I’ve done, and I had wanted to move into proper long form journalism. Long form is more suited to my skills as I’m an avid researcher and I like thinky pieces. I’m not an investigative journalist, but I write about human nature in a wider context. I was utterly delighted to land my first long form piece (short by long from standards, but in the long form style) for which I will have more news at some point. I’m so happy about that. It has been a huge boost to my confidence. In fact, my freelance career has really grown. I am now landing regular work, writing stuff I love and being paid for it. I started the year being paid just £4.65 for 200 words and am ending it being paid £100 for 200 words, which is a huge step up. I love being a full-time, freelance writer, but have a way to go before I’m making any sort of decent living. It’s coming. My poor long suffering husband is a God send really as he endures a very hand to mouth existance while I’m building my career, even though he has worked hard to reach a good position in his own work.

The other big thing that happened this year was that I was asked to take over the reigns of Dream Catcher Magazine as their first female editor. It’s going to be a challenge, I am still finding my feet and I am going to have to cut back on other unpaid work, but it is something I’ve wanted to have a go at for a long time, and this York based publication with its dedicated editorial team and brilliant work ethic is something I already feel proud to be a part of. I’m excited about my future with them.

And then, finally, the PhD. I decided, after having to take time off from it due to the stress of not having enough money to fund it, that I would have to think carefully about continuing with it. I finally decided, last week, to officially end the PhD. It was not an easy decision, there was a lot of crying and I am fighting feelings of failure around the decision. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to go back to it without a maintenance grant, and I just can’t get funding for it. Sometimes you have to make really tough decisions that feel like the wrong thing, but are long-term right. I hate walking away from unfinished projects, I’m a hard worker, I like seeing things through. But this was not doable. Which leaves me in a very strange place. This is the first time in more than eighteen years that I have not been studying towards a degree. I feel a bit lost. But I also feel incredibly free. I have had the structure of learning around me all this time, and I suddenly feel like I have climbed out of a chrysalis. I definitely want to do another PhD, but it will be one which I am accepted for on a scholarship with a maintenance grant, and there’s a lot of competition with those. In the mean time I have started planning this year’s projects, there are just three:

  1. I want to finish my play and get it produced somewhere
  2. I want to de-clutter, and create an office for myself (this one is ongoing, but this year is the year)
  3. I want to write another short collection, for which I have an idea

That’s enough, alongside Northern Soul, Dream Catcher, mentoring, running workshops, running online courses. That’s enough. I also want to tackle my poor old camper van which is rotting on my driveway. I put a plan together for that too, which will involve a website and a blog, I imagine, because I like to make projects of things that interest me. I haven’t forgotten about doing my vegetarian/vegan blog either, but I want to work on the part of myself who can’t slow down, this year. I want to learn how to is slow down. It’s something I try to master every year, but this year I am setting out with less on my plate and a desire to be at peace, content and happy with my lot.

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas and I will catch up with you in the New Year, when I’ll be back to bore you with my resolutions. In the mean time, there is still time to book onto my January course: How to Write a Poem I have a few places left and am just tweaking the first course notes now. Be lovely to have you on board!

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