Side-steps and topaz

I did write a review of 2017 but it was at 3am on New Year’s Day and perhaps not at my full faculties so I removed it. I suppose it was a weird and wonderful year. Married my best friend and discovered a new passion, the former not just the highlight of the year but of my life alongside the Arrival of the Chimp, the latter a much needed vitamin injection that, just like I’d hoped, has triggered my creativity again. Stones still fall out but each piece is a little better than the last and I suppose the beauty of learning as you go along is that you discover all the little ways of correcting mistakes and the more you make, the more creative all those ways are. I love it. Not ready to out-do Tiffany’s just yet, but really chuffed with where it’s all going.

Perhaps this new passion and my love for making things with my hands, as well as wordsmithing, is not particularly surprising given I come from a family that on both sides is jam packed with artists, sculptors, poets, authors, painters and every variety of creative folk you could imagine – our cupboards are full of table cloths sown and embroidered by my grandmothers, knitted jumpers, hats, gloves and socks, crocheted bed spreads… Not to mention my parents’ houses that have countless wooden furniture made by generations gone. Well, my stepdad – a brilliant carpenter – is still around, but it seems handicraft and workmanship is increasingly a thing of the past and therefore it feels even more precious to me. My brother D also seems to, like me, have it in his blood, and his latest passion is making hunting knives complete with the leather sheaths that are anything but plain. He is quite simply nothing short of amazing. But yes, it’s very much in our DNA.

So I’m making use of the late afternoons from when I get home around 3.30pm to around 6pm. On the one hand the process drives me insane – you cannot rush it – yet at the same time the process is what I love the most. You cannot side-step annealing the metal when you have worked it too much and it’s too hard to manipulate without softening it again. You cannot take a short cut through letting soldered pieces soak in the acid. Sure, you could do all this like most do – mass production and from moulds, everything automated down to stone setting – but that’s not what I want. Every single piece is handmade from scratch and therefore, even if I am making five silver rings all the same size and same thickness wire and all with the same type of stone, no two pieces are identical. And I love that. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I’m sure, but it’s definitely mine.

Tonight I’m finishing off two rings and will – if there is enough time – saw, file and anneal the silver for another four pendants, I have a couple of ideas I’m keen to try out. Soldering the delicate bezel cups to the pendant itself is a painstaking process as the cups will melt quite literally a fraction of a second after the solder does, but I am loving the results and the two rose quartz pendants I made yesterday morning I think look really nice. I think against tanned skin (as opposed to someone as pasty pale as I am right now in the middle of winter) they will look amazing. The pendant with the orange topaz however, I think will look its best against skin even paler than mine.

Still have some vouchers for the precious metal and stone supplier that B got me for Christmas but will use up the stash I already have, which should be enough for another ten rings (if I waste NOTHING!) and probably also another ten pendants.


Maseratis and keeling over

My problem: unless I am under enormous pressure and have Satan breathing down my neck, I am the laziest and most unmotivated chick you’ll ever meet in your life. And this is just it – my life is too damn comfortable. It’s just too easy for me to bob along, have everything come easy, live the good life and just enjoy doing cool stuff with my husband and son. Don’t get me wrong – I am so happy it’s just… …STUPID. It’s really quite ridiculous. Then again, joy is my default setting, I get it from my dad I think (the guy is  unbearably cheerful) and it just seems to be my nature to look on the bright side of life. Now, that’s not a bad thing. I’m just saying.

So I wake up every morning feeling happiness and gratitude, and how could I not? I’m truly blessed. No, I haven’t bought a Maserati yet (a GranCabrio in midnight blue, per favore), nor do I own a holiday home on Waihi Beach (YET!) but that’s just a matter of time and until then I have everything I could ever possibly need or want as things stand. But what I have discovered is this: as wonderful as it is to be emotionally fulfilled and have these two (B and Monkey) along with living where we live, blessed with amazing friends and family and have the life that we do, I need something else to fire me up. Hence I have hit a point where I feel incredibly restless and a little flat. I need a focus, goals… ….what I need is PRESSURE! I want to achieve. It’s one thing to strive to be a good person (and for the large part I believe I am), to be kind and empathetic and so on, but I think we all to some extent want to do well beyond our personal qualities whether it be having expert knowledge in some field or coming home each day knowing we really made a difference somehow. Just be able to say: “I did that”!

Before I met B I spent some years as a single mother in this insanely expensive city that is Londinium, so I know what I can be and achieve when I’m under tremendous amounts of pressure and stress to make things work. I know that I am a BADASS when I have to be.

There it is! When I HAVE to be.

So, the time has come to set some goals and targets and form a plan for the near future. B and I have been together for four years and a few months (and yes, we still celebrate every month – we just celebrated 51 months – cheesy, eh) and so we are ready for the next stage. These first few years were building stones and we’re currently cruising on a comfortable plateau having last year bought a home and this year got hitched.

My goal: in two years from now make a nice little income from making jewellery (I will in three month’s time be able to call myself a silversmith, and after that a Diploma course awaits and progressing on to more precious metals and stones) and the rest of the time focus on writing. That should nicely bring me back into an existence where I once again feel productive, that I’m achieving and that I’m doing something really worthwhile. That and getting super fit! I think at 41 I’m still at a stage where I am probably able to achieve something pretty awesome. Don’t get me wrong, I like ME, but I’m curious to see if I could go a little drastic and tickle the fitness fanatic in me (if that fanatic exists – perhaps I’ll just discover that I just LIKE exercise but won’t LOVE massive amounts of it). I don’t intend to turn bodybuilder or aim for no body fat or be a size zero or anything stupid like that, but just see what I might be able to do within reasonable limits. After a summer spent celebrating, my first two runs this week felt like death. Actually, they were not as bad as I thought it’d be but death nonetheless. I know it won’t take long though and hopefully in the next couple of weeks I’ll be able to run, say, 5k without keeling over. We’ll see. It’s a start.

Our goal: we’ve set up a budget, which was pretty scary as it showed not only how much we could (and should!) save without forsaking random trips, holidays, nice clothes and several date nights every month, it also showed how we fritter money away like it’s confetti. So a bit more focus and if we just hold back a LITTLE – honestly, there are no big changes required, just a few small adjustments – we should with good margin be able to buy a decent holiday home in Sweden within five years should we choose to. I’m more keen on NZ, but no need to decide. Who knows what, when or even if – all we know is that if we just keep to this little plan, the ‘how’ isn’t going to be an issue.

For now, I will continue to appreciate a lovely Plan B job that I do enjoy and that the people I work for are lovely so there is – as I said before – no reason for me to complain, I simply don’t have anything to complain about, but I just need stuff to happen! I’m no good at this cruising phase we find ourselves in. What to be careful about also is how fired up I get starting things off – I’m so awesome at that bit! What career would allow me to do that? Be the proverbial firestarter? Anyway, it’s applying the plan, follow it and stick at it I suck at. Feeling very, very determined so time will tell… It usually does.

Sniffles and Beans

Eurgh. Definitely have a cold looming – I’m sniffly and I have a slight headache. Monkey woke up with a sharp cough and his little forehead felt warm after we got back from school. I suppose it’s the season for it, and I usually end up with a bit of a cold any time there’s a change in temperature and it’s definitely got a lot colder over the past week. Most of the time, it only gets to the stage I’m at right now – i.e. when it feels like I’m about to be hit by a terrible cold, but it doesn’t amount to any more than that, just a little sniffle and a headache.

Like last week, this week is starting out great as far as Alice goes, and today I’ve written another chapter that I’m really pleased with. B had some really useful feedback that I completely agree with, but needed pointing out to me as I’d missed considering those things whilst writing. It’s really starting to take shape and I’m at the half way mark. Oh, I know, the real hard slog is ahead of me, but to be honest I’d rather be at a stage where I’m going back to rewrite, reconsider and retool the story and its parts, than be at the beginning of that first draft with all those chapters and scenes in front of me. I find the blank page a lot more daunting than having to tidy up a bunch of pages that may be a little messy.

And messy it is – I have still to iron out a few inconsistencies in terms of dates and timelines, along with characters’ ages, but that’s nothing near as bad as having to rework a character’s whole personality and/or motivation. I struggle to settle on how old Alice should be. 29? 33? 36? Once I have that figured out, I guess I can just work backwards from there.

Monday, Monday… B’s had his budget presentation today, but texted me a couple of times to say it was going well. Going to get dinner going soon so it’s ready by the time he gets back. Then Made in Chelsea and an early night. He has another budget presentation day ahead of him tomorrow, but after that it’ll be out of the way, so tomorrow I’m going to take him out for drinks and de-stress. He’s incredibly good tempered for someone who claims to be stressed and tense at the moment, but then he’s very laid back in general, so I suppose it’d be weird if he suddenly started acting the way I do when I’m stressed out. I just can’t handle it, which is ironic as I’m actually a lot better when the pressure is on. Although, I guess stress and pressure are two different things. I just get snappy and irritable if I’m on edge.

Monkey once again nagged me today, on our way back from school, to let him walk there and back on his own. He’s ten. When I was ten I cycled to school on my own, as well as cycling from my mum’s to my dad’s, which was a good 7-8 kilometres. Difference being, however, that I grew up in a small village in countryside Sweden, where the most dangerous thing you could encounter would be…. Actually, there just didn’t seem to be any dangers. I was about to say ‘an angry moose’, but they don’t tend to be angry and are normally keen to avoid you. I know of course, that you don’t often hear about schoolboys who get kidnapped on their way to or from school, but Monkey just seems too young. Too small to defend himself should anything happen, and also he’s sometimes in his own little world and there are a couple of tricky crossings en route.

Perhaps in a year from now. Or hook up with his friend O’s mum – they live about half way to school from here, and I suppose I’d consider it more OK if I walked Monkey to O’s house and the two of them walked together from there. Gah! Noooooooooo I still don’t like it. Unfortunately for Monkey, I’ll probably feel the same way when he turns 42.

Right. A bit more on Alice and then on to dinner. A great session once again with R this morning, so I’m full of beans as usual!

Underwear and Just-Gonnas

You know you had a great night with the boyfriend when you get up and find all your clothes scattered all over the living room floor. Smiled to myself when I picked up my bra flung across the back of the sofa and fished out B’s underwear from underneath it. However, for as mind blowingly amazing as my love life is, my relationship with Alice has been a little up and down this week. Monday and Tuesday I couldn’t stop writing and ended up with two more chapters I felt really pleased with, but then it went a bit pear-shaped from there. Wednesday the goddamn bitch had gone AWOL and when I finally found her yesterday she just refused to cooperate.

I’m pretty much on target for my initial word count target of 7,000 words per week, but given how I’ve decided to have a first draft ready by the end of this month, I need to seriously get on it. At the 43,000-mark I find myself at, I need to knock out a further 57,000 if I want to head into December ready for criticism and the long editing process. And countless rejection letters too, no doubt, even though I’m not too worried about those – it’s the salt and pepper in any writer’s life, so hey ho.


B faithfully reads everything of course, and yesterday when we talked about it again, he raised a couple of really good points. Good because I agree with what he said, but bad because it’s giving me a bit of a headache. Why is Alice now suddenly BFFs with her elderly neighbour, when they’ve both lived in the building for the past 11 years but never before have exchanged so much as a ‘hello’? Of course, this is all clear in my head and it’s the very curse of writing a novel – show, not tell. I need to show it better, allow the reader to be privy to all the things that mean their somewhat unlikely friendship makes sense. I always knew it would be hard to write a book, and this is indeed something I do struggle with and always have done – it’s like when you know exactly where you’re going, but the person with you doesn’t, how you just assume they’ll magically just know that at the next corner you’re taking a left. I’m a bit like that when I write, I think.

I know where Alice is heading, along with all the others. I know them all inside out, but I think I sometimes fail to recognise that the reader doesn’t, and I need to iron out these kinks or it will be the strangest and most confusing book ever written, and only result in a growing pile of returned copies of the manuscript in self addressed envelopes from miffed literary agents.

This morning has been equally slow. Kept working on the chapter I started on yesterday, and although Alice isn’t as difficult to deal with today as she was yesterday, I once again find myself in that place where I’m finding a million other things to do. R keeps saying I should stop myself when this happens, stop and witness what’s actually going on – what’s the inner voice saying when this is going on? What’s really happening when I get to the just-gonna-read-the-news-first stage…. Just-gonna-do-some-laundry-first, or just-gonna-clean-the-kitchen, or whatever the ‘just-gonna’ is just then.

The terrifying thing is I’m scared to check. What if the inner voice just tells me that the reason I’m not getting on with the writing just now is because I’m no good and I have nothing to say? No, that’s not it. Gosh, what’s up with me today? It’s rare that I have moments when I feel down on Alice, but perhaps I should just recognise it for what it is – a few down days. We all have them, I’m sure.

B’s working from home and is on conference call #2 of the morning, it’s budget season and he’s got his uh-oh serious voice on, all loud and baritone. Sexy. He’s sexy even with that handle bar tash on his face, wearing pyjama bottoms and a dressing gown. I don’t know any other human being who can still be insanely hot with a tash like that. God, there must be something wrong with me. Or, as more likely is the case, I just happened to bag myself the most wonderful man to ever walk the planet.

Nerves and Back Slapping

And so they’re finally here, our visitors from Sweden for a long weekend – dad and my youngest brother P. Because Monkey has a friend over this afternoon and that makes more of us than can fit into the car, B has gone off with dad and P to get some steak and salad for dinner, so I’m taking the opportunity to get the morning pages done even though, once again, it’s actually late afternoon and in candle light just like yesterday.

It’s hard not to be too gushing when I write about dad, hard not to go all OTT lovey when I talk about my father who I adore so much. Yesterday he blew me away by paying me what’s probably the best compliment I’ve ever had, and today he surprised me again. Actually, I nearly fell off my chair. Someone must have prompted him, and I’m starting to suspect it might have been B.

Don’t get me wrong – my father would do anything for me and I have always known that, so I have never questioned his unconditional love for me. It’s just that he’s a very pragmatic man, and so to him, this book writing leap I’ve taken is simply something he can’t relate to, never mind understand. But perhaps I was wrong about that, unless of course B is behind what happened just a couple of hours ago.

B and P went out to the garden for a game of football with Monkey and his little friend, and dad and I just sat down and chatted away. And at the point in the conversation when I expected him to start the how-much-income-do-you-bring-in line of questioning, he dropped the bomb:

How’s the writing going? What’s the book about?

I nearly choked. That’s just not the sort of thing my dad asks. Not because he doesn’t care, but simply because he just isn’t wired to ‘get’ stuff like that. He’s all about 40-hour weeks and income vs out-goings.

If you want to tell me obviously, don’t feel you have to!” he added.

I’d love to!” I shrieked in my excitement.

And then I went on to tell him all about Alice, suddenly found I was nervous and it all came spluttering out and probably made no sense at all. But he listened intently, nodding and smiling. A first! Or perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps I have just underestimated just how much he actually IS interested. I’ve just always assumed that he’s been the father I’ve always seen – the father who isn’t impressed by flights of fancy or titles or qualifications or big salaries. The father who values hard work, be it cleaning toilets or running the country. So long as you work hard, he cares less about what it is you work hard at. So writing and the creative fields in general are probably a bit whimsical to him.

I don’t care if this was prompted. It meant the world to be to get to pitch Alice to my hero, and even though it was just a while ago and therefore very fresh in my memory, I doubt I’ll ever forget the way he looked at me as I stuttered and stammered my way through Alice’s quest. It’s a little daunting to pitch your ideas to someone you’ve got on a pedestal all your life, no matter how secure you feel about that person adoring you. It unsettled me – in a good way! – and made me really awkward. Nervous, at the same time as it meant more to me and made me happier than I could possibly put into words.

It’s lovely to have them here. My dad usually wants to use any boyfriends for target practice – i.e. THEM being the target – but he loves B. You can always tell with him. When the back slapping starts, that means he approves. And he slaps B on the back a LOT. Actually, they’ve been gone for nearly an hour – no way would a trip to the butcher’s and Waitrose take this long – so chances are they’re in a pub. It’s lovely that they all get on so well and like each other so much, so if that’s the case then I’m happy – both because I got some writing time and because I think it’s important that they get time to chat without me there. I spoke too soon, I can hear them outside through the open window. My father’s booming laughter carries for miles, and B’s deep voice is unmistakable. I can hear P laughing too.

Full Throttle and Wide Grins

Hardly ‘morning pages’ as it’s late afternoon, but half term has turned out to be a busy time with play dates and sleepovers, and it’s only now that I’m allowing myself a moment of me-time. It’s a rainy autumn afternoon, so I think candle light is in order. There. Much better.

29 Oct 2014 pic

Have gone around the place like a frantic cleaning tornado – floors are still to be done, but I need a little break from the manic scrubbing and wiping. My dad and my youngest brother arrive tomorrow, so our little blended family unit of three are preparing ourselves for having the hurricane that is my father around for a long weekend. There isn’t another person as intense as he is. One volume setting: LOUD. One speed: FULL THROTTLE. One emotion: JOY. One substance to his heart: GOLD.

My whole life, my dad’s been my hero, the one person I look up to more than anyone else. Perhaps that’s why I have this deeply rooted need to win his approval. It was only today, this afternoon, that I realised that there’s no point trying to win it – I already have it. Did all along. This is the thing. With the people you love, you have to accept that they might not always show their love for you in exactly the way that you crave it.

For example, Monkey’s never been a particularly affectionate kid. He’s just not the type of child who’s ever snuggled up loads or needed physical affection in that way. Sure, he’ll come up and hug me (sometimes I even get a kiss on the cheek), but mostly that’s just not his way. But I’m still his number one and I know he loves me just as much as I love him and I therefore can’t gauge it by the number of hugs. Just like my father will never EVER understand why I quit a well paid job to pursue something as flimsy as writing a book – it’s not that he doesn’t believe in me, it’s just something he cannot relate to. He’s a bank director at heart (retired early a few years ago, but old habits die hard) and so he measures up debit and credit and is ruled by sense and sensibility.

Telling my father that, oh sure, I’m messing up my CV irreversibly by taking this leap but it will pay off, holds no water. He doesn’t place bets, he takes no chances. Could I afford the bills on my own if B were to drop dead tomorrow? Where’s my safety net? It doesn’t matter that I can assure him ‘yes’ on both scores, because what he sees is something he can’t reconcile. The balance sheet in his eyes makes no sense.

Last time we were in Sweden I was bursting to tell him about the book I’m writing, I was dying to tell him all about Alice and how his precious Falla comes into it too. He just didn’t get it. I started by telling him that I’ve incorporated the place that means more to him than anything else. He asked how I’m bringing in money, then announced he had to get going. At first I felt frustration, felt annoyed that he just didn’t hear me out and a little sad that this story I’m so passionate about was something that triggered no interest whatsoever in my father – the one person I want to impress the most.

It was only today, this afternoon, weeks later, when we were on the phone to sign off the arrangements for tomorrow and pick-up at Heathrow, that it all finally sunk in and I – at the age of 38 – discovered that just because my father doesn’t do a song and a dance each time I fart, he is truly my biggest fan and has all the faith in me that I never quite realised he did.

Can’t wait to see you,” I told him, towards the end of the conversation.

Likewise,” he boomed, his wide grin audible through his voice, “tell B to have the whiskey at the ready.

Well. He doesn’t call B by his name anymore. He calls him “puss och kram” – Swedish for ‘kiss and hug’, which is one of the phrases B knows and says any time he’s on the phone to him. It’s their naff little in-joke.

Sure will. And I can’t wait to tell you about my book,” I told him and then held my breath without even realising that I had, perhaps the pessimist in me expecting him to dismiss me.

And then my wonderful father blew me away.

I probably won’t get it,” he said, matter-of-factly and my heart sank as it always does when I feel he isn’t taking me seriously, “but I know you, and I know that when you set your heart on something, you pull it off.

The world just went completely still as I took in the significance of his words. I couldn’t get a word out. The utter joy that exploded in my chest at that moment brought tears to my eyes.

Just be Anna,” he went on, “and as long as you’re Anna, you can wander through the world with your head held high.

So, the moral of the story is this: accept love for what it is, and recognise and treasure it, even if it doesn’t always manifest in the exact way you thought you needed it to. Just because it took a different form doesn’t mean it’s any less sincere or real.

Anna-Bashing and Action

Session with R over for this week and as usual there’s so much to consider and give serious thought. Things we’ve discussed several times before were addressed again and I think the most important points that I will take away from today and apply to this week’s writing are these:

  • Treat myself the way I treat others – being my best friend.
  • Look inwards when I falter and ask myself what I need RIGHT NOW.
  • Absolutely no room for Anna-bashing and instead face head on what’s stopping me.
  • Consider and set my intention before anything else.

The thing that struck me the most was R’s advice to really work out what’s distracting me – what’s that little voice in my head saying when I allow myself to be distracted. That, along with really working on bringing planning in to action, are my main goals for this week. And that should put me well on my way into November and kick-off this all important month with a healthy amount of work already written.

It’s amazing how much of my Writer’s Block I’ve managed to remove. When I decided to give this shot once and for all, there were so many obstacles in my way that I had placed there without even realising it. Now, even though I still find myself having down days – or even down WEEKS, like last week – I kind of know how to get going, and it takes less to shake myself out of it. These morning pages are one of those things and I have stuck at it religiously since I started – 20 minutes’ worth of brain dump every morning. Sure, sometimes it’s been mid-morning, afternoon or even evening before I’ve got to it, but that doesn’t matter, the main thing is that I’ve stuck with it and that in itself proves to me that I can stick to the novel too.

I mean, if I just consider that during the 20 minutes I write on average 700 words (fine, not novel worthy and mostly just my rambling nonsense, but it’s still me writing!!) and I’ve done so for the past two and a half months – sometimes I end up writing more, but let’s go on the 700 words per day. Including today’s, that’s 54,600 words. More than half a novel’s worth in two and a half months, based on a measly 20 minutes per day! So I can hardly blame any inability to come up with the words to create sentence after sentence, page after page.

Having planned Alice out in quite a detailed way also helps, as it means I don’t necessarily write it all in order – that helps massively too. And I know that no one has to read it until I say so, which means I don’t have to stare at the blank screen and think that everything I write has to be print ready – that has meant I can pretty much free write and then scrap whatever’s crap and keep whatever works.

And so, now we have the little Facebook group. R wondered if I’ve created yet another rod for my own back, and we went over the pros and cons. So long as I can keep it as a support forum and prevent it from a competitive environment where every writer almost tries to out-do the next, then I only see benefits. Well, as long as I don’t get cold feet – sometimes it can be off-putting to witness others fly when you’re struggling at one particular point or moment, and sometimes it can have the opposite effect. So I’ll keep in touch with the other chicks on there to voice those things as much as I can. There’s another forum for writers I now pretty much avoid as it’s not a fun place to be anymore, where it’s about promoting your own work and getting page views that matters rather than commenting on other articles and offering feedback. Not for me, I don’t thrive in those types of places, so a little lovey group to cheer each other on and take an interest in others’ progrees and celebrating it too is something I’d like a lot more.

Let’s just hope it turns out that way, and without being mean, I guess we have to be a little selective. Well – my only real stipulation is that the intention is to get a novel written and be there to both receive and offer support and advice, then that’s good enough.

So, here’s to a great week! It’s a beautiful Monday morning, autumn is showing its best side and I spent almost half an hour sitting on the balcony enjoying the morning sun. Now let’s kick some ass, I’m raring to go!