Sunday, 29 September 2019

Autumn, My Heart

   It's remarkable how much calmer I've gotten since autumn set in. It's cooler now, the days are shortening, evenings drawing in, there's spice in damn near everything, and Hotel Chocolat have brought their autumn selection back - easily one of my favourites.

   I've learned a lot about myself this year, and there are two things in particular that have been crucial.
   First, I realised that, while I love Christmas, it's not Christmas Day I really care for anymore. It's December 1st to the 24th. It's the atmosphere, the food, the decorations, the music, the yoga under the tree lights on dark mornings. The reason that's important is because it quite suddenly takes the strain off of a single day to be 'perfect' - even though my idea of a 'perfect' Christmas has come to just mean 'tolerable', which in turn really just means my oldest nephew behaves for the hour he comes to visit (not easy for a 10 year old).
   By realising it's the 1st to the 24th that matter, it means that, if one day in those 3 weeks isn't particularly good, it's okay, because there are 23 more, and I have that much time to bring the year to a good and enjoyable end. It also makes Christmas as a whole so much less stressful.

   The second is understanding the awful misery I get in the summer - and why I feel so freaking good right now.
   Come June, I always begin to experience feelings of being trapped, that I live my life - my days, my weeks - by the same routine I have done for 10 years and that I have nothing at all to look forward to except more of the same. And it makes me angry on top of miserable because I know that it's not something I can change by adjusting my lifestyle. My mum isn't going to suddenly get better, which means that I must remain living at home and stuck indoors at all times until we're in a position to get help.
   The funny thing is, staying in has never actually bothered me - I was always an indoor teenager - and I never really notice it until the heat moves in. You might think "that's normal - it's because the weather's nice! You just want to get outside." Erm, no. I hate the heat. My ideal days are cold and rainy.
   It was actually my honeymoon that threw the whole matter into perspective.
   We had an unseasonal heatwave in England in late April/early May this year, and I remember feeling suddenly depressed, lazy, angry, and that I had nothing to look forward to and life was a dreary hole. Until I realised that, actually, I had my honeymoon coming up in two weeks in an amazing cabin by a lake, something I'd been excited about it since we booked it a year and a half before. Bang. What was I really feeling trapped by? What was really inescapable, day after day? Heat. When it's uncomfortably warm every single day and there's nothing you can do but sit in front of a fan in your underwear with no skin contact and 0 concentration or ability to get anything done.
   We went on our honeymoon and it was, genuinely, the best holiday I've ever had in my life, both for the company and location. And the heatwave had passed just beforehand, too, and I was feeling much happier until it set back in in July. And then I was miserable again until this month, when it began at last to cool down.

   I've found myself sighing in contentment even though my days have gone the same way they have all year - in fact, I've had additional stress these past couple of months in particular. And yet, I find it so easy to smile. I spontaneously tell my husband I love him every hour rather than every four. I'm sleeping better, I'm less rigid in bed, my neck doesn't tighten up. The world is a brighter place.
   Because it's below 18 degrees.

   I've always said I'm a winter girl, but I don't think that's necessarily true. I am just absolutely not a summer girl. SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is usually associated with the onset of winter, but it turns out that I genuinely suffer it during the summer. Fortunately (?) Etsy tends to slow down in the summer, so I have less work to do and subsequently less to focus on, and while it's not easy to sit and write in the heat (thinking, urgh), it's easier than a lot of other kinds of work.
   Now autumn has set in, my productivity is up, both on my writing, on Etsy and in my workouts. I'm also generally keen to do stuff now, and went out to Westonbirt Arboretum for the equinox with my parents (wheelchair accessible, yaaaay). There were leaves, cake and dogs. Good times.

   What's your favourite thing about autumn? Aside from pumpkin spice, Halloween or changing leaves.

Thursday, 26 September 2019

The Fantasy Fiction Formula - Book Review & Writer's Resource

   I recently read through The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester. It's the second guide I've ever used for writing, despite having been practising the craft for 16 years and having two published fantasy books. The first was Neil Gaiman's The Art of Storytelling course on Masterclass. I'd been terrified for so long of looking at any such thing in case it told me I was doing something wrong, and, let's be honest, no one likes to change their ways, and they especially don't want to re-learn things. But I found some bravery when an opportunity dropped into my lap on January 10th this year, and decided to try the course when I saw it in February.
   In doing it, I wound up in tears. I was basically already doing everything right. I was so freaking happy. And yet, at the same time, a little disappointed because I hadn't learned anything new aside from how to write short stories, which I'd never really tried before this year.
   So I decided I wouldn't mind trying another home course, and it came, this time, in the form of a book: The Fantasy Fiction Formula.

(I wrote a book review on Goodreads when I finished it, and posted it again on Insta, but I'm going deeper here.)

   The Fantasy Fiction Formula is well-written and presented in digestable chapters. Just what you would expect from a book. But in this case, one chapter doesn't necessarily cover an entire topic from start to finish - for example, the 'Dark, Dismal Middle' (eg everything between the opening and the climax) is covered in 3 chapters directly, with a couple of others with varied titles afterwards to elaborate upon a few details before sending you off towards the end of the story. If all of this had been crammed into one chapter, you'd never know where you'd be able to put it down and walk away (an indirect lesson, in itself, on the importance of chapters within a story). It would have been an overload of information. It's definitely better when done this way, with each chapter (or lesson) anywhere from 7-21 pages in length.
   Rather than try to cram everything into single, tidy chapters, one per subject, and then cut information out in order to keep it compact and friendly, you're given everything you need in reasonable, chewable chunks.
   There are also exercises at the end of each chapter to help you put into practice what you've learned, both practical and theoretical (writing and reading).

   The advice at the start is varied, and rather than being about the structure of story planning, it explains, briefly, the components of a story, as well as the character design, viewpoints and dialogue (all individual chapters), all of which make the story really move. Getting these latter points down is as crucial as a book plan, if not more so (looking at you, pantsers). Starting the book, too - the hooks and opening lines - is included here, then scenes, conflict and everything in between.
   It then also gives you the SPOOC structure which informs you, immediately, as to whether or not your idea or basic plot can actually work. I'll give you this one for free: SPOOC = Situation, Protagonist, Objective, Opponent, Climax. For my book, The Zi'veyn, the SPOOC is as follows:

Situation   -   When wild magic begins physically tearing the world to shreds,
Protagonist   -   banished warmage, Rathen Koraaz,
Objective   -   must find the only ancient relic capable of silencing or harnessing magic, including the disembodied force.
But will he succeed when
Opponent   -   Salus, mage-hating spymaster of the Arana,
Climax   -   arrives at the relic's resting place first?

   Once you get past this and into the lessons of actually structuring and writing your story, the advice comes chronologically. It talks of the 'Dark, Dismal Middle', and how to 'survive' it. Why 'survive'? Because it's arguably the hardest part. It's where the story can completely fall apart. Once you've set your character/s on their way, it's easy for a writer's interest to drop. Personally, I've never once actually suffered this, but that's in part because I plan meticulously. Not everyone does, but I find it prevents tangents and makes sure there's always something happening. 'Spinning plates', is the phrase used in The Fantasy Fiction Formula (and perhaps elsewhere; I'd never heard it before now).
   The book gives many solutions to keeping the story exciting throughout the middle to keep both writer and reader interest solid until the end. Because if a writer loses interest, the readers will definitely notice. There will be none of the lustre from the start and many will give up. A lot of young writers will find it useful - and while I've never suffered the need of it, I am not so brazen as to say I never will. In fact, I've had some concerns about the next book I'm writing after my trilogy, and these suggestions have helped me feel more confident about it.

   The advice that I paid most (conscious) attention to was that of writing the ending. I obviously have a lot of experience with the dark, dismal middle (have you seen my books in print?) and I've written the openings over and over and over again. And while I rarely give up on books, I have to go through a lot to actually get to the point of writing the end. So, naturally, I have the least experience in that.
   The Devoted trilogy has been a huge undertaking, with such a complicated plot and very involved characters, so I admit that bringing the final book to an end remains, even now, a concern. The last thing anyone wants is an unsatisfying ending. Even in reading these final chapters, I remain concerned that I won't execute the information properly. But the upside is that the straight-forward, 6-step plan for the climax of the book (anywhere from one chapter to five - it's always subjective) has shown me that I'm already on the right path. Every step, I'd already considered. The only thing I think I've picked up on that I would have done wrong if I hadn't picked up The Fantasy Fiction Formula is dragging it out. I feel like I would have been frightened of too much happening at once and tried to ration it, which, when it comes to a climax, is wrong. It's supposed to be intense, with a breather part way through (which I've learned is called a long sequel) to serve the part of 'The Dark Moment' - wherein the protagonist is allowed to be human, not heroic, and take in the scope of what's ahead of him/her and voicing (or internalising) their biggest doubts and fears.
   With this knowledge, I realise I already have all the components I need for a great ending - I just need to make sure I don't shy away from doing it, that I don't try to protect my characters, or make it 'easier' on the reader. The climax of the story is the last place you want to do any of that.

   All praise aside, I do have this to say: take it all with a pinch of salt. The writer of this wonderful guide has also presented a few opinions as though they're fact, and one in particular that rubs me up the wrong way is when she tells you not to use phrases like 'burst through the door'. Now, as someone who has been reading for 25 years, I've read that kind of sentence so many times, and never once have I thought "oh my goodness, they actually exploded as they stepped through the door?! What on earth happened?!" No. I think, "they stepped through the door with unrestrained fury/excitement." And I ask you then: which of the two is easier to read?

They burst through the door.
They stepped through the door with unrestrained fury.

   She lists it as a technical impossibility - which is hopefully the case - but at the same time almost seems to be mocking writers for using it and, worst of all, also implies that the reader is stupid enough to believe that's actually what happened.
   There's nothing wrong with 'bursting' through a door, 'slipping' into a room or 'storming' off. As I said: pinch of salt.

How I used it

   I'm not a slow learner, but I also know that, since I'm not a kid any more, I'm not as quick as I used to be, and because this information is actually important to my career - a career I intend to hone and live off of until I die - it sort of matters that it sinks in. So I only read one chapter at a time, I typed out notes and did the exercises, and then I wouldn't touch another chapter until 3 days had passed.
   A lot of the time, even if I felt like I understood (or it even struck me as stupidly obvious), some nuance of the information wouldn't hit me for a day or two. Then, once I felt like I'd gotten as much out of ruminating as I could, I'd move on.
   Then, once I'd finished reading the book, I started writing my notes up by hand into a notebook. This meant that the core elements were refreshed in my mind, and I had the chance to revise it all again and add some later points to earlier ones if I felt they would be better known earlier.


   If you think you know how to write, great. But pick this book up, anyway. It has everything you need - not tropes or things like that, but actual story structure. It helps you fill holes as well as prevent them from opening in the first place, and will set you on a much sturdier path.
   If you intend to get artistic or experimental, that's great, too - but you need to know the rules before you can break them, if just so you can defend yourself when you're challenged.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Custom Miniature Dogs & Cats; Etsy Shop Revival

   These past few months, I forced myself to set aside some time to work on Etsy. I only plan on keeping Myth of the Wild open for 2.5 more years, and this weekend I gave myself a goal culminating in a very nice Christmas in 2021. Yes, I'm thinking far, far ahead. But it's given me what I need to find some enthusiasm again, which is why I'm also doing more to promote custom pieces.
   I made a batch of dogs and cats - things that should sell a little easier than obscure wild animals like takin or ezo momonga - and while the dogs have been painted and are ready to list, I've already put together a listing for custom miniature dogs. Like the custom made korok listing, customers can choose between a necklace, hanging ornament or standing ornament, and then either tell me what breed/colour they'd like, or send me a series of pictures of their own dog and I'll sculpt and paint that instead. Yes, it's a lot of work, but it's only going to be available until mid-November because, even with my shop in decline, it's too much to take on any custom orders once Christmas orders kick off.
   And yes, the cats are now at the top of my list, and once they're done, they'll get the same custom colour/'my cat' treatment that the dogs have.
   Either way, they should make unique Christmas gifts for dog lovers! (SEO is a thing) 
Shown: Border Collie, Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, German Shepherd, Labrador, Cocker Spaniel

    I have more wild animals to come, and I'm working on restocking Pepes and even a few more baby murlocs for WoW fans, as well as the usual tiny foxes, kodama, koroks (including a new shape & colour) and Totoros, since those four are my most solid sellers.
   I'm going to try to really do my best this Christmas, and then keep up momentum. I've found ways I can squeeze Etsy work into my week without stepping on writing time, and it would be great for my eyes and my mind to do something that is neither book- nor screen-related more often, too. Custom orders certainly help with that.

   While on the subject of reviving Myth of the Wild, I should also mention something about Etsy and why my own work with it has declined.

   First of all, it's not that I don't enjoy making things - I do. But I loathe what Etsy has become. It doesn't care anymore about smaller sellers - if you're not one of the big sellers that pull in loads of money (for them), they don't care. They continue to advertise the sellers who don't need the help and ignore the rest of us. I've been there for 8 years now and I've seen its decline. Not only that, but they recently increased the fees - it used to be 3.5% taken from the sale of a product, and that was it. Now it's risen to 5%, and they now take 5% from your shipping fees too. Fees we're not supposed to be making a profit off of anyway, which leads many to have to charge more for shipping than they'd like to. Yes, 5% isn't much, but it adds up, and lots of people can be put off by shipping fees as they were before the rise. They also prioritise US sellers and leave the rest of us to muddle through with changes until 6 months have passed and they're rolled out to the rest of them.
   The trouble is, if I try to go elsewhere, I have to start from the ground-up. I already tried on Folksy and it came to nothing. I admit my heart may not have been in it, but aside from spamming my social media, I'm not really sure what I could have done - and I do that enough with my books.

   Secondly, yes, it's true, I would rather be writing, and when I saw my sales begin to decline a few years ago, I threw myself deeper into books rather than trying to keep it afloat. Writing is what I want to do for life. I never planned to open an Etsy shop, that just happened, but writing has been the plan since I was 12. And so, rather than fight to keep my shop alive, I moved deeper into what I really loved doing and began flourishing with that instead. I'm proud of my books, I'm proud of my growth and progress. Unfortunately, it doesn't pay. It doesn't come close to matching Etsy. I'd have to sell 12 copies of The Zi'veyn to make what I would from selling just one necklace, and it's a difficult thing to convince people to part with money for a book by an unknown author they may not enjoy, compared to purchasing a one-off item that they can see they already love by sight alone. And so, with plans for the future - even frivolous Christmas ones - I want to do better.

Friday, 6 September 2019

What it Takes to Successfully Work From Home

   By now, you all know I work from home. I've run a jewellery business for 8 years (8 years?!) that I built myself and have run by myself ever since. And once I started publishing my books, well, that's a business, too. Just like Myth of the Wild, my books require marketing, budgeting and time management - especially when I'm trying to juggle them both.
   Working from home is no easy thing - it sounds it, what with zero commute, comfort, toilet breaks whenever you want them and no one breathing directly down your neck - but that's exactly why it isn't. It's too comfortable, there are so many more distractions, like the washing that could be folded up (even though it'll be fine where it is for a few more hours) or trimming the garden hedge (which could also wait for a few more weeks), and no one around to keep you on task. It's also easy to start late or finish early because there's no clocking in.
   But there are other reasons, too - ones you've probably not considered. So if you're planning to work from home, or have just started, take a look at this guide for how to work from home efficiently.

Planning and Preparation
Planning and preparation are two of the most vital aspects of working from home. You need to be on track and aware of what the day ahead is going to hold and how you’re going to push through with the stack of work that needs to be done. When you’re alone and working from home, there’s not going to be someone else there to do that stuff for you.

Avoid Work Creep
Work creep is the name given to the experience of having your work creep into your regular life. It’s a problem that many people experience when they work from home. It’s better for your work and certainly better for your personal and social lives if you keep a clear division between your work life and your personal life. Don’t let that work creep get the better of you. 

The Right Tech
You need to have all the right technology in place if you’re going to work from home. That means a good computer, a keyboard you love and a wireless mouse for Mac, as well as anything else that your job requires. The last thing you want is to be sidetracked and set back by poor or inadequate technology in your home office.

A Solid and Consistent Routine
   Having a good routine in place for your work is really important. You don’t want to get distracted by your phone or that book you’ve been reading. These things are all around you when you’re working from home and there will be no manager breathing down your neck telling you to get back to work. You have to be able to manage your own workload without any outside input. Set yourself work times, and don't forget to factor in your breaks. You might think that you're getting more down without them, but you're not. There's a reason for mandatory breaks in the workplace, and it's not an employer's good will. Productivity and efficiency drop after a while, and workers, whatever they're doing, need a break to breathe and recharge. You'll get just as much work done with a couple of breaks in your day as without, but you'll be a lot happier, too.

Comfortable Furniture
   Finally, you need to think about comfort. It’s important to feel comfortable and at ease in your home office. If you don’t have comfortable furniture that you enjoy using day after day, you’ll eventually start to feel those aches and pains and then you’ll be distracted from your work. That’s exactly what you don’t need, so be sure to pick out comfortable furniture for the home office. Find something with lumbar support. But also remember that too much comfort can drain energy levels and dull your work. An office chair, not a cheeky arm chair!

Working from is certainly no walk in the park, so you shouldn’t underestimate just how tough it can be. If you’re unsure of what it’ll be like for you, give it a trial run for a short period of time before committing to it on a full-time basis. This will give you a better idea of what you should expect and how it’ll be for you.

Monday, 2 September 2019



It counts.

     Before heading into the post: I've set up a monthly author newsletter which includes a free 7-page short story for subscribers, and I wrote a post recently on my author website which summarises my mistakes in self-publishing and what I've learned from them - and, subsequently, what other soon-to-be self-published authors need to keep in mind.
   Now, onwards...

    I spent the first day of autumn at the North Somerset Bird of Prey Centre's open day, outlining my month's book plans. It's nice to get out of the house, into some fresh air and around lots of animals I wouldn't usually get the chance to get so close to. I also admit that, while I hate people - I really hate people - it's a great opportunity to observe lots of different age groups, enthusiasm levels and general behaviour, which is something I seriously miss out on when I'm home all the time as a carer (though that in turn gives me plenty of opportunity to write). I also held a 3-week-old baby rat which made my month already, held a peregrine/aplomado falcon who did a great job in the flying display, and flew a barn owl. It was the best open day of theirs that I've been to. Sadly, also the last of the year, but they'll be open again on the first Sunday of March (I think - check out their facebook page for up to date into and thousands of amazing pictures).

   Otherwise, I admit, I'm struggling. I'm grounded in the trilogy, after a few weeks of doubt and feeling like I'd lost sight of things after 2 long books already, but now it's Salus who is causing problems for me. He's exhausting. And while his circumstances change in book two, they change again in book three and he should be more enjoyable to write, but he just seems to trail exhaustion behind him. Whenever I have to write him, I completely deflate. I love him, I do, but the shadows around him are thick and stifling, and that means I'm a lot slower to get anything done when he comes around. But, better that than plowing through. I want to portray him in the best way I can, and if it's not coming naturally because of all of that, I have to slow down. Sub-par villains are unacceptable and I refuse to do less than my best.

   Other than that, I'm pretty happy with how it's progressing, and I've been reading The Fantasy Fiction Formula ('cause now I'm not ascared of learnin') and discovering a few ways to improve my work, but also that, otherwise, I'm doing a surprising amount right. My confidence in my skill is rising, and even further after a recent talk with an editor. I've started up an author newsletter, my Instagram is surprisingly alive (with bookish things), and my website is updated occasionally, but only with worth-while things (free short stories, writing tips and book promos, all of which are rare as it is, simply because of the work required to do them - it isn't neglect!)

   I have a few other exciting things lined up for this month, and a few things in the pipelines for possible reveal next year, but nothing I want to talk about until I have a solid foundation. As the old duck said: don't tell people your plans, show them your results.

   Also, I am, of course, working on Etsy. I only plan to keep the shop open for two more years, three at most if my other plans are delayed, but I'd like to go out with a bang, and I have Christmas this year to prepare for anyway. But, rather than do what I'd prefer and make animals that appeal to me, I've opted to make some that might actually sell, so I have lots of domestic dogs and cats to paint! And remember: custom orders, including the custom korok listing, are only taken until mid-November due to the amount of general orders. If there's anything you'd like, get in touch in October, because I may have to stop accepting them as soon as November 1st if business is higher than anticipated.

   That's all for now. I will be back.