Life After Quitting the Day Job: The First Quarter

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Back in late December, I packed away my office and quit my day job, a step that I’d been contemplating for several years.  There wasn’t one factor that encouraged me to make this decision, rather a number of reasons – both positive and negative, but the dominant motivator was to find out whether I could follow my passions and make a living from them.  This wasn’t about becoming a housewife or indulging my whims (OK a bit!), it was about finding my enthusiasm for work again – within a finite timescale and with a limited budget.

So how’s it been? Well great on the whole! My first priority was to earn money from a remote-working job, which took a little longer than anticipated but in March I managed to secure a small contract as a social media evaluator.  The role is ideal for me – it’s doing something I enjoy and it’s extremely flexible but I still need additional income – ideally as a part-time copywriter or as a social media co-ordinator – so am focusing on this next (any offers welcome!).

My second aim was to write a new manuscript which again has gone well, if more slowly than I originally predicted (isn’t it always the way?!). I’m two-thirds through the first draft of a middle-grade fantasy adventure and hope to finish it this month then revise throughout the summer. I’ve also been accepted as an emerging author by the Society of Authors, which has boosted my confidence massively.

Alongside all the above, I’ve hosted a writing retreat, been on holiday, built on my Instagram account and have – most importantly – been able to support my little girl during her first year of school.

As with any change, there are a few downsides. I have to be disciplined as my days have been much shorter than I expected (I’m only free during school hours at the moment). I’ve also noticed that I’m busier now because I’m excited about the projects I’m doing and want to work on them so this means being mindful of making quality space for family, friends and myself. The lack of money hasn’t been as big an issue because we changed our spending habits before I quit the day job. My main regret is that I can’t support as many charities or friends with their ventures, something I used to love doing, but I hope this will improve as I find more work.

So what next?

More writing, more image-making, more leap-taking.  My goal is to turn this world of ideas and creativity into a permanent situation – either working for myself, for someone else or a combination of the two.  If you’ve ever gone down a similar route, I’d love to hear from you.  Likewise, if you have any questions for me, please contact me via email or in the comments below. Wishing you a magical day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

How I Choose My Holiday Reads

holiday reads

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot recently as we’re due to go on holiday to the Isles of Scilly soon and I want to make sure that my travel reads are as satisfying as possible.

It would be significantly easier if I was happy to rely solely on e-books , but the truth is I prefer physical copies – the turn of the page, the weight in the hand. In a perfect world, I’d be able to take a little library of my own – just like the photograph above that I made for my Instagram account, but as that’s not possible, here are some of the factors I’ve considered so far.

Number of Books

First and foremost, I’ve tried to realistically work out how much time I’ll have for reading, but I usually overestimate.  I’m not the kind of person who can lie on a beach for hours – I like exploring so if I’m honest, 3-4 books is probably the maximum that I’ll manage in a week and if I need more I can swap with family or find a local bookshop.

Book Length

Sometimes going away can be the ideal opportunity to finish a huge tome and if so, I’d aim to take one book only (unlikely in practice though!). I like to return home having finished mine so I’ve decided to go for a mixture of medium (300pp max) and short titles. Luggage weight is an obvious factor but I’m more likely to take out clothes than books.

Book Subject

I always try to take one book that’s connected to the area I’m visiting. After that it’s all about mood. Do I want a light, easy experience, or do I want to use the time to drill deep? Sometimes I like a mixture of the two – it totally depends. This year, I’m feeling upbeat so I want to sustain those positive emotions.

E-Readers and Audio Books

Most of the time I’ll take my Kindle as back-up, but I often don’t use it. As a family, we’re starting to get into audio books so will trial listening to one on the drive down the UK.  I’ll aim to share our feedback in future posts.

Final Selection

So taking all the above into account, my first choice is The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor.  I hardly ever read humorous non-fiction, but I’m up for a laugh and will give me an insight into island living.  Next is Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson because I fancy channelling my inner pirate. For my third, its The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey as this will connect in nicely with a visit to Tresco Abbey Gardens and my current manuscript.  For my final choice, I’m taking Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert for creative inspiration.

The round-up is fairly ambitious, but I’m feeling excited about it. I’ll let you know how I got on when I return.  In the meantime, I’d love to know which books you’re taking on your Easter holidays.

 

 

 

 

 

Five Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Cull Your Books

2018-03-17 07.43.49 1.jpgIf you’re a long-time bibliophile, chances are that you have had to cull your book collection at least once.  We hit this point on a yearly basis – usually when we’ve reached the point where piles of books have begin to breed and take over the floor space, as well as countertops, drawers and chairs. For much of this time, we’re in denial – hoping that we can somehow re-arrange our bookshelves to stop the flood of printed pages, but eventually it becomes obvious that we’ll have to force ourselves to do that most dreaded of deeds and part with a few of our precious titles.  At first, it seems impossible, but on closer inspection, maybe there is a little scope for whittling down.  These are some of the questions that we ask ourselves and hopefully they’ll help you too:

Would I reread this book?

I think this is a pretty good indication of whether you should keep a book or not. If it’s an absolute no, don’t let it take up your shelf space.

Have I read this book at all?

The to-be-read (TBR) pile is a constant in our lives, but sometimes we have books that gather dust for years.  If you still haven’t got around to picking a title up, then give yourself a deadline of say – three months to finish it.  If it still doesn’t hit the mark, then maybe it’s time to pass it on.

Do I have multiple editions?

Guilty as charged! And I’ve only just realised this while writing this blog post. The answer is obvious – unless collecting editions is your thing.

Am I only holding onto this for sentimental reasons?

Ugh! Another one which gets me every time. I keep books because they’ve been written by people who I vaguely know, or because I’ve received them as a gift – even if they didn’t completely rock my world. I know I should be more ruthless but when heart enters the equation, it’s a much more difficult decision. Do you find the same?

Would someone else I know enjoy this more?

Gifting books is a pleasure and if you haven’t read The Gifts of Reading by Robert Macfarlane, go buy or borrow it now! You may be uncertain about a title but someone else may love it so why not give it to them? That way, the book gets a good home and you make someone’s day. Win-win!

Of course, the ideal is not to get rid of any books at all, which means more bookcases or wiser purchases – both of which I hope to cover in future posts.  If you have any other tips for streamlining your collection then please share in the comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tour of Scrivener’s Books & Bookbinding

Processed with VSCO with l4 presetOne of the reasons we started our Instagram account was to shout out amazing independent bookshops.  When we go on our travels, we always try to visit a bookseller and buy a couple of titles so we’ll be posting about those trips on here, but before we get started, I’d like to give you a tour of our fantastic local bookshop, Scrivener’s Books & Bookbinding. Situated in the UK spa town of Buxton, it has five floors of full of second-hand books ranging across a huge variety of subjects from fiction through to conjuring to caving.  The shop also sells rare titles online via Abebooks.

When you first walk in, you’re greeted by shelves of first editions and a busy bookbinding workshop. I always get side-tracked by the collectible children’s books next to the counter.

There’s an immediate sense of discovery and anticipation which continues as you climb to the first floor past a small, yet well-curated stationery section to my favourite room which houses fiction, children’s books and a little tea station complete with comfy armchairs. Don’t forget to stroke the tiger!

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If you can tear yourself away from the snug and take the stairs to the second floor, you’ll be rewarded with yet more treasures.  On the way, there’s a bookcase full of Folio Society editions, followed by a series of rooms containing sheet music, plays, poetry and sheet music, as well as a harmonium that you can play if you fancy having a go.

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All good adventures involve an attic.  This one’s no exception.  Filled with maps to everywhere, travel guides, boxes containing strange and wonderful tomes, it’s worth the ascent.  After a good browse, it’s back down to the bottom, most likely with a pile of tottering books!Processed with VSCO with l4 preset

But don’t leave before checking out the cellar. There’s a surprise waiting down there for you – a tiny Victorian museum with the original range cooker as well as more books, this time history, art and sport.

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You can easily spend a few hours in this wonderfully rambling bookshop, but Buxton has lots to do if you’re planning a full day or a weekend away.  In Martha’s own words ‘I love Buxton – it has fresh air and fresh water.’

Here are some other places of interest that we recommend:

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Processed with VSCO with l4 presetI enjoy getting lost, literally and metaphorically. I love that sensation of disorientation followed by discovery,  a frightening freedom. Sometimes, on a family day out, we’ll follow unmarked lanes and see where we end up. I also lose a lot of things – keys, tickets, shoes – much to the irritation of my nearest and dearest so was very keen to read A Field Guide to Getting Lost, a collection of essays about loss, losing and being lost.

There are nine meditations in total, inspired by a quote from Meno, one of Plato’s dialogues “How will you go about finding that thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you?” If you just had to read this several times, you’re not alone! It’s a thought-twister, but as you join Solnit in her contemplations, you begin to get a sense of what she’s searching for.  Only by surrendering to uncertainty, do we find out new ways of being.

This is my first encounter with Solnit’s writing and I was unprepared for the sheer amount of recollections, ideas and information that she covers in a small distance.  Four of the essays are titled The Blue of Distance for “Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance to us.” It is “the light that gets lost”, but the subjects in each essay are diverse – touching on art history, captivity narratives, country and western music, cartography.  In the fourth, there is a fascinating piece about the post-war artist Yves Klein, famous for his exploration of the void.  After reading this, I suddenly remembered how I’d been struck dumb by one of his blue monochromes as a teenager.  I experienced these flashes of insight many times while reading Solnit’s essays. She has a knack for linking moments and facts so that they set off chain reactions that continue beyond the page – taking you into new territories.

But don’t expect sharp clarity here. This is a beautiful, often tragic landscape of meanderings, dreams and musings.  It’s not for one sitting, rather a series of short, intense immersions – a loose invitation to living a curious and expansive life.  As Solnit writes –  “Adulthood is made up of a prudent anticipation and a philosophical memory that make you navigate more slowly and steadily. But fear of making mistakes can itself become a huge mistake, one that prevents you from living, for life is risky and anything less is loss.”

 

 

 

Book Review: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell

I’ll start by confessing that this is the second time I’ve read this book. When I first attempted it, I simply wasn’t in the right mood , and I’m so glad that I gave it another go because this is yet another Rundell triumph.

The story begins with a plane crash and four children – keen explorer Fred, spiky Con and Brazilian siblings, Lila and five-year-old Max.  Alone in the jungle, they have to pool their scant knowledge in order to survive. Despite the terrible odds (snakes, caiman, piranha…yes there are some nasties in the book, but this is the Amazon rainforest after all), Lila’s optimism helps to buoy their spirits and they manage to stay alive.  But they also need to find a way to return home, and this is where the Explorer comes in.  I won’t give too much away – needless to say that Rundell has once again fashioned a truly memorable character capable of both anger and kindness, not entirely likeable yet with good reason.  His voice lends a wider perspective to the novel – touching on subjects such as the environment and colonialism without beating the drum too loudly.

The writing is satisfying as always.  I found the prose cleaner than in Rundell’s earlier works but her trademark inventiveness can still be found in phrases such as ‘The ants were so small it was like being covered in full stops, ‘ and ‘The jungle was an infinite sweep of green: a Turkish carpet for a god.’ Personally, I preferred this simpler style and it carried me swiftly through the book, deftly revealing how the children become mentally and physically stronger, as well as closer to one another. There’s a sense of repressed emotion throughout the novel, which made the ending all the more moving. And I loved the epilogue. It was the perfect way to end this exciting tale and leave us hoping that there might be another story to follow.

I’d recommend The Explorer for fans of survival and discovery stories – think Bear Grylls meets The Lost City of Z.  If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments!

What to Expect from a Writing Retreat

Going on a writing retreat is pretty daunting if you’ve never been on one before, and doubly nerve-wracking if you’re thinking of going on your own, but don’t be scared!  I’ve been retreating for six years now, and have loved it so much that I’ve volunteered as coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) retreat for four of those.

Retreats come in many shapes and sizes.  The one that I organise is fairly compact.  It runs for a long weekend (Friday to Monday) and is fully catered in a country house with exclusive use. We invite a maximum of thirty residential guests including industry speakers – most of whom are society members (we occasionally admit non-members if the event doesn’t sell out – which it normally does!).

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A well-run retreat will give it’s guests a chance to meet virtually via social media before the event.  We create Facebook groups to encourage lift-sharing, and arrange a pub venue for lunch beforehand. Children’s writers are a friendly bunch and having a shared interest gives us lots to bond over. The social aspect isn’t mandatory, especially as authors tend to be introverts, but most guests say that being able to talk to other people who are going through the same process really adds to the experience.

The majority of formal writing retreats are likely to have a schedule of events.  In our case, we include workshops, talks and one-to-ones with an author, agent and editor – again, they’re not compulsory, but they offer a rare chance to speak with professionals.  This year, we hosted award-winning author, Sophia Bennett, Amber Caraveo, literary agent at the Skylark Literary Agency and Carmen McCullough, commissioning editor at Penguin Random House Children’s Books. All were hugely inspirational and shared generous advice with both published and unpublished delegates.

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Then of course, there’s the writing.  I didn’t manage to do as much this time because I was looking after everyone (that’s my excuse!) but there’s plenty of space to dream.  We choose accommodation that allows for single-occupancy so that guests can write in their rooms.  We also source properties with communal areas such as libraries and studies, which our last venue, Dunford House had in abundance (sadly it’s closing at the end of March 2018).  If you’re thinking about booking a retreat, make sure you think about the facilities and levels of seclusion that you’ll need as not all events offer the same mix.

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As for what to expect, well a bit of everything! Revelations, friendships, recommendations – a few more words on a page.  Go with an open mind, take a walk, chat to someone you’ve never met before.  Retreating is much more than word count – it’s a way to find creative freedom in a busy world; a time to find the you that’s buried beneath the layers of daily life.

I hope I’ve answered some of your questions here, but feel free to post any other queries in the comments.  I’d also love to find out more about your experiences and recommendations for retreats.