Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Yesterday, another oops...

Day fifteen: Well it should be day sixteen but I missed yesterday. Not from internet issues although that was not perfect, but because I was reading a book on how to get reviewers written by someone who would know – Gisela Hausmann, one of Amazon’s top reviewers. She has written several books, the one I bought is called Naked Truths About Getting Book Reviews. It’s exactly what the title suggests, a step by step guide to getting useful and relevant reviews for your books that will help attract readers.

As it happens, my little book The Story of a Street Cat Called Sabrina was reviewed by Gisela, and not through any request of mine but just by happenstance. I only found out a few days ago that she is a top reviewer on Amazon which leaves me astonished that one, she found my book and two, that she liked it so much. So, I shall be applying her advice as dispensed in her book to both Letters and the Sabrina book, which I admit I have done little to market and probably should have.

Today I have so many different things to do, all related to marketing the books, that I feel a bit like a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be put together. All the pieces are related to the whole but they are jumbled up and must be put into place one at a time, and most likely not in a way that makes the picture immediately obvious. This in turn has had the effect of me procrastinating as I try to decide which piece of my puzzle I should fit first.

This morning I woke from a dream, one of those dreams that is so realistic you can smell the antiseptic – I was in a hospital. The colours, sounds and even emotions were so vivid that I lay for a few seconds trying to decide whether the dream was the reality and waking was the dream or vice versa. Then I reached for my phone to jot down the basics of it before it evaporated from my mind. That dream, my friends, is my new book. It has to take a back seat for a while since I have Zora’s Light to finish first, but then I will be diving into another women’s fiction with a message. I do seem to have a bent for them.

Meantime, this blog post. So far I have waffled on for 411 words – in as disjointed a manner as that jigsaw puzzle when you tip it from the box - and I haven’t written what I came here to write. I saw the mornings writing prompt, which was to write about something you wrote as a child. Well, I do have a poem that I wrote as a child – not sure how old I was. I have a few actually, that my mother preserved. She said it was my poetry and I do kind of remember having a brief spurt of believing I was a starving poet living in an attic. As an Australian, where the house styles are different, I had no real idea of what an attic actually looked like and my imagination painted a very romantic picture that had zero resemblance to reality.

 I don’t know for sure that I wrote this poem except I wrote my name at the top so it must be mine! If it weren’t for that I would say it might have been one of my brothers since my brothers and I had practically identical scrappy handwriting. My sister has beautiful but indecipherable writing; we had messy almost indecipherable writing. Over time my handwriting became so illegible (as my thoughts flowed faster than my hand could write) that I should have been a doctor, and in the end I had to start writing in block letters so that people could read my notes. So I don’t have much memory of what my handwriting looks like.

My oldest son also has terrible handwriting. His year 10 English teacher gave him special dispensation to write his first drafts on the computer instead of by hand because it gave her a headache trying to read it. Another told him that his handwriting looked like a drunk spider had fallen into an inkwell and crawled all over the paper. My youngest also has similar handwriting, so I think it is a genetic trait and I should blame some ancestor somewhere.

When I was in primary school there was a yearly handwriting competition at the local show. Each year I would work laboriously at my handwriting. I would write draft after draft beforehand, slowly forming each letter, getting cramps in my hands from holding the pencil too tight. Meanwhile, the girl who always won would spend a couple of minutes writing hers and hand it in. I never won, never got a special mention even. The last time I tried my teacher came up to me in school the following week and had a chat to me. She said that not everyone can write exactly like the lesson book. She said that everyone is an individual and that the most individual of us had completely different handwriting to anyone else. And that was ok, it just meant we were special and should be proud of that. I don’t know if she believed it, or just felt sorry for me. But I took her words to heart and never again tried to make my handwriting look like the book.

So, here is my childhood poetry:
I looked in the mirror

I looked in the mirror
And what did I see
A funny little monkey
Looking back at me
I looked in the kitchen
And what do you think
I saw a swan swimming
In the kitchen sink
I looked in the ice box
And what do you know
Sitting on the cheese was a coal black crow
I looked in the bedroom
And under the bed
I saw a little beetle
Stark stone dead
I looked in the bathroom
And sitting in the tub
Was a big polar bear
And her little bear cub
I looked in the closet
And I had to laugh
When I saw a long necked
Spotty giraffe
Wherever I looked
I found something queer
A purple baboon
On a blue reindeer
A cat in the cupboard
A mouse in the tea
But I never did find
What I set out to see
No I never did find
What I set out to see
I looked everywhere
But I never found – ME

So that was my pre-teen poetry, hope you enjoyed that little piece of history. I think I was around ten or eleven. There’s more, I made a little booklet. I don’t think I ever wrote poetry again, guess I decided I didn’t have the talent for it.

The human mind is a magical thing, a creative tool that we all carry around inside our heads. I believe everyone has a need for creativity – for some it’s more obvious since it comes out in words, music, drawing or painting. But we all have a gift, a creative ability and whatever yours is, I urge you to use it, enjoy it and grow from and with it. Unless, as I often say, you’re a psychopathic serial killer in which case please don’t.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

More introspection, because that's what I do...

Day Thirteen: I’ve written two drafts for this blog today. I’ve deleted both as they were essentially a rant against my internet service provider which does me no good and gives you no entertainment. And I just deleted a paragraph ranting even more about it, I really need to lighten up since I can’t do anything but wait for it to improve.

Well that was yesterday, and today is Day Fourteen: Yesterday I had a whole blog post, but since it was still more of a rant than not, I deleted all but the opening paragraph. I couldn’t post it on the blog anyway because – you guessed it – internet dropped again for so long that I just gave up. So this is a kind of combination blog. Yesterdays was 647 words before I deleted the bulk of it, just so you know that I did write my 500 words yesterday, just didn’t keep them.

Today I’ve decided to use a writing prompt that stuck in my head ever since I read it. It was simple enough, in fact it was more of an afterthought to the main prompt but it resonated with me. It was ‘write why you hate to self-promote’ and since I do really, really hate to self-promote it got me to thinking about why. After all, I’m a writer, I have a social platform, I write books that I want people to read – I put my words out there and I want them to be read. So why do I hate to promote those words? Do I blame aspects of my personality or my upbringing?

I’m an introvert, I think a lot of writers are. Not all of course, but a lot. It stands to reason, introverts live internally, we get energy from being alone, people exhaust us. When I was younger I tried to ‘fit in’ with how I felt I should be. I tried to be social, I tried to make lots of friends. I failed on the whole. A roomful of people is sensory overload, small talk with a stranger terrifies me. Small talk in general is not something at which I excel (or even do). Meeting new people is an ordeal, although I enjoy the company of friends when they eventually cease being strangers (in my mind).

I can remember watching my sister easily making small talk with someone and being in awe of her ability. I don’t even think to do it. I will sit silently beside a stranger and not feel uncomfortable. Should that stranger be a chatty extrovert I will respond in an appropriate manner because I have learned how to. But internally I’m just waiting for him/her to go away.

When I finally understood that there is nothing wrong with me, that I am introverted, I could feel the weight of failure lift from my shoulders. Paradoxically I found that I was better able to deal with groups of people and less afraid of sharing my thoughts and feeling online. I know what I am and I know better how to take care of me, so I can do some of the things that before had me digging in my heels and refusing to even try. However you will NEVER see me at an opening of any kind.

There is a brilliant webpage that includes two simple pictures that encapsulate both the introverted nature and the extroverted. Here are the pictures and the link to the page if you want to read more:

How does this relate to my reluctance to self-promote? As an introvert, and as a writer, I live with doubt. I write a book that I think is good, but by the time I get it to the publishing stage I am almost crippled by doubt. Is it as good as I think? Will anybody like it? Why did I even think I could write? Nobody will want to read this. My thoughts circle like sharks, eating away at all the positive feelings I had about the book until I am convinced it is a terrible piece of hack writing and I should throw it away.

That I don’t is mostly because I am practically penniless and so need to at least try! Well, also that there is a small well of optimism that refuses to dry out no matter how much black sand my pessimism dumps onto it. So I publish and then feel anxious about what the faceless public might think. Self-promote? That’s what attention seekers do. How can I do that, I’m not an attention seeker. I have all the social trappings for sure to build up a social platform, but I do it feeling all the time that nobody will look at it. This blog; I am astonished every time I come here to see that my readership is steadily growing. I have no idea why you guys think I’m worth reading, but I’m eternally grateful that you do. You validate me, every single one of you.

Now with my most recent book Letters, I have had - as you know if you read the blog about the magnificent review – validation as a writer on a scale higher than ever before. I also feel a responsibility to get this book read by people who may need an arms-length insight to their own lives, or just a positive story to show that it is possible to get out and to move on – and to be happy.

So I persevere with the process of arranging the option of buying this book as a paperback, a process which I hope is almost done. I am considering paid advertising to try to get the book seen. The problem with Amazon is the sheer number of books and the bewildering array of choices. Some carefully targeted advertising may make a difference to visibility.

Reviews make a difference too, so if you downloaded the book while it was free, please leave a review. You can’t do it from the end of the book, as it was a free copy, but you can if you go to the Amazon site. At the bottom of the book page where it says Customer Reviews there is a button that says Write a Customer Review. You can go there and leave your review. It will help the book to get some visibility and also credibility for future readers. A lot of readers on Amazon go for books that have multiple reviews. There is even an option to refine your search based on the number of reviews. I’ll add the link here to make it easier for you:

Finally, the Sabrina book now has a paperback version. I used a different cover, just because I liked it, but the interior is the same. I’ll add that link too for you to check out. The price is the minimum allowed by CreateSpace, something I learned as well – that there is a minimum price for books sold through CreateSpace.

There is a delay before paperback books are attached to the kindle version on Amazon and the paperback is not yet there. But I'll add the link for the kindle version anyway, and then the link for the CreateSpace store paperback version. In a few more days it will be attached I hope. This little book sells regularly - if you are a writer take a look at the cover, I am sure the photo of Sabrina as a rescue kitten goes a big way to ensure sales.

The Story of a Street Cat Called Sabrina paperback as yet only on CreateSpace. But take a look at the paperback cover anyway.

So what’s the moral for today? I don’t know for sure – I hope you’re not getting that it’s ‘buy my books’ since you now know how much I hate to self-promote (but you know, buy my books! – couldn’t resist that). For me, from what I have learned about myself, it’s to accept people for who they are and to appreciate them for their own unique abilities. Don’t try to make people be the way you feel is the best way to be happy. What I have learned from the people who have tried to make me be more extroverted is that we all tend to think what is best for others – is what is best for ourselves. We all need to learn to put ourselves into another’s shoes, really into them. Sometimes I think that even with the best intentions we don’t do that completely. We keep our metaphorical socks on and don’t truly touch what it is like to be another person. We all need to remember that every person is different and has a right to be so – unless that person is a murderous sociopath in which case don’t put yourself in their shoes!

One last thing, for those of you who may be writers slogging away on your own. Join a writing group even if it's only an online one. My group is called My 500 Words on Facebook and I could not ask for a better, more helpful and uplifting community. I have resisted joining any sort of writing group for years - introvert remember - but my only regret with this one is that I didn't join sooner. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

What next?

It's difficult being a self-published author, you have to be everything. I know I've said this before but it really does get frustrating. Yesterday when I was researching where to submit the book for reviews I realised that I was going to have to make a mobi and epub version of the book. So that meant searching about how to do it.

Finding reviewers is not too bad but very time consuming which means significantly reduced time to write. This is frustrating, but necessary if this book is to be a success. Yesterday I received my first review on Letters and it was a cracker! This is the second mental health professional who has said the book has a use in her field and she will be recommending it to clients. That gave me a great feeling, even though it surprised me a lot because I wrote this book to entertain. Yes, I did think that people in a similar situation would appreciate reading a story about getting free of it. However I did not think that it would be considered a useful tool for mental health professionals. It is first and foremost a work of fiction to be read and enjoyed.

The feedback I am getting on the book is all fantastic and validates my belief in my writing ability. However I need sales and I need visibility to get those sales. Knowing that I have a story that has been enjoyed by a variety of personality types makes it even more frustrating that I am trying to get exposure to it on my own. That's where a publishing house would have been great - but then, when this book is a big success it is their loss.

So it is steady steps forward. Some more readers may yet leave reviews and the reviewers with blogs that I approached may agree to read it also. I'm considering paying Amazon money that I don't have (!) to advertise the book. It makes sense to me - have I said this to you before? - to advertise on Amazon where the audience is people who have already come there looking for a book.

I'm annoyed with myself that my anxiety over getting this book marketed, and my feeling of inadequacy in that respect, is over-shadowing the happiness I felt at the feedback on it and the fantastic review. It takes time to be a success, especially for someone like me who is basically fumbling in the dark, hoping that one of the switches I press will be the light.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from that wonderful review and my eternal thanks to the lady who took the time to write it:

While it would be tempting to treat Cassie as a victim and treat her as such, Sheryl creates compassion for Cassie without allowing her to fully fall in the victim role which is a talent in and of itself. She also creates room for compassion for Nathan, the other half of the co-dependent relationship.

I think Sheryl has discovered and defined a new type of fiction, educational fiction. This book may be able to reach people who are in similar co-dependent relationships and show them a hope and a way out. I’m sure that there are thousands of people who are in co-dependent relationships and have no idea, and a book such as this could be the bridge that gives them the courage to seek help. As a mental health professional, I am deeply moved by the accuracy of this book and how it could help so many people. As a reader of fiction, I was thoroughly engrossed and disappointed only by how quickly the book seemed to end.

Well the book probably did end a bit soon, that's because there will be another book focusing on one of the secondary characters. In that book there will be more on Cassie which will answer questions the ending of Letters may have raised. The new book will be a continuation about a year down the track.

In other news I have just about finished the process on CreateSpace to get the paperback version happening, and while I was at it I also finished getting the paperback version ready for my cat book, The Story of a Street Cat Called Sabrina. In a day or two I'll get the paperback version of Zora's Dawn ready to go as well. I know a lot of people prefer paperback so I decided that I would figure out CreateSpace and get that happening. I'm learning so many things, something new every day it seems.

Well that's it today, not at all a random topic. But I've spent all day searching out reviewers and converting my book file to mobi and epub, so my brain is full of all kinds of information, most of which proved to be incorrect. You know how it is, you spend hours researching and figuring out how to do things, and a lot of what you try is wrong. So by the time you get it right, you can't remember exactly what it was that you did to make it work. 

I'll leave you with a promise to do something different tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Day eleven, life in Stressville

Day eleven: Today my mind is so full of what I need to do to try to promote Letters that I have little space for anything else. And what little space I have is filled with worrying about the future and about getting the next book in the Zora series finished and edited on time. This because in Zora’s Dawn I promised readers that the next book would be released in September, thus giving me a deadline.

It’s on days like this that I wish meditation worked for me. Maybe if I had persisted I would be able meditate properly now. Or perhaps I should have continued with yoga, just doing it from a website when I was no longer able to go to classes. I enjoyed yoga, the stretching and exercise part of it. I wasn’t even close to the serenity you’re supposed to achieve. Perhaps that comes with time and patience. Maybe if I actually chose a yoga website and incorporated it into my daily routine I too would be achieving serenity. Incorporating the yoga I mean, not the website, although one does follow the other.

It’s pretty disheartening really, to be back here in Stressville. I don’t like Stressville, it’s too small, too constricting, too dark. I liked Peaceville, even though I lived in Penury suburb. Still it was light and airy, full of possibilities. Hopefully I will be able soon to go back to Penury suburb, and perhaps even move to Slightly Better Off Lane. That lane has nice trees full of juicy Potential fruit.

In the meantime I’m trying to put a positive slant on my current position. There are positives, I just have to not allow the negatives to overwhelm me. I’m sure it’s just a twist in my journey – a detour taking me to a necessary event or place on my way.

Anyway, today I will be searching out Amazon reviewers to request a review. I need to get Letters seen, and since I can’t afford a promotor I have to do what I can myself. There are Amazon reviewers who have their own blogs and put their reviews on it. So if I can get good reviews from a few of them it will improve the visibility of the book. Amazon is such a huge site, I know I get overwhelmed by choice when I go on there looking for a new read so it makes sense to be an objective of readers instead of a random discovery.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a few days now and haven’t because the internet is so bad this past week that I haven’t been able to do a proper search. It’s enormously frustrating but I’m hoping that today I will be able to get it done. I have had some lovely feedback in the meantime from members of my writing group which has been so wonderful to read. I also had an email yesterday from Amazon asking me if I wanted to send a message to my followers about Letters. I didn’t even know I had followers so that was a shining moment!

Thinking about that I have realized that those followers are probably waiting for news about Zora’s Light, which has reminded me that I need to get on with that. But priorities – if Letters sells well almost all of my current stresses will evaporate. I’ll be able to move to Can Pay The Bills Street, which joins Slightly Better Off Lane and has brighter lights.

It’s a short blog today, since I have this research to do and an uncertain internet connection. I'll write more tomorrow, one of the random blog post topics maybe. See you then.

Missed a day, oops

I had a pretty dark day yesterday, so felt it better that I didn't write. I knew that if I did it might tip me over into the black hole. That means that what should be day 11 is actually day 10. Sorry to those of you who came here and found nothing new.

Today I've been learning all about how to publish through CreateSpace. That's where I can get a print option for my books. I've been loading and re-loading my manuscript for hours, trying to get it right. I'm still not there but I have to wait a while now for them to get back to me on a question. I'll let you know here once the paperback option is available, I know a lot of people prefer paperback to kindle.

I'm not going to wallow in my misery of yesterday here today. Life just loves to pull the rug out from under us, but I'm going to try to go with it and make what seems like a setback into a success - somehow. Today I'm going to write about the last time I, or you, did something.

We all have last times; sometimes we know and sometimes we don't know that that particular time will be the last time. I'm talking about things like the last time you picked up your child, or held his/her hand. The last time you saw a dear friend or family member. When you know it's the last time you treasure it, load it into your long term memory, polish it and keep it safe. For example if that friend or family member is going to live far away you take photos, you have a meaningful conversation, shed some tears, make it a memorable event. Or the day that child just about causes you to bust a foofle valve and you say "That's the last time I'm going to be able to pick you up!", and as you rub your back and try to hide the sciatic pained limp you might take a few moments to remember the feel of that warm little body in your arms, and tuck that memory away.

Sadly, all too often, those last times happen and we don't know it. I don't remember the last time I carried my children. I remember going 'Oof you're getting heavy', but I don't remember which time was the last time. So I don't have that single memory tucked away like a crystal teardrop, even though I do have the myriad times of carrying a child on one hip while balancing something with my free hand firmly enmeshed in my memory. 

I was brought up in a small town, where dances were held every month. Even as an adult I would go to most of those dances and at each one I would be sure to dance at least two dances with my father - The Gypsy Tap and a waltz. I have memories of those dances, but I didn't know that the last time I danced with my father would be the last time. So that memory escapes me. It was a ritual we had over the years and it was special to both of us, so to have forgotten the last time is like a small wound in my heart. There was no one reason why it was the last dance, so I had no idea that it would be special and I didn't lock it away in a 'dad' drawer in my memories. 

There are lots of last times in our lives. I suppose not knowing them all in advance saves us some heartache. I do remember the last meal I cooked for my father, even though I didn't know it would be. I was visiting him at his retirement home and while he had cancer, he had been living with it for years. I cooked him new potatoes, broccoli and sausages with gravy. He loved it. The next day he went into hospital and he never came out. So I remember that meal. 

I didn't know the last time I would have a meaningful conversation with him because none of us knew the path the cancer would take into his brain, leaving him dazed and confused. But I did know the last time I would hold his hand, my brother and I both at his side as he drew his last breath - we didn't know which of those slow torturous breaths would be the last either until he didn't take another.

I sat at his side, trying to remember the last time we danced and upset with myself that I couldn't. 

My father died in December 2001, but in the way time has of bending, it doesn't seem that long ago. It doesn't seem that long ago I was hefting my children on my hip, yet my eldest boy graduated university last year. As a side note; I would unconsciously rock whenever I held something heavy for years. I was that person standing in the checkout line at the supermarket rocking gently to soothe a bag of potatoes. I still occasionally rock when carrying one of my cats if said cat tucks its head against my neck.

Memories are fickle, you learn that as you grow older. You retain things you have no real use for – I remember getting a ticket by a motorcycle policeman for not wearing a seatbelt, and being full of righteous indignation because I was only driving a hundred yards and then pulling off the road. You don’t remember things that you would much rather took up a spot in your memory instead of a motorcycle policeman grumpy at working on a Sunday afternoon.

I’ve read so many times that as you age your long term memory sharpens. Maybe one day I will remember that last dance. In the meantime, I’m going to look for the golden things in each day, both big and small. Things happen that we can’t predict, life changes and it’s seldom a smooth change. Usually it’s more like an earthquake. But if, every day, I go through and remember all the things both big and small, perhaps then I will remember the next last time – whatever it may be.

This is my dad - well his grave. He was a bit of a show off and I reckon he'd like to see his pic on my blog :) 

Monday, June 22, 2015

An explanation you may not have wanted

Day nine: well yesterday was a bit of a pity party wasn’t it? Apologies for that, since I promised myself that I would only allow positive feelings. I do have options, just that all but one come with difficulties, so that I can’t decide which one will be the best. So, for now, I’m leaving things as they are, letting the balls fall where they may and focusing on what I can do.

What can I do? I can promote this book in as many ways as I can think of, to get it seen by as many people as I can so that word of mouth will do the rest. This is an important book, not just because it will save my life financially but also because it has a message. I know the book 50 Shades of Grey was just fiction, and fan fiction at that. But it sold millions of copies and millions of women seem to believe that Christian Grey is the ideal man. Of course he is not. He is an abusive, controlling man. He is a man who stalked that girl and used her innocence for his own ends. A relationship like theirs is co-dependent, toxic - not an equal, loving and trusting relationship.

I know that in the book and the movie the love of a good woman changed Christian and made him the ideal man – but in real life that does not happen. In real life the good woman is used and exploited and suffers. In real life the good woman becomes a shadow of who she once was. People do not change, not that easily. So I wrote Letters to Myself from the perspective of a woman trapped in an abusive co-dependent relationship. It’s not rainbows and unicorns, it’s misery and confusion.

It’s also complicated. Although it appears to the outsider to be straightforward – leave – to the person involved it’s not that simple. There are so many emotions that have to be worked through; love, fear, anxiety to name a few. If there are children there is another complication. I wrote the book to show one woman’s journey, a perspective from inside a co-dependent relationship, to try to help make it better understood. I also hope that people in a similar situation will recognize aspects of themselves and gain strength knowing they are not alone. It doesn’t need to be physically abusive to be soul destroying.

I also wrote the book to show that no matter how impossible the situation may seem, there is always a way out. Difficult it may be, almost certainly will be, but the way out and the way forward can be found. It takes strength and determination and above all it takes help. Help from friends, help from professionals such as a good counselor. Cassie, the main protagonist, has a great counselor, and a couple of good friends. There is no shame in asking for help. Abuse is abuse, whether it be physical, emotional, verbal or a bit of everything.

Well I’ve made the book sound like a bundle of laughs haven’t I? It’s a bit dark and confronting at times, especially at the beginning, but as Cassie begins to find herself, once she starts to write her letters, the tone of the book lifts. It’s the story of one woman’s path back to who she really is.

This is not the blog I set out to write – lucky I’ll be back tomorrow with another post. Promise I’ll find something light and entertaining tomorrow! I know it’s a bit naughty of me to give you the link again, but the book is now free for three days and I’d love you to take a look at it.

Ok I promise not to give you this link again, and I'll stop with the rabbiting on about it. You can go take a look while it's free or not, it's entirely up to you. 

Tomorrow I'm going to find a random topic and see how I go at talking about it. Thanks for sticking with me through this blog post. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Day eight - Just a little bit dark today but on the plus side, new book!

Day eight, I believe. Today is another day of navel gazing, mainly because my future is once again looking uncertain. Did you ever hear of the Chinese curse ‘may you live in interesting times’? Well my times have been interesting for years and I really wish they could become a bit more predictable and boring. The life of a writer at the beginning of her career is not for the faint hearted, not when you’ve burned your bridges (or had them burnt for you), and have to get that living-from-writing thing happening sooner rather than later in order to continue living.

So today I’m wondering, ten years ago did you think you would end up where you are now? Did you have a plan and did that plan work out for you? Or are you standing in the ruins of your life wondering exactly where things went so pear shaped. My life is not in ruins, not any more. It’s uncertain and it may soon be taking a turn that I didn’t expect and don’t want, but it’s not as it was a few years ago. But ten years ago I thought I was in my forever home, in my forever life. Of course I realise now that the reality I thought I was living was all smoke and mirrors, but back then I thought I was happy and content. I’m very good at lying to myself, but I do think that I truly believed it then.  

However life does like to teach lessons and if you don’t notice they tend to be pushed onto you. So I had my lessons, and I lost everything I thought was important. And, as those of you who have been here for a while know, I found out that most of what I thought was important really wasn’t. That’s the good thing about interesting times, that they teach life lessons which would otherwise go unlearned. I’ve grown and I’ve reached a healthier emotional state. But you know what Life? I think I’ve learned my lessons and I think I’m ready for some uninteresting times!

Ten years ago I thought I knew what I wanted and I thought I knew how I felt about everything in my life. I thought I knew what was important and I thought I was happy. Turns out that I didn’t know anything. Five years ago my childhood and my present collided in quite spectacular fashion inside me and I had a complete (although quiet and internal) breakdown. The last five years have been confusing, frightening, sad and lonely. I’ve fought through them all even though I wanted to give up. I still remember standing at the water’s edge on New Year’s Eve in 2012 contemplating walking in and not stopping. I didn’t, and I’m more grateful than I can tell you that I didn’t.

Last year I took a huge leap of faith and came here and it was a good decision. I’ve learned so much about myself, and I’ve been able to write – I’ve published seven books since I’ve been here! My first book started doing better with a name change and now I’m getting positive and uplifting reviews on all of my books. Some get more than others, and that’s fine. None of my books sell well enough to make a living from them but sales are slowly building. I have so many creative ideas that I was too defeated before to have. I’ve learned so much about the writing process and self publishing. I feel fulfilled when I write in a way that nothing else has done for me.

But my future is still uncertain, money is tighter than ever and I don’t quite know where to go from here. I know that I want to stay here, and I want to keep writing for as many hours in a day as I can. But I also have to pay the bills, and if my latest book (more on that soon) doesn’t do well I’m kind of in a tricky spot. It wasn’t one I foresaw; when I came here I would never have dreamed that this would happen – no I’m not sharing exactly what it is, suffice to say it’s a financial disaster.  

So my interesting times continue. It’s been ten years since I last felt certain about my future, and I’m hoping with all of my heart that soon I will be able to feel it again. You have to have hope right? Without it life would be permanently grey.

Anyway, given my current circumstances I went ahead and self published Letters, which I had been thinking about doing in any case. I’ll put the link here. It’s $1.99 now, tomorrow it will be free for three days if you want to wait until tomorrow. I kept the sex scenes in, I feel that they are important to highlight the difficult times the protagonist Cassie was going through in the beginning. Here’s the link, go take a look. If you like it please leave a review :)

Friday, June 19, 2015

Day seven, an unintentional example of over thinking

Day seven, are you still reading? Getting sick of me here every day? I do hope not, I’m feeling the stretch in my mind as I search for topics to write about. Those words that circle in my brain are like a herd of skittish horses. They see me thinking ‘blog post’ and they head for the hills. Does a brain have hills? It’s got lumpy bits, so I guess that will do.

Today, what will I write today? One of the writing prompts is to write about your best day ever. I’ve been trying to think ever since about which day that is for me. You know what scares me about this prompt? I can’t think of a best day ever. Did I get to this stage in life without having a single best day? Has my life been that depressing, that bland, that boring that not one single day stands out as being fantastic? It would appear so as I cannot think of one.

I can’t even think of the last time I had a fantastic few hours. Surely I must have so why don’t I remember? I know I have learned behaviour that makes me forget the traumatic things. I learned it as a child, to push down the sad and bad things and refuse to think about them. I do it still even though I don’t want to. My memory of my life – and I know I have said this before (or maybe it was my character Cassie in Letters) – is like a brick wall with black bricks inserted at random. I don’t want to be like that any more, and I am in a place of peace now so that I shouldn’t need to. So why can’t I think of the happy times? Why can’t I produce one day, just one day out of the thousands of days that make up my life?

This is bugging me probably far more than it should. Is my past still weighing so heavily on me that I can’t appreciate my present? Maybe that’s it. I do believe that when I was happy it scared me because I learned that the hammer would fall on my head the heaviest if I showed I was happy. So now I’m worried that I have become adept not only at not showing myself that I am unhappy, but also in not allowing myself to realise I am happy.

What can I do about this? I even have a mantra that I say to myself many times a day, to keep myself from falling into the black hole and to keep myself positive. I say these words ‘avalanches of abundance come to me, I am prosperous and I am grateful’. By abundance I mean good things in general, things that uplift me and make me happy. By prosperous I mean enough money to live comfortably. And I try to be grateful every day for everything that I have, tangible and intangible.

And yet, I can’t come up with a time when I felt fantastic, joyous, happy. There are studies that show childhood anxiety causes permanent changes to the brain, giving rise to anxiety disorders and other mental issues. So is that my problem? I was constantly anxious as a child, maybe my brain doesn’t know how to be otherwise. Maybe my brain can’t compute happiness and dismisses it. That’s probably pretty far-fetched. But I’m still wondering.

Maybe what I need to do is re-train my brain to accept happiness as normal and not as the precursor to something bad. Perhaps if I continue to recite my mantra – because I’ve only been doing that for about a week - I will notice a change. Maybe as I lie in bed at night, before I go to sleep, I should be reciting all of my blessings and all of the things that made me smile or laugh during the day. I don’t know, but I do know that I want to be the person who can’t decide which happy day was the best day ever. Not the person who can’t even come up with a few happy hours.

It could be that I’m overthinking this, perhaps the happiness I’m thinking of is the kind that only exists in books and in movies. Maybe I’m being the perfectionist and not the realist. I don’t know. I do know that I wish I hadn’t read that particular writing prompt! Now that I have I realise that I am not as healed as I thought I was, so I will take those steps to try to effect some re-wiring of my brain. The brain is plastic, the areas we give most attention to whether it be emotions, fine motor skills or mental abilities are the areas of most growth. So focusing on different areas must help to change the way we think.

I’m certain that is not a new concept, I’ve even read it before. But here, now, is the first time I’ve truly understood it as it pertains to me and my thought patterns. So I guess it was good that I read that writing prompt. Today is the start of a new habit and new brain patterns. So as to my best day ever? Hold that thought, I’ll come back to it, maybe I’ll be able to say it was today…

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Day six, another memory dusted off and a new appreciation found

Day six, and this time I have my topic ready and eager to share. I haven’t thought about this in a long time. When I was a child my mother and step-father lived in some unusual places out in the middle of woop woop (which means the middle of nowhere). When I first started visiting them they were living in Sapphire which was a wee town that took its name from the precious stones mined there.

Sapphire at that time had mostly individual miners, not the large conglomerates that took over in later years. Going there was like going to the moon. It was dirt roads without names that disappeared and reappeared without any form or design. There were mounds of dirt everywhere, like termite mounds only bigger, but they were the piles that had been picked over and discarded. Or maybe the piles that were yet to be washed – my child mind didn’t care to find out.

These days the area, which is called The Gemfields, is a tourist destination and set up to cater to visitors. In those days from what I can remember Sapphire consisted of a general store/post office combined. I don’t think there was even a pub but there may have been. The towns all had beautiful names – Sapphire, Rubyvale, Emerald. All of these stones were mined in the area. My stepfather had a small claim, and he worked it with a tractor that had a bucket attached to the front. He would drop a load of dirt onto a conveyor belt and it would travel up the belt, over the top and down to a washing machine – for want of a better word.

 The agitator machine was rectangular in shape and was divided into sections that moved up and down independently of each other. There was a sieve on top I think, with varying grid sizes so that the bigger stones dropped into the first container, and so on down the row until the smaller ones dropped into the end one. The dirt washed out into the dam and the process was repeated. The dam was cleaned out as it filled up with slurry and I would go over those piles searching for the sapphires that got away. There were always some. That’s how I remember it – my mother is probably reading this groaning at my ignorance but I was a child and I’m dredging a child’s memory.

It was a very simple life, they lived in two caravans. One was the bedroom and the other, which had an annex, was the kitchen/lounge/dining area. There was a thunder box toilet (you might know it as a pit toilet), and an outdoor shower. The shower itself consisted of a bucket which was filled with warm water. There was a shower hose on the end and you turned it on to let out the water and get yourself wet. Then you turned it off to wash yourself and turned it on again to rinse. Too bad if you mistimed and ran out of water!
So, that was the first place I visited them. Over the years I would visit them in even more remote areas, all in Central or Northern Queensland. They got into gold after sapphires, and a brief foray into tin. I saw a lot of remote areas and a lot of the wildlife in those areas – too much sometimes given that I had a few much closer than I wanted encounters with snakes. Some of the places they lived had sheds, some were just their caravans.

One of the areas was really lovely. It was called Mt Britton after the gold mining town that used to be there. I think it’s a tourist attraction now too. I loved my time visiting there as there was so much to see. There was the creek for a start, and there was a graveyard, plus old rubbish heaps that would yield treasures like 100 year old glass bottles, and a hill that was covered in fossils (a reminder that millions of years ago it was an inland sea). I learned to pan for gold there and was quite good at it. I was not fond of the toilet even though there actually was one (more on that later) because it was a thunder box that had blue tarpaulin around it for privacy. I was petrified that I would find spiders (which I did) or snakes (which I didn’t) and spent several minutes each time gingerly picking up the edges of the tarp and checking underneath before feeling safe enough to use the toilet.

Sometimes it was just my mother and step-father, sometimes there was a group of people there for various reasons. One place I remember was a huge slab of concrete with a roof and walls on three sides. The caravans were in under the roof, and there was a generator and power for a few hours each day, it was luxurious! I got into strife there a few times though because the generator ran everything and if you turned on a light it turned on the generator which sprang into life with a roar. So at night, after bedtime, if you wanted to use the bathroom you had to remember NOT to turn on the light. It was such a habit with me that I inadvertently turned on the generator a few times and woke up everyone.

They spent quite a long time at one gold claim, with a dam dug out and all, waiting for rain. It never did, I’m not sure if they ever got to work that claim. That place was where the incident that I’ve been leading up to happened. At this place they had a shed that was I believe enclosed on all sides. The caravan was inside (I think there was only one caravan by then?)  but there was no power – at least I remember my step-father squatting on his heels (which he could do for an inhumanly long time) doing something by the light of a kerosene lamp.

To get to this camp you drove along a dirt road forever, through a series of gates. Now this is where it gets interesting. In that area were wild dogs, not pure dingos but ones interbred. They were wild and they were unpredictable, enough so that Ian, my step-father, carried a gun in the truck. All the gates had to be opened and closed behind us and I remember on opening one of those gates seeing a dingo in the distance. I knew then that they were dangerous because Ian got out of the truck with his gun cocked and Ian never did that. The dingo/wild dog ran off and that was that.

So I had a healthy fear of these dogs. Unfortunately their nightly path was right beside the shed where we were camped. Ian told me that they were just passing by on their way out and back again, and not to worry. Of course I did worry. The problem was that at this camp there was no toilet. You got a toilet roll and a shovel and you went outside a reasonable distance and took care of things. For me, this involved checking just about every leaf on the ground for spiders and ants and whatever else, and stressing that every rustle behind me was a snake come to bite me on the you know where. And that was just in the day time.

At night time I went outside with the shovel as late as I could while it was still light. Of course there is no twilight in Queensland, dark comes just as fast in summer as in winter. So as late as I could was about 5pm. Then I would try not to go until the next morning at least at dawn. This meant that I was lying awake, BUSTING to go from about 3am every morning (and I wonder why I am an insomniac). I would hold it in though, giving myself excellent bladder control no doubt for life.

Until one night I realized that I couldn’t hold it in and I was going to have to go. When you’re out in the bush and there’s no moon night time is as black as pitch. There was no moon and it was as black as pitch. I felt around for the torch that I took to bed each night just in case, tiptoed to where the toilet paper and shovel were kept and went outside on shaking legs. I didn’t know if I was more afraid I would step on a snake or step in the path of a dingo.

I walked only as far as was polite from the shed and went behind a bush. My reasoning was that if the dingoes came back while I was incapacitated they would pass right by the bush and not know I was there. Flawed reasoning but it made me feel safer. So there I was, squatting, at the point of no return, the torch shining a reassuring little circle of light onto the ground in front of me. All seemed to be ok. Until, of course, there was a rustle in the grass in front of me.

I was calm, sure that it was nothing. No, I wasn’t, but I told myself that it was nothing. The rustling came closer and I began to panic. Of course, just like in the movies, because I panicked I dropped the torch and it hit a rock or something and turned itself off. I kid you not, it really did. The rustling was coming ever closer and I was groping around on the ground trying to find the damned torch. Finally I grabbed it (all of this from my squatting position because I was well brought up and it never occurred to me to stand up when my pants were down – like a snake or dingo would care) and turned it on.

That torch shook wildly in my hands as I turned it to face the rustling. I had never been more terrified, I was hoping that the light from the torch would scare it off, whatever it was. It took a few wild arcs before I found the cause of the rustling. Was it a dingo come to tear out my throat, or a snake come to eat me? Nope, it was a kangaroo and it looked just as terrified as I felt. It was only about a foot away from me, staring at the torch like at deer at headlights (actually like a kangaroo at headlights, they do that too just before they bound in front of your car).

I must have made a sound because it looked past the torch at me and I swear its eyes widened. We stayed that way for several long, long seconds. Then the kangaroo took off in one direction and I pulled up my pants, grabbed the paper and shovel with one hand since the other hand had a death grip on the torch and ran back to the shed. I lay in my bed shaking from head to foot until I eventually slept. I never felt the need to go in the night again for the rest of my visit there.

All the times that I visited mum and Ian I didn’t give a thought to their unusual lifestyle. They lived in all sorts of places over the years, every one of them unconventional. I guess it had an effect on me in that it made my own wanderlust feel normal. But then my grandfather – my mother’s father not the English one – was also a traveler, and my English grandfather was brought to Australia by his family while my great-grandfather was one of the pioneers of my home town. Perhaps the spirit of adventure, or the drive to find one’s destiny, or whatever it is that compels us to leave our lives and start again, is genetic. I don’t know. Until now I was always a square peg trying to force myself into a round hole. Perhaps all along I have been one of a family of square pegs and my destiny was to wander far and wide to find my niche. 


Uncut sapphires

A kangaroo at night