#Gothtober Giveaway!

Gothtober

I haven’t done a give-away in years, but I’m really excited about this one. And entering is really easy!

Priorities: What’s in it? 

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  • Hotel Chocolat, Crystopher the Vampire Caramel Halloween Box.
  • Moleskin Notebook set. 
  • Pumpkin and Spice Handpoured Candle
  • Rae Dunn’s Wicked Mug
  • Five Go Bump in the Night, Enid Blyton’s stories. 
  • Frankenstein Tshirt 

How do I enter? 

Comment below with #GothGiveAway and an answer to this question:

What is the spookiest thing to ever happen to you? 

You can enter AS MANY TIMES AS YOU LIKE! Each time you do, your name and story get put into a hat and on 18th October the giveaway will close and a winner revealed!

I also bought the most disgusting Spider Lollipops – so two Losers will also be picked and a thank you card and spider lollipop will go to those (un)lucky victors.

So go forth and spread the spook!

And if you haven’t yet bought your ticket for my Gothic Fiction workshop in the spooky 12th Century Castle, what are you waiting for?

 

T&Cs –

*Must be over 13.

*Must be UK or Ireland Resident, for postage.

*Chocolates and Lollipops are not Vegan or Gluten-Free, and contain nuts.

Seam Submission: Woman

I recently submitted an essay to Seam’s anthology, Slant – the topic being women in the modern era. Unfortunately, though I made it through several rounds of filtering, it didn’t quite fit the overall feeling of the anthology and you won’t be able to see these words printed. But!

I do think I’ve put together an essay worth discussing (of course I do, I’m a narcissist) and I’d be really interested to know what other women have to say about it.

Men – the few of you that there are – whilst this essay isn’t ‘for you’ as such, I’d like to know how you feel about infertility and whether you feel the same pressures as the guy I mention below.

Woman.

I looked in his eyes as I told him, ‘I can’t have children.’ And he recoiled. ‘That’s so
sad,’ he said. ‘Why?’ I asked. ‘Because… having children – that’s what makes you a woman.

It’s the key biological difference that separates you from a man.’
Then I guess I’m not a woman.

I’ve never had regular periods. When I was fifteen, I went into emergency surgery for
a ruptured appendix. They had to take my insides out and put me back again to fix me. My heart stopped beating at one point – and this is when I stopped being a woman. The severity of the rupture had caused the organ to disintegrate and I had three different blood poisonings. Water collected in the gap the appendix had once filled, and doctors were worried that if they tried to burst the honey-comb bubble within it, they might pierce my ovary. The bubble eventually subsided, and the water drained away. But my periods became even more irregular. It wasn’t until I was eighteen that I went to see my GP, having not had a period for over a year.

After some tests, bloods analysed and an ultrasound, I was told I had Polycystic
Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). It’s a condition that impacts my hormones, creating more male
hormones, which causes me to skip menstrual periods. It can cause women to grow hair on the face and the body, can create baldness, and it contributes to diabetes and heart disease.

PCOS also makes it ‘almost impossible to get pregnant,’ my GP explained.
To an eighteen-year-old, this is not big news. I didn’t want children. I wanted a
university degree, a flat full of potted plants, nights out with friends. I’d recently broken up with a boyfriend and I was flirting with the next potential. I was told there were treatments, birth control pills, but was warned they’d make me gain weight – which was already a symptom of my PCOS, so I declined. Children were not a priority.

Nearly ten years later, I can’t say I feel differently. If anything, my PCOS has become
a shield. My stock response any time someone makes an assumption about me having
children, or giving up my career or settling down, I say, ‘I can’t have children.’ And much
like the guy sitting across from me at the start, they recoil. Worried my infertility might be contagious.

It isn’t.

When it comes to listing things that make me a woman, I’ll admit that I struggle. I
play rugby, a man’s sport. I go to the gym, I take the rubbish out, and I’m not afraid of
spiders. Maybe I’m being flippant. Maybe that’s a man thing too. But I’ve lived by myself for a long time. I enjoy my independence. Once you’ve lived by yourself for a few months you learn that ‘gender roles’ are a fallacy. You can’t dictate behaviour due to what’s between your legs. Chores have to be done. Bills have to be paid. You don’t have any excuses. Nowhere to hide. It leaves a permanence to the idea that any equality between genders is perpetuated by another agenda. Whether that agenda is materialism, capitalism, fear or misunderstanding.

His commentary on my situation should have annoyed me. The truth is I felt sorry for
him. Though his words were about me, this guy’s thoughts were elsewhere. How he would feel like less of a man if he were told he was incapable of getting someone pregnant. Unable to fulfill his one biological requirement.

He wouldn’t feel like a real man. So how could I be a real woman?

I see a lot of pity in the eyes of people who learn about my infertility. I see the pain
that would have been caused if they’d received this news, not me. I know there will be
women out there who can’t have children, and this is devastating for them. Maybe they found out whilst trying for their first. Maybe they’d always dreamed about having children.

According to Goodarzi’s The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, ‘27% of women have PCOS undiagnosed.’ I can’t imagine the pain of discovering, after years of
knowing you want children, that you’re unable to. That you’ll need medical or divine
intervention.

But – to me – my infertility is inconsequential. It’s one facet of my complex
personality. It doesn’t stop me from retaining the privileges of being a woman. I won’t
apologise for it, either.

The Book Junkie Trial’s Readathon – The Reading List.

I’m taking part in a readathon.

Did I know readathon’s existed before last year? No. Was that because I didn’t watch enough Booktubers? Probably.

I’m 27 years old – and I’m not going to lie, I had to think about it for a second. Time was people would read a book, and then find a select group of friends you could talk about that book with. These people would be the bread and butter of your recommendations and book chat. Without them, your creativity might starve. Or you’d spend a lot of time at the library skimming through things you may or may not actually enjoy reading.

Then came the internet, and an inter-galaxy of opportunities to give your opinion and share reading experiences. And, unfortunately, until now I’ve not had the time to enjoy this outside of ‘reading for half an hour before going to bed.’ But since I’ve become self-employed and I’ve developed a Book Review Blog with my mum, I’ve made the time to read more. Which is why I’m taking part in a readathon.

Last year I set myself the goal of reading (and actually finishing) 12 books. One a month. Shouldn’t have been too difficult except it was. Whilst I was teaching, I couldn’t scrape five minutes for a smoothie let alone the hours it would take for me to enjoy 12 books. I’m by no means a ‘speed-reader’ and it blows my mind that there are wonderful people out there who ‘read the whole of the Harry Potter series in a weekend.’

Just know I’ve seen you. I respect you. I also kinda loathe you.

So I didn’t reach my target. Not even close. But it’s a new year, and I’ve got a new job that works to my own schedule. So I’m taking part in a readathon.

Scribes Map

Naomi (@TeatimewithNaomi) suggested The Book Junkie Trials, which was going to be a fantasy style readathon run by her majesty, Rachael Marie. It was the perfect choice. Her majesty organised a quiz to put you into a team, and I became a scribe. She created a map for each team and little additional ‘trials’ like sharing photos of your TBR and tweeting about your Daemon. Before the readathon had even started, I’d found a thousand new people to follow (only slight hyperbole) and all these like-minded, wonderful people wanted to talk to me about books! Dream accomplished. 

So I thought I’d post this before the readathon starts, because I’m going to be posting more blogs as I work through my reading list. Below is what I’ve chosen and why:

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The Prompts

1. Dwarf Mount: You spot a fair tavern wench, however, the Dwarf Mines, grimey and dusty, didn’t evoke a very romantic feeling. Read a book with a hint of romance to get you in the mood.

I chose Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman. It has been on my general TBR list for a while, and promises passion and pirates! Seemed like the perfect place to start.

2. Apothecary Towers: Where the wizards dwell. Tricksters. They have blind-folded you and randomised all your books, choose a book at random from your bookshelf.

Technically, I didn’t choose this, but Scarlet by Marissa Meyer was recommended to me by a friend after I threatened to give up on the series after thinking the first book, ‘Cinder’ was meh. Nothing wrong with Cinder, it just didn’t hold my interest as much as I wanted it to. And my two favourite characters died so it left me with very little root for. I’ve been promised book two in the series is worth going back for.

3. The Great Library: Ahh the great archives, find and read a book that has been on your TBR forever.

I bought Cruel Prince during the great hype of 2018. Which might not seem like forever ago, but we’re five months away from 2020. Just give yourself a minute to let that sink in. I avoided reading it because those who read and finished it before I could get my hands on a copy did not review it highly. So I kept putting it off and reading other things. So I guess it kinda counts.

4. The Drowning Deep: The Whirlpool… is so…. mesmerising. Read a book with rich world-building that will suck you into its own world, instead.

Because I’m a Scribe, the weakness attributed to me was ‘I spend too much time documenting my findings, so my challenges take longer. I must read a book over 500 pages.’ Turns out I’ve read quite a few books over 500 pages, but not within a month. I needed something with incredible world building and staying power. So I chose The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. Whilst I was on my MA course, I joined a creative writing group which focused on Fantasy called Moonrakers. So I got to spend a lot of time talking about fantasy with other fantasy nerds and just generally living my best life. Brandon Sanderson was quoted on a regular basis and even though I’ve read hundreds of fantasy books, I was promised by all that this was the author I needed to sink my teeth into. The hype is real, so I hope it delivers.

5. The Bookie Grail: Here you find a lost manuscript, delivered on this forgotten island by a fallen star. Read the group book: Stardust.

So, that’s my reading list. I’ve got 31 days to complete it. Wish me luck!

Did I let anxiety win?

Preface: Anxiety affects everyone differently. If you read this and feel what I’m talking about doesn’t relate to you, that’s fine. It was nice having you, feel free to check out something different in my long line of content.

If it does, and you feel the need to speak to someone, please check out the Samaritans (or another charity of your choosing). They’ve helped me in the past, and I know they do good work:

Anyway – as you were…

When an ex-England rugby captain invites you to join her team, you don’t say no. You might preface the response text with such phrases as ‘bit intimidated by the team’ and ‘I’m a pretty rubbish player now’, but rugby is in the blood of my family, I couldn’t say no.

And it was exciting. I’d not played a game of rugby in nearly six years. I’d coached, played one game for Aylesford, reffed a little. But to play, consistently, for a team? I missed it.

When I was at university, for whatever reason, I gave up rugby. Focused on my work and my course and didn’t give rugby (or horse riding) much thought. I didn’t realise at the time that I was suffering from anxiety, and that anxiety was taking away the two things I’d enjoyed most (after writing and reading), rugby and horse riding. By the time I’d finished my course, I didn’t horse ride and I didn’t play. And to put in context for you how important those things had been for me previously, I’d played for Kent and South East England – which meant training Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, horse riding Friday, a night off Saturday, game Sunday, recovery Monday. And then? Nothing. Weekdays filled with cramming in work and focusing on my writing.

It didn’t seem like that big a problem. Until I was invited – by Spencer – to play alongside Aylesford. I went to two training sessions, met some really nice girls. Played one game. And it was a shit game. I can’t even remember if we won. What I can remember is, I missed every tackle. I was breathing like I smoked forty a day, and I felt like I’d been in a car accident for the next two weeks.

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Where had my body gone? Why was I know a size twenty not a size twelve? When did that happen?

I knew things were really bad when I was getting texts from five or six girls from the team asking if I was coming to training, and my physical response was to burst into tears. It wasn’t their fault I was shit. It wasn’t their fault I was crying because I was shit. And in hindsight, it wasn’t my fault either, but I felt like it was. I felt like I was letting everyone down. I was a fat mess. A stupid fat mess.

On a night out, a group of lads had seen me at my heaviest and sung ‘Nelly the Elephant’ at me as I walked past. My mum (and I know she hates me telling this story, but it’s super relevant) once told me I had to go to rugby training, because ‘I weighed as much as she did when she was pregnant with me’. And that was at my lightest.

I resolved not to give a shit about my body anymore. I was going to the gym, eating healthy, and it didn’t seem to make a difference. I stopped responding to texts from the girls and basically fell off the side of the earth, hiding in my work and doing teacher training, where I gained more weight.

My dad suggested I go an see a hypnotherapist. If you think that sounds crazy, well, so did I. I thought ‘what’s the point? It’s not going to help. It’s a magic trick.’

But I went anyway – because you don’t say no to my dad – and I had my first session free and another three sessions for £40 after that. I cried pretty much that entire first session. I told the hypnotherapist that I hated my body, that I hated myself. And he told me, to give myself permission to go to the gym and get better. He asked what my parents would say to support me.

And it worked. I went to the gym. I started losing weight. I could run up and down the stairs without being out of breath because I gave myself permission to. I was coaching rugby full time, I did my ref course. I felt better. Happier. I dropped out of teaching and did my MA in creative writing – the best mistake I could have made! I finally understood how lucky I was.

But I still wasn’t playing rugby. And I still wasn’t horse riding. I’d tried loaning a horse, but it threw me, kicked at me, tried to bully me out of the field. And I just wasn’t confident enough. I went for a lesson with my old riding school, and had a panic attack whilst sat on the horse. Couldn’t breathe. Felt like my chest was trying to cave in on itself. I got off. Took some deep breathes. Got back on. Had a brilliant lesson, jumped, cantered, loved it.

And then in June of this year, Spencer invited me to play rugby again. This, though I didn’t know it, would be the real test to see if I’d kicked my anxiety squarely in the nads.

I think she messaged me on facebook – or text me, I can’t find it now. But she invited me to join the Old Elthamians and my immediate response was ‘Hell. Yes.’  Folkestone didn’t have a team anymore, everyone was off playing elsewhere or not playing at all. This was my chance to get back into rugby properly.

Of course, the first week was fitness testing. And I failed. Big time.

I had strong-ish arms and strong-ish legs. But when it came to running the mile, I felt sick. I was basically walking by halfway through the first quarter. And by half way round I had to stop. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t stand up straight, I couldn’t see straight. If I’d eaten more that day it would have resurfaced.

And the girls on my new team cheered me on. They congratulated me – even though I was quite clearly the weakest link in their team. I’d thought it was going to be humiliating. Demoralising. But I couldn’t have asked for a nicer bunch of girls to back me. I went home exhausted, and with a smile on my face.

Then I got the flu. Flu, in the summer. That sounds like an excuse. So I went to the gym, and made myself sicker. Then I had a meeting with my tutor in Bristol. So that was week three missed as well. And by week four, I’d torn my ACL. (The muscle in your knee that you need for any kind of movement apparently!) How? By standing in the kitchen. My knee made a weird popping motion to the side, and the damage was done. Another two weeks of recovery.

I was still getting texts from girls on my team ‘are you coming to training?’ ‘are we seeing you this week?’ ‘come along anyway, help out. Support.’ – But I didn’t want to just watch. I wanted to keep up. I wanted to play. And as the weeks rolled on, I was falling further and further behind – and I’d started as their shittest player anyway!

So this Wednesday was my first training session back. I’d missed Monday’s fitness training because I had a committee meeting (because I’m social sec now), and Spence had said she couldn’t give me a lift, so I’d have to make my own way.

That’s fine, I thought. I’ve been before. The girls will be happy for the numbers if nothing else. My morning was pretty chilled, Netflix, a bit of editing and lots of tea. At lunch, I had a meeting with another young writer I’m really excited to be working with, but driving back from our meeting I started crying.

The old phrases ‘fat mess’ ‘stupid’ ‘crap player’ ‘lazy’ rolling around in the back of my head. With new phrases like ‘slow’ ‘worst player’, ‘they wouldn’t even notice if you never showed up again’ ‘they’re just saying you should play so they’ve got numbers’ ‘why bother?’. And I cried the whole way home. By the time I got home, I thought I was over it. Posted a facebook status (which I never do) calling Anxiety a wankmaggot – like name calling made me super mature and able to handle it.

But the truth was, anxiety was using phrases I’d said to make me think I didn’t want to play rugby anymore. That it was too much trouble. A waste of time. That I didn’t really enjoy it anyway.

It made me feel completely alone too. Like I could die, and people would be annoyed I’d inconvenienced them. I thought about taking the ten-minute walk to the cliffs by my house. Jumping. Leaving a note on my computer that said ‘Happy now?’ like it was someone else’s fault. And then I felt guilty. What the fuck did I have to be upset about? I’m not homeless, or drug dependent, I’m a little overweight, over-emotional, and attention seeking. Get the fuck over it.

I was making tea, and mum tried to give me a hug. I told her not to touch me. Not to pander to me. I was being pathetic. She sat me down and talked to me. Really listened. Really cared. Told me I was putting too much pressure on myself not to feel. Too much pressure to be amazing at rugby. Because I was acting like I was scared. Not scared of the drive – Bristol to Kent is three to four hours, this was nothing like that. Not the people – because they’d been nothing but lovely to me. Fear of failure then. Of letting people down.

So I had to ask myself: Does the pressure need to be there? No. Will the girls care? No. Will they be disappointed if I don’t show up – probably not. Or is that anxiety creeping in again? Could I ask them? No, that’s not their problem.

What do you want then? Deep breathe. I want this. I want to get fitter, I don’t want to feel sorry for myself. I can’t let it win. So I packed my stuff, I shaved my legs and I went to training. I got a few comments about being a ‘stranger’, but people seemed happy enough to have me around. They remembered my name at least.

And yeah, the training session was hard. My knee starting hurting almost immediately. I avoided contact to begin with, but took on the tackle pad when it came to swapping people out. One girl could move me. Whether it was weight, or skill, or just planting my good leg in the way, girls were hitting the pad and bouncing off. I could do this.

We split off into forwards and backs. Had to work in pods. Take the ball, hit the pad, go down. I could do that too. But my knee collided with the floor and suddenly I felt like I was on fire. Like Someone had rubbed gunpowder into my knee. I couldn’t straighten it without it burning. I had to bow out. And I felt, again, like I was letting everyone down.

Now I’d had quite a positive response to the Facebook post. People, especially other rugby girls, sharing their support. I didn’t want to leave the pitch. That felt like giving up, and letting those people down too. I felt stupid. Pathetic. And it hurt so much.

Eventually, the training ended. I dropped one of the girls off at the train station, called my friend and told her I was fine. I was fine. I’d done it. I’d gone to training, I’d given it my all. I’d hurt myself, but no one had died. That was a win.

400076_10150598927390659_328815983_nThe next day my knee didn’t hurt at all. And I was left with this deep, deep fear that it had all been in my head. That I was putting up physical roadblocks in the way of getting fitter. Because I feel trapped in this flabby mess I call my body. I’m stuck on the days when I could make every breakdown and high levels of competition. Run fast enough to be in the right place at the right time, make a tackle worthy of Spencer mentioning it in the newspaper article she was writing.

I went to a BNI business meeting, and one of the members who has me on Facebook came up and gave me a hug. Told me he’d seen my status and thought I needed it. I told him I’d just had a stupid wobble, and he said ‘we all have those’.

So to Priscilla, Claire, Yvonne, Bex, Katherine, Lina, Mark, and Andy – thank you so much for taking your time out to give me the nudge I needed when I needed it most. You’ll never know how important those comments and messages were to me at that moment.

And as for whether I let the anxiety win or not – I’ve no fucking idea. I’ve got serious DOMS today, which has annoyed me because I could/should have done more at training. But I’m also kind of smug, because I know somewhere in me is the capacity for good rugby.

And if you’re looking to join a really good, high-quality rugby team full of girls, let me put you in touch…

So what can you take away from this (frankly grotesque and self-indulgent) essay. Everyone has their own shit, sure. But it’s okay to ask for help, to feel inadequate, or insecure. So long as you know you can ask for help from those around you. And if you see someone is having a hard time, spare them a kind word, a quick message or a hug. It might make more difference than you realise.