I read like a squirrel and I'm not sorry.

These fragments I have shored against my ruins (said the squirrel)

I was reading the end of a novel a few weeks ago. As a reward for finishing the first draft of my own book, I’d thrown myself into this new world and my heart was crashing and swelling all at once. The book’s called A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

My daughter went to go to nursery, but then didn’t at the last minute. So she was at home, doing some counting exercises in a little workbook and I was sitting near her, reading, pretending to supervise, but really reading. Back into the wave machine.

The last few pages - Yes, draw eight more dogs and then count them all and write the number.

Eyes blurring - Yes, draw seven ladybirds and then count them all and write the number.

The not wanting to turn the page, wanting a magical new chapter to appear, not to have to let go yet.

- Mum, what is a ladybird, big with no antennae? I break out of my trance and think.

‘A tortoise?’

Yes, she says, grinning madly, ‘I just made that up.’

I wonder for a second how it’s possible that I could be balancing between these two worlds simultaneously, hers and that of this massive, immersive book and then I smile through the silent tears and realise that this is the whole point. That’s what she does when she breaks into a favourite line from Mr Gum over her long-cold, half-chewed omelette.

That’s what we all do: we eat books like squirrels in a forest, saving up all the nuts for times of Great Need.

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Go and vomit.

Fran Lebowitz is my muse and she's scary

Okay, I get it. You want to be a writer, you’ve always dreamed of writing, and you know you have a novel or a story or an epic dystopian fiction set in terza rima just bursting to get out of you like an alien in that terrifying film Alien.

So you sit down at the keyboard. You tap out a title, you format it all nice in 18pt Times New Roman, you type in Chapter One, you fiddle with the alignment and the line spacing and then…

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I Don't Like Stories That Taste Like Chicken Nuggets

I'm a Story, You're a Story

There’s a meta-movement going on at the moment on the internet.

My email inbox is a petri dish spawning daily, weekly and crescendoing entreaties to add my voice to the online conversation. To get writing, blogging, sharing my no doubt profound experience with the world. That I, too, will be able to find my niche of fellow oddballs. In fact, I read so much rousing, encouraging stuff that sometimes I’m left wondering:

But when do they get to sit down and write the stories?

Are we all writing about writing and making socially shareable images in order to avoid telling the stories and making the art we really want to? And ‘we’ is of course a rarefied layer of internet land; of course there are hundreds of thousands of writers, artists and musicians out there just getting on with it.

Are they okay, though?

If success is measured by how many shares your Huff Po advice piece received, and not by how a story you wrote might have tunnelled its way to the hearts of just a handful of those who were ripe for it, how does that skew the goalposts?

If I tell you the stories I want to tell you about barbecued hedgehogs, about standing in a room about to effervesce with frustration, about miserable nights spent in mosquito-infested irrigation areas, about being lost in foreign lands, even in my own country — will I be mattering? Will I be broke?

See, there won’t be any nice cut-and-dried takeaways, or flawless rhetoric or any 9-point lists, apart from that list of 9 reasons not to get out of bed when you feel like where you’d like to get to is being in bed with a queen-size coffee and a novel.

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Less Carnally Traumatic Mattering (or Blazing Vaginas)

A few years ago, on a January night, the water had frozen because it was bleak midwinter and all that. I was in my little house in a little village in the middle of a little valley in Bulgaria and my little daughters were sleeping and I was feeling a little bit mad and sad, to be completely honest, because I was wearing a very little nappy at that moment and wondering whether I had left civilised society. Yes, a nappy. Diaper. Loincloth for small humans. Having run out of sanitary accoutrements and being far from any late night shops, I made do with the one remaining Pampers Newborn that remained from an old stash in the tallboy. It could have been worse. I had a flannel and a kettle on the wood stove. A brandy. I wanted a man size bar of very wicked chocolate.

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Not Quite Myself

I’m not quite myself today I said
To my friend on the internet
Whom I’ve never met
And she said
When were you last yourself and I said
Let me see
I remember that day
In two thousand and three
When I didn’t have to speak or leave the house
But stayed swathed in a dressing gown
Greasy as a sheep
Flitting like a cabbage moth
In and out of some books whom I’d met
And some that I hadn’t
And coffee cups lined up
To watch me
And when nobody was there 
I put on Bowie
And danced like I’d taken
LSD and when a friend
Whom I’d met came around
Unexpectedly for tea
I said sorry I smell like a sheep
And she said never mind
And we laughed like drains
And played word games
And then she went home
And I did the washing up with
A silly grin.

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I is not the Queen of Hearts

Show up, just as you are. 

That’s what they say. The branding experts, the authenticity coaches, the wellness facilitators. Show up just as you are. But hold on a minute. I are not a pack of cards. I are not the Queen of hearts. Sometimes I is her tarts, sweet and jammy in the middle and crunchy on the outside. Other days I is the hedgehog rolled up tight into a croquet ball waiting for someone to hit me with a mallet so I can skittle away under a bush.

Occasionally I’m the joker and other days I don’t even want to decide what I am. Okay, so maybe I am a pack of cards. But show up just as I am? I’ve tried doing that. In fact, I myself have been an enthusiastic advocate for doing that. I think we should do that. In theory. But what happens when we feel like a snarky feminist on Monday, a jolly parent on Tuesday, a pile of shit on Wednesday, an Empowered and Abundant Manifestation of Entrepreneurhood on Thursday and like railing against the world on Friday. When we sit down to pen our weekly email newsletter, who is it sitting down to write? Who were we last week? Who will we be next week?

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Tensile bonds and things

For my mum who has been unlucky enough to break her arm playing catch but who is nonetheless wonderful.

 

I seem to have a problem

Not the kind where 

You go and see a nurse

A therapist

Or ring a hearse

Not a problem with sanity

Or even mild depravity

I just seem to have

A fairly insignificant

But nonetheless worrying

Problem with gravity.

 

Just the other day

I was picking plums 

At the top of a ladder

Made entirely of rungs

Held together by strange forces

Tensile bonds

And nails and things

When there was a slight fluctuation

In the position of

My centre of gravity

And with startling alacrity

I met the ground with a force

Roughly equal to, say, 

Oh, seven hundred newtons

Or thereabouts.

 

And at that point I 

Politely wondered

Whether many other people

Had this fairly insignificant

But nonetheless worrying

Problem with gravity.

 

Or perhaps it’s just me.

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Looking for a miracle? Um...

A revolution in 7 teabreaks

You're a creative person. You know you have something big, juicy and pretty flabbergastingly amazing to bring to the world. Trouble is, your head feels like one of those depressing pictures of a Windows hard drive before defragmentation.

It's a spaghetti-mess full of tiny blocks of passion, inspiration and yahoo. You're worried that one day, your head might actually explode, like a pressure cooker full of borlotti beans accidentally left on the stove for too long.

Great glomping froths of brain foam will ooze out and be lost.

You'll keel over from this explosion and, because the post-pressure-cooker trauma is so very painful, you'll retire to a quiet life of lorry driving and wondering what might have been.

It's not fun, huh?

And the thing is, there's a LOT of advice out there. I mean, you can spend years and years and years reading every single self-help book in the Universe and still your head feels exquisitely fucked. (Did you know that the person most likely to buy a self-help book is...someone who's recently bought a self-help book. Funny, right.)

Sometimes, though, it's not more steps you need. Sometimes you don't need another reminder that you are a Child of the Universe and you are Here to Do Miracles. Sometimes that's not helpful. Sometimes you want a tiny little pep-talk, like a mini-revolution over a biscuit and cuppa. Like a best friend who rings you up and makes you laugh until you've wet yourself and need to get out of your pyjamas.

It's not always WHAT you think. Sometimes huge shifts happen when you sit down and question HOW you think.

I'm in the middle of writing a free seven-part email series designed to help creatives and other passion-fuelled entrepreneurs (and wannabe entrepreneurs) to fall in love with a helpful, head-not-exploding, self-sufficient and productive mindset.

I'd like your help with this. Tell me simply in the comments below: what are you struggling with? Make sure you hop on the list here to be the first to know when this teabreak revolution kicks off.  

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You're not a brand-builder.

So in our brand playgroup, we're talking about how to define brand. We're talking about how to make a little you-shaped dent in the Universe. What do you think we're focusing on? Logos? Nope. Tagline? Nope. Colour palette? Not really.

No, the answer is this: we're focusing on how as a business owner, whether you like it or not, you are a leader of some kind. You have a vision for how you want to show up. You have a head and heart full of passion and cultural markers, a story to relay, and you have a totally unique lens through which you see the world. There are others out there who totally 'get' you. They want 'in' because they share your outlook, your aspirations, your sense of humour, your taste in graphic novelists.

So let them in. Build a virtual home for them. Welcome them, love them, honour your front door and know when to open and close it. We all have a fundamental desire to go 'home', wherever that may be. You're not a brandbuilder really.

You're a home maker.

 Feel like going home

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How to be an overnight success

How to be an overnight success

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