Monday, 1 March 2021

A Year of Lockdown Reading - ( ALMOST!)

The pandemic has changed reading habits. I have some friends who’ve expressed concerns that during the Covid19 chaos and subsequent Lockdowns, that they’ve stopped reading. Others seem to be overjoyed at rediscovering books and the places they take you, that if only temporally, it gives you an escape from reality (press here to see more).

Book sales are up and according to reports its mostly classic titles or books by establish authors that people are purchasing, (press here to find out more). As people use the extra time to catch up on the reading they’ve always meant to do, or crave the familiar and revisit old favourites.

There, been some big stories, from celebrities learning to love reading again, (press here) to illiterate adults who have spent lockdown learning to read (press here).

One thing is certain, for better or for worse the pandemic and lockdown has changed peoples reading habits. I’ve bucked the trend. I am not reading less, or more. I’ve also not returned to old favourites, or embarked on devouring classics. But my reading habits have changed.

Usually I exclusively read kids and YA fiction, however I’ve found that I’m reading less children’s books, I just can’t seem to finish them (don’t worry I’m passionate about kids lit, so I’m sure it's temporary), and I have opted for an eclectic mix of books which is actually a balance  of adults fiction and non-fiction.

So the books that have got me through the pandemic so far are …

The Smart Neanderthal, Clive Finlayson – A non-fiction book about the authors research into Neanderthal, and primarily their relationships with birds, from the evidence found within the caves of the Gibraltar Rock, and how’s it challenged and changed the way Neanderthal, are viewed.

How to Think like a Neanderthal – Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge – a non-fiction book that examines the anthropological evidence about Neanderthals and how this can be assembled to give us a greater understanding about how they lived and possibly how they thought.


How to Clone a Mammoth, The Science of De-Extinction - Beth Shapiro – A non-fiction exploration about genetic and cloning and how it can be applied to help endangered animals and combat global warming.

Mammoths, Ice age Giants- Adam Lister – non Fiction beautifully illustrated book crammed full of facts about this ice-age mega-fauna.

Get a Grip on Genetics
– Martin Brookes - A beginner’s guide to genetics in easy to consume bitesize chunks.

The Hedgehog Handbook – Sally Coulthard – A beautiful charming non-fiction book, with a month by month account of a hedgehog’s life in the wild. Juxtaposed with facts about their dwindling numbers, challenges, and what we can do to help, paired with exquisite illustrations.

Jumbo , This being the True Story of The Greatest Elephant in the World – Paul Chambers – A nonfiction biography about the world most famous ever elephant.


The American Gods Quintet  - Neil Gainman – finally getting around to reading the two novels and two novella, that have been recommended to me by so many friends. Loved being immersed in the deliciously dark and bonkers world of forgotten deities

There is only three books here because one of the novella's is in the back of American Gods novel.


The Constant Rabbit – Jasper Fforde – A trippy trip to an alternative version of the UK, with talking animorphised rabbits. Bonkers and brilliant.


Mammoth – Chris Flynn; A creative non-fiction/ fiction (I’m not sure) biographical account of one American Mastodon’s existence in life and after death when his soul is woken as his fossilised remains are unearthed. Recounted by the creature himself, to other artefacts as they await the action where they'll be sold off. This is charming, original and such a breath of fresh air. A true masterpiece.


The Library of the Unwritten – A. J. Hackwith; Step in into the library in Hell where all unwritten books are stored, sometimes waking up, manifested into one of the characters and are restless (or mad) as their story arch's haven't been finished. Plus a war brewing between Heaven and Hell that only a Librarian, a muse, a woken book and a demonized soul of a teenage boy can prevent.


If you need any motivation to crack on and get an unfinished manuscript completed, then read this. After reading this, I picked up a story I started in 2013 and finished it, as so not to torment my characters!

The Boy the Horse the Fox and the Mole: I was so late discovering this book, but it is so beautiful, and the perfect antidote to the pandemic, which the whole family fell in love with it, so we brought copied an got them sent to friends and family.


These books really helped me get through the pandemic so far , I don’t know exactly why my reading habits during these strange times has changed, or why I’ve changed the ratio of my reading to be more non-fiction, but it has indeed changed. One thing I’m grateful for, is that I am still reading. As Mason Cooley said, ‘Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

Also, I know this may not look like much reading, but I am dyslexic and my reading is painfully slow!

Friday, 5 February 2021

Decluttering the Creative Mind

My last blog was about de-cluttering my work space in order to create an environment with the physical space and calm to be creative. This post is about the much more difficult task of decluttering the mind, in order to give you the headspace and clarity of mind to allow your mind to wonder and imagine, and be creative.

After I had decluttered and created a clam creatively freeing workspace, my productivity went up. I was able to concentre and not get distracted by the chaos around me, and actually sit down and create and write. It quickly became my heaven away from the uncertainty and madness of the outside world. This allowed me to develop, research and write the first draft of my new WIP.

However, increasingly despite my lovely workspace, I’ve been finding it difficult to focus, my mind wonders off, from the task in hand, to what’s on the to-do—list, to ‘I really must do the meter readings’ to ‘it’s soing-so’s Birthday coming up, I must get a gift sent’, to ‘ophs! Better clean out and freeze the snail eggs.’ But it’s not all mundane adulating stuff. But its book stuff too, like; ‘which cloning technique should I choose for the cloning of the mammoths in my books’, ‘what should an elephant-mammoth hybrid be called?’, ‘Oh NO I need to learn about permafrost’ and ‘what was that character’s name again?’

So my brain is whirling and getting distracted, plus my dyslexia means I have a terrible short term memory, so sometimes I start a task and instantly forget what I’m supposed to be doing. This phenomena, is much worse when my brain is busy and chaotic.

There was only one clear course of action to remedy but busy brain, and that was to declutter it. This means mostly being organised, and recording all the information somewhere so, that I can relax because I know it is safe.


Annual Stuff

To get all this boarding but essential stuff out my brain, I set about creating to-do-lists. I have annual (and longer intervals) recurring things to remember list – with all the yearly things, like taxes and insurances ,epi-pen renewals, passport renewals noted down. So this done of excel and all printed on one page, so it’s easy to check.


I have seral to-do-lists, my main one covers everything personal and family related and is in the form of an excel spreadsheet, which I update and print out weekly. I then at the beginning of each day mark out which tasks off the to-do-list I’m going to do that day.

These things ensure that mostly I keep on top of the boarding day-to-day tasks and means they are not all clambering about in my mind shouting for attention.


General Writing Tasks

For my general writing tasks, I have a specific writing to-do-list, which use in the manage competitions, submissions, blog posts, meeting and alike.

Keeping to task

I have an another spreadsheet called ‘Keeping to task’ this where I plan my daily tasks for my project, like the amount of words I’m going to write, or the chapters I’m going edit or what research I’m going to do, and where I can mentor if I’m track to get the tasks done and project finished by the deadline. This helps my brain from panicking about if I’m doing enough work and whether I can complete the project in time.

Research & World Building

Research and world building is imperative for writing, especially fantasy of science fiction, or STEM based books. You ned to ensure the rules of your world work, and that any facts are correct – they’ll always be someone who notices and get annoyed with you if they’re not correct!

One of my favourite parts of writing is feeding my brain, and nourishing my creativity with research. However sometime it overwhelms my mind and it becomes too full to work.

So in order to de-cutter my brain of all the details of my world, and all the research facts, I do three things.


I visualise characters and places my doodling them.

Visual display

So it is easy to access while I’m working I create a visual display of my WIP. I know many other writers use notice boards, but as we are in lockdown, and I don’t have a noticeboard, I was forced to be innovative, and I fashioned a display with paper and poster hangers (stolen from my teens room shush don’t tell!) and keep adding essential information to the board as I go along.

The Notebook

My current project probably has the most research of all my writing to date. This is largely as it is a stem book based on real science, which means I have to get it right! It also meant my brain was very quickly full to brim and having issues processing the information, and having enough space of latent thinking and actually committing words to paper. So I decided to create a book, a bible or encyclopaedia of my WIP.

In the book, I have the pitch, the note of where the inspiration came from for the story, and character profiles, reach and world building. I’ve also typed out everything and printed and then stuck it in, this is largely so I can read it , and much of the time I can’t read my own writing due to my dyslexia and dyspraxia

This has been a really positive activity. It’s meant that by organising the information, it has also filed it away nicely within my mind. Plus I’m reassured that all the information is safe, and I won’t forget anything, (quieting my brain) and also serves as a point of reference whenever I need to check anything about the world of my book.

All in all, downloading the information that was whirling in my brain screaming for attention, and therefore de-cluttering mu mind, has really helped. I’m much more relaxed, and I feel I have the mental space and capacity to think freely, be creative and crucially productive. I’m no longer so exhausted, or ending the day feeling that I’ve not achieved anything, as I can plan my actives and keep track of what I’m actually achieving.

So although the process of de-cluttering my brain as long and tiring, I feel invigorated as a result, as I’m back to writing which is what I love.

Thursday, 5 November 2020

Preparing for Lockdown

Last lockdown I was pretty productive. I finished the edits and polishing of one manuscript and finished the first draft of another. Both projects were however crucially already started – the momentum already built up and concepts formed and plots planned. 

However the impending lockdown has me worried, about my writing productivity. I’m struggling to settle into which of half a dozen projects to work on. All of which are first draft stage. I must confess, new projects are always tricky to start. The indecision of which of a draw full of concepts to pick, and getting into the voice and building the creative excitement and momentum takes time. Once I’ve actually picked a project and started the words flow easily and quickly, but getting to that point is tricky especially in lockdown. 

Junk & laundry & spare room - usually it was messier than depicted
Usually at the beginning of a first draft I write a lot in coffee shops, where the ambiance and lack of distractions (think ironing pile) help me to focus. I also go out a lot to museums, or libraries or other towns to get a change of scenery to be surrounded by exterior stimulation and feed my brain and give my imagination a boost, none of which are possible in lockdown. in short I’m struggling to work from home without getting distracted or losing my focus.  

Writing in coffee shops.

So, my husband came up with a plan. You see he’s been working successfully from home since March, his key was making an area that was easy to work in. He arrange the shed into his office, making it suit his purpose, a clam environment with everything he need to work, without getting distracted or disturbed. He pointed out, he has a work space – and so do the children, as we reconfigured their rooms to have desks, noticeboards and even dusted off our old family PC and found an old laptop so the kids each had everything they needed to work from home. However I don’t.

Displaying my writery badge Collection.

I’ve been working on the family pc, in the spare room which was …

Part Spare room complete with bed. 

Part gym (health necessity but barely used - me bad). 

Part laundry room. 

Part Junk room 

Part office with filing cabinet and printer and the aforementioned family computer. 

The room was busy, but not in a good way – in a disorganised and chaotic way. So my husband suggested I make it into my writing place. That if I did then he believed I would find it easier to write there. 

Framing my writery pictures at last

So I set about reclaiming the room. First to go was the bed, (currently no one can stay anyway and it only get used a few time a year), then some of the gym equipment (that was only ever used for drying clothes.) Then I set about buying some second hand furniture which allowed me to bring all my writing stuff into one place, rather than it being spread across bookshelves and cupboard and boxes, in different rooms, the shed and attic. As so I’ve created what is definitely a calmer space and I hope will be a creative place too. 

Putting all my writery stuff in one place

Of course it doesn’t solve the issues of not being able to meet up in person with my critique group, or writer friends or attend socials, which also really helps reignite my imagination and enthusiasm. But I also tea-leafed a speaker from one of the kids room, so I can play coffee shop sounds, and will be meeting up with my critique group virtually.

So preparing for this coming lockdown has taught me something; that I always tend to compromise when it comes to my needs and my writing. And that sometimes, you just need to carve out a bit space for both.

Fingers crossed I manage to actually get a first draft of my new project done during NaNoWriMo!

A writery room of one's own