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!

On 3… A Review of How to Stop Time.

The concept: 

If you read the previous ‘On 3…’ you can skip this bit.

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not.

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

How to Stop Time, Matt HaigImage result for how to stop time

Confession. I went into this book already obsessed with Matt Haig. I’ve read snippets of his writing before, I’ve followed him on Twitter, I narrowly missed the chance to see him read in Bath and all my friends from uni rate his writing. So – I went in with big expectations.

I was not disappointed.

Matt Haig creates a lovely balance between informative information about the scientific perspective and philosophies of the main character whilst also including a colloquial voice, charming personality and an overriding sense that the main character is empathetic and warm even whilst surrounded by others who are not.

Tom, the main character, doesn’t age the way a normal human would – but makes a point to explain he’s not a ‘sexy vampire’ either, which always needs clarification when discussing age-related superpowers. (Thanks Twilight.)

Mum: It’s an interesting concept of ageing slower than the average person, something we would all like to be able to do once we are into our 30’s, 40’s onwards. So much to do and so little time. Blink and you’ve missed your life! I’m interested in going on a journey with Tom.

And the opening few pages create potential conflict, asking tense questions about the world Tom lives in – never giving too much away but with a voice that seems transparent and authentic. Not the easiest thing in the world to do.

The final sentences of the opening chapter GUARANTEED I’d read this book until the end.

‘Anyone who does discover our secret, and believes it, tends to find their short lives are cut even shorter. So the danger isn’t just from ordinary humans. It’s also from within.’

Love. The. Drama.

Mum: I already don’t like Hendrich because he’s controlling and playing games but I’m intrigued to read further because I’m yet to understand what hold he has over Tom and why people need to die?

Oh Hendrich is the worst. For all of Tom’s empathy and warmth, Hendrich is cold, calculating and ‘lawful evil’ if I’m allowed to make a D&D reference in this review. I did genuinely laugh when I discovered a man who doesn’t age got Botox and a brow lift to ‘fit in’. People are strange. And Tom describes him best as

‘An incredibly ancient child’

Which is the greatest oxymoron I’ve ever read.

Matt Haig’s characters are so inherently human. Even in only a few short pages. Panic attacks and attention deficits. I don’t understand why he’s trapped. I don’t understand why he wants to go back to London. I don’t understand who ‘she’ is, and if she’s also an albatross. But I’m excited to find out.

Mum: It must be pretty good if Stephen Fry and Graham Norton have put their names on the cover. And did you know, ‘but nothing ever happens in heaven’ is from a Talking Heads song?

Heaven is a place where nothing happens

 

I just immediately thought of the Artworks piece down in the Folkestone Creative Quarter. So, definitely showing your age there.

Mum: Ha. Ha.

But it is cool that an idea or perspective can transcend time especially when the main character has nothing but time.

Well done Matt Haig, we can’t wait to see how it ends.

If you think Fleabag is only for posh girls, you’ve misunderstood the situation.

This is in response to Ellen E. Jones’ article for The Guardian.

Posh, adjective. Meaning to do something in an ‘upper-class’ way, showing the qualities of elegance or smarts. Fleabag is none of these things. I’d end my argument here, but I’ve got a few more points to make.

With a private education, an ancestry in titled nobility, and the way she carries herself in interviews, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s echoes through each character she creates. But it would be naive of us as an audience to assume that every facet of her own personality is found in her characters, or that her characters are only representative of her characteristics. In simpler terms, do not confuse the creator for the character.

I attended a London university for my undergraduate degree, based in West London. So far west in fact it almost wasn’t London at all. Within that subsection of London, you have beautifully posh and expensive places such as Richmond. And right next door you have Hounslow. I’d been there less than a week when one of my classmates told me that Folkestone, my home town, must be ‘really posh’ because of the way I spoke. Over the years, Folkestone has done everything it can to be the artistic hub of the south east. But Folkestone is not posh. Folkestone, I pointed out to my classmates, had the highest rate of teenage pregnancy and chlamydia in Kent. The poshest of all sexually transmitted infections.

Fleabag is well spoken. That does not mean Fleabag is posh. Let me compare Fleabag with and without her family. In the very first episode she’s reading a newspaper alone on the bus. The series is set in London, so arguably this is a newspaper Fleabag found rather than purchased. But the headlines are very telling. They read, ‘Private School Head Assaults Pupil in Class’ ‘Has the word Feminism become dirty?’ ‘Bank Chiefs face House of Commons Enquiry’ – and in the corner there is an ad for a mortgage company with a fully naked girl, legs spread and pelvis up. Clearly this is a riff on other Heralds and their focus on the scandalous, but it’s all anti-establishment. Props help shape the world characters live in, and this seedy working-class newspaper is no different from the radiator headboard with clothes drying on it in Fleabag’s home, the fact she has an Argos clothing rail rather than a wardrobe, or the fact that Harry says he’s going to take ‘the posh shampoo’.

Compare this with her behaviour around her ‘uptight’, ‘beautiful’, ‘super rich’, ‘high powered’ sister whose ‘clothes look awesome on’.  She hides away from them, barricading herself behind smart remarks and jokes. She attends feminist lectures, awkward spa retreats and family dinners to make her family happy. Even the lighting betrays the pretence she puts on, so her family remain unaware to her unhappiness. When Fleabag is surrounded by her family it’s often soft, warm lighting whilst she stands in the darker, colder areas. When she’s on her own, it’s harsher. Often grey. She’s not putting on a pretence for the audience (which we greatly appreciate) so we see her in the raw colours of her life. When her heart is broken by her family’s betrayals, we, as an audience, might scream ‘relatable!’ but the truth is, we empathise. We understand and sympathise with her struggle. No matter our own background, we can recognise a spiral that hasn’t hit bottom yet. Her father’s house might be huge, but the flat Fleabag lives in isn’t. Her God-mother might be a high-end artist, but Fleabag is close to liquidising her business. The prestige of her family makes her grief more poignant, but it doesn’t make Fleabag posh.

Waller-Bridge has carefully constructed a barrier between her character Fleabag and the audience, a wall which only empathy can bring down. She breaks the fourth wall not to relate to us, but to invite us in on her perspective of all the events. Whether this is done through commentary, a sharp look, or finishing someone’s sentence for us.

We never hear Fleabag’s given name. Characters only speak to her directly or, in the case of her God-mother, a click of the fingers, and therefore we associate the name Fleabag and the connotations of that with the main character. Even Boo, who could be the originator of the nickname, only ever speaks to Fleabag directly. They share an improvised song about ‘lunch break abortions’ and being ‘modern women’, which is a far cry from the lifestyle ‘two degrees, a husband and a Burberry coat’ gives her sister.

Fleabag isn’t posh, though she’s surrounded by a world that is. A world that does not sympathise or empathise with her, so we as an audience must. If the story was just for posh girls, it wouldn’t be so heart breaking.

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.

 

Why do you do what you do?

I guess, as I’m technically asking myself this question, it would be a bit of a cop-out to say ‘because I love it’. Though I do, and I always have enjoyed; writing, editing, conversing, blogging, reading, and everything that connects those dots together.

It’s just become more obvious to me the more I’ve been layered and layered with jobs and writing-related stress.

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Today I did a workshop with the Metis – Ashford and Folkestone Network for women in business. I was, unsurprisingly, really nervous about it. How can I explain to people – in only half an hour – how to get the most out of their blog? How do I dare when this is my current shop front? I’ve had blogs in the past that have done really well (and others that haven’t). What if I’m not as good as I think I am? What if I’m a fraud?

Turns out – everyone has those fears. Everyone is trying to do their best. This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did highlight the amount of pressure I feel to be the ‘voice of authority’ when it comes to blogging. Which is stupid – for the simple reason I AM an authority when it comes to blogging because of years of experience, my client track record, my statistics and my research.

Of course, you never know you know something until someone reminds you.

UntitledI went to AccessxHelenAnderz last week at Hoxton Hall. I’ve been to a few workshops on Youtube and blogging, and this was – in my ever so humble opinion – one of the best. Helen Anderson introduced herself in a humble/hustling hard kind of way which was fresh and authentic. She didn’t teach anyone in the room to ‘suck eggs’ or ever assume that people were too stupid to understand her. She was friendly, fun and informed.

Now I ghost write for other people, I wanted to make sure I was evoking that same kind of reaction.

I started with a little game, asking people in pairs to tell an anecdote. Telling them they had three minutes to explain the anecdote. I then gave them 45 seconds and cut in.

“Not everyone is going to have time to read everything. And you’re fighting against the noise around you. You’ve got to make sure your blog stands out.” – And away I went. We talked about types of blog, types of content, types of audience. And I ran over my half an hour easily – even though I’d skipped two slides so I could leave time for questions! I hope Helen Anderz doesn’t mind that I quoted her directly – “If you’ve got a voice or a message, you’ll find an audience.” I just felt, for these brilliant businesswomen, it was the perfect take away.

I was asked at the end, “what is your favourite quote?” (and maybe that’s what this blog post should have been called.

My response:- Shia LaBeouf, “Just do it.” I wanted to make people laugh. When you’re laughing, you’re relaxed and open to new things. And that’s what I wanted to share with them.

I really enjoyed sharing my knowledge and experience with women with their own keen business understanding. Plus it helped that I was told at the end how “amiable, and well presented” I was. How professional. How enthusiastic. I couldn’t stop grinning the whole way home.

So why do I do what I do? Because I love it, for all the reasons above and more.

How are you dealing with the heat?

Short answer: I’m not. The heat is gross, and I want my ‘English Weather’ back.

Last week, my town had one day of rain; and I wrote more for my manuscript in that day than I had the entire week previous. It’s not just that I’m a lover of rain – which I am – it’s the halting sagginess to summer heat I can’t stand. Everything stops moving or slows down. People feel like they’re walking through custard. Hot custard.

We all think we’re going to be really excited for summer – and I think that’s because all the ‘fun things’ happen during summer. Bbqs, beach days, cocktails and budgie-smugglers (my dad’s term for speedos), and I always feel bad for raining on the parade. (Did you see what I did there?) But unless you don’t sweat, or have a pool, the summer is the worst.

IMG_20171217_102540_666You’ve got people suffering from heat stroke, and the animals! Think of the animals!

This morning – and this is one of the reasons this post is late, I was outside enjoying the sunshine with my dog like a massive hypocrite – I filled one of those children’s plastic toy boxes full of water (made sure it came out cold first) and watched my dog play in it. He was soaked. Drank half the bucket too. And then he curled up on our cold, tiled, kitchen floor and fell asleep. So cute.

The cats were more tentative about the box. The boy casually sniffed it, but decided the surrounding puddles were enough of a warning and walked away. The girl nearly put her face straight into it, not realising how high the water was. After sneezing the water out, she drank and curled up under a tree in our garden.

We’ve got water bowls all over the house at the moment to protect our babies from this god-awful heat.

I’ve not slept in my bed for weeks. Just perched on top of my sheets, with my pillows under my neck so that my face doesn’t touch anything! Who knew the back of your knees could sweat so much… And as for the underboob – well, I don’t want to go into it. But you could probably fry and egg under there. Just saying.

I was in London twice this week – and London in the summer is gross. On Monday I travelled by car, and was saved by minimal walking and state of the art air-conditioning. It was more difficult once I was in the building I was visiting, but with lots of dark nooks and big doors I stayed relatively cool.

Yesterday was different. I was wearing as little as possible (without being indecent) finding myself trousers of a pretty thin chiffon so that I looked like I could be wearing trousers or pajamas and no one would be able to tell the difference. The woman who sold them told me they’d ‘do me no good’ because they were black and ‘no matter the fabric, black always absorbs the heat’. Which is true. That’s one of the first things I learned in science. But Chiffon – if cut widely enough, barely touches you. It’s too busy dancing in the breeze of motion. So they worked a treat. But my face wanted to evacuate every pore. I’ve never had such a sweaty upper-lip in my life. Gross.

But I had a large bottle of water with me, that just so happened to be colour co-ordinated with my nails and trainers. Because a year ago, at work, I was given some very solid heat related advice. My boss’s husband came into the office with a pack of twelve water bottles. Just little handy ones you can chuck in a bag. He turned me and said,

37753947_10156318106650659_2347511016687927296_n‘Nat always forgets to drink water, so when you see her, point at those and tell her ‘hydrate or die’.

And then he left. And so poignant was that interaction, I’ve stuck with that advice ever since. Hydrate or die – you’ll not forget that in a hurry.

So give me rain. Pouring, dark, cold rain. Not enough to drown me, maybe 30 days instead of 40. At least then I might get my manuscript finished.

How long does it take for you to get ready?

Blogger's Daily Routine Timeline InfographicIf you’re one of those magical people who can wake up and just ‘be awake’ I’d ask which demon you sold your soul to and how can I get in touch?

Waking up for me is an ORDEAL! Firstly, why do all alarms ring through your head? Why can’t they lull you awake, gently? And with enough time to become sentient, after that weird fever dream you were just experiencing? I’ve tried using different songs, phone ringtones, the radio. All of it hurts. So once I’m awake I like to lie awake and stare at the ceiling for ten minutes whilst I contemplate pretending to be dead or calling in sick. Eventually, the need the use the bathroom becomes overwhelming and I get up.

When it comes to breakfast, well, this is the laziest part of my morning. I’ll either have cereal or toast if I’m doing it myself. I’ve recently moved back in with my parents (because my MA in Creative Writing has rinsed my account), and my mum likes to have bacon and eggs on toast for breakfast. If she’s cooking, then I wake up to the smells of bacon and it’s a lot easier to be enthused.

Once I’ve eaten, it’s time to shower and brush my teeth. I don’t spend longer than ten minutes in the shower. My hair is quite long, but I find a simple wash once and condition every three days keeps it in good condition. I don’t douse it in hairspray or straighten it very often, so it keeps my hairdresser happy when I see her.

On a dry day, it takes me exactly eleven minutes to get dressed, make my bed, brush my hair and brush my teeth. It’s the only part of my morning where I feel even remotely efficient. Rarely does my underwear match. Rarely can I find two socks with the same pattern, so I tend to stick with at least the same colour. I’ve tried to only buy black socks to that I can pretend I have my life together. But I love a novelty sock. I will not apologise.

On a wet day, it takes slightly longer to get dressed because of the drying process. First, I have to enjoy a cup of tea, a bit of my book or a youtube video. It’s a must, without this part of my day everything else crumbles. Then I lightly blow dry my hair at the root, and towel dry the ends. If I’m sat at my desk/vanity table whilst this is happening, it’s about this time that my cat comes running into my room, screaming, and sits on my lap slowing the rest of my morning down. Whilst I’ve been working from home this hasn’t been a problem – but when I get back to a nine-to-five in September? Well, we’ll burn that bridge when we get to it.

Finally, Makeup.

I timed this bit, because it’s the longest part of my ‘getting ready’ process – which is why it only happens if I’m:

  • Sick – and need to hide how awful I look to the general public.
  • I’m on a date – and need to hide how awful I look to the poor schmuk sat across from me.
  • I’m on a night out with my friends – and I need to hide the fact I’m the Lena Dunham to their Taylor Swift(s).
    • This is a reference to Katherine Ryan’s stand up comedy AKA The hilarious retelling of truths too relevant to my life. If you’ve not seen her Netflix Specials – fix your life immediately. 
  • I’m bored and I’ve got time.

Seventeen minutes to do my makeup. I’m saying that up front so you know in advance that I have no idea what I’m doing. That’s not the expedient ‘I do my make up every day, bit of foundation, bit of mascara and away I go!’ nor is it the ‘Everything I learned from my professional MUA course I’ve put into bite-size chunks for Instagram and Youtube – you’re welcome’. It’s in the chubby middle section of ‘I learned from everything I know youtube and cannot get the cat-eye flick on even the sixth try’.

It happens like this: Wash face, prime face, foundation, concealer, blusher, eyes, face powder (I know this is wrong, but I make no apologies. I’m just doing my best!) eyebrows, mascara, lipstick, check for boogers, maybe take a selfie. Depends how good the light is and how much spare time I have. Filter it. Save for later. I don’t like posting too many selfies at once, I don’t want people to think I’m at that level of self-confidence because I’m not, and they might expect me to do confident things like show up to parties.

I only have one bag that I use on a regular basis, so it has phone, keys and purse already in it. If I need anything else then I’ve usually packed it the night before because, again, I like to pretend I’ve got my life together.

Things that will never be part of my morning routine:

  1. Painting my nails – it never dries in time. I always get it everywhere. If I’m going to make a mess it’s going to be in the cool afternoon time so that I don’t have to worry about spending too much time on.
  2. Exercise – my dad goes to the gym before work three times a week, swimming at the weekends. And this blows my mind. I don’t want to be damp and gross from sweating and then showering in an unfamiliar place. I don’t want to hurt and ache when I walk around the office. Who am I kidding? I don’t want to exercise if I can help it…
  3. Food Prep – there’s something exciting about wondering whether you’re going to eat lunch at a normal time or scrabble at the local supermarket to throw something together in the short break you have. Unless… does leftover Chinese count as food prep?

So what do you think? Could you improve my routine? Or does it sound all too familiar? Leave a comment below, share with your friends and I’ll see you next week!

Why do authors prefer a quiet place when they are writing something?

There are a lot of stereotypes about authors being reclusive and introverted. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from my years of studying Creative Writing as a craft it is this:

They are all true, but not for the reasons you think.

You see, for new/amateur writers, a blank page can be really daunting. It’s a white void. But for someone who has a bit more experience taming this particular barren landscape, a blank page can carry enough excitement to carry you forwards way past 10, 40, 80,000 words. How does this relate to quiet? Well, it’s hard for me to avoid cliches here, but just know it’s so I can convey how I see the blank page as a writer. For me, it’s a canvas and I’m trying to paint a new world on it. It might be fictitious, fantastical, or more familiar – but it has to be clear in my mind and my readers’. The blank page gives me all the freedom I need to create this world, but I’m surrounded by other elements that can affect it. Most of these elements are sounds and distractions.

Image result for In a time lapse

Some writer’s like to work in silence because it allows them to focus in on their creation and develop their world from this clean slate/blank canvas. Others don’t. It’s not uncommon to find a writer in a coffee shop or somewhere busy working on their manuscript. I even enjoy writing to specific playlists. If I’m working on a particularly dark scene, I like to listen to the soundtrack from Inception on Spotify. When I’ve got my historical head on, I prefer a bit of Einaudi.

But not everyone is going to appreciate me flicking between songs to find the right mood as I write, so I’ve got my noise-canceling headphones at the ready. (Sometimes, I’m not even playing music, I just don’t want to work in my office alone but can’t afford to be distracted). A quiet place doesn’t have to be silent.

The second reason, though arguably more important, is that authors prefer a quiet place to write is because they are working. One of my lecturers described a writing career as akin to Wuthering Heights.


You’re bringing this feral child home, this nomad lifestyle of writing and locking yourself away. Your family will not understand. They’ll think it’s a hobby or a waste of time. Because everyone knows you can’t get paid for writing.”

– Lucy English, Bath Spa University.


So a quiet place gives you the freedom to create without feeling like you need to justify the time you’re committing to your writing. People always look impressed that I’m studying an MA, up until the moment I tell them it’s for Creative Writing. Everyone thinks they can write, which is great. I don’t want to disparage anyone from that. But writing is a lot like playing a musical instrument. You can have a dabble and you might get a few good sounds out of it. But it’s the commitment that’ll develop it into something beautiful. And for that, I need a quiet place, without judgy faces or questioning expressions.

Me, my quiet place, and my blank canvas.

 

 

What are you really bad at?

Oh God. So many things.

Ice Skating – We went as a group of friends to the Gillingham Ice Rink. I screamed every time I let go of the side. It was involuntary. Couldn’t stop myself. When my friend tried to pull me along, I screamed every time she tried to let go. Eventually, I just sat on the side with a slush-puppy and read my book. It’s a lot easier than trying to balance on razors whilst kids half your size and age do tricks in the middle.

Playing Musical Instruments – My mum tried to teach me how to play the piano, but wasn’t strict enough really, and I wasn’t interested so I gave up after three ‘lessons’. And I tried to learn the saxophone. But after two years I’d not really improved so my music teacher said to me, genuine quote, ‘I don’t want to waste your parents’ money anymore. Maybe you should give this up.’

Eating Healthy – Sorry. They invented cake. What was I supposed to do?

Keeping My Room Tidy – I’m one of those people who starts tidying their room and somehow manages to make it worse. I could have a weekly decluter and still manage to have a floordrobe. Currently on my desk I’ve got a roll of binbags, two bottles of nailpolish remover, my IPad, an acrylic organiser with all my sharpies and highlighters, a first aid kit, six prit-stick glues, a remote controller (not sure what for) a black tie, two cds, a pair of scissors, pink post-it notes, a pink hand bag and a blue plastic wallet. Not sure where to put any of it really…

Keeping My Mouth Shut – That filter people have where they don’t give their opinions on something straight away? Never heard of it.

Controlling My Temper – See above.

But hey – we’ve all got our little quirks, right? Right?! These are just the ones off the top of my head. I’m sure, given time, I’ll think of more…