First Draft – Fourth Novel – Feeling Good

floral ceramic cup and saucer above open book
Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Hello my people! Wow, I’ve really abandoned this blog of late. I could blame, you know, the global pandemic and stuff, but the real reason is that I’ve been saving all my writing for my new book (which I am SUPERDOOPER excited about!!) It’s a slightly different genre, no history or magic, but lots of humour and uplifting themes around relationships and finding your place in the world. Sometimes I wonder if it even matters what genre you write, as most writers tend to return to the same themes, no matter what the plot. And my theme is always that of self-discovery, which I think we’ve all done a lot of over the past few months.

When this all started, I did what I usually tend to do in a crisis – ignore it! I figured it wouldn’t affect my lifestyle because I work from home anyway, so what would be the difference? I tuned out the news and escaped into my book. But after a few weeks, I just hit a wall. It became clear that I wasn’t immune to everything that was going on and it was expecting waaay too much of myself to remain unaffected by it. Anyway, I won’t dwell on it, it’s been weird for everyone, but luckily I had these wonderful characters and their story to return to. But – I don’t know if anyone’s told you this – writing is hard! There’s always that doubt in the back of your mind, “Will I finish this? Will it be good enough?” So, when I typed the words ‘The End’ this week, I felt all the feels! It was emotional, joyous, hopeful and kind of surreal. It was really when I printed it out (I find it easier to run through the second draft on paper) that it hit home – I’ve made another book! My fourth!! It’s something like a little miracle.

La collectionneuse d'histoires

I don’t know where this story will take me – that’s the joy/uncertainty of being a writer. You just never know. My last book has just hit the shelves in France this summer – I never dreamed in a million years that The Story Collector would be translated into French! La Collectionneuse d’Histoires And now I have a French publisher and a translator! It still hasn’t really sunk in. I had a good feeling about that book when I was writing it and I have a good feeling about this one too. It’s got something special – even though it was (like all books) a challenge to capture the ideas in my head on paper, it sort of flowed too. I just had to be present and let the serendipity happen.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing and I can’t wait to get editing and get this story out there!! I want you all to enjoy this story as much as I have enjoyed writing it – giggling at the funny scenes and tearing up at the emotional bits. It’s a journey. And now my brain wants to outline ideas for book five, because if there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that there will never be a better time to do things than right now. Plus, I feel kind of lonely without a work-in-progress, so when one cast of characters move out, another bunch move in! With more interesting stories to tell and challenges to face. I’m fortunate that I can create fictional worlds in order to better understand this one – giving myself and my readers somewhere to escape to. If we didn’t value storytelling before this, we certainly do now. The arts is what has kept us all going – distracting us, consoling us, entertaining us.  So if you’re thinking of writing a story – DO IT NOW! The world needs more stories.

Don’t forget, I have two FREE short stories that you can download now … Betwixt is consistantly in the Top 5 on Amazon and Girl in the Middle is a tongue-in-cheek look at loneliness in the modern world. And if you like those, please buy the other ones/leave a review! x

girl in the middle

the mattress (1)
A quirky short story about a woman who discovers that not all heroes wear capes… some of them don’t even have a pulse. But they do have a name. Gerald.

I wrote a short story! girl in the middle And you can download it, for free, on whatever device you use.

Nook  ~ Kobo ~ Kindle ~ Apple

Now, don’t labour under the misapprehension that I wrote this during lockdown. No siree. All I’ve done during lockdown is watch Poldark (because… I’m really interested in 18th century mining?!), curse my sinuses and basically fall apart, in an orderly fashion.

Writing during this time has been like everything else during this time – a mixture of extremes. Either I’m feeling really creative and motivated or I can’t even muster up the enthusiasm to switch on my laptop. I wrote this story last year with the full intention of submitting it for a short story award, but being the success-driven, laser-focused, ambitious writer that I am, I didn’t get around to it 🙂 But I’m so glad I didn’t, because finding it now feels like perfect timing. A gift from past-me to present-me. When I read it again, I found myself laughing out loud and enjoying the quirky characters I created. So I thought, what’s the best way to get this out into the world? Self-publish of course!

Also, it’s been a long time since I’ve released anything and the stuff I’m currently working on is more contemporary and more comedy. That’s the thing with novels – there is sooooooooooooooo much time in between, where your readers probably think you’re dead or off spending your royalties in Mauritius. When really, you’re writing TWO new novels, submitting, waiting, writing, reading, editing, deleting and repeating until another year has gone by and you’ve nothing to show for it. So releasing a little story is a great way to remind people that you’re alive and still writing stories.

And people do love a free book! It’s a great way to discover a new author. Betwixt – my first short story – which is consistently in the Amazon Top 5, is flying off the virtual shelves at the moment. So it’s a win-win, I get to share a bite-size piece of creativity and readers get a free story.

So please share, read, download, whatever it is you crazy kids do and help me to get this story out there. At a very short and sweet 15 pages, girl in the middle is fun, free and uplifting – and we could all do with a bit of that right now.

 

Give Me Books!

Keats
Image credit: Patricia Loya

For so many of us, books have always offered the perfect escape from reality – now more so than ever.

I couldn’t read at all at first – just couldn’t settle down to anything. I spent my days completely distracted and on edge. One morning I spent 10 minutes making porridge, until I realised I hadn’t even switched on the cooker.

Then I picked up an old favourite of mine, One Day by David Nicholls and suddenly I was in a different world, with Dex and Emma and before I knew it, I was snorting out loud, crying, nodding along sagely at how twenty years can change a person.

Anyway, to that end, I’ve made all of my books available to download from Amazon for just £0.99/€0.99/$0.99. Just check out my author page here  or try a preview below. Hope you are all hanging in there and finding calm where you can. x

The Calm and The Storm

I’m a worrier, by nature. I tend to say ‘What if’ a lot. But I also tend to over-compensate for this by cracking jokes and making people laugh. So, welcome to my blog where I swing wildly from one emotion to the other and attempt to make some sort of sense out of the last few weeks, peoples’ reactions to it and how I’m coping/not coping.

Firstly, I never thought it was possible, but social media has managed to turn quarantining into a competition! Some people seem to be really thriving at this complete and utter ARMAGEDDON that has literally come out of nowhere and they are sharing this wonderfulness, to cheer everyone else up. People are baking, hiking, taking up new hobbies, fucking sky-diving (well, maybe not that last bit, but I wouldn’t be surprised). So now I feel like I’m failing at quarantining. I’ve not had any instagrammable moments, or read all my books on the shelf. I haven’t made buns or joined an online yoga class. My paints and brushes lie idle and the only gardening I’ve managed to do is to stand under the laurel tree listening to the blackbird (which I should have recorded for Insta – dammit!!) In our weird online world, everything has to be the best experience EVER, even this shitbox of a time can’t be wasted. You have to be doing something with it. Being positive about it.


I reacted like many people do; privately freaking out while at the same time, sharing what I hoped were soothing artworks and poems. Then I finally accepted that, actually, no – I wasn’t over-reacting and the world is in total turmoil (zoinks!) What’s the picture for that? The Scream?! No-one wants to see that. So I took to the bed, as we say in Ireland, and had a good cry for myself whilst listening to some sad AF music. Honestly, that was the most positive thing I’ve done so far and would highly recommend it.

If I had a dog I’d be putting up cute dog pics, but as it is, I live alone and have to make my own entertainment (steady). So really, I should be perfectly placed to deal with this. I know how to work from home, how to be unsociable and shop online. But it’s the unknown I can’t deal with. How can you prepare for something when the rules keep changing every day? Nobody really knows what to do and I guess that’s why one minute we’re being over-enthusiastic about how well we can handle it and the next, completely overwhelmed.

As for me, I did the only thing that made sense to me – I made masks! Yep, I did wonder if I was being a bit OTT, but guess what, everyone’s at it! All around the world.  Even the governor of New York sent out a call for people to start making them for hospitals. There are lots of tutorials online, so even if you are a rubbish seamstress like me, you can probably cobble one together. They do not guarantee 100% protection from the virus, but they’re better than nothing I guess and I wanted to give my parents (who are in their seventies) something as a precaution if they have to go somewhere.

All the official advice here is that you don’t need a mask, and I can see why. There are no masks available to buy anyway and whatever protective gear they do have in stock needs to be kept for medical staff.  But there’s no harm in making your own. You don’t even need a sewing machine. Obviously, the best option is to just stay at home and stay safe, but I wonder if more people wore these, would it make a difference? I don’t know, I’m not a virologist, but they’re washable and reusable and making them gave me something proactive to do and took away that yucky feeling of helplessness.

So if you want to give it a go, check out #millionmaskchallenge on Twitter, try this tutorial on Instructables  or have a read of this article on Forbes.  At the very least, they will stop you touching your face! And I made mine using material with miniature dachshunds on the front, so, I mean, what’s not to love about that?! Anyway, that’s what I’m doing. Apart from worrying, binge-watching The Crown, eating stuff and wondering if what I think is a toothache is actually the beginnings of a stroke! That’s how I roll folks.

I really hope you are all minding each other and doing whatever you need to to feel okay (or just be okay with not feeling okay). I hope we treat ourselves and our planet with a little more care when we get to the other side of this. Life isn’t a race to the finish line – a game of Monopoly where you simply produce and consume. It’s an experience and we can all help to make it a good one for the majority of people, rather than just the few.  People can be so kind and community-minded – it’s amazing how it takes something like this to see it. I hope we will view things differently, through a lens of common good rather than self-interest. Also, where would we be without our arts & culture?! Through this time I relied heavily on actors, artists, musicians and of course, writers. We need their work to comfort us, to help us escape, to offer hope.

Speaking of, look at what this artist Mathieu Persan made – a gorgeous poster with a simple message. Free to use as you please. We’re in this together. x

STAY AT HOME-EN LD.jpg

by Mathieu Persan

GIRLS JUST WANNA maybe not have to wear their bra all the time…

Sure, sex is great, but have you ever taken your bra off after a really long day?

beige bikini top
Photo by Zun Zun on Pexels.com

Who run the world? Girls do, silly! How many times does Beyonce have to say it?? But, if we run the world, then why does it still feel like we’re still doing things to appease other people?

So I just popped out (ooh er!) the other day for a walk and five minutes down the road, I realised something was wrong. VERY WRONG. I had left the house without my bra! Any other day, I would have crossed my arms over my chest and scuttled back home, but for some reason I just decided, fuck it! Who am I offending? And I carried on with my walk (albeit without the usual bounce in my step) wondering why not wearing a bra is such a big deal.

For a young girl, picking out your first bra is something of a rite of passage. We long to be just like our older sisters and mothers, so getting a bra is a giant leap towards womanhood. But like so many rituals that women undertake, the fairytale ends pretty quickly. Next thing you know, you’re into underwire bras and what can only be described as torture devices if you decide to go strapless or backless. Bras are like painful harnesses that actually inhibit blood flow, but we have to wear them, right? Conventional wisdom states that wearing a bra prevents your breasts from sagging, but what if that’s not the case?

Well, health professionals have been questioning the benefits of wearing bras and a recent study by Professor Jean-Denis Rouillan, of the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Besancon in France, revealed that bras are not necessary for women’s breast health –  anatomically, medically, or physiologically.  According to the study, not wearing a bra actually protects your breasts from gravity. This is because it forces women to have better posture. It also forces the body to develop the muscles that lie underneath the breasts, which aid breast support and lift. But it’s probably too late for most of us who have worn bras since puberty. But that’s okay, we’ll just chalk it up to experience, like that time they gave us the wrong medical advice about how to take oral contraceptives, basing it not on science, but on a misguided attempt to appease the Pope. Yep, us ladies love a bit of religion mixed with our reproductive healthcare.

Anyhoo, maybe it’s just our attitudes that need tweaking (sorry!). I mean, the uproar it causes even if a woman’s nipple is visible. I’m still not sure the world has recovered from ‘nipplegate’, i.e. Rachel Green’s out and proud moments on Friends.

21 home truths only girls with small boobs will understand

Viewers were obsessed by this ‘wardrobe malfunction’ because I mean, why else would she FLAUNT her nipples?! Like, cool the jets lads, we all have ’em. THIS IS WHAT BREASTS LOOK LIKE AND ITS NOT SEXUAL OR ATTENTION SEEKING,  THEY’RE JUST THERE. BEING BREASTS. 

But has this sensitivity to breasts always been a thing? A quick glance a Wikipedia shows that, historically, women have tended to bind their breasts one way or another through the ages, but binding them and trussing them up like turkeys at Christmas (I’m looking at you, Wonder Bra!) are two very different things.

 

In Ancient Rome, women playing sport basically wore boob tubes. But my favourites are the Greeks…

 

 

 They wore what was known as a breast band over beautifully draped dresses and the best part is, it doubled as an archery harness, so they could attach a quiver of arrows to the back! Now that’s the kind of bra I want. Weaponised!

Anyway, back to the point. I guess if you’re playing sports, you might want to keep yourself strapped in, or if you have quite large breasts and need the extra support, or you just like bras, but otherwise, is it really necessary? And if not, why are we still wearing these fecking contraptions?? Bras can be pretty expensive and if they only serve aesthetic purposes and adhere to cultural norms, then maybe we need to question their relevance.

Interestingly, when my initial embarrassment wore off, my next immediate thought was FUCK THE PATRIARCHY!! I don’t think it’s any coincidence that that phrase popped into my head, because dress codes are extremely sexist. A lot of the time, it feels like we’re doing these things to avoid making other people uncomfortable. It might not be illegal to go out sans bra, but it is deemed highly inappropriate. By whom?? Well, one can only assume the cohort of people who seem to be offended by bouncing breasts walking down the street. Then there is the even darker side – the cohort of men who like to blame their behaviour on women – accusing them of looking for attention; sexual attention. As though our clothing choices are somehow sending out messages to men about our willingness to have sex with them. When in actual fact, we are simply dressing for ourselves and our own comfort. I mean, if we can manage to keep our eyes and more importantly, our hands, off topless men in the summer or in the gym, then surely they can be expected to do the same?

But society has always placed a more onerous dress requirement on women and things are very slow to change. It was only in 2016 that a woman in the UK was sent home from her job in Pricewaterhouse Coopers for not wearing heels!! Imagine if she showed up without a bra? Would she be fired outright? Even as we speak, women in Japan are campaigning to change the dress code that requires them to wear high heels at work (#KuToo). Japan’s labour minister has (incredulously) defended the practice, saying: “It is socially accepted as something that falls within the realm of being occupationally necessary and appropriate”. Imagine being told you couldn’t do your job unless you wear heels? I mean, who needs dystopian novels! Women are often accused of being hysterical when it comes to seeking equal rights, but you would be too if you were consistently  discriminated against. We’ve only just celebrated having the vote for 100 years and it’s not very long ago that we were not permitted to study at university or even keep our jobs after marriage. This is about more than just a bra, it’s about exercising our personal freedoms.

So, will I be freeing the nipple (#FreeTheNipple is totally a thing with the influencers on Insta by the way!) from here on in? I’m not sure, but I’d like to give it a go. After years of being made to feel weirdly ashamed and wrong to be seen in public without a bra, it will probably take a bit of rewiring (haha!). Maybe I’ll start by ditching the t-shirt bra and trying something less structured. Sometimes, clothes just look better with a bra and you’re willing to put up with the discomfort for a while, but I still can’t for the life of me figure out how they haven’t yet been able to invent a comfortable bra that fits properly. And gives you compliments a la Gemma Correll…

Image result for gemma correll support bra

Apparently the first bra (invented by a woman) was made up of two hankies and a piece of ribbon, which actually sounds quite pleasant, until Howard Hughes got involved and tried to make them look like the fuselage of a plane! So what do we think, is the world ready for boobs sans bras? Remarkably, it was only this year that most of us discovered what the anatomy of a woman’s breast looks like!

Illustration of human milk ducts

It definitely feels much more natural and a welcome relief not to have to wear a bra all the time. Let’s be honest, it’s the first thing most women do when they get home – take their bra off. Just as the #GreyHairDontCare movement (which I wrote about here) is liberating women from conventional standards of beauty and worse, propriety, #FreeTheNipple is telling women that they do have a choice and this collective shame we feel about our naturalness is not ours, but something that is projected on us. So what about you readers? Are you already way ahead of me and letting the girls loose?

 

 

 

Over-Exposed

woman-918981_1920

As we slide sun-burned and ice-creamed into August, I think it’s safe to assume we all just want to switch off from life for a while. But is it really possible to switch off when we carry our phones with us like some kind of external pace-maker? As though we might cease to exist if we do not maintain an online presence. But do we really need to share so much of our lives and what does it mean if external validation is all that keeps us ticking?

Every interaction has an exchange and we have to gauge the value of what we are receiving in return for the cost to us. This is where I am right now with social media and I know I’m not alone. I keep coming across more and more people wondering if social media is actually the benign distraction we once thought it was, or perhaps something a little more insidious.

Facebook never held any allure for me – I failed to see the benefits of curating my life for an audience who really couldn’t give a shit. Twitter, however, slowly became an intrinsic part of my daily life. I have learned so much on Twitter about feminism, gender bias, publishing, writing and (no surprises here) that dogs are the true comedians of the world. I’ve had some right laughs and connected with brilliant people.

BUT …

I find my mood is increasingly affected by what I see on there – whether it be political propaganda, bad news stories, argumentative and angry people who just want to pick a fight or on the other end of the scale, people being really successful and happy. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground – ordinary people having ordinary ups and downs. It’s all somebody who fears their own irrelevance says something controversial and you find yourself drawn into a pointless discussion from which you gain nothing. In fact you’re losing something really important; your time.

This is my real issue with social media. It has taken away our golden opportunities to be bored. Scrolling is the new navel gazing, except that navel gazing might lead to some kind of interesting insight into the psyche, or make you so bored that you decide to paint the bedroom. But at least you’d be connecting with yourself and your feelings. There’s nothing wrong with a little distraction, but it’s starting to feel like social media is stealing our down time and we’re complicit in the crime. I’m just not sure I’m willing to pay the cost anymore.

It’s the ‘always on’ aspect that seems to be causing this collective burn out. And why wouldn’t it? We were all hooked under the guise of connecting with people, but is it meaningful connection? We are all providing free content for a platform which uses our shared pics to attract more users. We are all essentially working for Instagram, for free!  Like, how many times have you stopped in the middle of a nice walk, meal or holiday trip to take a photo for Insta? If you think it through, you are interrupting your personal, private experience to do something for your social media accounts that will gain likes or follows. You are promoting your page. That is work and you’re not getting paid for it.

And even regardless of remuneration, you are thinking about your free time differently when viewing it through the lens of social media. You wonder, will this look good? Will people be impressed? Because I saw X and Y put up pictures of that place they went to and it looked great. And I want people to think I do interesting things too. So we are all being ensnared by each other with representations of our lives that only offer the merest of glimpses into reality. We all know this on a rational level, but we don’t often stop to think about the thought processes this sparks off and how it affects our everyday lives. I see a photo of someone on a beach on their holidays looking serene and free and I just assume their entire holiday was like that. I don’t see the mundane bits, the bits where everything went wrong or God forbid, the boring bits. The arguments. The seething resentment. So this creates an impossible fantasy of what our lives should be like, but will never be, because it’s not real.

And that’s the crux of it. It’s not real and I don’t think I can be a part of that. Maybe I should become a crusader for authenticity, like the wonderfully hilarious Celeste Barber, who gives a real-life makeover to some truly ridiculous IG posts. But fucking hell, that’s more work, more of my precious time and what do I get out of it? It’s one thing if you are actually promoting something, then social media is a fantastic marketing tool. But if not, then you are simply promoting yourself and your life becomes a commodity. Yep, sounds dystopian to me too.

celeste barber

Image result for celeste barber doing gigi
This is my fav!

So I’ve returned to the good old blog – a place where I can really take my time to talk about how I feel about things without having to upload some filtered selfie of me not being me. When I blog, I sit down to write, it’s a choice I make. But scrolling on Twitter and trying to find interesting pics for Instagram is just a mindless addiction and feels, at best, shallow and superficial. At worst, I’m handing my free time over to large corporations who profit from our need to feel seen, to matter. Well, I see you, all of you out there who are just doing your best and trying to find meaning and purpose in this unpredictable world. And my God you matter – more than a silly photo or a witty tweet. You already matter – you don’t need likes to prove that. x

 

 

How To Measure Happiness

Tom Toro for The New Yorker

Are we happy? And if so, why does it feel like we’re all going to hell in a handcart? I look around me and all I see are people who are disenfranchised, angry and struggling. But everything should be great though, right? We’ve never had it so good, or is that just how it looks on paper?

Image result for david pilling the growth delusionI’ve just finished reading The Growth Delusion: The Wealth and Well-being of Nations by David Pilling, an economic journalist, who speaks to people like me that tend to glaze over whenever they hear anything to do with figures.  I was instantly drawn by the title, especially after my last post all about decluttering and the adverse affects of consumerism on our health and our environment. It just feels like it’s all getting out of hand.

For our economies to keep moving forward, we must be insatiable. The basis of modern economics is that our desire for stuff is limitless’

 

A growing economy has long been the way to define success, or how well we are doing as a country. Finance ministers can’t wait to tell us how great our GDP is, but what does it mean and does it really reflect our lived experience?  Essentially, Gross Domestic Product measures the economic activity of a country –  the value of all goods and services produced in a given time. Now that’s all well and good, but what it doesn’t tell you is how well we are doing as a society when it comes to things like equality, the environment or most importantly, well-being. It also assumes that limitless growth is a good thing.

Only in economics is endless expansion seen as a virtue. In biology it is called cancer.

It feels like there is a change coming, a revolution perhaps, that will seek to overthrow this idea that everything should be sacrificed in the name of GDP. Whether it is the new generation of protesters inspired by Greta Thunberg and her calls for action on the environment, or people like historian Rutger Bregman who gave that now infamous speech on taxes in Davos. (Here’s a link if you’ve missed it, which also includes the Executive Director of Oxfam, Winnie Byanyima talking about developping countries and the effects of globalisation.)

Pilling is calling for a move beyond GDP and new ways of measuring our progress, as much of what we care about as human beings is left out of our economic calculations. The length of time we spend commuting, healthcare, volunteer work, pollution and unpaid housework just don’t feature in this magical number. However it is GDP that drives government policy and ultimately shapes our society, and maybe that’s why there is such a sense of inequality when it comes to the distribution of wealth. When the measurements the experts use to measure it do not reflect our economic reality, there will always be a discrepancy.

And it’s this gulf that might explain the discord among ‘the working poor’,who are constantly being told that things are great, and yet they cannot afford to buy a home or access the healthcare they need.

If your country’s economy is growing solely because the rich are getting richer and if you are working harder and harder just to maintain your living standard, then you are entitled to ask what, precisely, is all this growth for?

All of this disillusionment might go some way towards explaining why people voted for Trump and why people voted for Brexit. We all know the money is going somewhere, but we don’t know where, and that whole idea of ‘trickle down economics’ is clearly not working. So we try to use our democratic vote to change things, only to discover we might have gone from the frying pan into the fire. Pilling’s book also talks about ‘deaths of despair’ and the rising rate of suicide. If it’s all about the economy stupid (as Bill Clinton once said) then why do people feel so hopeless at a time when things have never been better?

The expanding economy has not benefited workers who produced that growth, but rather the owners of capital.

But speaking of Britain, I came across this article in the Guardian recently which could give cause for hope:  ‘Wellbeing should replace growth as ‘main aim of UK spending’

Personal well-being rather than economic growth should be the primary aim of government spending, according to a report by the former head of the civil service and politicians.

This is so heartening to read and reinforces the need for change. Of course it’s difficult to get people on board with the happiness factor when dealing in dollars, pounds and euros, and anyone suggesting more holistic alternatives are labelled as leftie snowflakes (or whatever derogatory term is now en vogue for people who genuinely care for the well-being of society.) But if we’re not working for the betterment of society and our fellow woman, then what are we doing all of this for? To make the rich richer, some might say. The government’s job is to do what is best for the majority of its citizens. I’m not sure that’s what happened here during the banking crisis, when the government decided to bail out the banks – saddling Irish citizens with years of debt. As Pilling puts it:

Banking is socialism for the wealthy and capitalism for everyone else.

As you can tell, this book got me all fired up! It’s a really eye-opening read and looks past all of the jargon that tends to put people off economics (which is probably what those in charge are counting on!). We need to be informed so we can make better choices and demand more from our governments. Whether it’s an overhaul of our welfare system (and where would the creative arts sector be without that) and introducing a basic income like Finland (which – surprise,surprise – made people happier!) or introducing a four day work week, we need to make changes that will lead to a greater sense of fulfillment, dignity and happiness. This is only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a good place to start.

Shades of Grey

Girl, Hairstyle, Illustration, Fashion, Bella, BeautyIt’s official, my hair is going grey. I mean, it’s not all grey, but the grey strands are there, lurking in the background. And with each passing year there are more of them, demanding action, or something. So I colour them away and normality is restored for a few weeks until they reappear – ruining everything! It’s not exactly an existential crisis or anything, but it still begs the question, what am I supposed to do with them?

I think the feelings that grey hair induce are pretty much the same for men and women, but how we’re supposed to deal with them really varies. For men, grey hair is more culturally acceptable. It’s considered a distinguished look, they get tagged #silverfox and even salt and pepper hair is seen as sexy on men. Not so for women. It’s seen as careless – as though you’ve let yourself go.

But grey is having a bit of a revolution at the moment, and that is in no small part thanks to women like Sarah Harris, deputy editor of British Vogue. I was sure she must be having it coloured to make it look that even and soft, but she insists it’s all natural. She started going grey at 16, which is not so uncommon, and I guess if you are all over grey, you could consider making this kind of transition. But if you’re just starting to grey like me, you would have to dye the not-grey parts, which probably takes as much maintenance as dying the whole thing another colour. Still, it’s great to see someone in their 30’s not just embrace the aging process, but making it fashionable.

Image result for vogue editor grey hair

The beauty industry is built on giving us solutions to hide the stuff we are told is ugly. Our cultural definition of beauty is changing and becoming more diverse, but not quickly enough. And regardless of these changes, womens’ bodies are still policed and monitored in such a way that deviating from the norm is almost unthinkable. Remember when Julia Roberts was photographed showing underarm hair and everybody lost their shit? Not to mention the week-in, week-out magazine features that compare women in bikinis or how quickly a celeb loses their baby weight. But what if we just, didn’t? What if we gave these beauty standards the two fingers? Yes, grey hair can be dull and coarse and (God forbid) aging, but as you get older, the maintenance involved in keeping everything looking acceptable makes you wonder, who made these rules? And what will happen if I break them?

I sometimes feel like I’ve already broken a few rules, as a woman, by not getting married or having kids. And you know what? It feels great! There’s a real sense of freedom and dare I say rebellion in daring to be different. Which also makes me realise that happiness comes in all sorts of packages. No matter our individual choices, we all face challenges and have our equal share of joy and pain, so there really shouldn’t be any judgement. Live and let live is the only way we can all appreciate the rich tapestry of life. So if a woman chooses not to shave her legs or dye her hair or wear a bra, so what? More power to her! Defying convention gives other people permission to question their own beliefs and in these modern times, when do we even get the time to think about how we feel about things? Instead, we are just bombarded with images of beauty and sanctioned aging from companies who just want to turn a profit.

I loathe going to the hairdresser, so I’m not sure what I’m going to do with this new reality. I’m thinking the badger look won’t become a trend, so I’ll have to come up with something a little more creative! But I am so inspired by hashtags like #greyhairdontcare on Instagram (of all places!) and the women who are embracing their grey hair. Maybe I’ll chop it all off and go for the Christine Lagarde look, or Helen Mirren.

Image result for helen mirren

How awesome does she look? And there’s a tint of pink in there, if I’m not mistaken – my favourite colour! And it’s not just hair, every time I find a new wrinkle or age spot or hairs growing where they shouldn’t be, my first reaction is FUCK! But maybe that’s because we’ve been conditioned (especially as women) to see these things as ugly. Maybe there is beauty to be found there too. I mean, looking at that picture, how powerful does she look? Self-possessed and wise. Maybe grey hair is like a graduation to something much more profound. I’ll leave the last words to David Bowie – someone who never let convention get in the way of having a little fun with his image.

Image result for david bowie aging

To Kondo Or To Kondon’t

dandelion-1622100_1920
Image by Jonny Lindner from Pixabay

It’s been so long since my last confession, I mean blogpost, that I managed to log myself out and forget my password. Naturally I feel ghastly for having set you all adrift and I imagine you are also suffering varying degrees of separation anxiety. But in my defense, life has been all-consuming. Which is probably a good thing, because it made me stop and over-analyse how defining yourself as one thing can be a bit, well, limiting.

Even looking at my blog posts – they’re all about writing, writing, writing. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it’s probably why I needed a break. Every post had to mean something. Convey some sort of message or explore yet another dark and dusty corner of the writer’s psyche. Well, I’m over it! And none too soon, if you ask me. Because when I think about it, people are interested in people, not moralising or weekly how to’s.

So, here’s to my first blog that isn’t really about anything (except of course it will be about something because I can’t go completely cold turkey). I’ve been doing work on my house – by which I mean I’ve been watching other people do work on my house and coming up with ever more creative ways to look as though I’m helping. I find wandering through rooms carrying things works. If you’re carrying something somewhere, you’re obvs busy.

I finally succumbed to the phenomenon that is Marie Kondo. Now, when I say succumbed, what I really mean is I watched one, excruciatingly long episode on Netflix with an excruciating couple in America. To my chagrin, the program lavished most of it’s focus on the couple and their relationship (did I mention how excruciating they were?) so I may have zoned out a few times. But I enjoyed Kondo’s enthusiasm for decluttering the mountain of ‘stuff’ we accumulate, especially in Western societies, thanks to unfettered capitalism and conspicuous consumerism. Seeing the couple pile all of their clothes on the bed was actually kind of sickening. It made me realise what an addiction it is, and reminded me of those weight loss shows where they would pile up all the food you’d eaten in a week – forcing you to confront your uncomfortable reality. But I guess acknowledging the problem is the first step towards doing something to free yourself of it. See? I knew I’d get a teachable moment in here somewhere!

So what does all this have to do with me? Well, reader, it turns out I have, um, a bit of clutter myself. I’m not intentionally untidy (ahem) but I suppose I have more of a laid back attitude to doing housework. Like, when I think about doing housework, I just lay back and wait till the thought passes. I think I suffer from Not-Putting-Things-Away-itis. And so I suddenly realised, everything had to go. All this crap I’ve been holding onto. Bits and bobs. What the fuck are they and why do we have to house these non-rent-paying, useless objects? Is it because we don’t want to offend Aunt Bridget who bought that weird ornament as a moving in gift? She hasn’t been since, but it stands ready, lest she takes a funny turn and rings the doorbell. Loose change – Christ! They really need to stop loading us down with this coppery shit. Cushions. My name is Evie and I have a serious cushion problem. In fact, I don’t even think it’s my fault. They’ve been multiplying – literally shagging each other and having baby cushions – behind my back. Ditto for the gym balls. I somehow have three of the buggers and last time I checked, I only have one bum.

So a skip arrived (the first of many, hopefully) and I began the process of getting this crap the hell out of my life. But I’ve only just started – I won’t stop until my entire house resembles a Buddhist monk’s cell. Not that I’ve really been to one of those, but I imagine they’re not crammed with bills dating back to 2008. Do they even pay bills? It seems we could learn a lot from Eastern culture. Although they’re hardly immune to the shopping bug either, but there is something very alluring about their traditions around rituals and living simply.

I think the one thing we are all searching for is joy and there are companies clambering over themselves to try and give it to you. At a price. And I’m starting to wonder if the price isn’t just what you pay at the till. In fact, I think ‘stuff’ might be really harmful – it’s definitely harming the environment, when you think of all the plastic crap we jettison into our oceans. We are suffocating our marine life with our endless consumption and desire for more and more stuff. I’m reading a book at the moment called The Growth Delusion and it’s the first time I’ve really heard anyone ask the question, why is growth always considered a good thing? We hear so much about economic growth, as if it is the holy grail, but how much growth can one planet sustain?

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. Ditching all the superfluous crap in my life, physical and metaphorical. And just like the show on Netflix, it’s been both painful and cathartic.  It also became clear that my home is an extension of me because I felt really exposed watching all my junk fill the skip, but also wildly liberated. Of course, this will probably all be forgotten in a few months and I’ll be back to tripping over the entirely necessary eight pairs of ballet pumps in varying shades of nude, while trying to do a dance of the seven veils with the seventy million scarves I own (AND DID NOT CULL! HAHAHAHA!! Take that Kondo). But for now, it feels important and it feels good.

So how about you, my long suffering friends…. Any craic?

 

 

White Lies

ou are lovely

I read a great thread the other day on Twitter by author Leigh Bardugo about how, as authors, we tend to perpetuate the myth of glamour and success that surrounds the magical business of getting published. Take it away Leigh!

She goes on to talk about how we ‘big up’ the successful moments, but downplay (or conceal) the less attractive aspects, like having to make your own merchandise to bribe people with! But don’t we all do this in our everyday lives? Pretending that everything is rosy in the garden, whether it be your marriage, your job, or your house that looks lovely but is actually developing some scary cracks and is possibly built on an ancient burial site?? But that’s enough about me. Telling little white lies about your job is just an extension of that very human need to be seen as ‘successful’ or ‘having your shit together’. We pretend we’re earning more than we are or have a bigger office.

But there is something about the truth that liberates all of us. In recent times, more and more authors are opening up about the reality of publishing and what it really looks like, behind the headlines. Irish author Donal Ryan ruffled many’s the feather by revealing that his books earned him a mere 40c per book and that he was returning to full-time employing in order to pay his mortgage. (I wrote about it for the Irish Times here).

I think there is a certain amount of embarrassment – because all we tend to hear about are the big authors who get eye-watering book deals, then sell the movie rights and next thing you know, they’re featured in some home style magazine showing off their new castle. That’s what people expect will happen when you get a publishing deal, but it is the exception. Most authors just want to earn a wage, even a really tiny one, that means they can write full time. But that’s not always the case. In fact, it’s rarely the case.

But we don’t want to let the side down, or reveal to our friends and families that actually, not all book shops will stock your book, that some people still won’t read your book even though you’ve given them a copy for free, that you have to work just as hard promoting your book as you did writing it and at the end of the day, most Irish authors earn somewhere between €500 and €5,000 per year (eek!).

Yet it seems a bit strange that authors are the ones left to gloss over these facts – as though we somehow have to protect the reputation of the publishing industry as well as our own! Well, not on my watch. Self-publishing is a great leveler and dispels you of any ‘notions’ (as we call them here) pretty early on. I’ve had to do everything myself, so signing with a publisher was a real privilege. But it’s not the end of the rainbow – there were still disappointments as well as unexpected gains. What didn’t change is the amount of effort I had to put into making sure people knew about my book.  There are so many jobs you have to do as an author that you can never invoice anyone for and I’m not sure any amount of wild success will change that.

I remember reading an article a while back (but for the life of me I can’t remember the author’s name or find the link) in which a bestselling author spoke about a reading he was due to give at a local library for his new book. About eight people showed up; one was his wife and the rest were from a local retirement home. That was shocking to me – again because I just didn’t know that most really, really successful authors aren’t celebrities. Even New York Times bestselling authors. The truth is, nobody really cares! Apart from you, your publisher and probably your bank.

So yeah, I don’t think there’s any harm in telling the odd white lie to save face, but the constant pressure to present a false picture of your life or your career – which has only increased with the dawn of social media – is just really exhausting and serves nobody. And sometimes the most inspiring stories are the ones where you didn’t make it – like, how often do we find our own inner resilience perk up when reading about authors who were rejected zillions of times? Of course, the catch is, you have to then make it big-time for your sob story to resonate, but still. Knowing that nobody really knows what their doing can be the most comforting truth of all.