Monday 19 July 2021

Maptastic World Building.

I love a good map. The first map I ever saw in a book, was Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth in The Hobbit, when my mother red it to us when I was a child. I loved the map, and would study it for hours. You see I couldn’t re-read the book myself due to my low-reading age due to my undiagnosed dyslexia, BUT I could stare at the map and imagine myself going on the journey and experiencing Bilbo’s adventures. It was a visual tool that allowed me entrance back into the story.

The next map I saw was when I was in my mid-teens was of One Hundred Acre Wood by E.H. Shepard. I loved it for its intricacy and pen-man ship, but it was a bit of a shock, as I already had seen it in bright Disney animation, with Poo jumping between the pages, the original is however much more intriguing and inviting, which is probably why the original fetched £430,000 at auction in 2018!

When I was at school I was good at both geography and art (both of which I went on to study at degree) so of course everyone put two and two together and thought I should pursue a career in cartography of course none one took into account my bad sense of direction, or the fact I didn’t know (and still don’t) my left from my right. However how that I’m writing and world building, I find map-making hugely helpful.

‘I wisely started with a map and made the story fit,’


J. R. R. Tolkien, 1954

Unlike the very wise Mr Tolkien, I usually start with a story, then when it all starts to get complicated, I put pen to paper and draw a map, (and characters and landscapes). But the map is probably the most helpful, and the only thing you can’t get anywhere else, unlike characters, where you can get photographs from the internet (or like Roald Dahl did, keep a stock of photos cut out from magazines and newspapers.)


I have tried my hand at cartography for a few of my books, one a sci-fi fantasy YA, it was more of a drawing of planets and more recently I have tried my hand at a more traditional map for my WIP mammoth book, of both the geographical area and the main complex. It is so helpful to actually see where everything is in realisation to each other, and for unlocking key aspects of plot. Of course some writers like Terry Pratchett can keep it all in their heads, and never make a mistake, but for me I need to see it to really write it.

One thing I have discovered is that although I’m an artist by training (one thing I can do is draw!) Sadly my maps aren’t spectacular. In comparison however my 15 year old son, is a very talented map-maker. He had previously been commissioned to draw maps for peoples Dungeons and Dragons quests, and his world building is fantastic. He starts with maps, and then works on the biomes, eco-systems, faunas, flora, cultures, histories, cuisine, fashion, languages and mythologies. All these things are rooted and inspired by the original map and type of biome he’s created. I am in no way envious of his commitment or talent honest!

My son's world building & Map making


In fact I think maps are an essential part of world building – just as much as mind-maps as an essential part of plotting. Like Tolkien’s map of Bilbo journey ‘there and back again’ in The Hobbit helped me enter Middle Earth, creating map helps me enter the world and experience it, and even envision the environment , making it easier to describe but crucially see how the biome will influence the plot .


So if you haven’t tried drawing a map yet, I totally encourage you to do so, it really doesn’t matter about how well you draw (after all Tolkien wasn’t a great artist and his maps are possibly the most famous in fiction!) If you need any more encouragement I suggest you have a look at the beautiful celebration of fictional maps, in the lovely book The Writers Map edited by Huw Lewis-Jones, that explores fictional maps, and how to create them.

Thursday 15 July 2021

The Rubber Ball of Doubt

This week I had a serious dose of the Doubts. It’s a feeling I and many writers (especially pre-published) know well, as it happens again and again. In my mind doubt is made of rubber and like the song says, ‘Rubber ball keeps on bouncing back to me.’

One day I’m full of confidence, sure that I’m a good writer, convinced that my latest WIP has commercial appeal, a unique concept and a strong voice and plot. Optimistic that if I keep honing my craft and keep submitting that one day it’ll happen, I’ll get picked up and get my book in print.


The next day I’m anxious and depressed mess as doubt crashes my positive party. Suddenly it’s, ‘My writing isn’t good enough.’ ‘My writing will never be good enough.’ ‘My extra issues that my dyslexia pose are getting worse raising the hurdles higher and unsurmountable.’ The universe and time are conspiring to make sure that my dream of becoming a published author is never happens’.

So why is it that one day I’m so optimistic and the next I’m full of pessimism? 

It only takes one thing, like a…

  • A rejection that I’ve not indigested the feedback. (Once I read the comments and understand them, usually I can throw thee rubber ball away again.)

  • A long-list missed.

  • A spelling or grammar mistakes which I have found after I have pressed send on the submission.

So why does it get me so down with doubt?

  • All the voices of all the people that have told me am not allowed to write because of my dyslexia comes flooding back into my write telling me ‘ I can’t write.’ Then all the other voices telling me what I can’t do because of my dyslexia join the party too.

  • Knowing that NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY, my spelling isn’t getting better, and I will never be able to get my manuscript void of all dyslexia-isums. And despite being far away from the bread line that I can’t afford to get every submission copyedited.

  • The niggling worry that despite the current move of inclusivity within the industry for diverse authors, including neuro-diverse writers, that although there are other dyslexic writers that are successfully published, that my dyslexia is pretty bad and maybe I’m just too far up the spectrum to get published.

So when all these doubts pile up, I have to pull myself up. I look at things logically, and see that the facts haven’t changed. I’ve have still had competition long-listings, short-listings and wins, which seems to confirm I’m not totally bad at writing. I still get more bespoke responses from submission that standard ones. I’m still working and improving my craft. I’m still dyslexic, but the industry is make positive steps to try and make it easier for people like me to get published.


So why when I tell myself all of these things and throw that ball of doubt away, does it always come bouncing back with more velocity?

I don’t know why the rubber ball of doubt seems to hit harder each time, but I do know this; The children’s writing & illustrating community is so supportive of each other, that when I get too tried to throw that rubber ball away, someone, will say, ‘hay, take a break,’ and they throw the ball away for me instead.

So sometimes I get down, but I love writing, and I’m surrounded by wonderful supportive people, and we all help one another when that ball of doubt land in our court. So writing onwards I go…

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Clearing the Cotton Wool (in a vain hope to boost my creativity)

Lately I’ve been struggling to get my brain in gear and enable me to be productive. I can’t seem to stick to task, or achieve the momentum of creative flow, even decide on a course of action or remember anything. Many of you will know the feeling - the feeling that your brain is clogged up with cotton wool.

This is me presently – struggling with cotton wool brain and it is SOOOOOOO frustrating. The issue is made worse as my POTS (Postal Tachycardia Syndrome) making me tired, light headed, giving tummy issues and BRAIN FOG (which is another way of describing Cotton Wool Brain.) Add to this my dyslexia, causing me difficulties with my short term memory and concentration it all adds up to one thing, a bad case of cotton wool brain and reduced creativity.

This results in my confidence taking a hit which causes my mood to plunge which means I get anxious about not being creative enough. This then makes me doubt my ability to write and to navigate around the substantial extra hurdles my health issues and neuro diversity place on the path to publication. All of this of course makes my cotton wool brain to get worse.

So How to Clear the Cotton Wool from my Brain?

  • Exercise is one of the best ways to relive POTS related symptoms including brain fog. However POTS also makes me medically exercise intolerant as my heart is already strained by just keeping me upright. Add to this my dodgy hips making most exercise impossible, and hyper flexibility which mean I can and have broken bones and dislocated joints my standing still - let alone moving or exercising. This makes exercise a challenge. Despite all the challenges my health issue present on my ability to exercise, I do walk everyday - as long as it’s on flat ground and good terrain. Of course some days it my hips are bad I can’t walk at all.

  • Lists and Post-its. I have to-do lists and post-its everywhere. this is to try and focus my brain on the most important tasks and to combat my bad short term memory - to try and reduce the possibility of me forgetting anything.

  • Eating better. Eating better, can help ease my POTS symptoms including the cotton wool brain. This of course takes time to plan and prepare, but the benefits are worth it. Just look at Deliciously Ella, who had really debilitating POTS which she managed through diet.

  • Better Sleep. This is obvious, but when I have a bad case of cotton wool brain, it usually comes with a bad bout of POTS and hyper flexibility - which means more pain. Joints, Hips, and a bad tummy which makes sleeping difficult. Also due to my hyper flexibility I can’t take any sleeping aids, as these relax the muscles, and if I do, I can’t walk in the morning. So this is difficult, and any tip gratefully received.

  • Getting Out. Sometimes the best was to clear the cotton wool is to force its out. If I change the environment, by going anywhere that isn’t home, there are fewer distractions. This means if I take a note pad and pen, and put that pen to the paper, I actually write. It may be BAD writing, but l think of it like panning for gold; you have to work through a lot of dirt to get the nougat. This forces the rain to cast aside the cotton wool enough to stick to task. Even if the output isn’t the best quality, it is a start and the next time I try and write it is easier.

All in all cotton wool brain is frustrating. Sometimes it is a massive challenge to clear it all. But then I’m a dyslexic trying to make a career in writing, so challenge is something I rise too – although slightly slowly and wobbly , I do rise.