Q is for Quitting

Q is for Quitting

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with writing most of my life and I have explored the process of quitting several (many) times. It’s curious to note the etymology of the word http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=quit in that it encompasses meanings that are deep within the word, but the origin that touches me most is that it comes from quietus (Latin quietus “free” (in Medieval Latin “free from war, debts, etc.”), also “calm, resting” ) from which we also derive our word quiet.

In my struggles, on many occasions, people have said, “Oh just take a break. Write for fun! Give the whole publishing side a rest. Don’t worry about it.” It’s well-meaning advice, but it won’t do. I cannot write for fun, because writing is not fun for me. It’s many things, but it’s very seldom fun. The whole shebang has been tied up with a wider picture since almost before I could read and though I have tried, I cannot disentangle it.

At the weekend, a friend told me a very interesting fact about tortoises that I had not known. Their shell is part of their skeleton, linked to their spine. You cannot remove a tortoise from its shell without killing it. http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=17+1797&aid=2700 . It’s the perfect analogy. Writing is my shell. It is not an outfit I can change at whim, or at need. It is part of me, grown from my core being from my inception. I cannot quit being a writer, or I will die. Yet the whole mess of the world of books is destroying me too.

P is for Poetry

P is for Poetry

P is for Poetry

Or possibly, predictable.

Come on, you didn’t expect me to use P for anything else, now, did you?

Sorry. This whole A-Z thing is inherently predictable, after all.

Anyway. Poetry.

I wrote my first poem (I’ve probably said before) at infants’ school, so somewhere between the ages of 5 and 8 (when I went up to junior school). My memory suggests 6 or 7 as the age; the title of the poem was Blue. It extolled the virtues of my favourite colour. There’s no copies of it anywhere, for which I am sure you are all profoundly grateful.

At school I was one of the few who enjoyed both the reading and the writing of poetry. Yet after the school days were gone, I seldom wrote any. There’s a few tucked away; angsty, angry ones from university days but I think the sheer wall of hugely brilliant poets I’d studied rather impeded the idea of actually writing anything myself. Even my fiction dried up at uni; it was not until my daughter was a baby that I started tentatively to write again properly, having spent my childhood and teens scribbling.

Why poetry? What’s the point of it, is a question I’ve heard too often. Poetry says things in ways prose cannot and will not. It’s not about flowery language but about finding a way to express something (often deep and hard to articulate) in a manner that transcends age, culture, and sometimes even language itself. The brevity of some forms is like an expert ink drawing that captures a moment so perfectly, it never needs the colour adding. The longer forms tap into our unacknowledged need for rhythm and draws us in, with repetition and with something older and more arcane than the familiar story-telling of a novel.

As a mature* adult I’ve written more poetry and have found some sense of calling in writing it. It’s been published in assorted small journals (some now extinct) and more recently in national newspapers (I’ve had some in The New European). My first collection of poetry Accidental Emeralds https://www.amazon.co.uk/Accidental-Emeralds-Vivienne-Tuffnell-ebook/dp/B00LM890TG/ several times reached the sweet spot of number one in Love Poetry. My second Hallowed Hollow https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hallowed-Hollow-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1544615779/ made it to four in the category Religious and Inspirational poetry. It got its first review the other day and glowing doesn’t come close to how enthused the reviewer was (proud moment!)

But stuck in the pipeline was another, longer tome. A Box of Darkness stalled at the last minute. I’d got some proof copies and then realised I’d messed up the table of contents, and couldn’t figure out how to do it properly. I’d also used a quote from American poet Mary Oliver and I realised that this was unethical. Despite the quote being all over the internet, I couldn’t use it, either inside the book or on the cover or blurb. So I had to think again. Two years on, I was still thinking. Then a couple of weeks ago, I dragged myself back to it, and did it. A recent purchase of a traditionally published book of poems gave me a clue of how to present the contents page without having to jump through hoops.

A Box of Darkness (like Hallowed Hollow) is only available as a paperback, as I don’t feel a longer collection fits digital format There’s 60+ poems in it, so at the current temporary release price of £5.00 (or local equivalent) that’s extremely good value, but it will go up very soon. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Box-Darkness-poems-darkness/dp/1505904285/

Subtitled Poems from the Darkness, the theme is obvious. The blurb is as follows:

Sometimes we fear to go into the dark places that depression and mental distress can lead us into. Yet as many mystics and seekers over the centuries have found and spoken about, those dark places often contain the treasures we did not know we were searching for. These poems are the results of my walking into the darkness and bringing back the beauty and wisdom that is hidden there. Some painful, some humorous, but all poignant, I hope you will find these poems inspire and encourage you to seek your own treasures in the darkness.”

Poetry is an important but under-valued art form; there’s a lot of baaaaaad poetry about too. But there’s a lot of very good stuff too, and I think mine falls into that camp, not the other.

*however you define mature, I’m using it to mean over the age of 21.

All links are to Amazon UK but it’s in other Amazon stores if you look under my name and the book title.

F is for Failure

F is for Failure

I considered a much stronger F word for this post but thought better of it as I am tired of people pontificating about the use of strong language. I don’t like being on the receiving end of a ticking off, especially when I disagree fundamentally with the stance the other person is taking; it’s a waste of energy getting that angry about something I cannot change.

For the record, despite these daily posts following (how original…) an alphabetical order, I am very much not doing any challenge, I am not linked up, affiliated, attached or otherwise part of anything that IS doing such a challenge. I’m not even sure that writing a daily blog post for 26 days can be considered a challenge and I don’t want a nice little sticker for my blog calling myself a “survivor” of such an enterprise. So apologies to anyone who thought I was unaware of such things and needed instructions on how to do it properly, induction into the rules and regulations of taking part and of the benefits of using certain tags and of the greater numbers of visitors I’d enjoy if I did. After a significant time floating around the blog-o-sphere, I have seen dozens of similar initiatives come and go; the so-called blog awards that were no more than a combo of popularity contest and chain letter seem to have died a death, thankfully.

I have always failed at being clubby. Like Groucho Marx, I’m suspicious of any club that would have me as a member. I don’t understand the need for many of the things that go around the world of blogging. When I first began blogging in 2009, there were (and probably still are) lots of communities of bloggers who obsessively followed each others’ blogs, collected comments like stamps, and for whom reciprocity was an iron-clad rule. The obligation that if someone has liked or subscribed to your blog, or commented, you must reciprocate in all particulars has always bothered me. If I like a blog, I like it. End of. I don’t expect the blogger to come and like mine, add it to their blog roll, subscribe to each post or anything else just because I did it for theirs. I did it because I wanted to. Not for anything else.

Some years ago I briefly belonged to a group on FB, which had the stated aim of authors helping each other. It was (I soon learned) rigid in its requirements, Pharisaical even. You were obliged to share blogs and tweets of books, regardless of whether you had read them, let alone liked them, if you wanted the same done for your work. There are not hours enough in the day to read even the samples of the numbers of books produced by the members of that group; some put out new books every few months. As for reviewing…well, don’t even go there. I started to feel that I was something that crawled out of the oceans and these shining gods were more than human; not only could they write a book every month or two, they could read dozens and review them, and tweet them and …well, they had feet of clay. Because they didn’t do all that, obviously. I left. I flounced, actually, with a somewhat self-righteous farewell note that I don’t regret. I felt (and feel) that to have got any benefit out of being a part of it I would have been selling my soul in small slices, with a side order of integrity.

The real reason I began doing these daily posts was because I need to be able to say to my soul, you tried; you tried the helpfully offered suggestion of “writing prompts to cure blocks”, you tried free-writing to cure being blocked. I can write almost without thinking about anything; these posts are not deep or meaningful or even very demanding to compose. They’re the bread-and-butter of being a writer, nothing more. Following an email from a stranger who (I believe was well-meaning) explained that I was doing it wrong, I thought, frell it all, what is the point of this? I considered abandoning it, feeling shamed by the fact that I was doing it all wrong in the eyes of the clubbable bloggers.

But here I am, up to F, a day ahead of the official schedule, make of that what you will. I am a failure in so many ways, but perhaps I’ll stick with the term free spirit, instead.

It’s a Hobbit-style gift.

Hobbits give others gifts on their birthday, so because I was once (for the purposes of a correspondence that is itself worthy of a story one day) Lobelia Sackville Baggins, I have decided that to commemorate/celebrate my birthday, I’m having a flash sale for 24/48 hours of all my current novels. Each will be under £2, or local equivalent worldwide. The price changes will come in over the next few hours, so grab ’em while they’re low. There’s a page tab for each book at the top of this page, or you can just search in whichever Amazon you use.

Unexpected item in the bagging area ~ oh look it’s a new book!

Unexpected item in the bagging area ~ oh look it’s a new book!

Unexpected item in the bagging area ~ oh look it’s a new book!

It’s not unusual for women at the crossroads between childbearing age and the end of that era to produce an unexpected little bundle of joy. In days gone by, I suspect it was a lot more common, even if some of those babies were those of a teenage daughter passed off as Mum’s late addition to the family.

So perhaps a book sneaking out at this time of my life is a similar thing. In this case, though, all the material was there, waiting. Waiting for me to look at it, consider it and then do something brave with it. And believe me it is brave to the point of being foolish, to put out a book of poetry on the themes of doubt and faith and all the grey hinterlands between the two, in a world that cares little for poetry of any ilk. Yet once I began, I couldn’t stop. I have had concerns that this surge in …motivation… might be a manifestation of a manic phase but so far it seems benign and controlled, so perhaps it is that the wheel of life has turned and I am rising, slowly.

Hallowed Hollow is a collection of 40 poems. If I had been canny, I might have marketed it as a book for Lent, but I’m not, so I didn’t. It might make a good non-chocolate Easter gift, though. The poems reflect my journey of doubt and faith, one that spends much of its time in the no-man’s land of being drawn by the numinous but of being repelled by dogma and by the often impossibly clubbish-ness of organised Christianity. I veer towards a panentheism that would have got me burned as a heretic or hanged as witch. They’re poems I am intensely proud of, for what that’s worth, and I am also proud of the fact that I have managed to get them off my hard drive and out into the world.

I’m not intending to release them as a Kindle version, unless by some extraordinary miracle, the print edition is wildly successful. There are reasons for this. The first is aesthetic; as a reader of poetry, I much prefer to have a paper edition. One can flip through, caressing pages, and finding poems as if by magic that speak to you that moment. Reading stolidly through, one by one, is not for me. I jump around. The second reason is that I believe that lovers of poetry tend to be collectors of it, who love to display their books and Hallowed Hollow is (in my humble opinion!) quite, quite lovely in its dove-grey cover with an image of rippling water in a holy well. The third reason is that I cannot construct a table of contents that works interactively. While Accidental Emeralds does not have such a contents page, there are only twenty poems in that collection; it’s no great hardship to scroll through the pages. Poetry does not sell well on Kindle, and it’s pretty depressing to see a volume sitting there, its rankings starting to look not so much like a telephone number as the numerical value of Pi to the nth degree.

I’ve not done a launch for this book, not because I don’t love it but because I do. It will find its readers in its own way, but I’d be very grateful for anyone getting the word out, as well as for reviews as and when folks have read it.

Links to US and UK Amazon pages below.

https://www.amazon.com/Hallowed-Hollow-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1544615779/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hallowed-Hollow-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1544615779/

And then this happened…

And then this happened…

And then this happened…

It has only taken three years (almost) since the publication of the Kindle version, but finally there is a paperback of Square Peg! I began the process in July 2014 but could not, for some reason, get the wretched thing to work, and it became a bogey-man, haunting me with the failure. Better not to look at it, I felt, and hoped it went away. But folks kept asking me if I were going to do a paperback and I knew it needed doing.

For context, I published the Kindle version only weeks after my operation to remove the parathyroid tumour (the rogue gland formerly known as Dexter). I’d barely got my ducks in a row before the operation; one of the many hideous and insidious effects of the tumour is problems with cognitive function. Memory (especially short term memory) is impaired, as is the ability to learn new skills. I still have odd gaps in my memory from that time, from where my poor beleaguered brain wasn’t able to lay those memories down properly. They’re probably still drifting round distant corridors, looking for the right shelf. Once the gash in my throat had healed, I think it was assumed that everything would go back to normal. However, I had a long climb back to health still to go, because I’d lost a lot of good muscle and stamina, as well as a lot of other issues, some of which may never get better (due to the effects of Joint Hypermobility Syndrome, which I am now sure is a part of Ehler-Danlos Syndrome). So my attempts to get out a paperback of a fairly hefty book were ambitious, to say the least.

It’s done now. The cover is slightly different from the Kindle version, because the lettering at the top was going to be cut off by the process of printing and binding. It looks and feels rather gorgeous, too. There is a sense of having climbed a mountain that had previously defeated me.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Square-Peg-Vivienne-Tuffnell/dp/1500608882/

Anyway, lots of useful lessons learned (about gutters and so on!) that I have used for two more projects that you’ll hear more about soon. One is a surprise baby, completely unexpected, but in many ways, perfectly timed. That’ll be pretty soon, I think. The other is Little Gidding Girl, which has taken not only steps but leaps and bounds towards getting itself off my hard drive and out into the world to meet you all.

All I need now is for my writing mojo to stage a return or a resurrection and we’re good to go!

The fear of imperfection is a paralysing thing ~ some musings on the process of “settling”

The fear of imperfection is a paralysing thing ~ some musings on the process of “settling”

I’ve been stuck so long I thought I might begin to fossilise in the crevice between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps I have. Imagine me stretching and cracking and shedding lots of gravel as I move slowly into the light, a troll restored to pre-dawn mobility. Now to find a bridge to hide under and wait for billy-goats.

Where was I?

Oh yes.

A couple of years ago, I started doing a paperback copy of Square Peg. After the first proof copies arrived, I gave up. Analysing it now, I can see why I gave up. It ties in with my love-hate-love-loathe affair with books and especially book-shops. In the last few years I have walked round most bookshops in almost physical pain. Some of the pain is sheer angst and anger that my books will never be on the shelves, but once we get past that little matter, the pain is harder to pin down. Books are exquisite things. Truly. Even if you never open it, a new book is a joy to behold; the paper, the colours, the very scent.. all delightful. But I’ve had a sort of recoil: it’s all too much these days. In a bid to woo (woo, woo!) potential readers, publishers have gone to extraordinary lengths to impress. Shelves and tables in Waterstones are like courtship dances of myriad birds of paradise made paper. They dazzle, they en-trance, they entice… and then I sicken. What about the words inside? The blurbs do the same: blind you with careful and clever constructions, teasing and dancing with your love of intrigue and the promise of losing yourself in another world.

And I find myself withdrawing like an anemone, springing my tentacles back into my being, and feeling oddly stung and put off. I almost yearn for the Zen-like simplicity of the old Penguin classics, Spartan and uncompromising. I don’t buy books very often in person these days; when I do, it’s usually from our very excellent Book Hive in Norwich, or the book shop in Diss, and it’s often non-fiction and often poetry. I am bewildered by the choices on offer, and the creeping sense of being bamboozled into parting with hard earned cash for novels that nearly always leave me disappointed. It’s the same online, too: everywhere you look, someone is flashing you their books, bright, beautifully designed and presented, begging you to take them, take them NOW.

And I knew in my heart of hearts I cannot compete. I cannot compete with those book-birds of paradise gracing the front tables in Waterstones, clad in their wrappers embossed with gold ink and perpetual promise. I cannot compete with the array of books online, perfectly presented, designed, advertised and endorsed to the hilt with a thousand glowing reviews and (because everyone suspects ALL five stars) a smattering of 3s and 2s and a single one star (which we all know is malicious, don’t we?) I cannot make my books look like those; I do not have the resources, either in terms of skills or of money to hire those skills, and so I gave up.

Some might read that and think, buck up, stop whining. To them I would say… well, I won’t say what I would say. It would be rude.

I could not proceed because I could not emulate the perfection on display and so felt I could go no further. When I began publishing, it was OK to be a little home-made about it all. But in the six years since then, everything has become alarmingly “professional”. One is exhorted not to let the side (i.e. other indie writers) down by being less than slick in your quest to be as good as the traditional publishing industry. It’s even made me sometimes wish I actually had a publishing deal so that I could step away from the other side of being a writer. But the memory of how appallingly ill sending in submissions made me in the past, stops me going there again. I’m hanging on to the last shreds of sanity and dignity as it is.

So, today, I tackled that paperback again. I fiddled and messed and waited and fiddled some more, and right now I am waiting for an email saying the cover is approved. It’s not going to look like one of those astonishing book-birds on show in Waterstones, but it looks nice. It works. And moreover, even though I sell very few paperbacks, it needs to be out there, even if no-one ever buys it.

I also wrestled the new book almost to the point of conquering it, and making it ready to start the process of uploading, first to Createspace and a paperback version. There’s a few more bits to do, and I’ve had a very kind offer of some words of praise to put on the back too, from another author I respect greatly (once she’s had a chance to read it and decide whether she does want to endorse it, that is. I’m cool if she decides not to, after all). Little Gidding Girl is all about settling, too, of realising that what you have is pretty damned excellent, and that all the other paths you might have walked may not have been the sunlit, joy-filled ones you imagine them to be.

People speak of “settling” as if it is a bad thing, but it’s not. Sometimes it’s the only way forward, to accept things as they are and work with them, because solid reality is something one can live with, and work on, whereas dreams and moonshine and unrealistic ambitions keep you moon-struck and paralysed. It’s been my fear of imperfection that’s kept me locked in this glacier-like stasis, locked like a flattened mammoth stunned by a wall of ice; the fear of being ridiculed for the odd typo, for less-than-stunning covers, for daring to be a tiny bit rough around the edges and thereby tainting others by my lack of care. Someone, somewhere, will always find a comma out of place and throw the book at a wall. Every traditionally published book I have bought in the last ten years has had at least one little issue, be it typo or rogue apostrophe. In the end, my only way to break out of my crevice in the rock is to admit: I’m not perfect, I’m never going to be perfect and neither are my books.

So. Watch this space.