Inspiration and Dedication

It has been a long time since I have written a blog post. A very, very long time. There are a miriad of reasons for this but mostly it’s because I’m a busy working mum and I find it hard to find time to do all the stuff I have/want to do. This academic year, I’m going to try to be better and write blogs a bit more often.

Many amazing things have happened since Sammy gave me a chance with ‘Cruelty’. Not only do I have 2 novels waiting to go, but I’ve been given the opportunity to be an editor.

As I am an educator, as well as a PGCE mentor, the idea of helping someone make their work the best that it can be really appeals to me. I also think I can do it kindly. I work with teenagers. I am used to giving constructive criticism and to managing emotions. My friend, Kate, calls me a ‘people-wrangler.’

Sadly, this past week, things haven’t gone quite the way I had hoped with someone I think very highly of and whose work I utterly adore. Without going into that much detail, (because that’s not my story to tell) my friend decided to bin a story they had poured their heart and soul into. Many factors have played into their decision and though I don’t agree (I honestly loved the story), I respect that decision.

Sometimes, as an artist, when inspiration fails, or another criticism you weren’t expecting comes your way, you have to walk away from the project. I’ve done that, we’ve all done that.

I’m not going to lie: I’m a little disappointed. Normally, I can jolly anyone, no matter how big their self-doubt, into seeing the value of their work. I can only hope that my lovely, talented friend re-discovers their self-worth and remembers how good they are at this writing game, in spite of all the obstacles in their way.

The whole situation got me thinking: what do you do in this situation? How do you keep going?

On an early morning run (yes, I run. 5k, three times a week. PB is 33.56 but that’s a post for another day), I was listening to the radio and a lovely lady (whose name I don’t remember) was talking about her incredibly talented and creative granny. She had asked her ‘Granny, what do you do when the inspiration runs out?’

‘Darling,’ she replied. ‘That’s the best part because after inspiration comes dedication.’

This has stuck with me for a few weeks now. People, artists included, often think that art is all inspiration.

No.

No book is ever a first draft.

No painting is done straight onto canvas.

No sculpter goes straight to marble.

Every piece of art is planned, honed, added to, edited, often many times, until it becomes what it was meant to be. And that takes work, so much work. It can lead to tears, screaming, sleepless nights and often the desire to throw it out. It takes dedication.

But what do you do when dedication isn’t paying off either? When you can only see what’s wrong and you don’t understand what’s wrong, even when your editor has literally spent hours trying to help you polish it?

Put it away. Create distance. A month, 2 months, a year.

Neil Gaiman once famously said that when he thought he was done with something, he put it away for a while, until he was removed from it emotionally and could view it critically. It’s so easy to get upset when something you love, and have given your all to, isn’t quite what you hoped it would be. We’ve all been there. Leave the reality you’ve created, break the bond, do something else, and maybe one day, come back to it, with fresh eyes.

Most of all, keep on keeping on. We all face criticism, we all get knocked back and down. It doesn’t mean you’re bad; it just means that today wasn’t your day.

Until next time,

Love Ellen x

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Stop f***ing asking.

A bit of a personal one here but there is one question that I bloody hate above all others:

‘So, when are you planning the next one?’

No, dear reader, this is not about when the next book is out (the sequels are with my publisher and there’s a queue, so stop asking that too! When I know, you’ll know) but when I am going to have another baby. 

That’s a pretty fecking personal thing to ask, especially if we aren’t close friends. Other friends have asked ‘Would you like another?’ which is fine (for me. Not every parent would like that question. I can see why; it suggests that their precious bundle is in some way inadequate). I would very much like another one, but now isn’t the right time. For a whole raft of reasons that aren’t anyone’s business, unless I share them with you. 

It’s the preposition of ‘when’ that bothers me most. Like it’s just a matter of time before I start trying again, like it’s fate or destiny, like it’s just what women do. The question seems pretty innocuous, innocent, but it isn’t. You never know who you’re speaking to and what secret pain they’re fighting.

Look, I’ve never made my miscarriage in 2014 a secret and after I went through that, I was able to properly acknowledge the chemical pregnancy I had 2008. My road to being a mother was full of pain, but the pregnancy with Baby Crosháin was pretty standard and it went really smoothly (probably due to having billions of extra appointments as I was a high-risk pregnancy). The birth wasn’t great but all in all, I am pretty damned lucky. I didn’t have the birth I wanted but I am not left with physical and emotional scars because of that. I wouldn’t class it as a traumatic birth even though I went through forceps delivery. 

What if you ask one of those mums who is so damaged, physically or mentally, by their birth that they find it difficult to connect with their child that question? What if you ask a mother who, after infertilty drugs and rounds of failed IVF, finally has that precious bundle in their arms that question? What if the parents you are talking to have been trying again but are going through secondary infertility, with no explanation as to why? 

“I can’t know these things for everyone I meet!” I hear you cry and you’re right. You can, however, just not ask the stupid question. It isn’t any of your business and it is not polite conversation; it’s being nosy and casting judgement. Your thoughtlessness might open a whole can of worms that someone wasn’t willing to face yet (and that is true of so many other things people do without thinking). You might not think about it once the conversation is over but it might be all those parents are thinking about. 

Now, we have all been thoughtless without being malicious and I have asked that question myself. It wasn’t until I was asked it that I realised how hurtful it could be so I’m not going to ask it anymore. 

Some of you will go “What’s the harm? I’m only curious!” Honey, unless it’s in your womb, it isn’t any of your business. 

All of this came about when my friend Sammy announced that IVF had been successful for them a 2nd time and that they are having another baby boy in November (yaaaaaaaaaaay! Happy dance). I was chatting away to some friends and saying how happy I was for her when someone I didn’t know all that well, but was in my circle, piped up with: “Weren’t you 2 pregnant together last time? You must be well jealous. When are you having your next one?”

I was utterly stunned into silence (doesn’t happen often) and I just looked at that person for a long time. Eventually, I said “That’s a bit personal.” I was hoping that would give them a clue to back off. It did not. 

“You should. She’s nearly 2, isn’t she? It’s selfish to only have 1. She needs a little friend.” 

Reader, I nearly smacked the bitch. But she’s elderly and I was in Church so not happening. So I put on my teacher voice and told her off. 

“It would be selfish to bring a second baby into the world if I couldn’t afford to feed it. And she goes to nursery 3 days a week; she has plenty of friends.” 

The lady went a little pink and then shuffled off. 

Moral of the story: you don’t always know who you’re talking to so don’t ask really personal questions. 

So the next time I’m asked ‘When’s the next one due?’ I’m going to assume that they are talking about my books, which I will then plug. 

Speaking of, I still have 5 Audible codes available for US and UK for ‘Cruelty’. If you write me a review on Amazon, let me know and I will ping a relevant one over to you. 

Love 

Ellen xoxo

FREE STUFF! 

Hello. Who out there would like a FREE copy of my audiobook read by the incredible Maxine Lennon? I have three codes to give away. So what’s the catch? I am at 22 reviews on Amazon and want 25 so the next three people to write a review will get an Audible code to get a free copy of the audiobook. Just PM me when you’ve done it and once the reviews are up, I’ll send you a code. 

Thanks 

Ellen xoxox

Spark and Carousel -review 

Amazon are throwing their weight around again and deleting reviews simply because I happen to know the author. This rule is bloody ridiculous. In the Indie world, people you know will end up reading your stuff and sometimes will want to review it. I loved the book and I bet you any money if I had given it less than a stellar review, it would not have been pulled. It is unfair to everyone, especially indies, to have such a rule. Sure, some people might try to abuse the system and post more reviews than people have read it (or be unneccessarily nasty, but those don’t get pulled) but I have a toddler. I don’t have time to read, let alone write reviews (this is being hastily typed while Small Crosháin eats a banana) so I would not be writing a review if I hadn’t read the bloody book! 

Anyway, here is my 5☆ review of this wonderful book: 

This novel, simply put, is a masterpiece. Once again Joanne Hall has proven that she is an expert world builder, as well as being able to write rounded and sympathetic characters. From the first words, this work grabs you and refuses to let go. It is a clever mix of swords, sorcery, intrigue, mystery and betrayal, balanced with humour and exactly the right amount of sex.

Cape Carey and its inhabitants feel real. It is easy to lose yourself in the twisting, turning underbelly of the city as you follow the journies of Spark, a young man with a terrifying power, and Carousel, the ‘street-rat’ girl who conquers the misfortunes thrown at her, rather than succumb to them.

There is so much to enjoy about this book from the mages Kayall and Elvienne, and their close and often fractious relationship, to the schemes of the vicious and ambitious Allorise.

It is so much more than your atypical swords and sorcery. With this novel, Hall has shown that she can stand with the giants of the genre, Hobbs, Martin, Lawrence and Gemell, and is very much holding her own. A fabulous, fabulous read.

Feeling lost

Again, I have been neglecting my blog. This may have something to do with my toddler, my job (exam season is upon us!), the fact that I have been finishing off two novels and started researching for a third or in actual fact, it may be because I don’t feel like I have much to say at the moment. Which is odd, considering I, ya’know, kinda speak for a living. 

I’ve achieved a lot of things in the last few months. ‘Cruelty’ is an audiobook (which is amazing and Maxine Lennon who narrates it did an incredible job), as I’ve said, I’ve written 2 novels, a novella, starting research for a 3rd novel, I’m co-editor for an anthology for Kristell Ink, I’m doing well at my day job, being a mother to a toddler is an incredible thing and I’ve also managed to lose a total of 60lbs since having her. 

Despite all this, I feel like I’m in a fug. I’m tired all the time, and it’s not because my daughter is going through another period of bad sleep. I’m tired in my bones. I’m tired in my soul. I’m catching bug after bug. I’m brusing easily. Sometimes, I don’t even remember hurting myself. A bruise will just appear. As I write this, I’m waiting outside the doctor to have a ‘Tired All the Time’ bloodtest, which tests everything from thyroid issues to Leukemia. 

Emotionally, I am all over the place. I’m finding it hard to muster enthusiasm for anything at the moment. I’m experiencing intense bouts of anxiety over nothing. My heart will lurch in my chest and my breath catch for no reason at all, when I’m in the middle of doing something incredibly ordinary like making a cuppa. My brain suddenly explodes with a riot of horrible imagery, usually involving my daughter being hurt or killed. It takes every ounce of strength I have not to give into the panic that claws at me. I don’t always win. Sometimes, it means I can’t speak to a sales advisor or order food or answer the phone. The words get stuck and refuse to come out. I ask my husband to speak to people for me because I can not muster up the courage to ask myself. Again, considering that I essentially speak for a living, this is a problem. 

I’ve suffered from bouts of depression before, but it’s never been quite like this, this all-consumming panic that rears up from the darkest part of my subconscious so in discussion with my doctor, we’re doing a few things. Firstly, I have come off chemical contraception, I am taking multi-vitamins, having this blood test, and writing down what is going on when I have an anxiety attack. Hopefully, we can find a way to move forward. 

In the meantime, I will do what I have always done; try to pour the darkness into my writing meaning it won’t have the chance to fester in my soul. 

Ellen. Xx

New projects

I am not very good at keeping a blog. I often say nothing for months and then spill loads. At the moment, I am up to my neck in work stuff and I love it. 

I have been made co-editor of an anthology ‘Terra Nullis’ with the amazing Kate Coe. I have to catch up with her on reading the submissions but so far, I am incredibly impressed. It’s going to be very hard to say no to some of these. 
The odd thing about reading submissions is that my teacher brain takes over and I start making notes on where edits could be made. It took me a while to realise that I don’t have to do that, yet, so now I am picking up the pace as I also want to help Sammy with the slush pile for the other anthologies. Having a little one makes that hard but it’s half term and she’s in nursery tomorrow and Friday.

‘Cruelty 2’ has become a 2 and 3. Because of this, I needed more time to write and Sammy very kindly gave it to me. The idea was simply too big to contain in one book. This all means that release gets pushed back as it needs to go through editing and several other processes first but I honestly don’t mind. I’d rather have it as close to perfect as possible before it’s released. 

I’ve also planned a novella for Paddock, who is one of the main cast for ‘Cruelty 3’ and I have been writing a short Faroust story as well. He’s lots of fun, and has always been, to write. There are other, non-Cruelty things, I want to do but they have to wait their turn. 

Until next time

Ellen xxx

Memories of home.

I’ve been typing up book 2 and feeling a longing for home as I’ve done it. While the baby slept, I had a chance to make some soda bread. A filled soda is a Northern Irish breakfast delicacy but my memories of this bread are of it with a crunchy crust and soft buttery middle, which is different to what you get with your fry.

My granny makes an epic fruit soda, which you have with a cup of tea and butter (and Granny’s homemade raspberry jam if you’re my dad.) The base recipe is super simple and you can add pretty much whatever you want to the mix, though if you make a sweet soda, cut down on the salt.

Here’s my recipe for a plain soda(get ready for some old school measurements):
1lb plain flour
1tsp salt
1tsp bicarbinate of soda
And between 1/2 and 1 pint of either buttermilk (check out the Polish section of your supermarket if you can’t find it) or sour milk. (Yes, milk that has gone off. Trust me. It’s the best for soda)

Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl, then slowly add the liquid until the mixture roughly comes together.

Pop it onto a floured baking tray. Shape the dough into a rough ball shape. Flour the top.

Oven should be between 160° (if your oven is a fan) and 180° C. Put it on the bottom shelf and cook for up to an hour.  Check it at 40 mins. A knife should come out clean.

Leave it at least 10mins to cool before you tuck in. Cover it with a teatowel while it cools. Serve with butter and a cuppa.

You could also use a cutter to make scones. Or replace the plain flour with wholemeal.

Enjoy. I’m going to have another slice.

Ellen. Xoxo

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