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I’ve Got a Theory: musical theatre and writing

 

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You could argue that one of the reasons I’ve neglected the blog so long is because I fell down the “Hamilton Heavy Rotation” hole. Yes, that’s a thing. “Guns and Ships” on my headphones, over and over and over. However, I’m also pretty certain that repeat listening to two of the cleverest musicals out there – in the shape of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s HAMILTON, and Tim Minchin & Dennis Kelly’s MATILDA – has given me some new ideas about writing fiction. (And this, kids, is why musical theatre is dangerous. It Makes People Think.)

I’m not going to be exhaustive, partly because I’m not clever enough and partly because I don’t want to get bogged down in the specifics of each musical – I’ll either spoil them for you or you already know what I’m talking about. And if you don’t know anything about either musical (or have no interest in either) then I’m sorry but you’re probably going to come out of this hating me because I am very musical theatre people. Regardless, I’m going to stick with the two big points I think I’ve found and which I know stand up for me, at least.

The basics: HAMILTON is the unlikely smash inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography of American founding father, Alexander Hamilton. Written, scored & led by Lin-Manuel Miranda, its musical numbers are mostly pop, rap and R&B and its Broadway cast of BAME actors is tremendous. It’s a juggernaut. It’s wonderful – I promise.

MATILDA is, of course, the musical developed by the RSC based on Roald Dahl’s novel – especially notable for the fact its songs & lyrics are by Tim Minchin (which means any actors brave enough to audition for the formidable role of Miss Trunchbull are required to demonstrate absolute precision in their vocal performances).

The most obvious link between these two and writing fiction is that both involve storytellers or writers. Hamilton is concerned with writing his own narrative and that of his new nation; creating a legacy that will outlive him. Words are his weapons and they are both his making and his undoing. It’s also, as my friend Louie Stowell pointed out in a conversation we had, very clearly a musical by a writer – that is, somebody embedded in the specific process of writing, rather than composing. (There’s more to unpack here, but again… not clever enough and I’ll just tie myself up in knots in the process.)

Meanwhile, stories and books are so deeply threaded through MATILDA that you can’t unpick them – however, an important addition to the musical  from the book is a subplot in which Matilda tells a story about an escapologist and an acrobat to her friendly local librarian [shout-out to librarians here] and in the process uncovers the life stories of Miss Honey and Miss Trunchbull.

With me so far, maggots?

74388Jolly good.

There’s definitely enough material for a couple of serious and learned academic essays looking at the way stories are used in the narratives of these musicals (just as Hamilton is obsessed with framing his own story, so Matilda says the stories she tells just come to her: “… these stories delivered to me ready-written” [Quiet] and yet somehow they turn out to be true) that’s another blog post or twelve.

What’s struck me about both Matilda and Hamilton is that both contain lessons for fiction writers.

The first one is theme – or rather, layers of themes. Listen carefully to the cast recording of HAMILTON. Then listen to it again, specifically for repetition. Once you start hearing it, it’s everywhere: a musical phrase dropped in, a line from a song repeated with a different inflection or by a different character. (Because the ensemble pieces can be incredibly dense – in a good way – it’s easiest to pick up in Angelica & Eliza’s parts, their voices and personalities threading through the whole narrative.) It’s used to particularly poignant effect in Hamilton’s last song, too.

Miranda has specifically referred to another musicalLES MISERABLES as having been influential in this, but it’s a technique that easily transfers to fiction. Repeated phrases, images, foreshadowing, callbacks – not just in plot but in character. Think about the way a film score often assigns a musical phrase or theme to a major character, and finds ways to bring the individual themes together in harmony. So does HAMILTON, layering musical phrases and lyrics together to create new patterns with every new interaction.

Yes, it sounds like I’ve lost my mind. I know. Bear with me.

If you take this idea and apply it to fiction, you’re already losing one of the major components: music. However, the same principle still applies. It’s about the words, the phrases, the repetition (both foreshadowing and calling back); even the movements and facial expressions of a character. The pauses. The gaps in what they say. The words associated with them, the mood they create. If each character has their own colour thread in the tapestry – just as HAMILTON’s Angelica Schuyler has “Satisfied”, for example – then it weaves through the whole cloth, sometimes visible, sometimes not… but always identifiable.

Lin-Manuel Miranda might be is a bit of a genius.

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Then there’s the other thing.

Vocabulary.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen and heard author friends complain about their “crutch phrases” during the editing process. We all have them: usually, they’re verbs like “looked” or “turned” or “reached for”. I’m particularly guilty of people grinning and frowning. There’s a lot of grinning and frowning, often done by the same person at opposite ends of a sentence.

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Being in one of my books is AN EMOTIONAL JOURNEY. Often in several directions, all at once.

Everyone falls back on crutch phrases – whether we’re writing or not. They’re the deeper grooves worn in our brain; the easy grab when we need to explain something. We’re all human; we all do it. And we know it.

Do me a quick favour: have a quick listen to “The Smell of Rebellion” from MATILDA.

Go on.

I’ll wait.

Done?

Not only is that quite possibly the most Tim Minchin-y Tim Minchin song (see where the “precision” thing comes in?) but the range of vocabulary is astonishing. Alright, so some of it would be a bit… iffy in the middle of a sentence: “Charlie caught a whiff of the odour of toast” might be a stretch – the rule about singing in musicals is, after all, that characters reach a level of emotion which cannot be contained by mere speech (or a glass case) leaving them no choice but to break into song – but you listen to that and tell me you honestly can’t think of another word for “looked”.

There’s a lot more to be said, I think, in terms of lessons fiction writers can learn from musicals – but I also think there’s very little worse than someone standing there with their hands on their hips and their glasses halfway down their nose, declaiming their writing tips to live by. All I’m saying is that it’s very easy to give into the temptation to put “fiction” in one box and “musical theatre” (as an example) in another, and never think to look elsewhere for tools we can use. Writing is stealing borrowing, so borrow from everywhere, if there’s something that sets your mind and soul alight. Cross-pollination is what art is about, and it makes us all richer.

Maybe you’ve read this and thought “Well, duh…” because all this was desperately obvious to you already. In that case, awesome, wow; you’re ahead of me, so good on you. But to me, this clicking into place was a revelation (not a revolution) and I’m hoping I can hang onto it.

Maybe it’s all just bunnies after all – but who knows: maybe musical theatre might even make me a better writer?

I could certainly drink to that.

Toast

All he wants for Christmas is you

I was trying to think of something to put up on here ahead of Christmas. I’ve had an idea for a Christmas horror(ish) story knocking around in my head for about four years now, and one year I’m going to actually think about it in enough time (for which read: in about June) and write the wretched thing. But alas, not this year.

So instead, I thought I’d do something else – partly inspired by this:

If you’ve read either of the Blood and Feathers books, which are my (technically) non-YA books, you might remember that I like to write to music, and to fit songs to specific characters or sections of the story – and this version of that song made something in my head go “click” in a good way.

I don’t have a Christmas story for you, but I thought… how about the first draft of what was originally intended to be the prologue to a third Blood & Feathers book?

A couple of disclaimers, caveats, provisos and so on:

  1. This will spoiler the hell (pun intended) out of the previous 2 books. So if you’re planning on reading them / reading them at the moment / care about that sort of thing… caveat lector.
  2. First draft. Firstest of the firstiest drafts. Because, actually, I think there’s something quite fun about you seeing just HOW many commas, dashes and semi-colons I throw at a piece of writing to make my sentences even longer and even more unwieldy before someone far more sensible than I am comes along and makes me take them out. By force if necessary.
  3. I’m not really in a position to talk about what’s happening with a third book. I get asked from time to time, and the honest, most straightforward answer I can give is always “If and when I can give you an answer, I will.” So… yeah. That.
  4. It never fails to worry me how much I enjoy writing this guy. I should probably get that looked at.

 

So, all that said: welcome to St Michael-in-the-Hollows…

(more…)

The Candle and the Lighthouse

When the lights go out, you don’t always see it.

It’s not like being at the theatre, where the house lights zip down and the stage lights go up; where there’s always someone front of house with a torch to guide you if you need it. And it’s not like drawing a blind against the glare of the midday sun: a gentle shade against unbearable brightness.

Sometimes – when the lights go out – you don’t even know it’s happening until the darkness is so complete that you can’t tell whether your eyes are open or shut. Sometimes, they dim, a single lumen at a time.

Things that were bright and sparkling… they become that little duller, that little bit less shiny – as though a mist is settling between you and them. Polished glasses on a shelf. Stars. Moving water under moonlight. Wits.

What glittered becomes grey.

That’s when you see it. If you’re lucky.

That’s when you need a candle. And that really is all you need. One, single candle – however small. Because in the dark, a candle is a lighthouse. A candle casts shadows – and believe it or not, shadows will give you hope… because for there to be shadows, there have to be edges. There have to be ends. There have to be places where the shadows aren’t.

A candle is all it takes to remind you that the shadows end.

A candle can be your lighthouse, guiding you home. It doesn’t need to be big. It doesn’t need to be bright. It just needs to be alight.

Depression, if you’ve ever tangled with it, is like that. It creeps or it roars – you can never tell which it’ll be. It overwhelms you like a wave… or it sneaks up on you like a changing tide and you don’t see it until it’s up to your neck.

It’s the darkness that sidles into your life and snuffs out every lamp you lit around yourself as it goes. And although I’ve been taught to see it coming, sometimes – just every now and again – the darkness is too fast and too deep and it is a thing with teeth and scales that whispers from the shadows and locks the door behind it when it comes in.

I think, this time, I may have been sitting in the dark for a while. I’m not sure: I can’t remember when the lights started going out. All I know is that somehow, sometime, they did.

 

And somewhere in the darkness, I put my hand down and I felt the scales and I felt the teeth… and then, a box of matches.

A candle.

A lighthouse.

And that’s all I need.

When I Grow Up

I was watching an interview on YouTube a few days ago; an interview with an actor who is my age. There might be a year or so in his favour, but put it this way: we’d have been in close enough classes at school to have known each other.

He was – as many actors I know are wont to be – very serious about his work, his profession. His craft. Passionate about it, believing in it, expecting others to take it equally seriously.

A cog started to turn somewhere in my head.

Yesterday, my son’s drum tutor rolled out that phrase we tell children to make them keep going when they don’t want to. Success is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. Work hard. You want something? Be prepared to do what it takes to get it, to give what it takes. It won’t fall into your lap. Earn it. A cog clicked into another cog, starting that one turning too.

On Twitter, Joanne Harris talked about the difference between “author” and “writer”, saying that for a long time she felt uncomfortable calling herself an author – and I understood exactly what she meant. Authors are people who are serious about their work, their profession. Their craft. They are passionate about it, believing in it, expecting others to take it equally seriously.

A whole chain of cogs, spinning and spinning and spinning like they’re never going to stop.

“What do you do?” I get asked from time to time, often by parents at school.

“I’m a writer.”

“What do you write?”

And I make myself small.

I make myself insignificant.

I talk about how lucky I am. I talk about how it was always my dream, and how much I love it.

Because I am. And it was. And I do.

But I don’t talk about the other part of it. I don’t talk about the nights staring at the ceiling in wide-eyed terror while my husband sleeps: the small, dead hours when I wonder whether someone will find me out, will realise I’m making it all up as I go – when they will see that there’s no genius here, no gift. There’s just bloody-minded determination and will.

I don’t talk about the cold sweat of wondering what comes next. I don’t talk about the frustration of being able to see an idea, hold it glittering in my mind; perfect and whole and right… only to see it mangled by my own hand, crushed under the weight of letters and full-stops.

I don’t talk about the typing. The hours staring at a screen until I could cry. The hours typing until the pain in my arms actually does make me cry – the RSI a lingering leaving-present from a job I left long ago, and which no amount of physio or different chairs or keyboards or splints can shift.

I don’t talk about the fear that comes with knowing you’ve chiselled off a piece of yourself for people to judge.

I don’t talk about the number of times I’ve re-read my own words, wondering what on earth I was thinking when I wrote that… and then making it better, only to repeat the process a few weeks later. And again, and again until I’m sick of the words, sick of the world, sick of myself. Sick of thinking I could ever do this.

It is a craft. I’ve had to learn it – and I’ve had to learn it the hard way, in public.

No, it isn’t working down a mine or in a foundry. But it is work.

It is a profession. This is what I do. It’s the only thing, really, I know how to do. I’ve had other jobs, office jobs, non-office jobs, “proper” jobs. I hated them all. But this? This, I love. I love it so hard that it burns and sometimes I wonder whether it will consume me.

I wonder, sometimes, when I’ve spent all those hours staring at a screen and the words make no sense any more, whether it already has.

I don’t talk about the work.

I make myself small.

I make myself insignificant.

Do no harm, don’t get ideas above your station.

You aren’t an author, you’re just a writer.

Watching him on the screen in his suit… and there, just for a second. He moves his leg and you can see he’s wearing stripy socks. Those aren’t the socks of a serious, sensible man in his mid-thirties who has it all handled.

He’s just like me.

He doesn’t talk about the work, either.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t being done.

He is an actor.

And I suppose, with all my wildly spinning cogs, and my ninety-nine desperate percent, it’s time I was an author.

Lou’s Big Weekend, part 2: the Bath Half

I’ve already talked about the first part of my weekend (the launch of the Bath LitFest and the UKYA Extravaganza) in this post. But the second part needed a post to itself, because this is the big one. This is The One Where Lou Runs A Half Marathon.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been as nervous as I was in the starting pen. I got chatting to a couple of people around me, some of whom had done this before and some of whom hadn’t – and then, suddenly, forty minutes had gone by and they were counting down to the start.

And that was it. There was no going back.

Photo: Caroline Ambrose

Photo: Caroline Ambrose

I’m in that photo somewhere, having come from all the way at the back, round the corner to the right. And we’ve not even got past the start gantry yet…

The sound is the thing I’ll probably remember the longest. The first mile is a downhill straight, and as far as you can see, there’s nothing but people running. But the sound. Thousands and thousands of feet, all hitting the ground slightly out of step. Imagine standing under a tin roof in the middle of a rubber hailstorm and you’ll probably not quite get it, but close enough. It was utterly, utterly overwhelming.

Still.

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Mile 1. Off we go.

Mile 2. Right. Bed in. Pace. Feet. Don’t fall over. Four soldiers are running in their uniform, carrying a stretcher with a dummy on it for Help For Heroes. They get a huge cheer.

Mile 3. Ooh. This is actually happening. Huh.

Midway between Miles 3 & 4,  we get lapped by the front runner. Everyone cheers as he goes by. He’s already gone.

Mile 4. I wish I was dead. Maybe I am dead. Maybe this is hell. Maybe this is what hell is. This, forever.

Mile 5. The Lucozade station isn’t far. I didn’t train with Lucozade. It’ll make me feel sick, especially after using one of my energy gels and shoving a handful of Jelly Babies from a cheering station down my throat. I’m not taking a Lucozade.

Mile 6. I have drunk an entire bottle of Lucozade. I feel sick. And have so much sugar zipping round my system that I’m probably not far off seeing double. I’m also beginning to seriously doubt I can do this.

Just at the point I’m about to cry, I spot the 10k checkpoint. It’s a big archway straddling the first lap lane with a clock. Astonishingly, I seem to have reached it at the time I’d expected I would (give or take). I’m not the slowest person on the road. I’m faster than I assumed I was – I’d had visions of being the very, very last person out there. And I remember that just after 6 miles is the point I had always, always found the mythical “wall” when I was training. Maybe I can do this after all.

I get overtaken by a guy in a massive rhino costume.

Mile 7. I actually manage to have a conversation, running uphill into Queen Square, with a woman wearing cat ears. I still wish I was dead, but I’m over halfway. This is practically the home straight.

Mile 8. I am not going to cry. I am not going to cry. I am not going to cry.

Mile 9. All the kids on the route hold out their hands for runners to high-five. It helps. A lot. I run up to one of the guys at a cheering station who has a bowl of jelly babies. “JELLY BABY ME!” He laughs and pats my shoulder as I grab a handful on the way past. One of them is liquorice flavour. I feel this a cruel and unusual punishment. No wonder he was laughing. DAMN HIM. I also give up on trying to run without music. It’s rubbish. And boring. I switch on my iPod (only using one earphone, because on a lapped road race, it’s essential to be able to hear marshals). The first song that comes on is Frank Turner’s The Road.

This is not only a song I love, it’s hugely appropriate. It’s a sign. I’m NOT GOING TO DIE. I might even – shockingly – manage this. I spend so much of the next few minutes mouthing along to it that I don’t even realise that’s another mile down.

Mile 10. I can definitely do this. Really. Where’s that bloody Lucozade station? Sugar me up. I don’t care if I have to jitter my way back, I’m finishing.

Mile 11. Everyone slows to a walk. Including me. Nobody wants to walk across the finish line, and there’s still 2 miles-and-change to go. People on the pavement cheer – and nobody cheers harder than they do for the pair in hi-vis vests who go past, each holding on to one end of a short rope. The vest of the runner on the left reads: “Guide Runner”. The vest of the runner on the right reads: “Blind runner”. Everybody applauds.

Mile 12. We’re all starting to run again. There are people everywhere, cheering. I’m starting to overtake runners around me who are flagging or who are saving their energy for a big finish. I fall into step just behind a woman running for Water Aid, dressed as a tap. “GO ON, TAP! RUN FASTER! GET IT? RUN FASTER?” I wonder how many times she’s heard that already.

Runners who have already finished are starting to appear in the crowds, wrapped in foil blankets. They wave and shout. People are already yelling “Well done!” at the runners.

The last half mile is hard. Not because I’m tired – I am, but I know I’ll finish. It’s hard because I’m tired and tearful and people keep shouting “You’re nearly there!” at the runners. They are amazing. The back of my leg starts feeling tight, so I slow to a walk for a minute. Two guys standing on the pavement yell at me to keep going, that I’m so close to the end. I am. I’m nearly there.

A cycle marshal directs the runners around an ambulance. It’s the only casualty I’ve seen, but there have been others.

The tap has vanished into the distance.

I tell my feet that they’re going to run and there’s nothing they can do about it.

Mile 13. There it is. I can crawl it from here. I run round the corner into Great Pulteney Street, and I am absolutely convinced they’ve moved the gantry. I’m sure it was much, much nearer the top of the street when I went under it at the start. What’s it doing all the way down there? I can’t decide whether I’m going to be sick or cry. Or both. Simultaneously.

And then… there it is. I’m over the mats and under the gantry and now I’m definitely going to cry.

But I don’t. Somehow. Instead, I join the slightly dazed shuffle through the runners’ village to collect medals, blankets, finishers’ shirts and get the timing chips removed from shoes. And find my family.

My cheeks feel gritty. It’s salt from my sweat, all dried on my skin. I feel weirdly proud. (I think I may be on the verge of hysteria.)

I have never needed a shower so badly.

But I just ran a half marathon… and I wasn’t last. I was – in fact – 10,517th, with a chip time of 2h37 and a gun time of 2h43. And I’m OK with that. Because I made it.

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On running after Aaron Eckhart

In one week’s time (one week, what in dear god was I thinking?!) I’ll be – hopefully – finishing my first proper half marathon, the Bath Half. Or the Bathalf, as it also seems to be called, and which just makes my eyes hurt.

A very, very long time ago, I took part in the Moonwalk in central London. That was also a half marathon, but walked, in aid of breast cancer charities. Around the streets of London. At night. Wearing decorated bras. I tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve trotted through Trafalgar Square at 2am wearing running gear, a race number and a bra with feathers on it. I will never forget the group of drunk Spanish students who asked a passing tramp whether they were seeing things.

All in all, that was probably about a decade ago. I am significantly creakier now. I am significantly lazier now, too.

This also requires at least a token nod to that most foreign of concepts: running.

The training process has been… enlightening.

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The first few “runs” (we’ll call them that, shall we? Just because I don’t know what the hell else to call them. Upright crawling?) were horrible. Genuinely horrible. Everything hurt, all the time. I got such hideous blisters at the backs of my heels that when I took my socks off afterwards, they were stained red.

September. October. November. Twice a week. In the cold, in the rain. With the shin splints. Almost falling in the canal I was running alongside – repeatedly. Getting chased by a swan (note: this will make you run faster).

December. Fully expecting to down tools and not go anywhere near my trainers until after New Year… and then suddenly finding myself plodding along the riverbank on the day before Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, dodging iced-over puddles and feeling like there must be frost forming on the inside of my lungs. Resolving to buy a pair of running gloves immediately. Slowing to look at stands of frozen white weeds and river reeds glittering in the early morning sun.

January. Suddenly realising that my head would give out before my body. 5k – unthinkable just a month or two ago – suddenly became the shortest run I was happy with. 10k was no longer a mythical beast.

February. Running out of road. Having to make not just one lap of my usual run, but two in order to get to 11 miles. Covering 11 miles and not crying (much).

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And before I know it, it’s a week away – and here I am with what I’m told is “a congested Achilles tendon”. I didn’t even know that was a thing. Sinuses get congested. The road down to Bath from the M4 when there’s a match on at the Rec. Tube station platforms.

Stretches and a foam roller, and wondering where the last five months have gone.

It’s hurt. It’s been cold. It’s been frustrating. I’m terrified I’ll break, or I’ll fade or I’ll somehow fail.

I’m not a runner. Not even close. I’m hoping to make it round the course with a mix of jogging, lumbering, walking, crawling, limping and weeping. I’m not chasing a personal best.

My good friend Kim Curran sent me this yesterday, presumably to focus my mind.

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And it did focus my mind, very intently.

Then I realised I was meant to be thinking about running, which was somewhat disappointing. Still.

What will I be chasing in a week’s time?

I’ll be chasing a choice I made: to change, to do something that scared me. Not to sit in my house. To be open. To fill life with things. Big things, small things.

I’ll be chasing five months of rain and blisters and shards of sunshine on a canal; of frost shining on leaves. Conkers and leaves falling and smoke from the chimneys of houseboats I’ve run past. Sweat and shin splints and the feeling of stepping into a hot shower after it all.

I’ll be chasing the perfect moment when it doesn’t hurt, and when my head clears and I find a rhythm – however short that moment is. Because I realised that in a lot of ways, running (or trying to run, at least) is a lot like living. Both of them will knacker your knees, sooner or later.

I’ll be chasing the knowledge that I’m also raising money for Kids Company, whose centres in London and Bristol do amazing, worthwhile work. Should you be in a generous mood and want to chip in with sponsorship as some of my lovely, lovely friends have already done, you’ll find my sponsorship page here.

And yes, I’ll probably be chasing the imaginary back of Aaron Eckhart around the next corner. Because I may be closer to becoming a runner now than I was five months ago, but underneath the passing acquaintance with stretches and compression leggings and carbohydrate gels, I’m just as shallow as ever.

after 5 mile run

Just a bit sweatier.

The Memory Jar

I’ll keep this brief, because I imagine that by now you have seen enough “end of year” posts to last you until… well, next year. But I can’t let the end of a year slide past without mention (and let’s gloss over how I’ve basically let the last two months go without comment, shall we?).

It’s been an interesting year, both for good and for less-good. I learned some things: some have made my life better, some… let’s just say I wish learning them hadn’t been as painful as it was. But you can’t ask for joy without accepting a little sadness, and that was what I really hoped for this year. I dreamed of bonfires and magic and stars and joy – and by and large, that’s what I found.

jar of happy memories

On New Year’s Day, I sat this jam jar on the windowsill in our kitchen. It was empty, except for a bright green post-it note inside explaining that this was the “Good Things Jar”, reminding me to write the things that made me happy over the year on slips of paper and drop them in, to be read on New Year’s Eve. Looking at it now, I’m not sure I could fit many more in. I remember some of them anyway – the big things that you don’t forget – but the rest are a question, waiting to be answered tonight when I unfold the pieces of paper.

What would a “Bad Things” jar have looked like, I wonder? Would it have been as full? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is, I don’t care. Happiness can come from the smallest places as well as the bigger ones. We find joy where we look for it – and that’s what I wanted to do. To look. To notice. Not to simply pass it by. And as the year dies, to remember.

When I get up tomorrow morning, there will be a jam jar sitting on the kitchen windowsill. Empty of paper, but full of promise. Because that’s what New Year is all about.

I usually end each year with a song (not mine, don’t panic), and I thought I had this year’s one all picked out. I did, in fact, right until I sat down at my computer to type… and then it changed. Because suddenly, I can’t think of any better way to wind up the year than with this.

So may your New Year be full of hope, and may everything that follows be all that you could ever dream. And when New Year’s Eve rolls around again, may your jam jars be overflowing.

Wakey-wakey

 

Yes, alright. I’ve been quiet.

But not dead.

Clearly.

Consider this due warning: break’s over… and soon I’ll be back to tell you all about what’s happening with SLEEPLESS, why I’m writing a zombie’s diary and why this staircase is so important.

locronan stairs

 

No, really.

The Out-Crowd

It was a post on – predictably – an internet forum that pushed me over the edge: a thread about choosing an area based on the schools available (yes, I know. I’m a mother, we whine about this stuff, get over it).

Don’t forget to look at your local community – you adults have to fit in too!

I’ll just be over there: in the corner, calming down again.

***

I get grouchy when it comes to the topic of “fitting in”, partly because I’ve spent a very long time being obstinate and trying rather hard not to be That Person. You know the one: the kid who falls over themselves pretending to be something vaguely similar to who they really are – but not who they actually are – and ends up with a little grey cloud of self-inflicted misery trundling around after them.

It’s worse at school than at any other point in life (see Mean Girls, She’s All That, The Craft10 Things I Hate About You… and preeeetty much every teen movie made, ever) but it starts younger than you think (take a close look at any nursery or reception class playground) and carries on a lot later (I refer you to Gill Hornby’s school-gate novel The Hive, and just about every *single* women’s magazine in the world).

What it boils down to is this: we spend our formative years as an adult trying to balance figuring out who we are with who we think everyone around us would like us to be, and what we need to be to not end up getting something dumped all over us on the school bus. And then, when we emerge from our cocoon as fully-functioning adults… we have to do it all over again.

To which I say: bite me. (more…)

But I’m no good at dancing – and yet I have to do something…

Some years, you get to December and you look back at the 12 months that have gone before and you wonder how the hell you’re still standing. This is one of those – and, weirdly, seems to have been for so many people. (Was Mercury in retrograde or something?)

I could list the things that went right, or the things that went wrong – but then I’d probably just start laughing, because sometimes it’s the only thing you can do. I fell, and I got up again and I fell again and got up again so many times that I’ve kind of lost count. But each time I landed on my face, I learned something – and in the end, I’ve wound up on my feet and (hopefully) wiser for it. For every time I’ve put my faith in the wrong place, I’ve also come across the opposite: the person who changes everything and everyone they encounter for the better. Those people, rare as they are, are worth celebrating if you’re lucky enough to find them – and in that, I’ve been immensely fortunate.

For all the gloom and doom and grey days, there have been bonfires. There have been starlit nights and the smell of sunshine on sand, laughter and woodsmoke and hot air balloons. For every downpour, there’s been dancing (more than once, in the downpour) and for every wrong turning, there’s been the discovery of something new. If we don’t take a risk now and then, we stay where we are, never changing.

So take risks.

Be the one who steps up. Be the one who helps someone else up when they fall. Trust people. Watch for shooting stars. Hope. Listen to church bells. Chase rainbows. Sing. Run in the rain. Don’t be the person sitting in by the fire, telling your grandchildren about the time you almost

Don’t pick the flat wide road, the easy one. Pick the interesting one: the one with the mountains and the valleys and the crumbling cliff path – because when you get to the end of that one, you’ll be able to look back and see just how far you’ve travelled.

And in the meantime, there’s always this to close us out: one of my favourite tracks from one of my favourite albums I’ve heard this year, just for the sheer joy of it.

See you on the other side.