A Year of “Me Time”

Since this is the one year anniversary of when I announced that I’d be closing down my small press, Mother’s Milk Books, I thought it worth reflecting on what my life’s been like since then. (Although, being a pedant, I have to say that much of the year was spent on the admin involved in closing down a small business and then unexpected homeschooling…!)

Anyway, there have definitely been lots of pangs of sadness – especially when I think about upcoming events and conventions in which I won’t be a part of the small press crew selling books in the dealers’ room, or getting to meet readers thirsty for contemporary fairy tales or books of fiction or poetry that celebrate mothering, but… it’s been great to not have to do all the endless administration and accounting that comes with the running of a small press. Closing down the press has also given me some much-needed flexibility in my day-to-day life. I was particularly grateful for that fact as we went into lockdown in January and I once again became a homeschool teacher.

Once the kids returned to school in late April I wondered what my new “me” day would look like. It definitely involves more writing – yay! – but it also includes commissioning and editing work as part of my new role as Editor-at-Large at Valley Press which is run by Jamie McGarry, a publisher/businessman I greatly admire. Since editing was one of my favourite jobs from my Mother’s Milk Books days, I’m ever so happy that I still get to do this kind of work (but actually get paid for it too – bonus!). I’m currently working with two amazing women writers on their manuscripts, and am looking forward to seeing their books out in the world. And, I’d like to think that the commissioning part of the Editor-at-Large role is something that plays into one of my strengths. You see, I’m always reading something, be it poetry, short stories or novels or non-fiction, so I’m always coming across great writing. And when a fantastic writer keeps cropping up in my reading material and wowing me with their work… that’s when I think I might well have found a new book to commission… (one day I’ll have to write about what it’s like to be someone who commissions books to publish. It really is a fantastic role.).

Relaxing on holiday with a good book: Best of British Science Fiction 2020, edited by Donna Scott (oh, and, look, it features my story,
‘The Cyclops’, first published by the ever-brilliant Shoreline of Infinity).

Another year older…

Since turning 45 this May I’ve also been quite aware of age creeping up on me. Not in any particularly spectacular way… it’s rather just a realization that I don’t quite have the energy levels of my younger days. Don’t get me wrong – I mean, I’m still pretty sure I could pull an all-nighter if I had to get a piece of work finished (sometimes I did for my Mother’s Milk Books work), it’s just that I don’t really want to. And there’s a world of difference in that distinction. Also, I know that I have far more energy when I’m being kind to my body. And that involves incorporating exercise into my daily routine, making and eating nutritious meals as well as getting enough sleep. But all this takes time. And as we all have only the 24 hours in the day, it leads to tough decisions about what to do in those 24 hours. I always seem to return to David Mitchell’s insights on this:

The world is very good at distracting us. Much of the ingenuity of our remarkable species goes towards finding new ways to distract ourselves from things that really matter. The internet — it’s lethal, isn’t it? Maintaining focus is critical, I think, in the presence of endless distraction. You’ve only got time to be a halfway decent parent, plus one other thing.

For me, that one other thing is: I’ve got to be writing.

The last time I mentioned David Mitchell’s quote, it was in a post I published back in 2015 when I was in the thick of Mother’s Milk Books work. That “other thing” was my publishing work. Now, in 2021, that “other thing” is my writing (and all the related admin/promotional/editorial/mentoring work that goes with it). There’s really very little time for anything else. Which leads me on to social media…

I have to constantly patrol the boundaries between my ‘self’ and social media. I often get overwhelmed by the noise of social media and so I have to remind myself that it’s okay to not constantly be on. It’s about saying ‘no’ more often than ‘yes’. It’s about grabbing a book to read, or scribbling down a poem or tidying my desk or art space instead of unthinkingly clicking on the notifications button of Facebook or Twitter or whatever.

But back to the writing (and reading)…

It also feels a bit surreal (though fabulous too) that after all these years of thinking that no one would be interested in the darker and weirder of my short stories that someone actually is! Discovering the horror community and being very welcomed by them has been a very positive thing (huge shout-out to Steve Shaw of Black Shuck Books and author Penny Jones for being so encouraging). I would definitely like to write about the horror genre in further depth, but for the time being I’ll point you in the direction of two anthologies in which I have stories (and which you definitely should get!): Ars Gratia Sanguis, edited by Steve J Shaw, and Dreamland: Other Stories, edited by Sophie Essex.

Which neatly brings me on to a last flurry of book mentions (my year has been gloriously full of reading). My reading, like my writing, really is eclectic, but what all the following have in common is quality writing.

ParSec issue 1

First, look at that incredible cover on the first issue of ParSec. And that list of authors! As a fan of Christopher Priest I went straight to his Q&A (which was as fascinating as always). Next, I headed to the reviews section, as I was interested in many of the books discussed, and then to Dave Gullen’s story, ‘Down and Out Under the Tannhauser Gate’ which is fabulous. Huge congratulations to editor Ian Whates and PS Publishing for creating such a wonderful, jam-packed new genre magazine. Creating and selling a genre magazine is tough at the best of times, but doing so in an even tougher year than usual is a particular triumph. Long may it continue!

Short stories

Although I guess that publications of individual short stories have always been around, they seem to be far more on my radar now and the below four stories all made me go ‘wow!’ They also happen to have been beautifully packaged by the publisher, and I do hope that this kind of publication continues to be produced. (Here are the links: Fragments of Onyx, by Gary Budgen; The Girl With the Horizontal Walk by Andrew Hook; from The Vanishing of Camille Claudel (II), by Erin Bertram. Sadly, Elizabeth Stott’s pamphlet, published by the fantastic Nightjar Press, is sold out. Though do check out the other excellent chapbooks Nightjar has published.)

Also, I’ve finally got around to making a start on Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, and, again, all I can say is ‘wow’. It’s a masterclass in storytelling, subtlety and deep feeling. Huge thanks to my friend, Ana, who gifted it to me a while back.

Poetry-wise I want to mention Myth | Woman, a joint collaboration between Charley Barnes and Claire Walker, which was gifted to me by a very kind person. The collection is an exploration of the mythology of womanhood, and by turns it is full of wonder, power and harsh truths. Many of the poems have links between women and the sea, and these especially spoke to me. It really is a stunning collection.

Lastly, Queen, Jewel, Mistress by Ruth Stacey, which I had my eye on for ever such a long time, is finally on the top of my to-read pile and it is as glorious, fascinating and powerful as I expect it to be from such a fine poet as Ruth Stacey.

Finally, finally, if you’d like to hear more about my writing (plus thoughts on the creative process as well as news of the odd editorial project) please feel free to sign up to my newsletter below (check your promotion/spam folder for the double opt-in email). This month I’ll be giving away some copies of a certain fantastical book or two from my Mother’s Milk Books publishing days and talking about decorating! And you would not want to miss that… 😉

Oh, and I just now remembered – I’m a guest on our local U3A’s Zoom version of Desert Island Discs this Wednesday 8th September at 7 p.m. If you’re interested in finding out which 8 songs I’d choose as a castaway do email me and I’ll send you the link. 🙂

And that, I promise, is all (for now).

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