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On Never Writing a ‘Mother.’

I’ve had this post in draft here for a while. I wasn’t going to post it – too revealing- but it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, so here goes

After I’d been writing for a while it dawned on me that I never write a mother – not really. My mothers are always dead or absent  or very much in the background.

Perhaps it’s not surprising. I had a very difficult, often impossible relationship with my mother. Towards the end of her life, when for the first time in mine I dared to criticise and disagree with her, she disowned me completely.  For a number of years we had no contact whatsoever and that was both heartbreaking and an utter relief. We were reconciled briefly before her death.

The unhappiness and pain of this relationship never leaves me, despite counselling, despite becoming a mother myself, despite everything. Somehow the guilt of it still lies heavy on me. But recently and purely by chance, I came across this website – Are You a Daughter of a Narcissistic Mother? Take This Brief Survey to Find Out.

I took the survey – and was quickly reeling with the number of ‘yes,’ answers. I needed to explore more. Since then I’ve done other similar surveys and have been equally astonished by how much they reflect what was going on between my mother and myself, including all the inappropriate confidences and behaviours.

I’ve read the books too, devoured them, highlighting nearly every page. Now things have begun to shift. I find I no longer feel quite the same guilt. I no longer feel so ashamed – there’s an explanation! (I am always looking for explanations) It was real and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. Just like I couldn’t do a thing about her depression or attempted suicide.

Sadly ‘the problem with being a child of a narcissist is… it takes years to finally see that the type of parenting they’ve been receiving is wrong – if not emotionally abusive.’ S Myers. Yes, its taken me years to undertand the deep sadness I carry, that never leaves me and deeper still my own sense of unworthiness. To understand that my own mental health was compromised and that in the end perhaps no one is to blame. Neither her nor me

But I’m getting there, and who knows,  soon, I may even be able to write a mother…

Five Quotes from Natalie G

w MI wasn’t going to write today. There is so much going on in my writing world at the moment (to do with all the other stuff writers have to do) that I’d given myself permission not to. But then I just happened to start reading Natalie Goldberg’s, Wild Mind, (again) and before long the notebook was open and guess what? I’d written about 750 words. And they were good.

Natalie G never fails me. She is my all time, favourite, go-to  when the well is running dry. Here are 5 great quotes from her, that I noted down today, it could have been fifty:

When her lawyer friend becomes  a writer she tells him,  ‘You’ve entered a different path. You can’t just leap into the lake of writing in a three piece suit. You need a different outfit to swim in.’

‘A river and a tree are not unconscious. They are part of wild mind.’

‘Let yourself live in something that is already rightfully yours – your own wild mind.’

‘Continue under all circumstances. No excuses.’

‘Don’t be tossed away. If your kid falls and needs stitches, write in the waiting room…’

Now, how could I not write after reading that?


Writing a Unique First Person Voice

The question I’m most often asked about Sometimes A River Song, by both readers and fellow writers, is where did  Aiyana’s voice come from and how did I sustain it throughout this first person narrative?

This post is my attempt to answer that question and share what I learned about how to develop a unique first person voice.

In the first place I was interested in a river boat community in Arkansas and I wrote a couple of stories using this setting. The stories had a kind of southern voice. I knew what that sounded like. I could hear it in my head from all my years of growing up watching American TV shows and from reading great American fiction.

(One of these stories, How the River Breaks Your Heart was later longlisted for, The Raymond Carver Short Story Prize, and published in For Books Sake – Weekend Reads 2016. You can read it again HERE )

Then one morning I woke up and the words, ‘Silas keeps the book,’ came into my head from seemingly nowhere. Continue reading

Ten Writing Competitions

Just finishing a short story or a novel and ready to submit to competitions? Here are ten that just might interest you.

Writers & Artists and Retreat West have teamed up for a free writing competition that offers you the chance to win a place on one of Retreat West’s incredible writing retreats. All you have to do is write a short story no longer than 1,000. The only stipulation here is that your story – which can be about anything you like – must use a beach as its setting. The competition will remain open to all entries (though each entrant must have an account with – also free!) until midnight on 17th September 2017.

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The Dreaded Writer’s Block?

We all  experience it – the scary time – when the page or the screen is blank. The mind is blank. Nothing comes – is this the end, we secretly wonder? Is it the dreaded writer’s block? (If you want my honest opinion – never! writer’s block is just another figment of our imagination)

Will we, can we, write anything new, ever again?

The answer to this is a resounding YES! Writing is our job and if we keep at it then sooner or later something will give. If we show up we will find a toe-hold; the way into something new. The glimmer of an idea,  a distant pathway.

But as well as showing up every day we need to make sure the well isn’t dry – we need days off too – I’m a great believer in days off, they’re good for the soul – so here are some ideas for going AWOL and feeding your writer’s soul.

Go on a Julia Cameron style ‘Artist’s Date,’ – romance yourself, spend the day somewhere inspiring, visit a gallery, an exhibition, go listen to music, see a film, haunt cafes, eat cake, sit in gardens – go with your notebook and just enjoy and observe.

Spend some money, if you’ve got any.

Read – read the books you love, the books that inspire you, the books you’ve been meaning to read- and don’t feel guilty. The reading will feed into your writing – lift words or lines as inspiration – steal from the best.

Read poetry – for the same reasons

Walk the dog – play around with ideas – let them float in and out of your head as you wander by the river or through the town.

Take a workshop – new ideas always crop up in workshops. There are plenty online if you can’t find any near you.

Listen to the radio – voices and stories will come at you from all sides.

Meet your writing buddy.

Begin to write anything . Don’t worry if it’s good – allow it to be bad, don’t think too much, don’t overload it with expectations.

If you’re already working on a story or novel – go to a minor character (or invent one) and let them speak – you may be surprised what they have to say….

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How do you meet the blank page? What inspires you? I’d love to know.




Tutoring for Comma Press & Striking Gold

I thought I’d given up teaching. Well, almost. Even though I loved it, I felt my time as a teacher coming to an end. I was jaded perhaps, and I was protective of my writing time. But then along came Comma Press and whispered devilishly at my ear and before I knew it I’d agreed to tutor their short story course in Newcastle. The teacher in me was secretly energised. The writer in me sighed and fretted.

That was 2016. The course began in January of this year, (well organised and supported by Comma) one session a month until June – 4 down, 2 to go. So what of my teacher and writer selves, what has become of them, what do they think?

I’m pleased to say, the writer in me has stopped fretting. I always like to write with the group if I can, and last night I wrote the end of significant story. What a bonus!  I wasn’t expecting to but I should have known that it’s impossible to work with a group like this and for it not to impact and benefit your own work. Who, after all can resist the charge and energy of twelve writers, scribbling away, intensely focused on the page?

But perhaps the biggest payoff for the writer in me, comes from the reading.  Reading is, after all, the writers apprenticeship and as I read month by month with the group I still find myself inspired by the likes of Kevin Barry,  Breece D J Pancake, by Alice Munroe, Daisy Johnson, Lydia Davis etc etc….and I hope that the group feels the same. I hope that we have read as writers and learned what we can from the greats.

The teacher in me has made a full recovery.  I’ve worked with a lot of groups in my time in a whole lot of different places from library to prison cell, from prefab classroom to university but I’ve encountered no better group than this. Yes, I got lucky. I struck gold. Let’s face it in any group there is usually ‘the pain’ – the dominant, difficult, demanding member. Not this group! Or there’s someone you worry about who sits like a ghost at the feast, saying nothing, producing nothing. Not this group! It’s been my luck to land twelve serious, talented writers, a keen, committed group, respectful of each other and willing to put up with me once a month. Now that can’t be bad. Thank you, Comma Press.

You can read group member Clay Lister’s blog posts about the group HERE

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