visceral imagery

This is my latest drawing, Distress, which I’d describe as fine art rather than an illustration. And like many of my more emotive, swiftly-drawn pieces, the themes and subject of the portrait are undefined.

Indeed, I find that drawing without a particular subject or theme in mind is often the best way to describe a fleeting thought or feeling. I rarely know what the result is going to be, going in to one of these drawings, and so I often learn something about myself by the end of the experience.

This form of drawing is vital when more defined modes of communication – such as writing and illustrating – are too explicit, and I want to explore a sensation more subtly. I suppose, in a way, I approach these drawings like an abstract painting, allowing my subconscious to guide me.

I am eventually going to set up a visual gallery of my artwork here on the website, but until then I hope you enjoy my latest drawing Distress here on my blog.

creative writing saved me

As you can probably tell by the title, this blog deals with sensitive topics. Consider this a warning: what you’re about to read may be upsetting to some. Having said that, I’m won’t go into any real detail in regards to individuals or events, as I don’t believe it’s appropriate here.

So, where do I begin? My upbringing was rather unconventional, to say the least. I was home-schooled throughout primary and secondary (meaning that prior to starting college at 16, all of my education had been delivered at home). This had some incredible benefits, as it forced me to explore and develop my own ideas about the world around me from a very young age, which moulded me into a self-led, self-motivating individual. This of course had its pitfalls also, as I often found it difficult to relate to others, and to understand differing views and opinions. Rather paradoxically, it taught me to think and problem solve outside the box, but it also stifled my ability to approach issues head-on. Often, the answer to a question would be staring me in the face, but I was unable to see it.

As you can imagine, this meant that the year I was thrown into the world of formal education was… challenging, to say the least. Approaching his first day of college, 16 year old me was crippled by social anxiety, to the point where he could barely open his mouth to speak. Having never been socialised with other children to any meaningful degree, I had no idea how to communicate with my peers – and even if I had known, I doubt my anxiety would have let me. It wasn’t that there was no support available to me at the time, but I had never been conditioned to ask for help, nor to express my thoughts or feelings, so the only way I knew was to suffer in silence.

The other students viewed me as shy, quiet and a little strange. And I suppose I was all three, but not for the reasons anyone – and I’m including myself in this – comprehended. A few months into the course, I was bullied incessantly by two boys I had previously thought my friends, and mentally I reached a new low. I no longer saw a future for myself.

Now, the reason I’m telling this story relates directly to my writing. I had always been interested in creative writing from an early age – I penned my first short story around 11, and some time later I wrote a series of novels that were essentially Harry Potter rip-offs. The home-schooled me loved creative writing, but I think his main motivation was simply to pass the time. I don’t recall holding any genuine notion of becoming an author at the time, as I was always told it could never be anything more than a hobby.

It was only at 16, as the emotional black cloud was threatening to consume me, that I again picked up a pen and notebook and poured my angst and depression into creative work. I had always harboured a love for works of high fantasy – the Lord of the Rings movies were a big part of my teenage years, and I used to play the Warhammer Fantasy tabletop game, World of Warcraft MMO, and read any high fantasy novels I could get my hands on. And so I started to create a fantasy world of my own, wherein I could write my own stories. It became something of a spiritual journey for me, as I explored my thoughts and emotions within the context of this fictional world.

That fantasy world is the same that I set most of my stories in to this day. The Bloodkin race that feature in many of my works are an invention of that time, and I think a lot of their feature characteristics – zealous self-harm, hedonistic approach to life, emphasis on the temporary nature of existence – mirrors the mentality of my teenage years.

I will always be thankful to 16 year old me for deciding – rather than to harm himself or others – to pick up a ballpoint pen and a cheap and cheerful notebook and write, write, write. To pour his anger and sadness onto the page. 16 year old me was never writing with the aim of being published; he was doing it for himself, as a means to survive. I don’t believe I’m exaggerating when I say I owe my decision to start writing fiction for being here today.

juggling work, work and work. oh, and work

My greatest struggle, when it comes to writing, has to be multi-tasking. No matter how many (or how few) writing projects I have on the go at any one time, one piece will always be prioritised over the rest. Often, this has few negative consequences, as I do like to have one large, overarching project going on in my life; I like to have smaller projects running simultaneously, that I can dip into when I become tired or unproductive with the main one. This usually works really well, but where it can get sticky is when I’m juggling my university work and my personal projects at the same time, such as editing my first novel and plotting its sequel.

It’s easy to say: “Well, prioritise the uni work, duh.” But I find that, unlike before my course started and all of my projects were personal ones, the fact that some of my work is for university, and some of it’s personal, is where it becomes difficult to manage. I don’t know why, but managing my time between the two similar but obviously different worlds can be a challenge. For example, I’ll spend days in a row exclusively working on university coursework, then turn around and think “Wow, why have I neglected my novel for five days?” And the opposite happens also (though this is rarely the case at the moment).

I suppose that the obvious answer is to plan my time more carefully, and to do so in advance. I find such an approach brilliant in theory, but it rarely works for me. For example, if I say “Tomorrow I will work on uni stuff in the morning and my novel in the afternoon,” I find I don’t sleep well that night, and subsequently the morning work gets pushed back to the afternoon. I’m sure you catch my drift.

I’m sure few writers on Earth, when pressed, would say they sit down and write as often as they’d like. Life, I guess, just gets in the way. And in a way it’s good that it does, else I’d be stuck to a chair staring at my laptop for ten hours straight every single day.

a new beginning

I can finally say I’ve started writing my second novel, which, coincidentally, is the sequel to the first. I’ve yet to find a publisher for The Black Rook, and at the rate I’m going by the time it’s published I’ll have completed the sequel.

The Black Rook deals with themes and issues very personal to me. The majority of it was penned during a period of my life when I was really struggling with mental health, and as such, a lot of my sadness and anger and faithlessness seeped into The Black Rook’s pages. When I returned to edit it for the final time in 2020 (at the peak of the UK’s first lockdown), I was struck by how much of my real life had infused the prose. It was a dark journey, reliving the depression and angst that had haunted my early to mid-20’s, but I felt I owed it to the past-me to polish up The Black Rook to a publishable standard – at least, I like to think it’s now a publishable standard – and to get it out there. I’m still on the lookout for a publisher, and the long wait to find one has meant that my motivation for writing the sequel has taken a nose-dive as of late.

But I can thankfully now report that I’ve started writing the sequel. And I’m sure many of my fellow writers will agree when I say that starting to write can be the biggest challenge of them all. Often, I find that my own personal version of writer’s block is simply an aversion to facing an empty Word document. Once I commence typing, the bubble bursts and the “writer’s block” disappears.

The challenge now is to keep at it. Hopefully, I’ll have the first draft completed some time this year. I’m not giving myself a specific deadline, although I know I could probably churn it out in a few months. I don’t want to put myself under that much pressure, especially with all of these lockdowns that have become a part of daily life. I’ve let writing a novel mentally and emotionally consume me before, and I won’t let that happen again!

the lockdown blues continue

It’s been 5 days since my last blog, where I spoke about finding inspiration for creative work. In a tragically ironic twist, since I made that post I have found inspiration to be in short supply. The fabled muse has sewn her lips shut, or she’s given up on me and gone to whisper in someone else’s ear.

This third lockdown has hit me really hard. I’ve found it difficult to focus on any one thing, be it reading, writing for university, writing my next novel, writing for leisure, etc. I’ve been very much in my own head, but unlike the moments I usually enter this state of being, I’ve been unable to harness that to generate creative work.

I’ve always been the kind of person that needs little distractions in life, in order to function. I think that’s why I’ve always been a big fan of fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction, movies, etc. They’re an escape from the ordinary humdrum, the chance to place yourself in a different time and space. I realise that might sound unhealthy to some – diverting ones attention rather than facing up to one’s issues – but if facing them head-on was even a remote possibility, then I’d be at the very frontline of the battlefield. Indeed, I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly what I need distracting from – I guess the news about the pandemic would be one thing, but that’s almost impossible to do as it’s an intrinsic part of our lives now. And that also doesn’t explain why, on and off, I’ve always felt like I need distracting from something.

It’s probably got something to do with self-control. For whatever reason – call it upbringing, personality, whatever – I’ve always felt the urgent need to be in control of myself in every way, and that includes my emotions. Whenever I’ve been in a situation where I’m nearing the point of losing that control, I escape, quite literally, by walking away from arguments, stepping out of the room if I don’t like the way a conversation is going. And if I’m losing control of my emotions when I’m on my own – such as if I feel the grey cloud hovering over my head when I’m home alone – I stick on a movie or a TV show and forget about it.

So I guess my current predicament is that I’m in a place mentally where I can’t ignore or reject or forget. And little by little, piece by piece, the mask of composure is crumbling away.

It’s not all doom and gloom though, and I don’t want readers to think that this post is some kind of resignation to my fate. On the contrary, this is something more of a reflection – of past state(s) of mind and the one currently afflicting me.

I managed to get some creative work done this morning – it’s a short story that I’m working on, that I may either approach magazines with, or publish myself on this website. That distracted me somewhat. And yesterday I had two small victories: I did a decent home workout and baked some of the nicest seitan burgers I’ve ever made. I also submitted the second assignment of the second year of my MA (although I’m not entirely confident that it will score well, but it’s still a small victory). And I guess therein lies the answer to my current state of mind: rather than focusing on ways of distracting myself, I should search for ways to achieve small victories. Perhaps an accumulation of small victories will one day lead to a big one.

I hope this post isn’t too disheartening for my readers. I would categorise my feelings at the moment not as sadness, but a lack of happiness.

Having said all of this, I hope that everyone reading this is doing well. I know these are very tough times, but the best way to get through any sort of hardship you’re going through, be it mental or physical, is to communicate it in some way. I don’t play into the belief that everything has to be shared in order to feel a release; sure that works for a lot of people, but not everyone. But I would assert that your thoughts and feelings have to be communicated in some way, and what works is different for everyone. My best method, personally, is in writing, usually in journals that will hopefully one day be burned before anyone can read them. Find out what works best for you, in order to allow you that release from rumination, and roll with it!

For those who do find it helps to speak with someone (and I’m not suggesting in any way that this is a valid substitute for seeking professional aid) my inbox is always open and I’ll always reply (unless you’re a troll). You can contact me privately by accessing my “contact me” page via my website’s menu.

I hope that we soon reach the end of the dark tunnel that has been the reality of this pandemic!

the beast called inspiration and its cousin, the fickle muse

I don’t know if any of my fellow writers are like this, but I find that my inspiration to write (and also to read) springs itself upon me at the most random of times.

I can spend hours staring at a Word document and feel as if I’m physically and mentally incapable of producing anything even remotely close to belonging to the English language. I can sit down with an empty notebook, trying to plot a novel, short story, or just write anything, anything that might resemble a piece of prose, and fall short. On most of these occasions, the notes and scribbles I conjure are meaningless nonsense that I soon forget. On rare occasions, I write something down that really stands out and I end up using it for something more substantial.

And then, there are the random moments when inspiration just hits me. Yes, literally, it just smashes me in the face like a hammer. Okay, not quite literally.

There are two places where story ideas just appear like uninvited guests to a party: when I’m laying in bed trying to sleep at night, and when I’m laying in the bath. Interesting that there’s a theme there. Perhaps I should just stay lying down forever, then maybe I’ll be a productive human.

When I’m laying in bed and ideas assault me from all angles (and that’s a good way of describing it, as often the ideas are battle scenes), I try to ignore them and push them out of my head, as I’m invariably so tired I’ve stopped caring about my aspirations to be an author. And then, of course, I’ve forgotten about them when I wake up the next day. Not a very good practice I’ve got going on, is it? If I was to turn the light on and write the ideas down, however, I would literally never sleep. Ever.

The bath phenomenon is a much more welcome one. I invariably bring a book to the bath (don’t worry, I don’t bathe the book) but I rarely pick it up once I’m in the bath, as the ideas monster/ musey mcmuseface/ inspiration fairy makes its presence known to me, and I have to pick up my phone and start typing down all the ideas it provides me with.

So, in conclusion, I have decided that I will just lay in the bath forever and write from here. Goodbye cruel world that exists outside of the bath, it wasn’t nice knowing you.

lockdown blues

I’m not even referring to this lockdown as “lockdown 3” like many others, as the second one never really felt like a real lockdown – it felt more like a hospitality/shop lockdown, sure, but students were still attending universities and colleges and workplaces were simply told “if you can work from home you should work from home”. My experience of that “second lockdown” was very different from the picture painted on the news: my workplace was unaffected, and I continued to work as normal; the trams and trains I used to commute were just as busy as normal, and students seemed to be everywhere.

This “third lockdown” is a different thing entirely. The supermarkets are only allowing one person from a single party in at once, which makes things extremely difficult for my girlfriend with mobility issues, and my heart goes out to the elderly people who are now shopping alone (and struggling alone).

I am only working a maximum of one day a week, which is great for catching up on my university work and for writing (still trying to plan the sequel to The Black Rook), but my motivation and mental state have both plummeted.

Of course, I live a very privileged life compared to a lot of people. I can’t even imagine what families on the lower end of the economic scale are going through right now. But all the same, it’s important to talk about mental health, and my own situation is looking pretty bleak right now.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, and I certainly don’t want this blog post to be all about my woes. I am trying to make the most of the time I get to spend with my girlfriend, as well as the spare time I have for writing and reading, which, when I’m working my usual hours, is very hard to come by.

I know it’s been said a million times by a million different people, but things will get better soon! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel with the rolling out of these covid vaccines. If you, or someone you know, is struggling at all, though, I would recommend contacting the charity Mind. Or if somebody simply wants a casual chat, my inbox is always open (doesn’t have to be writing related) and you can access that via my “contact me” section of my website.

2021 is upon us

It almost felt like 2020 would never end. In many ways, the year felt as if it actually lasted for four or five years, dragging on and on and on.

But I don’t have to tell you how grim the previous year was (I don’t think there are many who hold the belief that 2020 was their favourite year) and I certainly don’t want to dwell in the past, so I’ll just shut up about the cursed time that was 2020.

I welcomed in the new year with my girlfriend, and we threw ourselves a little party (don’t worry, we didn’t flout any lockdown regulations, as we were the only two people invited). We dressed up as if we were hitting the town – shoes included – and I even constructed a playlist reminiscent of the kind we’d hear in the nightclubs we frequented back when it was possible to. I even did the apartment’s first-footing, and I don’t really remember much of the evening after that, as I was drinking scotch (as well as about twelve other things, whoops) . . .

As opposed to the last few years, I haven’t written myself any real resolutions for the new year, other than the usual cliches to be healthier and to write more (the latter of which I’ve actually managed to stick to). I still have eight months left of my MA in Creative Writing, so I guess I don’t have much of a choice but to write all the time!

I am going to (try and be) more active on this website, using it to showcase my short works of fiction, and to create blog posts such as this one. I’m unsure that anyone will be interested in reading my inane ramblings, but I’m afraid I’m going to subject you to them anyway! (You’ve been warned)

I wish you all a happy new year, and let’s hope 2021 is a bit kinder than its predecessor (the bar is set pretty low for you, 2021).