BristolCon and other loveliness

BristolCon can be summed up in four words. Ten buckets of awesome. It was so much fun.  Joanne Hall did an amazing job as Chair (as she has done since it started) I was really nervous going on my own because usually I go with hubster or Nakama. Sadly, I missed the first talk because my bus was late but I was kept busy by my goody bag and the stalls. I even bought a few Christmas presents. I’ll start off with the stalls. There was a room full of the usual stuff you get at cons, crafts and jewellery, stuff from Forbidden Planet and a comic book shop, as well as few authors and artists selling their own stuff. The FP stand had Grimbold Books, stuff by Emma Newman, Anna Lyle, Snorri Kristianson, Mark Lawrence and a dozen other authors and artists I have admired for years, including Jim Burns who had a stall in the artists’ room. Most of it was signed as well or could be signed as quite a lot of the authors were there.

Now at this point I have to say thank you to my new mate and fellow Grimboldian (yes, I’m making up a noun, move along) Sophie E Tallis, who is just amazing, for her photos as all of mine of the con were pants. I will post them as we go. As I said, I missed the first talk as my bus was late so I waited around and hunted through my goody bag, which included a free book, ‘Veteran’ by Gavin Smith, a sci-fi novel. I read the blurb and the first few pages and it looks good. I have half term this week so I will be reading.

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I also got some book marks, a Grimbold books wristband and a few postcards. After I had rooted through my bag, and eaten my yoghurt, it was time for Jo’s reading from her steampunk novel ‘Airship Shape and Bristol Fashion.’ I was blown away (and I am not just saying that because she is my editor). It was incredible and has made it onto the ever growing Christmas list. Sammy still hadn’t arrived (she’d been helping her sister move until 2am) so I went to the panel on common writing problems. The panelists were Anne Lyle, writer of the Night’s Masque series. Terry Jackman, a woman of all trades writer, editor, reviewer, speaker, tutor, Orbit Coordinator at British Science Fiction Association amongst other things, Gareth L Powell winner of the 2013 BSFA Award for ‘Ack-Ack-Macaque’ and Snorri Kristjánsson, the Icelandic writer of ‘The Valhalla Saga’ and all round funny man.

The panel gave some really good advice about lots of things but here are the top tips that I have gleaned:

1. Editors are not usually the enemy. Editing is a two way street and it is important that you listen to them but also respond (politely) if their suggestions don’t work for you. Be open to criticism and be aware that your manuscript is your baby. It is natural to get a little defensive because you are too close to it but an editor wants to prune away all the bad stuff and make it even better. Usually. It is important to be aware of objective and subjective criticism. You want objective criticism because it is constructive.

2. Writer’s block. Now this was interesting because all of the panelists had a different view. Gareth said that nothing cures it like a deadline, Anne suggested that you write a silly scene to reinvigorate yourself, Terry suggested re-reading and avoiding to strict a structure. Snorri gave the most interesting advice (in my opinion): accept that bad is happening and move through the fear. It is ok to write badly because you can fix it in editing. All of them agreed that doing something non writing related helps unfurl your mind. Especially if you are writing a short story, it lets the mind-goblins, as Gareth put it, work and polish what you’re thinking about.

3. Description is not as helpful as you think it is. I am so guilty of this, it isn’t funny. Huge chunks of description slow the narrative down and cause problems with pacing. It also stops the reader from fully interacting with the work. You take away all of their autonomy when over describing, you get in the way of imagination. It’s not a movie. Give them hints, let them imagine, let them make it theirs.

4. No writing is ever wasted. If you have a sucky premise and you have to ditch it, ditch it. You are now able to recognise crap writing and be better.

5. Side characters are allowed to become more interesting than your main characters at times. No man is an island after all. Snorri’s best kine was ‘Be a cruel and vengeful god.’ Make sure you are challenging your characters.

After that, Sammy had arrived (Hurray!) and we went to meet some people. First of all she introduced me to Anne-Mhairi Simpson who is working on an incredible table top game called ‘Be a Bard’. The premise of it is you have cards, which help you construct a story and you have to get rid of all your cards to win. They have pictures with genres you have to match to continue the story. She wants to make textured cards so it becomes multi-sensory for autistic kids, an idea I love. We played a round in the afternoon with a few friends we picked up. Needless to say, it got very rude, very quickly.

Before all that, Sammy and I wandered around, looking at the stalls. She introduced me to Will Macmillan Jones, another writer Sammy knows and writer of ‘The Banned Underground’ series. I bought ‘The Vampire Mechanic’ as each book is stand alone rather than chronological and a load of other very funny stuff.

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Sammy introduced me as one of Grimbold’s newest authors and got me to pitch ‘Cruelty’ while she wandered off. Will was lovely and listened while I stuttered and explained. I may be a teacher but other adults scare me. He gave me some amazing advice. ‘Just go for it. Be passionate. You wrote something that someone else wants to publish. Go for it.’

It was then that we bumped into Sophie, who I instantly loved and I don’t like people straight off. She is another Grimbold author, writer of ‘White Mountain’ which will be released soon. She is also a fabulous artist as was demonstrated by her dragon on her tshirt. She drew it herself for ‘White Mountain’ which I also cannot wait to read. We stood and chatted for a while before bumping into Alistair from Books on the Hill. an independent bookshop in Bristol, which has agreed to stock one copy of all Grimbold titles at first and see how it goes.

Sammy, Sophie, Alistair and I spent most of the morning and early afternoon together. We  went to the talk on Influences, which Jo was on. It was really good at looking at both positive and negative influences, from novels, T.V., films etc and how they can help and hurt our writing. It made me giggle because I recently realised that Cornelius has been very heavily influenced by Dante from Devil May Cry. My world shattered when I realised this but with a few tweaks etc. he will become his own man.

After that panel, we went for lunch, but went past the book swap table where Sammy grabbed me ‘Empire of the Saviours’ by A.J. Dalton. She sang his praises from the mountain tops so I am looking forward to this one.

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The four of us sat and chatted for ages, about books we love, what we’re writing,what we enjoy and don’t enjoy about our day jobs, everything really. Afterwards Alistair had to leave and Sammy, Sophie and I went to the Fragmentation of Fandom, which talked about how there are so many niches within fandom and how fan can be a positive and a negative word. We finally managed to get a chance to sit down with Jo and have a chat about the Con and writing stuff, as well as playing ‘Be a Bard.’ We met a load of other interesting people and talked about our writing. After a while Jo and her partner Chris had to go and sort some things out for other panels so we stayed talking with Will and Sophie and a few other people we’d met.

I really enjoyed my time there and the longer I was there, the more comfortable I became. Sammy and Jo are going to be looking at other cons for 2015 and I really hope I can go to a few so I’m going to start saving. Sammy, sweetheart that she is, bought me a Totoro necklace which I love as a memory of my first writer’s con. I will deffo be going next year and to as many others as I can afford.

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Until next week and enjoy Sophie’s photos below.

Influences panel

Influences panel

Will Macmillan Jones

Will Macmillan Jones

Jim Burns - awesome artist

Jim Burns – awesome artist

Jo Hall

Jo Hall

Me, Alistair and Sammy

Me, Alistair and Sammy

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Me, Sophie, Sammy

Me, Sophie, Sammy

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Little things…

Sorry for no post last weekend. Again, normal life got the better of me. Just a mini-post this one because tomorrow I will be posting about BristolCon, which I’m going to today.

When I got pregnant, I decided to keep a pregnancy journal and make a baby blanket. I only got to write a dozen or so pages of the journal. Yesterday, I needed a notebook (for Con) and, without hesitation or crying, I was able to pick up the journal and tear out the pages.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: trying to destroy the pain. It’s not that. I am ready to let go. Loss is never easy, but there comes a time when it stops being the first thing you think of, it becomes easier to carry, happiness comes back, the roaring agony becomes a twinge and one day, you find yourself moving on. I still have the original pregnancy tests and I am finally ready to throw those away. Not because I’m going ‘Well, there’s no point to keeping these’ but because I need to let my little one rest.

My best friend of 15 plus years sadly went through a miscarriage 2 weeks ago. We’ve done everything together from the age of 12. This is the one thing you don’t want to do together. But I love her and I want her to know that the pain passes and joy comes back. It gets easier to cope with. It never goes away but it stops souring everything.

Sigh from the soul

This week has been hard. Not editing wise (that’s all good, even if I do overuse adverbs). Work, life and family has been hard. Especially as we are up in Scotland for a baptism.

On 3rd February 2014, my sister in law gave birth to Jessica, a beautiful, precious thing and a few weeks later we went to see her. Of course, we fell madly in love with her.

On the 18th April, we discovered that I was pregnant, due around Christmas.

On the 17th June, we went for our first scan.

There was no heartbeat.

There had never been one. The baby had stopped growing at 6 weeks. I had been throwing up, sore boobs etc. There was no sign anything was wrong. I’d had what is called a silent miscarriage.

There are no words to describe that moment. I”m looking up at the sonographer, excited to see my little one wriggling on the screen but her face remains blank. Then it comes. A flicker of a frown.

‘I don’t see a 12 week fetus here. What was the date of your last period?’

’25th March.’Exactly 12 weeks ago.

Another flickering frown and my world collapses. My baby is dead. She doesn’t say it but I know. Blackness swallows me whole and I know that the blood has drained from my face. My husband is stiff, as white as a ghost.

I am sent off for an internal scan. I have had these before because I have some fluid on my ovaries. He looks and frowns openly.

‘We have a pregnancy sack and a small bunch of cells but no heartbeat. When was your last period?’

’25th March.’Exactly 12 weeks ago.

He calls for a colleague to look at the screen, the fluid on my ovaries is causing him concern. It’s not an eptopic twin, it’s just fluid. I’ve had it checked out before. It’s not in my tubes. Once the colleague is happy, once she has finished probing me with the scanner, evil invader, she asks me the question again.

‘When was your last period?’

’25th March.’Exactly 12 weeks ago.

‘It’s likely then that you have suffered what is called a silent miscarriage. We can’t make a diagnosis just yet. We’ll get a midwife to make an appointment at the EPU, for next week, so you can have another scan to confirm. They’ll take it from there.’

Everyone is brisk and matter-of-fact. They must see this all the time. It must be the only way they cope.

I haven’t cried yet.

We are ushered into a small room, our grief must not upset others, and we wait. For an hour. For someone to tell us what we do next. The midwife is kind. She asks how I am. I have not cried yet. This morning I was going to be a mother. Now I am ordinary again.

I haven’t cried yet.

Again the question. My answer does not change.

’25th March.’Exactly 12 weeks ago.

‘This is your second?’

Adam hurries to explain. When I was 21, and still on the pill, I had a positive test. The next day, I bled. I went to the Doctor who told me that if I hadn’t noticed I was late, I would never have known. He couldn’t confirm it so it doesn’t exist on my records. Put down to problems with the Pill. But I know.

I haven’t cried yet.

On the bus home, we text family, inform our jobs that we won’t be in. I phone my mother when I get in. And then it hits me. I weep. I howl with grief. I am lost. All I am is pain.

The pain burns hotly. When I go to the EPU, they confirm there is no growth and give me my options: wait, surgery or tablets. A surgery feels too much like abortion and I wanted this baby but I cannot wait. I take the tablets. She refers me to a pelvic mass specialist about the fluid.

Melissa takes time off work to come and help us on the day I take the pessary. I weep when I have done it and Adam and Meli hold me as I cry. An hour or so later, the cramps begin. They are so intense I vomit. I strip and plunge into the bath. I shiver and quake as I go into shock. Meli holds my head as I fall asleep. Between them, Adam and Meli lift me from the bath. The blood comes then and I howl again. I am too weak to do anything but cry.

I don’t mean to upset anyone with this. Fertility and miscarriage is such a sensitive subject. We shouldn’t hide from it and I have been determined not to. It hurts, it will always hurt, but the pain is easier to bare.

Playing with Jessica was hard. There was a moment where I had to run upstairs and cry. Today, as family gathers for her baptism, I know people are going to ask when we’re next. Only immediate family and our closest friends know. Mary, my mother-in-law, and I talked and we cried and hugged. I expect the same will happen when I finally get home to see my mum, which I’ve not been able to do yet.

Until next week.

Ellen.

Catching up

Apologies that there was no post last weekend; I was swamped with teaching stuff. I have weekends like that where I can’t breathe for the amount of stuff I have to do. Last weekend was really busy with Church things as well. We had a special Evensong for Harvest. We joined the choir of Peterson Super Ely especially for the occasion. It was really lovely and it sounded beautiful. St Paul’s choir only has 8 women so we normally do 2 part pieces. I’ve sung in choirs, either at school or at Church, since I was five so to be able to have all four parts there was wonderful. It kept me buoyed up for the whole week. Music does amazing things for the soul.

I made some major changes last week as well; I went platinum and had my short hair cut even shorter. I just fancied it and I love how it looks. It’s fun and funky and it’s given me a lift.

This week is Frances of Assisi’s festival. St Frances is the patron saint of animals and lots of Churches do animal blessings on the Sunday closest where you bring your pet to Church. I love this idea as animals bring us so much joy and comfort. However, I own 7 guinea pigs. They hate being lifted across the room for a cuddle so imagine how panicked they’d be if we took them to Church! Instead I will post photos of them here, starting with our 3 little ones on the Rainbow Bridge.

SDC10284Merry  SDC10674Pippin

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Things are really progressing well with ‘Cruelty’. We’re already on Chapter 23 and Jo is hoping that we will be done by the end of October, which is really quick. After that we’re going to merge a few chapters to help with pacing before formatting. I haven’t really had time to work on my current WIP. I do want to get it finished (by hand) so that I can start editing it in the new year but ‘Cruelty’ needs to take precedence. My interview with Kristell Ink went up last week and it has a sneak preview so if you want to check it out, click the link. My featured image this week is a picture of Oberon (King of the Fairies from A Midsummer Night’s Dream fame) which I found a couple of years ago when I was teaching the play to a year 11 class. This image really speaks to me and in fact inspired me me in my creation of Faroust. It is both menacing and beautiful, something which I hope I get across in Faroust himself. Although not the complete image of my dark god, I hope it gives you an insight into how he looks in my head.

There’s another book I am excited about and that is ‘Prince Lestat’. It is no secret that I am huge Anne Rice fan and that I love Lestat long time. I fell in love with ‘The Vampire Chronicles’ when I was 12. RTE 1 decided to show ‘Interview with the Vampire’ on TV at 6 in the afternoon one Saturday and I watched it without my parents’ permission. I was hooked. My dark little pre-teen soul had long since found vampires interesting (much to the worry of my Christian parents. My dad is a vicar and was absolutely convinced I was bound for Hell if I kept reading vampire novels) and there was something about the bratty blonde one that made me both smile and shake in fear. I ran to my local library and took the first book out. Joy of joys, it was more beautiful and dark than the film and a life long appreciation of Ms Rice and her incredible work was cemented.

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