If You’re Not Happy, Change Something…

This is one of the best bits of advice I ever got at LRP.

If you’re not happy, change something. If you’re still not happy, stop doing it.

Well, on Thursday, I had one of those ‘down on myself days’, where I kept complaining about myself. I have painfully low levels of self-esteem (no, really?) and sometimes that manifests in the worst way possible. The ‘I need to buy some new clothes but I won’t go into clothes shops for fear they’re staring at me’ way. Long term effects of playground bullying are no fun. Don’t do it, kids. But given my current ‘up’ mood, I turned that negativity into positivity. I picked the Son up after work and about two minutes after he got into the car, turned to him and suggested we drop into a local leisure centre and see what activities we could do together. He was quite keen. That startled me, but also pleased me.

I used to go to this particular leisure centre when he was about six, doing the ‘Body Balance’ classes. I loved Body Balance. To this day I can’t tell you why I stopped going. It was a weird class though, had the most bizarre effect on me. The last bit was always a ‘stress-relieving relaxation’ where the instructor turned the lights in the room out and we closed our eyes and did the whole concentrating on breathing thing. The music she played varied, but there was one bit that just… got me. Every time I heard it whilst being all relaxed and chilling after the session, I would just cry. Buckets. Not even unhappy crying. Just a release of tension, I think. Even now, I can’t hear that particular bit of music without tearing up. Someone on the interwebs took that bit of music and attached it to a bunch of utterly glorious space images. It just moves me.

So anyway, this leisure centre is no longer council run and I have to say… what a good thing. It has a completely different air to it now. Active Life is a community project and I cannot help but admire that. For two years, they’ve been investing every penny of profit back into the place and it shows. The dance studio is utterly glorious and they are buying new equipment to replace the old, inherited from a disinterested council stuff. So I stroll in, indicate the Son and say ‘so… here’s the deal, we both want to get fit. What can we do?’

The lovely lady on the front desk showed us the obligatory forms and paperwork, then took us on a tour round the place, including the X-Bike studio, where they run virtual rides from a projector. Utterly brilliant. ‘There’s several instructor-led classes,’ she said. ‘They’re hard work, but fun.’ The tour was great and I cannot stress enough how excellent the customer service in this establishment is. Bigger places could do with taking a few tips.

So because I am the kind of person who has to strike whilst the iron’s hot, I signed myself and the Son up for an instructor-led X-Bike session this morning. At 9.30am. After checking that the Son actually knew what ‘Saturday morning’ was, of course.

My goodness me, I’m unfit. I didn’t get particularly out of breath – I’m not that bad, but oh god, my legs now feel as though they are made from sponge. I happily admit that I couldn’t keep up with the whole class. It is only thirty minutes, but it’s thirty minutes of solid workout. I feel good and energised (and spongy) and although I couldn’t manage all of it, at least I now have a goal. We’re going back tomorrow for the gym induction and I’m going – by myself, which is the hardest bit – but the staff make me feel so comfortable – to Zumba on Monday.

Best thing of all, of course, is that the Son thoroughly excelled and enjoyed it hugely. Having him to go with means that there’s more of a chance I will go as well. It’s brilliant: something we can do together, motivate one another with and generally bond over. So I’m changing something. I’m swapping the sitting around doing nothing lark for getting into the gym and doing classes and burning off that stress.

Oh – and utilising the Dulux ‘reds’ colour chart?

colourchart1

This is not a natural colour for anybody to be.

 

 

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Season of Mists and Mellow Fruitfulness

I’ve always liked autumn. It makes me think of my mother.

My mother used to create oil paintings. Almost invariably, they were scenes of mountains, rivers and trees. Mum liked these things and she enjoyed putting them onto canvas. It was always a scene of a river leading off into a lake with a mountain in the background. Sometimes when I see one of her paintings, I like to think that’s where she is now and that one day, I’ll be walking along the banks of the river, next to the trees and she’ll be there, just beyond the picture’s reach.

She liked autumn colours most of all.

Not long before she died, she promised me a set of four paintings; the same scene in all four seasons. She only ever did the first one. She picked autumn.

See? Just around the bend in the river, behind the trees.

I keep meaning to sort out a frame for this painting, because the one she put on it got broken in one of the many house moves I’ve had since she gave it to me. But whenever I look at it, I remember her and it’s a nice feeling. Not a day goes by when I don’t think about her, or miss her or wish I could have ‘one more conversation’ with her. She always knew the right thing to say or the right little gesture to make everything right. That’s a mum’s job, I think. I like to think Not So Small Son thinks that way about me. I’d ask him, but he’s currently engrossed in a game of Team Fortress 2 with headphones over his ears, happily oblivious to his mum pouring her heart out on a blog post.

Bless.

So anyway, yes. I like autumn. There’s this heady ripeness about it as a season. If spring is the playful childishness of a year whilst summer is its exuberant youth, autumn is the mature part of the year. The year in its prime; with the capability of slipping back into a summer day without warning or freezing you into two duvets. Autumn is a season that’s all about the senses. The colours in the trees, the smell of frost in the air and bonfires; the smell of the leafmould in the woods. The sound of dead leaves crackling underfoot and the sounds of fireworks (which seem to pretty much herald the arrival of autumn now!). It’s a bountiful time and I’m grateful for all that I have. Every so often, I stop to remind myself just how incredibly lucky I am to have a roof over my head; a husband and son who I love more than anything and outstanding friends.

In other news, Tales of the Nun & Dragon is now on release; early feedback has been very positive, including on my own contribution, the rather tongue-in-cheek Ballad of Gilrain, a story featuring a less-than-competent hero and his long-suffering servant who set out on a quest to slay a dragon.

Edits on Project: Loophole are going pretty well – for those of you who haven’t seen me mention this on Twitter, this is a Silver Skulls novel. My revised manuscript is due in at the end of September and I’m happy to say that after a few… less than productive weeks, I’m back on form and words are flying freely once again. Things are good on that front. I’m not going to Games Day this year which is a shame as I loved it last year, but the Black Library Weekender in November is coming up and I’m looking forward to it enormously.

Project: Backburner is sitting demanding some love once I’ve done with that, too. Project: Backburner is an urban fantasy story set locally (for me) in Durham and again, is not Entirely Serious.

Have an extract. Enjoy autumn.

EDWARD LEWIS FLANAGAN III had been born into the world some thirty six years previously, in a small town outside of Dublin. The youngest of six, he was also the only boy – and the horrors he experienced growing up at the hands of all that oestrogen had stood him in excellent stead for the path his life would take.

His childhood was supremely normal, apart from the expected mocking he received from the other children due to his apparently comical initials. ‘Little Elf’ was the nickname he received on his first day at school and it lasted barely more than a week before the five year old Ed – known even then by his family as ‘Just Ed’ – was in trouble for fighting.

Apart from this demonstration of ferocity, he was a remarkably placid boy who was well liked by his elders and peers alike. He was polite, well-mannered and intelligent. It was this intelligence that led him to Durham University to study Ancient History.

He had long yearned to get out of Ireland and studying offered him a route that came with the additional benefit of indulging his favourite thing. Ancient History fascinated Ed. He had keen hopes of either becoming a museum curator, a lecturer or, at a push, Indiana Jones. His brief sojurn into archaeology ended when out of boundless enthusiasm (and in an attempt to get laid) he had accompanied a girlfriend on a trip to the Outer Hebrides. Sitting for endless hours in an ancient midden, discovering what coprolite was had started out quietly entertaining.

Then, as time wore on, with the rain hammering down on him and with the real archaelogists sneeringly laughing at what they called ‘the wrong kind of trowel’ any of Ed’s Jones-like tendencies had been severely dampened.

It also put a permanent dampener on the relationship.

He came back from the field trip to the loving embrace of academia and was glad for it. They hadn’t even managed to sleep together, either.

Durham had captivated him from the moment he had stepped off the train. The cathedral, standing its silent vigil above the Wear peninsula on which it stood drew the eye wherever you were in the city. The uneven, steep city centre with its plethora of mysterious little passageways that went the heavens only knew where… there was everything in Durham for a young man with a curious mind and a great imagination.

Living With Serial Killers

I live with two serial killers.

It’s true and more people in society do the same. Perhaps some of them don’t realise it, or perhaps some don’t really mind, but the fact of the matter is, there are two mass-murderers living under my roof. One is a black cat called Yuna and the other is her sister, the tabby cat called Rikku. Sweet cats, most of the time. Wouldn’t hesitate to take full advantage of an empty lap if presented with it. Both of them are good-natured, friendly and cuddlesome.

Both of them are creatures from Hell.

This is a frequent scene in our house.

This is a re-enactment. All perpetrators and victims are played by actors. But damn me, it’s near enough.

It brokers the question: why do people bother owning cats when they really are such complete little shits?

Is it for the companionship? No. Cats are staggeringly independent. And don’t let them fool you into thinking otherwise. It’s actually the main reason I keep cats; with fresh water and extra food, you can have a day or two away and not worry about them. Ours split their time between in and outdoors (hence the plethora of avian annihilation that occurs on the premises).

Is it for the need to love and care for a smaller creature? Hell, no. I have my son to fill that role in my life; although he’s now almost taller than I am, so soon, he will be taking care of me. It’s true; I had the paperwork drawn up the day he was born. Plus, when he was three, he said when I’m bigger than you, mammy, I’ll take care of you.

He calls me ‘mammy’. It’s a quirk of the North East and not in any way a suggestion that I’m like, Al Jolson or whatever.

Why then, I wondered this morning as I gently rescued a live bird from the jaws of the Killer Cat, do I bother letting them stay around? I’ll tell you why. It’s this.

Look at how BIG MY EYES ARE!

It’s not the fact that we’ve had them since kittens – and kittens are, without question, amongst the cutest of creatures living upon this Earth. It’s not how cute their whiskers are when they point forward, or how Yuna reaches up to ‘hand-grab’ you when she wants to be stroked whilst sitting on your lap. It’s not the way that Yuna has a specific spot on her back that makes her flump to one side if you scratch it and it’s not even how Rikku used to chase your feet under the bed clothes when she was little. No. It’s because they are manipulative little bastards.

After Rikku brought me my starling prize – still alive and now back outside where it belongs – I was cross with her. She went upstairs and wasn’t seen again for a couple of hours. Not as good as Yuna, who in moments of shame has been known to go into the kitchen, open the cupboard under the sink and sit inside… but still it was obvious that she knew she had done wrong. When our paths finally crossed later in the day, when I was taking a pile of ironing upstairs, she gave me the Eyes.

The Eyes, man.

How can I resist?

So yes. I share my home with two serial killers. No amount of rehabilitation is ever likely to cure them and no amount of telling off will ever stop them doing it. It’s in their nature. I know it’s in their nature. I’m just grateful that, as per the TV advert, they don’t have opposable thumbs.

Work-Life Balance

Work this week has been… difficult. This cartoon sums it up far better than I can put into words. So I shan’t dwell on that.

This is how work has left me feeling this week. Sort of. Only more complicated.

So yeah. Work has drained a lot of the enthusiasm out of my week and that’s spilled over a little into the writing. That’s also been a bit wobbly this week due to a bunch of other issues that have just left me feeling worn out and utterly weary. Project: Loophole is still well ahead of target, though, so that’s OK.

It was always going to be pretty horrible, the first full week back at work. Getting back into the working-writing swing again has been a grind. I have infinite envy for those who work as writers full time; not in terms of word-count output, but simply the fact that you can spend your entire working day concentrating on what you have to do. Work-home-chores-writing-cooking-maybe more writing… there aren’t that many waking hours in a day after you take out the 8.5 (including driving time) that work swallows up. It’s exhausting, quite honestly, and at times, quite a struggle.

I’ve never been under any illusions that writing around my day job would be in any way an easy thing to do. In fact, I’m outstandingly proud of myself that I’ve produced two novels and about seven short stories in the last year. People have been enjoying my stuff and saying so in public fora (more specifically, people I don’t even know have been saying they’ve enjoyed it and that’s somehow even nicer). It’s been a whole lot of fun and it continues apace.

But there are frustrations. Not all of them are easy to explain or even justify, but when you’re tired and feeling more vulnerable than you might otherwise be, an offhand comment made on an internet forum can catch you off guard. You read it. You re-read it. You think ‘is that a spiteful dig at me’? Then you rationalise it; no, it probably isn’t, you say. It could refer to any number of people. Or me. It’s about me, isn’t it? No, it probably isn’t… and the cycle continues until the whole matter becomes insanely out of proportion and you’re convinced the Spanish Inquisition are going to turn up on your doorstep any time now. Then you forget about it. The pot, you think, is calling the kettle black. Different strokes for different folks. <Insert other random saying of choice here>.

I only post in a few places now in terms of fora. I took the advice of people like Dan, Nik, Jim and Graham very much to heart about it. I haven’t once gotten involved in debate on a forum when people have perhaps not been quite right in an assumption they’ve made. It doesn’t mean I don’t read the ensuing discussion, because that can sometimes be interesting. I do post when asked something directly and there’s at least one forum where there’s a very friendly, lively conversation about the Silver Skulls that’s been ongoing for a long while now. I have fun with those conversations. Those conversations add very much to the fun that all this writing lark gives me.

The harshest thing is that I’m at a situation where work-life balance isn’t the issue. The issue now is work-work-life. Two to one. I’m getting there; but it’s a slow process. I know it’ll come in time. Fortunately with ongoing advice and support, I’m doing OK. And more to the point… hard work though it is? I love every moment of it.

Have some wise words.

Word.(s). Innit.

The Other Side…

First of all, Happy New Year to you all. 2012 already, eh? Or more importantly, the 1st January 2012, which means that Sherlock is on tonight. Boo and indeed ya.

So how was the holiday season for you all? Mine was… mixed. Without going into too much depressing detail, there were a couple of reasons I didn’t enjoy Christmas as much as I otherwise would have done, but I have appreciated the time off work. During this important time off work, I have written very few words and have instead enjoyed taking time out with my boys. Dearly Beloved only had Christmas Day/Boxing Day and then yesterday and today off work, but I have loved having the extra opportunities to have both him and Not So Small Anymore Son around.

Christmas haul consisted largely of DVDs and books and some pretty awesome colour-changing LED lightbulbs. Also, I FINALLY got a dock for my iPhone. This makes me content and happy. There was also an assortment of chocolate (including a chocolate orange – RESULT!). DVDs received mean that we added Supernatural seasons 5 & 6 to the collection, along with season 4 of Stargate: Atlantis. Also finally got to watch Captain America which we somehow missed during its cinema run. Was a little disappointed with it, but only relative to the other Avenger-member films that have been out so far. (For me, Iron Man and Thor have been my favourites). It was awesome to watch through the end credits and get a bit excited at seeing the names of two of our friends from LRP who were involved with the production team, though! 😀

So, 2012.

<Insert usual New Year Resolutions here with a couple of newcomers>:

Newcomer Resolution 1: Actively look for a new job. The thought of going back on Tuesday is not a happy one.
Newcomer Resolution 2: Build and paint those cheeky Silver Skulls. Incidentally, the main reason I picked Silver Skulls was because of the clue that’s in the name. They’re silver. This equals a much easier ‘beginner to the whole thing’ paint scheme. I want to get them built by Black Library Live! 2012 so that I can play (badly) some games against some of the Bolthole Gang. I will lose. I am a complete beginner.
Newcomer Resolution 3: Plan my writing time more effectively. Having the time to spend with the Boys was outstanding and I realised just how intense 2011 was in terms of writing. From September 2010 until now, I have actually not stopped. I did randomly work it out and in the past 15 months, I have written something like 400,000 words of Black Library – and other – related stuff. Taking this last week off was, therefore, deserved. I did do some writing so that I met my December target for Project: Loophole – and I have a fairly intense target for the next month, but it’ll all be good, I’m confident enough.
Newcomer Resolution 4: House things. Some of this falls under the <usual resolutions> header, but there are more elaborate things this year. The first and probably easiest in terms of disruption is to get the loft boarded out. Sounds simple enough, right? But bear in mind neither me nor Dearly Beloved are DIY people and you can imagine the scale of this problem. We are constantly reassured by people who have Done This Task that it’s dead easy. They’ve never met us and our tendency for household disaster. I will update you on this one. If we board out the loft, we will have more storage space and this in itself will solve the second task which is to store things! There’s a couple of other, more expensive and disruptive projects which I’ll get to in time. The first is the bathroom, the second is the kitchen. Both involve disruption, time and money. The first, we’re used to. The other two are harder to deal with.

Speaking of time and money, combined with the fact that we both enjoyed the extra time to ourselves, LRP is probably not on the cards for 2012. If we do go to any sort of live roleplaying, it probably won’t be with the system we used to play.

Things that are on the cards in the upcoming months are BLL!2012 at the beginning of March and Salute! in April. I’m looking forward to both of these events enormously.

Comments on The Gildar Rift have continued to be amazingly positive and I’m feeling very proud of myself. Initial feedback for my first WHF short story, Bloodraven which is in the Age of Legend anthology has also been pretty positive and I’m looking forward to my second novel, Valkia the Bloody going on release in July.

But for now, it’s enjoy the last couple of days of the holiday before the cycle of work-writing-sleep starts over… with the fundamental change of work-writing-funtimes-sleep.

So happy 2012, folks and here’s hoping it’s better that/the same as/mysteriously worse than*  2011!

*delete as applicable according to preference.

Edit

Oh yes! Accursed Eternity, my 40k novella, got a review!

Bonjour!

Because, you know. French and whatever. Not So Small Anymore Son has spent the last week in France with the school. I only ever went on one trip with the school and that was the ski trip when I was in the second year. Or what they now call Year 8. I get confused by this new-fangled stuff. The ski trip was the thing of nightmares; a comedy of errors that only I could get caught up in (literally caught up in the Incident With The Drag Lift) and to this day, anything by the Stray Cats will set me off on a chain of memories that lead to night sweats and sheer terror. This track in particular.

Get the rockabilly vibe.

That track was on my Walkman whilst we drove down the autobahn at insane o’clock. Everyone else was asleep. I can’t sleep in transit, so I was staring out the window at the huge snowdrifts and listening to my Stray Cats tapes (note: young people, Google it. Cassette tapes. You haven’t lived until you’ve had to wind the entire spool back into the tape with a pencil).

And then my Walkman refused to work any more. It ate the Stray Cats tape. And I was sans music for the rest of the journey and had to listen to the person behind me snoring like a walrus with a cold being hacked to death by a chainsword. It was the first omen in what would prove to be a… bizarre week. Involving drag lifts (as mentioned), the absolute certainty that I was about to die, being teased because I was the only girl on the trip who liked the A-Team…

I discovered several things during that school trip so many years ago.

  1. I hate cassette tapes.
  2. I can’t sleep in transit.
  3. Never catch a drag lift and go up leg-first.
  4. There are fences in the most unexpected places on mountain edges. Just because you are careening towards a sheer drop doesn’t mean you will die. Do not suddenly wish you were religious. Instead, save your energy to save face after the inevitable collision with said fence and tangle of limbs that ensues.
  5. Side-stepping down the entire mountain is tiring. But the only option for several of us who’d never been skiing before and were told to ski to the bottom. Alone.
  6. I hate skiing.
  7. Liking the A-Team is fine.

I also discovered the joy that is Ritter Sport Marzipan during that trip. I still go all foamy at the mouth if I see it and have to buy it.

Anyway… that was in 19… er… it was quite a long time ago. I remember that in the middle of the week, everyone crowded round the pay phone with a handful of schillings and called home to our anxious parents to reassure them that we were Still Alive And Hadn’t Fallen Down A Mountainside. One phone call for the length of the entire week. The Small’s school are modern and hip and all that jazz. They video blogged the day’s events every day of the French trip. The Small sent me a text every night.

I turned into a complete voyeur in this last week. I would sit impatiently on the school’s website waiting for the video blog to upload. Then I would watch a bunch of kids I don’t know getting up to an assortment of antics in a French town I’d never heard of in an effort to catch a glimpse of my son. There’s the back of his head, I would say, hopefully. Dearly Beloved would shake his head. ‘No?’ ‘No. That’s his elbow, just out of shot, there.’

That may be a little unfair. He did show up in a couple of shots, and my word, he looked bored. Whether it was just an unfortunate camera moment or whether he actually was bored remains to be seen; he’s home today and he’s coming here tomorrow from his dad’s, so I plan to take him to lunch (probably not baguettes) and interrogate him.

Also, I’m glad he’s home.

In other news, Accursed Eternity, my novella from the Architect of Fate Space Marines Battles book went live as an ebook today over at the Black Library site. I love the blurb. It goes…

An Architect of Fate novella. Space Marines of the Blood Swords and Star Dragons Chapters are enlisted by Inquisitor Remigius of the Ordo Malleus to storm the infamous daemonship known as the Accursed Eternity. But all is not as it first appears, and what should have been a relatively simple mission rapidly devolves into a hellish warp-spawned nightmare – the stage is set for a galaxy-spanning tale of Chaotic intrigue and of a war which has lasted for ten-thousand years…

And the cover for the ebook is ultra-pretty:

Accursed Eternity

Looking for a good time? You took a wrong turning, me laddo. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHA etc.

Edits for Valkia the Bloody are going very well; up to chapter 13 of 17, so that should be in to the Editor Beast by Sunday. Then I have what we shall call Project: Bedfellows to crack on with and there’s a couple of other Things in the pipeline. Also, there’s another couple of pre-release Gildar Rift signings – one in Durham on 12th November and the other at Warhammer World on 19th November.

Busy, busy!

Love it.

Au revoir!