Life Behind The Scenes

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Oh dear, there are veritable cobwebs on my blog. I may have forgotten how to drive this thing, but let’s give it a go.

This year has been a lot of upheaval, personally and professionally. Yet, thankfully, in these final few weeks of 2019 I can look back and see that I’ve done the best thing for me, stayed true to myself and got through what I needed to get through. I imagine that for most of you, your year has been a similar journey of ups and downs and I sincerely hope that you’ve all come to trust yourselves more as a result.

January saw me get an email in response to a submission I’d sent out. They wanted to see more. So, in March I got the phone call I never thought I would get. An editor from Penguin Random House had read my writing and wanted to work with me. I tried to keep my expectations from going off the charts, but after a half hour on the phone to London, I allowed myself to believe that things were indeed, looking up.

I spent the next few months sketching out a story idea and eventually writing some sample chapters. The feedback was positive and I was asked to prepare a chapter breakdown and synopsis to present to ‘the team’, all with a view to putting a contract in place. A CONTRACT!!! The summer came and went and I waited to hear back. During this time, I gave myself permission to start dreaming about how this would all play out. I thought, ‘come on Evie, stop being so cautious all the time, it’s actually happening!’ Then in September I got the email I never could have anticipated. The editor was switching jobs and taking up a position with a different publisher. My story had, as a result, fallen between the cracks.

I was devastated. I had never been so close to signing with a major publisher. And I was angry at how precarious this industry can be for authors. Angry that the biggest break of my writing career was just, over and for everyone else, it was just another day in publishing. It was tough to take.

It was nobody’s fault and in time I even began to see the silver lining –  if my writing had impressed the editors at Penguin, I must be doing something right! And if I’m honest, I’ve learned a lot about myself and what it means to be a writer through this experience. I learned the difference between working with a multi-national publisher and an independent publisher. There are compromises you have to make, no matter which path you choose; creative freedom, royalties, etc. I also learned how some decisions are taken away from you entirely and all you can do is make peace with it and move on. I was reminded of what really mattered to me; telling a story I’m passionate about.

On a more personal level, I got a new kitchen!! Finally. This has been on my wish-list for ages, but I was dreading the inevitable chaos. Anyone out there who has revamped their kitchen will feel my pain and sense of achievement on this one 😀 It seemed to go on forever, and I had to become the project manager of at least four different tradesmen, as well as qualifying in amateur kitchen design. What did I learn? NOTHING GOES TO PLAN, but most things will get sorted, more or less! Also, there’s something you don’t expect when doing work on your house – it’s like doing work on yourself. The cluttered old kitchen I had was, unbeknownst to me, making me really unhappy. But now, with my new streamlined kitchen, I just feel good about myself; like, investing in my home was investing in me.

Physically, it’s been hard to write (which is another reason the blog has taken a back seat). I have an old injury that’s been causing me pain, but this year, I found someone who is really helping to literally straighten me out! I won’t go into the gory details, but it’s been a challenge, mentally and physically. I know I’m not alone in this too – everyone is dealing with something and I really wish that you find the path to good health. I know so many writers and bloggers who keep on writing despite chronic conditions that may or may not be visible. Well, let me say that I see you and I am inspired by you!

A high point of my year was featuring in The Gloss Magazine . So many of my favourite authors have taken part in the ‘Writer’s Block’ series, so I was delighted to be asked. It was the most in-depth interview I’ve ever done and it was an amazing opportunity to delve into my past and the inspiration behind my writing career. I was a bit apprehensive about putting myself in the spotlight, but someone told me that they felt they got to know me better after reading it, so I’m glad I was able to show a more personal side. The cherry on top was Sophie Grenham’s introduction to the piece, which I’m still smiling about! I feel really fortunate, as an indie writer, to be featured in the mainstream media in Ireland. It just goes to show that, at the end of the day, the story is all that matters.

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Through all the ups and downs, my family have been an amazing support, as always. It’s funny, when I look at those author bio’s that say ‘Jenny lives in Wicklow with her husband and two kids and twelve labradors’, I worry that mine looks a bit empty. Evie lives with herself and has grown ridiculously fond of her own space! But it’s true. I like my life and being single just makes me appreciate the relationships I do have even more. And if that isn’t success, I don’t know what is. Or as Maya Angelou put it,

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So, that’s my year, or some of it anyway. I don’t think you really need to hear about the time I got my hair chopped and dyed some AWFUL colour so now I’m wearing lots of hats!! Oh, and I wish I could tell you the exciting news my publisher just gave me about The Story Collector, which is nothing short of an early Christmas present, but alas, I’ve been sworn to secrecy (again). Either way, I feel like I should end this with a song. Music always gets me through – no matter the sitch, there’s a song for it. So I’ve been listening to this one a lot, which is all about having strong foundations and belief that you can get through all of life’s storms.

Do You Believe_

 

PS. Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway (my favourite indie book store!) has The Story Collector on special offer at the moment and FREE WORLDWIDE DELIVERY!! Get it here 

 

 

Betwixt – A gothic short story

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I love gothic novels. Everything from Edgar Allen Poe to Laura Purcell, Bram Stoker to Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I find the blend of dark romanticism, ominous characters, decaying grandeur, curses and the supernatural simply irresistible. My favourite novel as a teenager was Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Set on the desolate and uninviting moors, with its harsh climate provided the perfect backdrop for a gothic romance and reminded me so much of Ireland, that I felt strangely connected to it. I was also really drawn to the anti-heroes Heathcliff and Cathy – their willful nature, their intensity. But it’s the structure of the story and the supernatural elements that infuse it with a sense of mystery and fear.

I was less enamoured by my penchant for the macabre when staying at a friend’s cottage in the middle of the Irish countryside, miles from anywhere. It was the longest night of my life (I was supposed to stay there for a week. Plans changed!). Nestled (or buried – depending on how you want to look at it!) at the base of a hill , it was a traditional thatched cottage with dinky windows and a half door. The smell of turf almost knocked me over as we walked inside, but I tried to be cool with the gloom and the damp. And the fact that, despite it being the height of summer, inside was a million degrees cooler than outside.

That night however, I stopped being cool with everything when the noises started. Every creak made me jump. It didn’t help that the room was full of religious icons, leering over me. The distinct sound of a chair being scraped across the floor left me rigid in the bed. I had to risk my arm being snatched by who knew what to switch on the lamp. I gave up on sleep and sat in an armchair by the smokey fire until it was light enough to pack up and go back to civilisation. But not before my companion told me the history of the house, and how we were not the first to leave the place in a hurry.

This, dear reader, was the inspiration for my gothic short story, Betwixt which is currently a number one bestseller on Amazon! I wrote it in 2015, before The Story Collector, as a little side project, so it’s a thrill to see it doing so well and garnering such positive reviews. Like all indie authors, I struggle to get my work promoted and break into new readerships. So I have made this short story permanently free on all platforms (Kobo ~ Apple) so readers can get an introduction to my writing before buying all of my books!

Betwixt is the perfect quick read for this time of year – it’s atmospheric and haunting and inspired by a true story (eek!) So download your FREE copy now and if you enjoy it, I would love if you could share the love by passing it on to a friend and/or leaving a short review. They make a HUGE difference to how books are ranked on Amazon, which in turn can really impact on an author’s career. True story! You can have all the PR in the world, but it is readers who have the greatest influence. So thank you to everyone who has made this book number one and to those of you about to read it, let me know what you think!

Why Do Authors Diss Other Authors?

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Credit: Gerd Altman

You know what’s hot right now, other than global warming? Tearing down your peers in order to promote your new book! And it’s not new authors, desperate for any kind of media coverage they can get – these are well-established authors who all seem to be hopping on the latest controversy bandwagon. But why are they doing it? Does it result in more sales or is a just a ploy to get your name ‘out there’?

For a while there, it seemed like a queue of predominantly white male authors were awaiting their turn to declare that the novel (as they knew it) was dead. Will Self being the most vocal (who even is he??!). It was all a bit pathetic really – writers bemoaning the fact that their work was no longer relevant and choosing to denounce the younger generation for their lack of taste rather than accept that their books mightn’t be as good as they thought they were. Or that, like the rest of us mere mortals, their books have no  guarantee of a warm reception.

Irish author Colm Tóibín recently told a Guardian interviewer: “I can’t do thrillers and I can’t do spy novels.”  

Asked which books he felt were most overrated, he said: “I can’t do any genre-fiction books, really, none of them. I just get bored with the prose. I don’t find any rhythm in it. It’s blank, it’s nothing; it’s like watching TV.”

So clearly, Colm has read ALL THE BOOKS and they’re all boring. Thanks for that Colm, inspirational.

Poor old John Banville can only write ‘genre’ under a pseudonym, lest his good name and reputation be besmirched by popular fiction. It’s a form of snobbery, looking down one’s nose at other writers, and readers for that matter. Like the ‘real book’ brigade who scoff at eBooks and their readers. Like, get over yourself and the delusion that you are the sole arbiter of good taste. By dismissing things that people enjoy, you are dismissing them and what matters to them. And to me, this seems a very foolish thing to do.

The most recent author to diss an entire genre is Louise Doughty, when she told The Guardian (why is it always The Guardian?) “I can’t bear anything chicklitty or girly.”

Wow. Can’t bear it, eh? Any book in particular, or just every book written by a woman who has been classified under the broadest commercial fiction genre EVER? Now, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but such an established writer must be aware of how dismissive this sounds to her peers? How many years have female authors been fighting this exact kind of stigma associated with chick lit? It’s a marketing tag, that has unfortunately sidelined contemporary romcoms  written by women as vacuous, vapid and unimportant. The definition of chick lit is ‘a heroine-centred narrative‘, so far so brilliant, and luckily for us fans, promotes a whole plethora of styles, voices and subject matter. In fact, categorising novels by a single criterion is such a reductive exercise anyway, the dismissive tone used by this authors is at best, unhelpful.

I also think the media has a lot to answer for here. If an author is asked their opinion, they have every right to give it. It was the editor’s choice to pick that one quote from the interview and run it as click-bait on all social media platforms. And this seems to be the way of it now – the newspaper takes the most inflammatory line from an article, tweets it and watches the book world have a meltdown. And that my friends, is marketing.

But in case you were thinking literary authors were safe from all this criticism, think again. Sally Rooney has committed a cardinal sin – the worst thing you can do in literary fiction – she has sold a lot of books. It’s one thing garnering critical acclaim, but to be successful in the monetary sense can risk the loss of your member’s card to the ‘serious’ literary writers club. Will Self (him again!) ‘bravely’ took it upon himself to put her back in her place by labelling her writing as ‘lacking ambition’, lest she go getting any ideas that she might have earned her place among the literati. Fortunately we have men like him to save us from our own bad taste.

Irish author Catherine Ryan Howard has her finger on the pulse and her tongue firmly in her cheek with this latest tweet:

 

So is this the future for authors? A newspaper article in which they upset not only their fellow authors, but the millions of readers who enjoy their books?  And while everyone has the right to speak their mind, it is the contrivance to cause controversy that seems to be the PR drug of choice these days. To me, it just makes people look arrogant and insecure. I’ve always been taught that people who try to make you feel small are only doing it so they can feel big. Authors dismissing other genres must have some dire need to feel important, or to be seen as superior, i.e. someone whose work matters. But newsflash, we all matter and a bit of diplomacy goes a long way.

We are all creatures of habit and of course we tend to gravitate to certain styles of writing and subject matter. There is nothing wrong with that and there is nothing wrong with not liking a book. Art is subjective. But when does it stop being an opinion and start being derisory? Good critique is backed up by fact and reason (like books where the characters are under-developped, for example) but generalisations that have no real basis tell us nothing constructive. The truth is, there are crap writers and crap books everywhere. There are crap literary books, crap self-published books, crap traditionally published books, crap YA books, crap detective novels, crap books by men, crap books by women … but to give one broad sweep of criticism to any of these categories is just ignorant and lazy.

I have always found the writing community to be supportive and always remember the first time I read another saying that there is room enough for all of us. We don’t have to compete by putting one another down. Most readers, like myself, read across genres, so in the long run, it’s probably wiser to big up your fellow authors rather than risk alienating your audience. Your readership could well overlap. But just on a human level, as Michelle Obama once said, when they go low, we go high!

Book Of The Summer Book Review!

We interrupt your regular programming to bring you breaking news (or it would have been if I’d read this book when it was first published last summer!) of a book I have completely fallen in love with, The Map Of Us. It’s got a typewriter, a garden, sand art, washing machines, French estate cars, statistics, the colour blue, handbags, a sofa and a dog. Not sure what else a book needs, really.

 

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The Map Of Us 

This book is one of those rare treats that can surprise and delight and stretch the boundaries of genre. It’s got EVERYTHING; a little bit of history, a generous helping of clever, wry humour and tons of humanity. The characters manage to avoid the usual tropes and all bring their own very unique personalities to this quirky tale of family, love and finding your path in life.

Jules Preston is officially my new favourite author, which leaves me in a bit of a pickle because his new book isn’t out yet. So no pressure Jules, but get a wriggle on! Where did he come from? Why didn’t I hear of this book till now? And why isn’t it being made into a film? All questions I will fail to deal with here.

Anyhoo, I don’t like writing reviews that kind of dissect a good book, I feel it’s enough to keep shouting in big letters how much I love it, but I’ll do my best to give you a flavour of this wonderfully uplifting story.

The Map Of Us tells the story of the North family (although it doesn’t really read like a family saga at all) starting with Violet North – a tenacious young woman who is abandoned by her family in a very large house with a very large garden. Unfortunately, Violet cannot walk very far, having suffered from polio as a child, but she does not allow this to hold her back.

Her family had lately abandoned her in a  house with several staircases and a large garden in the hope that she would fall and die as quickly and conveniently as possible. They had told her as much when they left. She had been a burden to them for long enough. Violet could not walk far, but she was twenty-six and had her own house with a large garden and decided to be as inconvenient as possible. She did a grand job.

There’s a hint of fairytale (think Lemony Snicket) to Violet’s story and dare I say a whisper of magical realism throughout the book. Not necessarily in the plot, but simply in how the story is told. There is something of the ‘once upon a time’ to it; the repetition, the short chapters (with funny names), the triumph of good over evil. But we do not linger with Violet for long, as the book shifts gear into the present day with our first person narrator Matilda. I adore Matilda and her dry sense of humour. Her marriage is ending and as a statistician, she decides that in order to better understand where it went wrong, she should write a report on it.

Okay. Maybe writing a report on our marriage with footnotes and a summary and a series of conclusions was another spectacularly bad idea. But that is what I did.

You often hear of books being described as feel good, when really they leave you feeling like you’ve had to ingest unsafe amounts of sugary cringe. But this book really made me feel good – about myself, about life. Because life is (unfortunately) all about challenges and how we overcome them. Life changes us; it’s supposed to and if we’re really lucky, we will find exactly what we need to be happy here. This book even gave me goosebumps when the gardener…. well, I’ll let you find out for yourself.

There are so many laugh out loud (or giggle quietly) moments to enjoy. When Matilda describes her erstwhile husband Matt’s dedication to listening to experimental jazz.

He went to all this effort just so he could listen to music that sounded like an instrument salesman being pushed down a flight of concrete stairs wearing trousers made of trombones.

And another one of my favourite lines also comes at Matt’s expense. We’ve all been here!

Matt was waiting for something to happen. It was hard to tell what. He didn’t know. He liked to think about his future while he was asleep on a secondhand sofa. For all he knew his future may have already come and gone.

Over-arching themes like the futility of building an empire versus the nobility of building a garden; the impermanence of life and sandcastles set against the durability of love and family. It is written with such poetry and honesty and I think this line encapsulates the entire story.

We were a family. We were strange and resilient, too.

I think I’m going to make that my family motto – strange and resilient! Perhaps with a fire panda as my crest. Or a sloth! I digress. The point is, I am utterly beguiled by this book, which seems to have been written just for me. I love that feeling when reading a book – the sense that the author secretly mined your imagination and produced the exact kind of book you wanted to read. And I also like the fact that I’ve found it a year after its publication, because it reminds me that readers will find my books long after the initial hype is over.

So if you like books that take a kindly look at the human condition and find redemption in our foibles, or a story about a man who walks the great moors, even if he is just the figment of a young woman’s imagination who is too afraid to visit the garden, then please give yourself the gift of this novel. It’s just beautiful.

 

 

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?

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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…

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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

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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.

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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

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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.