Winning the War

Two weeks ago I wrote about writer’s anxiety and how it was keeping me from sitting down and getting the words on paper. I realised that it was fear that was preventing me from doing that which I love most – telling a story – and I knew that the only way of overcoming this fear was to face it and give it the finger.

I haven’t done that yet. Oh, I’ve made some progress, but by and large, I’m still losing the battle.

I won’t lose the war.

Over the years, various friends and creatives whose blogs I follow have mentioned a book that has spurred them on and given them the courage to pursue their dreams. For whatever reason, I’ve resisted reading that book. Until now.

Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is a quick read (it took me two hours) with a high price tag (for an e-book), but it was just the thing I needed to read right now.

He talks about Resistance, a force driven by the Ego that prevents the Self from reaching its true potential. It’s something experienced by anyone who’s trying to reach a higher plane of existence or understanding, someone who feels the need to be creative or to do something that will better humanity. It’s what forces us to procrastinate and ultimately leads to all the vices that keep us from being happy, including addictions as innocuous as a couple of hours of playing Sudoku while the little one binge watches Paw Patrol or The Lion Guard.

Many creatives struggle with anxiety and/or depression, myself included. A recent discussion in my writer’s group confirmed that we’re all fighting our own internal battles every day. Sometimes we lose, and sometimes we win. I know for a fact that a day on which I’ve written, even if only as little as 300 words, is a good day. It’s a day on which my soul soars. A day on which I have done the thing I was meant to do.

So here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to write.

I might not write on my PC every day (because honestly, the computer room is cold and dark and a huge deterrent 90% of the time) and I may not write the story I’m supposed to write, and I may not write more than 100 words in total… but I’m going to write.

It makes me happy.

What makes your soul soar? What prevents you from doing the thing that makes you happy? What are you going to do about it?

Writer’s Block vs Writer’s Anxiety

I don’t really believe in writer’s block.

To me, writer’s block is a name given to the situation in which I’m stumped because I haven’t done enough research. I usually find that if I just sit down for a while and think hard about my story, the pieces fall into place and I can get cracking again.

I don’t have writer’s block.

I have writer’s anxiety.

I know what I want to write, I just can’t get myself to sit down and make those words happen. Oh, I have a weekly writing date with myself and in that hour I spend at the coffee shop I’m quite prolific. And I’m also psyched during and afterwards – writing makes my heart soar.

But I just can’t seem to make myself write any other time. I had ample opportunity for writing this weekend. The little one was out with his grandmother for most of Saturday and took ‘n 4-hour nap on Sunday. Plenty of time to write.

And yet, I didn’t. In fact, the mere thought of sitting down to write gave me anxiety attacks – you know: elevated heart rate, cold sweats, spinning room, nausea, immediate headache.

I asked for advice from my writer’s group and the responses were extremely helpful for someone suffering from writer’s block:

  • Break down the tasks into smaller, more doable, pieces
  • Write every day to take the pressure off the one writing session
  • Incentivise and give yourself rewards for achieving small results
  • Withhold a particular treat until the writing is done
  • Make yourself accountable by sharing your targets with friends or on social media
  • Consider the time spent thinking about your story also as writing time well spent
  • Think about the places where you get stuck until you have answers to unstuck yourself
  • Sit your bum in the chair and coax a sentence or two out until the flow comes

All very good and valid advice if you’re stuck in a writing slump.

But that’s not quite my problem. My problem stems from something very specific. And that something is the first draft of the third installment of my urban fantasy series.

I had trouble writing the second installment too, and I think the problem I have now builds from that. Part 2 was well-received, some readers claiming it was even better than Part 1, which is great, but it means I am now under an enormous amount of pressure for Part 3. It has to improve, yet again, upon its predecessor. This, I think, is what’s causing my anxiety.

What if I don’t succeed? What if this story is boring as hell? What if my characters are paper-thin clichés with no agency? What if I let my readers down?

I’m told this is normal, part of the up-and-down cycle of a creative’s life.

It sucks.

I’ll get through it, I’m sure, but right now it sucks big time.

I have only a few days left before my self-imposed deadline for finishing this first draft is due (we won’t discuss the previous two deadlines that whistled past like high-speed trains at a non-stop station). Will I make? Should I even try to, given that it’s causing me such severe anxiety?

I don’t know, but I do know that I’ll push on regardless. This story wants out and one way or another, it will get written. It may just take a little longer than expected.

What I do know, however, is that I’ll think twice before attempting another series again…

Do you get writer’s anxiety? How do you deal with it?

Flash Fiction Now Subscriber-Only Content

I’ve been posting a monthly flash fiction story on this blog since December 2017. I’ve had loads of fun learning how to cram extremely short stories into less than 1000 words (one of them was even under 300 words!) while still ensuring that there are both character development and an intriguing plot in these pieces. You can read all the stories here.

© Pixabay

However, I’ve decided to make my monthly flash fiction piece subscriber-only content from now on. After all, my subscribers are my biggest supporters and I believe they need some special treatment and a little extra fun in their inboxes each month.

So if you’ve been reading along and enjoying the stories, but you’re not a subscriber yet, then do consider signing up for my mailing list. Not only will you get a monthly short read straight to your inbox, you’ll also get a free copy of KEEPER OF EXOTIC ANIMALS thrown in as well. You can always unsubscribe later on if you realise my stories aren’t really for you, but I’ll hope you stay, of course.

I’m still thinking of a replacement for this series of regular posts. Perhaps a list of book recommendations or reviews? What would you be interested in? Please leave your suggestions in the comments below.

The Return

© Unknown

A thousand hearth fires winked at him from the valley below, like stars in the endless sky above.

Regan glared down at his erstwhile home. Ten years. And look how they’ve grown. Flourished. While he had been banished to walk the wilds, living from hand to mouth, killing to survive, surviving to kill, his little village had grown into a city.

His right hand itched towards the jagged blade strapped to his waist. He longed to hear the rasp of steel on steel, to feel the warm spurt of blood as it ripped through bone and entrails alike, to see the life leaving his enemy’s gaze. And he had many enemies down there.

He stepped forward and swore as his body barrelled into the barrier, invisible, yet solid as a stone wall. They had not forgotten about him, either, it would seem.

Time changes everything, and a man does not survive for so long without learning many new skills.

Regan shed his clothes as a snake sheds its skin. Naked, he howled, first in rage, then in pain, as his body contorted. Limbs elongated, claws ripped through fur-covered paws, fangs ruptured from his upper jaw. Where once a man stood, a monstrous mountain lion now prowled the perimeter.

Tentatively, the feline tested the barrier. Nothing. Its lips parted in a snarl. With a powerful leap, the beast jumped through the invisible wall and bounded down the hill.

Paid Book Reviews – Dream Job or Frustrating Time Sink?

I mean seriously, can there be anything better than having someone pay you to read books? For those of us who love reading, that’s a dream job, and they’re scarce as chicken teeth, so if you get an opportunity to get paid to read, you grab it.

A gift horse | © Unknown

But… here’s the thing: I don’t get to choose the books that I read. Sure, I pick a book from the available list in the genre that I prefer, but other than that, I have no say over which books I spend my evenings with. And this is … problematic.

The books that I have to read and review are all written by indie authors, such as myself, and since I’m also independently published I don’t want to flack others who choose to follow the same route. However, by and large I am increasingly disappointed in the quality of these books. I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I am trained to read critically (I have a Bachelor’s degree in Publishing and a postgraduate degree in English Studies) and many of these books read like first drafts, something the author slapped together, decided was brilliant as is and then let loose upon the world with nary so much as a spellcheck or a decent critique from anyone other than their mother. This tends to make me grumpy and overly critical.

The last thing I want to do in my precious free time is read a book that’s not ready to be read yet, no matter how much potential it may have. In the time I spent getting frustrated by a badly-written book I could have been reading an awesome book instead or, even better, writing and improving my own.

So here’s my dilemma – should I give up the dream job?

While I have discovered a few really amazing books and their talented authors this way, in general, the books I’ve had to review have been a chore to read. Sure, getting paid a few dollars for reading is nice, but is it really worth the time, effort and aggravation? What do you think?

What would you do? Would you grin and bear it and learn from it, or do you also think that time could be spent better? Do you think I’m being overly critical and should stop looking a gift horse in the mouth?

What Are Your Thoughts on Audiobooks?

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m late coming to the bandwagon where audiobooks are concerned, but it seems to be a very popular, growing format these days. And it seems like everyone who is anyone is involved in podcasting in some form or another.

I’ve only recently started listening to podcasts, for years having preferred to consume information via my eyes rather than my ears. However, I’m slowly starting to realise the benefits of audio products. For one thing, it enables you to multitask, turning otherwise dull and mundane tasks into informative and entertaining sessions where your hands are routinely busy, but (gasp!) your brain is stimulated too. I’m fortunate to have very good eyesight, but I would imagine for someone with failing visual capability, audio entertainment is heaven-sent.

Entertainment on the go | © Philips Communications

In fact, the only downside to audiobooks I can think of is that, if I’m not careful, my mind starts to wander (either because an interesting idea was sparked or because I’m busy trying to write a complex piece of code at work) and I find myself ten minutes later without any idea of where I am in the narrative or how I got there. I suppose concentrated listening is a skill that needs to be learned.

In either case, I’ve lately played with the idea of converting some of my stories into audiobooks. My husband is wonderfully well-spoken (with a sexy Welsh accent to boot!) and would make the perfect narrator. I can only imagine hearing my stories in this medium would be incredibly satisfying for me personally, and would also allow a larger audience to get to know my work.

So, I have a few questions for you, consumers of audiobooks:

  1. Do you prefer a straightforward reading of a text, or do you like the narrator to give different voices and accents to individual characters?
  2. What are your thoughts on ambient sounds, such as birds tweeting or background music?
  3. Would it be disconcerting if the viewpoint character is female, but the narrator is male?
  4. Is there anything specific that puts you off an audiobook immediately that we should avoid at all costs?

I would really appreciate your thoughts and advice. I’m actually quite excited about the idea and would love to try it out, while at the same time making the product as professional and listener-friendly as possible.

Which format do you prefer – books or audio? Why? Do you have any examples of great audiobooks that we can use as reference?

A Warning Ignored

© Unknown

Jenna opened her eyes and coughed, spluttering as she inhaled some of the water threatening to drown her. She was lying on her side in the wet sand, white foam from the gentle breakers lapping against her face. Grimacing, she spat the salty water out and rolled over onto her back. A palm tree swayed in the breeze as she stared at the azure sky above. It took her a moment to remember what had happened.

Mutiny.

She picked herself up from the sand, wincing as she climbed to her feet. The sea must have been rough last night. It felt like she’d been pummelled nearly to death, although she remembered nothing after diving from the plank. Her boots were gone, of course, and so was her hat, but her thick knee-length coat still clung to her wet body. Her breeches and white cotton shirt were caked with sand and scratched unpleasantly against her skin as she stumbled towards the shade of the tree.

She smiled when she saw a coconut lying on the ground, and flinched as her bottom lip split. Water, she needed water fast. She smashed the coconut husk open with a large rock, cracked the outer shell and gulped the warm liquid down, rivulets of juice running down the sides of her mouth and making her hands sticky. The fruit’s flesh was bland, but it patched the hole in her rumbling belly.

With her immediate needs satiated, she suddenly remembered why she no longer had a crew.

She stood up and looked about. She knew this beach. She followed the curve of the sand until her eyes could just make out the town walls in the distance, squinting against the morning sun’s glare. She’d have to hurry if she hoped to warn them in time.

***

Jenna hesitated just outside the town gate. Stepping foot inside these walls could spell disaster for her. She glanced towards the ocean, shimmering in the late afternoon glow. Time was limited. She needed to act now.

The guards at the gate stopped her immediately.

“You have some nerve,” the first man said as he blocked her way with his musket.

“I need to speak to the Governor. Immediately,” Jenna demanded.

“Oh, you’ll speak to him, alright,” the second guard sneered as he clapped a pair of manacles around her wrists.

Leaving their post unattended, they hauled her off towards the town square, where a large white mansion sat looking out over the bay. Jenna kept her gaze towards the ground, but she heard people whispering her name as the guards bundled her through the large oak doors and up the grand staircase.

A frown creased the Governor’s face as he looked up from a stack of papers at the interruption. Recognition turned the frown into a scowl.

“I warned you never to come back here.”

Jenna wrenched her arms free of her captors’ grips and squared her shoulders as she looked into the Governor’s eyes. “They’re coming.”

The man’s face paled visibly and he pressed his lips into a thin line. “And we’ll be ready for them. But you brought this upon yourself.” He nodded curtly at the guards. The men grabbed her arms again and dragged her from the Governor’s office.

A crowd was already gathered in the square, where the gallows waited for her. Jenna lifted her head as the hangman placed the noose around her neck. The sky glowed orange, the sun hanging low over the seemingly blood-red waters of the turbulent ocean waves. In the distance, she could see a black-sailed ship approaching.

She turned towards the Governor, her gaze pleading. “Brother,” her lips formed the word, but no sound escaped them.

The Governor averted his gaze and lifted his hand.

500 Subscribers!

At the start of this year I wrote down a list of writerly resolutions and one of them was to grow my mailing list to 500 subscribers. This happened much sooner than expected and I can now announce with great fanfare and much excitement that my subscriber list has already grown to over 500 readers!

This is mostly due to the awesomeness that is Instafreebie, and although writer friends have warned me that readers gained from this site could be a little fickle, so far they have been amazingly supportive, helping me reach an Amazon Best Seller’s list with one of my stories and even mailing me to tell me more about their lives or to ask for writing advice.

Being able to correspond with readers who enjoy my stories and to connect with them on a more personal level has been surprisingly rewarding. It’s incredible to see how many people, from all across the world, and from widely varying situations, love to read and have a shared appreciation for the types of stories that I write.

I think this is a facet of writing that traditionally published authors, who don’t necessarily bother with mailing lists, really miss out on. Even someone as introverted as I am can find the joy in connecting with others with similar interests.

If you’re not part of my subscriber’s list yet, please consider signing up. I don’t spam my subscribers with a flood of mails about “news” that no-one is really interested in, and you’ll be the first to know about new releases and specials. Also, you get a free story thrown in for good measure! And if push comes to show, you can always unsubscribe. Why not give it a shot?

Next target: 1000 subscribers!

I’d love to get connected and hear your thoughts. What do you like about being subscribed to mailing lists? What do you hate?

Ambrose’s London

I’ve mentioned before that one of my great loves in life is to travel and see the world. Since I’m currently limited to local travel only (until the little one is old enough to endure a 12-hour flight!), I wanted a way to revisit all my favourite places, and so the MYTHICAL MENAGERIE series was born. Each installment is set in a different city around Europe, so if you love to travel or like to indulge in armchair expeditions, then you’d probably enjoy these urban fantasy tales.

The stories follow the adventures of Ambrose Davids, a twenty-something down on his luck and struggling to make ends meet in London. BEGINNER’S LUCK, the first novelette in the series, plays off in the UK’s capital and I had so much fun running around London after Ambrose as he tries to get back on his feet and make sense of the unexpected world he suddenly finds himself a part of.

Here are a few of my favourite images from across the web showing scenes from Ambrose’s London to whet your appetite. Enjoy!

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© Pierre Engelbrecht
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(PS: These images are plucked from Pinterest, so I don’t know who the original copyright belongs to. If you do, please contact me and I’ll gladly credit the correct source.)

Are you inspired by travel destinations? Do you like to read stories that are set in places where you’ve been or where you’d like to go? Have you ever been to London?

 

Precious

© Unknown

Keisha scanned the horizon. Nothing but sand and relentless sun as far as the eye could see. Heat waves rolled across the dunes, leaving shimmering trails of cooler air in their wake. A warm gust blew tendrils of black hair across her face and Keisha wiped the strands irritably from her bronze skin. She idly drew a finger across her chapped bottom lip. Perhaps they could spare a swallow of water before the diviner arrived.

Turning her back to the dunes, she stepped from the rocky outcropping on which she had stood watch and walked the few short strides towards the little pond she had liberated a week ago.

She unhooked the empty flask hanging from the sash tied around her waist and unscrewed the lid. Bending down on one knee, she leaned and scooped water into the little vessel, careful not to spill any drops onto the desert sand. The water was lukewarm, sun-baked, but it tasted like heaven as the liquid slid down her throat. She licked the last droplets from the lid before replacing it. No point in wasting something so precious.

Keisha resumed her post on the rock. Squinting into the sun, she noticed black dots circling in the sky not too far away. Vultures. They must have found the body. Good.

Her eyes were drawn to a trail of dust muddling the blue expanse in the distance. Finally.

They were moving her way rapidly, much faster than she expected and much faster than a camel was capable of. As the figures drew closer, Keisha loosened the scimitar in the scabbard hanging from her hip. There were too many men in this caravan. She had expected two, at most. She counted five. And they were on horseback.

Steel rasped as Keisha pulled the scimitar loose.

Dust enveloped her as the horses closed in, their riders halting them in a crescent moon around her. Keisha held her breath until the dirt had settled down again. The horses smelled of sweat and fear, the men upon them stank of violence and greed.

“Move aside, woman,” one of the men commanded. His voice was harsh and guttural, like the blade of a knife scraping on a whetstone.

“No,” Keisha said.

“Move aside or we will ride you down,” the man warned. His tone brooked no further argument.

Keisha squared her shoulders and lifted the scimitar threateningly. “If you want it, come and claim it.”

She clenched the fist of her free hand. The ground started shaking, sending tremors through the sand. The riders’ horses bucked, their eyes rolling wildly, foam flecking their upturned lips. The ground rumbled and a crack in the dry earth erupted under the horses’ hooves.

One of the riders, struggling to control his mount, turned towards Keisha, his eyes as large as the full moon. “Demon!” he screamed, pointing at her. He kicked his horse in its side and the animal sped off, away from Keisha. Horses rearing, his companions turned tail and raced after him.

All but the leader fled. In the confusion, the man’s horse had thrown him off. He picked himself up, his face a mask of rage. Shouting a wordless battle cry, the brute flung himself at Keisha.

She ducked, rolling to the ground and was back on her feet just in time to parry a swipe from his curved sword. Sparks flew as their weapons met. His sheer strength pushed her to one knee. The man loomed in, his face close enough that she could smell his rancid breath.

“The water is mine, witch,” he growled.

Without warning, Keisha pulled back, falling to the ground. The man lost his balance and tumbled after her. She rolled aside just in time, pulling a knife from her boot. The metallic tang of blood filled the air as red liquid squirted from the slit in the thug’s throat.

Keisha climbed to her feet and prodded the dying man with her foot. He lay slumped, unmoving. As his eyes glazed over, she turned her back on him and walked towards the pond, wiping her grime-covered knife on her sand-encrusted pants.

She dropped to her knees in front of the water, taking a deep breath. Her hands were shaking.

“You are safe, my friend,” she whispered.

The water rippled in the still air. “Thank you,” it murmured in response.