Monday, 28 January 2013

My Journey to writing – A tale of self-preservation and mental health.

My Journey to Writing 

A Tale of Self-Preservation and Mental Health

I recently read Matt Haig’s (author of ‘The Radley’s’) honest and touching guest blog on Booktrust, about how writing helped him overcome depression, to read Press Here.    This got me thinking about my journey to writing, and inspired me to share it. I began reading and writing at a particularly difficult time of my life, looking back I believe it gave me the strength to get through this time whilst keeping my sanity.

In 2003 my husband and I moved house, from  lovely comfortable home to what can only be described as a ‘Fixer-uper’, the new house had no working heating or hot water, it’s roof was barely watertight, and the garden had more rubbish than the local junk yard.  

Then I found out I was expecting a baby, and at twenty four, being young and healthy we foolishly thought it’d be a breeze. At the twenty week scan we found that the baby had a C-Cam, a cist on the lung that was 10% of baby’s size, displacing all the other organs, and was likely to burst which would be fatal.

Momentum of one of the best and most stressful days of our lives 20 week ultra-sound.

After the news, the rest of the pregnancy was rather stressful, then the baby came, a lovely little girl, who seemed healthy and an x-ray indicated that the C-Cam had shrunk and was no longer an issue.  However, the baby did not thrive. After six months she was still only birth weight. She could not retain food, it was expelled (with force) from both ends, and she was on a whole concoction of drugs to keep her going.

On top of this there was her skin. She was red, pillar box red, with acute infantile eczema that was constantly getting infected. This was heart breaking, not knowing what to do, and being under six departments across three hospitals trying to work out what was wrong –was exhausting physically and mentally. Eventually it was discovered that she was allergic to pretty much everything, including breast milk, and when put on pre-digested milk, she began to steadily get better.

Me and my lovely poorly little girl

However, she was never well enough for me to return to work. At six months we tried an hours ‘settling-in’ session at a local nursery, and ended up in hospital for a week on fluids because she caught a bug, and being so small, had not the resources to fight it.

That was it. Stuck in a ramshackle home, with a sick baby and on a tight budget due to unexpected loss of income, I began reading as it kept my mind active and was inexpensive. I discovered YA books, and found that I really enjoyed them and that they were written at a level that dyslexic me could cope with.

Everything was on the up, with the drugs and special milk my daughter began to gain weight, and began to sleep (did I mention she only slept one hour in 24!) But when she was eight months, she had a routine CT scan on her lung, just to confirm that the X-ray results were right, only to find that the cist was the lung – it was occupying the whole space, and was likely to burst and kill her at any moment.  Two very stressful weeks later (over Christmas) she has an operation and had the cist, and lower left lobe removed.

12 hours after surgery - 2 hours before lung collapsed 

The operation was a success (despite a few scary moments) and with both weight and lung fixed, it was only the skin left. The eczema we managed by wet-wrapping, and her health continued to improve.  Just as things were settling down, baby number two started manufacture. This time it was me that wasn’t healthy. I suffered the whole pregnancy with PGP, ‘Pelvic Girdle Pain’, and could not walk, sit, or move as I was in agony.  This condition usually rights itself after birth, but when my son arrived – bony and healthy, it got worse.

Happy baby - poorly hips!

So now I was stuck in a slightly improved ramshackle house, (we had hot water, and the roof no longer leaked!) with an almost healthy toddler, a demanding infant and in excruciating pain.  This was when I began writing. I wrote a small passage, a re-envisioning of a fairy Tale, and decided to turn it into a book. I began to read, I spent months immersed in fairy tales, and YA novels. The reading fed my mind, inspired a story and I wrote continually. The process kept my mind active, gave me focus and something to obsess on that wasn’t pain, or worry. It also meant that when my lovely supportive and tired husband got home from work, I didn’t bombard him with idle chitchat (just because he is another person over the age of three) and give him space to wind down.

It turns out that my pain is caused by shallow hip joints, and that my hips are wearing themselves out, at 30 I found out I needed hip replacements, and at 31 I went in for surgery which halted half way through as I ‘fainted whilst already unconscious under the anaesthetic!’ As half the surgery had been done, I was in more pain, and not fixed! At this point I read constantly, and wrote lot of scenes featuring pain!

Happy and healthy!

It is now a few years later, my daughter is in full health, my son is full of mischief, the house has been pulled down and rebuilt (another blog maybe), my husband is still supportive and working hard, but my hips are still not fixed! However I manage my pain with a combination of physiotherapy, exercise, and keeping healthy mentally - through reading and writing.

In short, reading and writing served as my personal solitude and therapy, keeping me strong when my family needed me most. 

Thanks for stopping by and reading my story.

If you or someone you love are suffering with any of the problems above here are some places you can get support...

Eczema - British Skin Foundation - Click Here
PGP - Pelvic Girdle Pain - The Pelvic Partnership -  Click Here 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Making The Chicken House – The Times Children’s Fiction Competition 2013 Long-List!

Making The Chicken House – The Times Children’s Fiction Competition 2013 Long-List!

What a great way to start the weekend, waking up to find that I've made the Long-List for The Chicken House The Times Children’s Fiction Competition 2013I'm utterly thrilled that; ‘Through Mortal Eyes,’ is in the long-list of 21!

I'm even more excited to find that I'm amongst friends. My close writing Buddy Nicki Thornton, is also in the long list with her Tweenies (early teenage) mystery novel, ‘The Sleeping Beauty House’, which is an amazing book, with lashing of both mystery and humour.  

Also, fellow SCBWI writer K M Lockwood (Philippa Francis) has made the long-list with her novel ‘Selkies of Scoresby Nab.’  I'm lucky enough to have read the opening of the book a while back so can truly say that it’s a great read that utilises the much overlooked folklore of Britain. 

So I’d like to thank the reader that pulled ‘Through Mortal Eyes’ off the mountain of entries and submitted it for the long-list – Thank you!

Also to send hearty CONGRATULATIONS to all the Long-listers…

BORN LOSERS- Tom Ellen & Lucy Ivison
FINDING ALICE - Rosemary Appleyard
FRAMED - Joy McCullough-Carranza
LIKE A BROTHER - Wendy E Constance
MOLLY - Katharine Leat
MOON BOY - D.M. Macphail
THE HAIRY HAND - Robin Bennett
VINCENT - Phillip Rudall
WE STOLE OUR BROTHER - Fiona Motherwell
ZACH IN THE MAKING - Kelly McCaughrain

So I'm off to celebrate…

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Goodbye 2012, the year of the Fairy Tale. Hello 2013, let the Fairy Tale Frenzy Begin…

2012 really was the year of the Fairy Tale. As I detailed in my earlier blog posts (click here and here) it was destined to be fairy tale mad. 2012 did not disappoint, bringing gifts of Fairy Tale films, television shows and books that all built up to the finale; the 200th anniversary of the publication of the Brothers Grimm’s, ‘Children’s and Household Tales’, on the 20th December.

But wait, fear not, fairy tales are not ‘so 2012!’… 2013 has a whole host of fairytale delights.  Read on to review some of the highlights from last year, and what’s in store in the coming months…

2012 Review

We had a fairy tale revival for the small screen, with the reboot of the 1980’s classic ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Grimm’, and ABC’s  ‘Once Upon A Time’, starring Jennifer Morrison and Robert Carlisle.

We had fairy tales hit the big screen too, with varied levels of success. For my money, ‘Mirror Mirror’ being on the poorer end, but then ‘Snow White and The Huntsman’ proving that Hollywood can pull off a good Fairy Tale Yarn. I think the key difference between the two film bases is simple, quality of the writing team; ‘Snow White and The Huntsman’ hired; The Sussex Centre for Folklore Fairy Tales and Fantasy, to be consultants for the film!!!

It wasn’t just western film makers, China’s film goers were also treated to a fairy tale caper; The ‘FairyTale Killer,’ about ‘A fearless cop is appointed to investigate a series of puzzling murders which resemble Fairy Tales.’

September saw the ‘After Grimm: Fairy Tales and Story Telling Conference’ in London. (Click here to see the right up in the SCFF Newsletter).

2012 saw a fair share of fairy tale literature, I can’t go through all of the fabulous books, but here are a few. Graham Joyce, the author of one of my all-time favourite fairy tale-esk adult novels, ‘The Tooth Fairy’ published his book ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale.’ Alley Shaw followed up his award winning ‘The Girl with glass feet’ with his second fairy tale novel for adults, ‘The Man Who Rained

Then in autumn we saw the hugely anticipated Phillip Pullmans ‘Grimm’s Tales for Young and Old’.  This book is truly beautiful, with a cover that is so inviting it looks like you can walk straight into the books. What’s between the covers is even better, with a fascinating introduction, and compelling retelling of a selection of The Grimm Brothers most intriguing (not necessarily best known) Tales.

And finally, the 20th December was the bicentenary of the first publication of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s ‘Kinder- und Hausmärchen’.  With wide celebrations in Germany (click here for more), and an interesting series of programs on BBC Radio 4 (press here to listen). This rounded up a fantastic year.

2013 Highlights

2013 sees more Grimm adaptations but it also welcomes Hans Christian Anderson to the party. Yes The Snow Queen see’s not one but two animated adaptation's for the silver screen. First come Wizarts ‘The Snow Queen’ which is Russian made CGI picture (press here to seethe trailer). Later we have the Disney version ‘Frozen.’

Then more movies; Bryan Singer’s ‘Jack the Giant Killer’, and ‘Hansel and Gretel; Witch Hunters.’

Pans Labyrinth’s director, Guillermo De Terro’s animated ‘Pinocchio’ is currently in post-production, so will hopefully be released in 2013 and the images that have been released so far look stunning (press here). Although sadly there is no new news on his live action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ at present. But one thing is certain, if Pan’s Labyrinth is anything to go by, then both these films will be true fairy tale – *can’t wait!*

Other things in the making include the Disney Sleeping beauty adaptation that sees Angelina Jolie taking on the title role as the evil sorceress ‘Maleficent’ (Press Here to see Angelina in costume).  And there are rumours of a new live action Disney adaption of ‘Cinderella’ due to be directed by Mark Romanek (director of One Hour Photo), and starring ‘The Hosts,’ Saoirse Ronan. (to read more press here).

One thing is clear, the Fairy Tale rival is still going strong, with more films being commissioned, and an ever growing audience with a thirst for fairy tales that reference their heritage, not shying away from things that go bump in the night.