Meeting Expectations

You know, it never occurred to me when I was unpublished that being published in itself would constitute an enormous amount of pressure. Not in terms of keeping my career going – although I’m sure I’ll struggle with that at some point or another – or in terms of getting support from those close to me – I’ve been exceedingly lucky, there.

It’s meeting other people’s expectations of you.

When you’ve not been published, or people have never read your work, you’re okay. What’s the worst that could happen? They’ll read you and decide they don’t like what they see. Whoop-tee-doo, right?

Now I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to work with some remarkable writers and publishers, building the very beginnings of a reputation through my work (past and present), and allowing them to develop expectations of what I could or would do. The level of quality they could reasonable foresee.

Now let me clarify, first of all, that I’m not complaining. Having the faith and trust of people who are so much more accomplished, and so much more talented than I has been… Amazing.

But now I’ve set the bar, in their minds. A bar. Any bar at all. And I want my future work to reach that bar or exceed it, never fall below.

For me, there is no easy trick for dealing with the resultant stage fright; the only way out is through. Are you struggling? Do you have any special tips for dealing with a writer’s performance anxiety? Do share!

As for me, I’ll bite it back and get back to writing. It seems to be the only option.


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Hating your own work.

I’ll be honest; my process involves a lot of time spent hating what I’ve written. A lot. I convince myself that reading my own work will be like hearing my own voice (DO NOT WANT), and I spend ages wrestling myself into doing it anyway.

Isn’t it funny that I’ve spent nigh-on thirty years* knowing that’s just part of how I’m put together as a writer, and I’ve still not developed a better coping technique than, you know, oiling up and getting in that wrestling ring?

But when the hard work is done and my story is out there – midwifery, however traumatic, over with for the time being – it’s better. It’s better because hating it provides me with the impetus required to make it better.

Now, that might not be the case with you. It could be that you get from the first to the final draft without thinking this is the shittiest story ever to be written even once. It could be that, unlike me, you can keep up a constant positive stream of I am an amazing writer – something we all need at least some of the time to keep us motivated and confident enough to keep on moving forward.

But for me? For me, hating what I write is okay. It’s part of what I need to do to get my work honed to a point.

This blog post will hopefully serve to remind me, in the darker hours of re-writing, editing, and throwing my hands in the air whilst sighing and/or swearing explosively, that it’s okay.

You don’t always have to like what you’re producing. You can even loathe it with every fibre of your being. Just don’t give up. You’ll come out the other side sooner than you believe you will… And it will all be worth it.


* Yes, I know, I haven’t actually spent the entire thirty years of my life so far writing – it’s called artistic license, it’ll be fine.

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Happy birthday to me!

I’m 30 today. Actually, I’m still 29, by the skin of my teeth, as I write this. But when you read it, I’ll be 30.

A lot of people I know like to make a list of goals for their new age; I won’t. I made New Year’s resolutions not a month ago, so obviously those will still suit. But I do have some wishes.

I’ve had an interesting life, and I don’t always mean that in the positive way. There have been some dark days in the past (as there are in every life, when you come far enough) and there are undoubtedly dark days ahead (as, again, we all must expect and accept).

Over the past year, I’ve taken a lot of steps toward expanding my creative career, and I’ve enjoyed every single second of it (even the ones I hated). I’ve developed myself as a writer and I’ve grown into a routine that allows me to write what I want to. I’ve achieved some amazing things and worked with some fantastic people.

My life, as a writer, is so much fuller and more enjoyable. It’s become a huge part of my life; a change that’s perhaps best illustrated by the fact that today, I can comfortably call myself a writer. Only a year and a half ago, that simply wasn’t true.

So my wishes, in terms of my writing (because that is, after all, why you’re here), are for success. Not just for me, but also for the amazing writers I’ve discovered this year, who have become not only role models but also cherished friends.

Go to Amazon, and look for an author you haven’t heard of before. Take a gamble. Buy a book you don’t know about yet. Of course not every book is a nugget of gold, but you’ll get lucky more often than you might believe.

And I’m always willing to point you in the right direction… Just to get you started.

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Writing is scary. Right? And it’s scary to send your stories off and face possible rejection. But you know what else is scary?

This completely blindsided me, but… Having people who enjoyed your work is scary as hell. Because you’re sending them something new – the zombie story I’m currently working on for Open Casket Press, for example – and they already have a certain level they expect you to reach, because they enjoyed your previous work.

Now, I’m not sure there’s anything sillier to be afraid of, but there you go. I’d assumed the scariest thing would be trying to get a foot in the door, but it turns out that already having a foot in the door is way worse than trying to get it there. Or at least, that’s how I’m feeling right now (just wait till I’m trying to get my foot in the door somewhere again, I’ll go back to thinking that‘s way worse).

But being scared is no reason to stop. You kind of have to learn to ignore that little voice telling you you can’t do things… And push on regardless.

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Working with other writers.

I’m not massively experienced in working with other writers. When Richard (Salter) informed me that I’d be part of World’s Collider (which, months later, I’m still excited about), my only concern was that I’d be really bad at it – or maybe just hate it.

Yesterday, I spent some time talking to Steven Savile about my contribution to his forthcoming steampunk anthology, Empire of London (and yeah, I’ll still be excited about that a few months from now, too). Together, we gave a bit more shape to the pitch I sent in, and the story changed. He suggested a couple of things I really liked. And I realised something – I love it.

There’s a worry among many aspiring writers like myself, that working with someone removes your control and your ability to write as, and what, you want. But the truth of the matter is that when you find the right people (and in this I have been exceedingly lucky), you can take their contributions as a positive influence and understand that, as long as they’re improving the finished product, the collaboration is a positive one.

I’m working on a couple of things I’m doing without anyone else’s input, of course. I guess most writers always will be. But working together with other writers and with the overarching guidance of an anthology’s editor has been a really positive experience so far.

My friend, Dustin Poms (who is both an accomplished artist and an amazing writer), provides a similar sort of service. We kick ideas back and forth via email, and it makes a huge difference to developing the concept that’s already in your head. Sometimes I’ll say something silly, and he’ll ask if he can use that for a story in the future; sometimes the opposite happens. I think a lot of the time, the benefit is not having an active participant but having a suitable sounding board; someone equipped to absorb what you’re saying and bounce it back in a new light (because mixed metaphors are amazing).

So what I’m saying is, don’t shy away from collaborative projects. You can retain your individuality and so can your writing… But you stand to gain amazing new insights and ideas that will put an entirely new spin on your story’s development.

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The importance of networking.

I’ve always written, to some extent. Not always in English (I was raised in Dutch and actually learned French before I learned English), but always in some capacity or another. Even when I’m not physically writing, I’m thinking up crazy stories, usually scary or disturbing ones, and until I was about 16 I was worried that there was something wrong with me mentally because I had a constant, ongoing third-person narrative running in the background.

But 2011 showed me a very different side to writing, one many budding writers seem to be unaware of. Networking.

You already know (and if you don’t, you can read my earlier entries) that my participation in World’s Collider and subsequent publishing by Opencasket Press were down to a chance meeting on Facebook. Clearly, networking served me very well in that instance.

But you know how it all started? With voluntary work. I did some editing, proofreading and general all-round dogsbodying* for Hirst Books, which helped to make that connection and eventually developed into a paying, if sporadic, gig that led to my ability to make it as a freelance writer.

On another, but similar note: my short story, Shadows, which has been published in the anthology Horror Carnival, was a freebie. I basically gave it away… And built some goodwill in the process (as well as, obviously, adding another publication to my CV as a writer). What’s more; I had a publisher express interest in my zombie-novel-in-progress as a result.

It’s easy, as a writer, to get hung up on money and whatnot. Don’t underestimate the value of doing things for free… It may well end up being a career-building move.

* By far the best part of being a writer is making up new words whenever you need them.

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Happy New Year, everybody!

Early on in 2011, I turned to my husband. “Honey,” I said, “I’m going to be a professional writer.”

He looked up from the food he was preparing and looked at me. For a moment there was silence, while he thought over what I’d just said.

“Okay,” he replied calmly, “Let me know what you need.”


This is the end of 2011, and I am a professional writer. My wish for everyone this New Year’s Eve is that you may either find, or already have, someone who supports you so unconditionally and completely as to help you make your dreams come true.

Have a good one, everyone!

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A late Christmas post…

I learned to write with a fountain pen. Well, that’s not entirely true; I taught myself to write shortly after I taught myself to read, when I was very small but already as stubborn as I was going to get, and desperate for a never-ending stream of stories. But when I finished nursery school, I was given a Waterman fountain pen with pineapples all over it, and from that moment onward I was to write with a fountain pen.

I haven’t owned one for a very long time. I like medium-sized nibs, because they make the pen glide and I like the wider lines. I used ballpoints, because they were cheap and I was poor. And most of my writing never saw much hand-written work; I just typed it all straight into my computer.

But I missed it. And I added a fountain pen to my Amazon wishlist, and hoped someone would buy it for me this Christmas.

My husband, in his ever-lasting wisdom, couldn’t find the link to my wishlist. He did ask a mutual friend, but basically ended up winging it. He gave me a Walking Dead board game – which I can heartily recommend and which our zombie-hating friend (I know, isn’t it weird that I even let these people into my house?!) had to admit was really fun – and a Haynes manual for the Millennium Falcon, a calligraphy set and some stocking-stuffers…

And a Parker fountain pen with a medium nib.

“It’s just that writing is what you love, and what you want to do with your life,” he said.

I’ve begun writing my first drafts in fountain pen. And you know what? It’s making a huge difference. It’s bringing me closer to the story, and because I’m writing a lot more slowly it’s forcing me to slow down and consider what I’m writing while I’m writing it (which I usually don’t do during a first draft).

But most of all… Most of all, it’s reminding me that Christmas isn’t about the monetary value of what you give and receive, but about showing someone you love that you know a way to make them that little bit happier.

I hope all of your Christmases (all 2 of you, I’m talking to you!) were amazing, too.

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From ‘Once Upon a Time’ to ‘Happily Ever After.’

One of the hardest things for me to get used to, as a writer, was my process. I had this idea – and I’ve seen it reflected in a huge number of writers and aspiring writers – that you write one single draft and then that’s perfect as it stands.

Of course, I read books about writing or articles on perfecting style, and they all mentioned how instrumental it was to write multiple drafts and edit scrupulously, but I had this complete and utter, “That doesn’t apply to me, because I’m pretty damned special,” attitude.

Then I decided to start writing more seriously – to turn it into something I worked hard at, rather than something I shook out of my sleeve every now and again. And wouldn’t you believe it? It made a huge difference.

I made my husband read a first draft, once. Having written it, I was full of new-baby smugness. “Behold, for I have made it, and it shall be great!” I cried as he bent toward the laptop and peered at the letters I had artfully (or so I thought) arranged.

My husband, you should know, is honest to a fault, sometimes. It makes for an intriguing combination with the fact that he’s also a complete and utter troll, but that aside, for a moment… I realised he wasn’t too impressed, and reminded him that I wanted his honest opinion.

He looked at me, sombre. “I hate it, babes,” he said. And he began to list the reasons why.

[I feel that I must stop here to explain that this is precisely why I asked him for his input. I really did want honest feedback, and I wanted to know what he thought, rather than what I wanted him to think. If, however, you feel this may enrage the crap out of you – pick someone else, yeah?]

I had to wait a little while. That “I made something, therefore it is GRAND” feeling had been wounded, and my first internal response was a senseless and protective anger. I let that die down – it took about ten minutes – and then began to think about the things he’d said. And damn the luck – it all made sense.

He loved the story, he said, but he hated the way it was told. A bunch of it had (unsurprisingly, to anyone who knows me even a little) descended into needless profanity. There were a number of other issues with it, which I can’t remember but which were nevertheless embarrassingly real.

I re-wrote the story. And then I edited it. And suddenly I realised my writing was a million times better when I put in the work. And that having the best finished product possible is a lot more important than being able to do it in a single draft.

Nowadays, I write anywhere between two and four drafts – completely, from scratch, every time. And then I edit. And I edit some more. And I edit some more. It takes a lot longer, and sometimes I just get sick of the story I’m working on. But when I’m done with something, I’m done.

I guess writing is like anything else – you’re never done growing, and you’re never done learning. But if I could give every writer, aspiring or not so much, a single piece of advice, it would be to develop a process that puts in the work and reaps the rewards of that work.

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Ah! Eek!

Since Richard Salter linked here from my interview with James Moran, I guess I’d better have some actual content. Oops!

So sorry to those who clicked and caught me here in a blog’s version of a state of undress – I have a lot on my plate, right now, and like so many others I sacrifice my blog first and foremost in the struggle for time-in-which-to-do-things. I’m terribly ashamed of myself, and you can expect a post with 100 iterations of the sentence, “I’VE BEEN A VERY NAUGHTY GIRL,” sometime in the future (at a handily unspecified time that will forever remain there).

So, here are the details, for now. A sort of blogospherical CV, if you will.

I write sci-fi, horror and anything in between. Once upon a not-so-long-ago, a man called Richard Salter added me, on Facebook. I saw that we shared a writer and a publisher in our friends lists and confirmed the add, figuring one can never have too many industry contacts… Right?

And then Richard changed my career. Ever so slightly. First by posting calls for writers to work with him on World’s Collider, a shared-world sci-fi anthology set in the near future and soon to become alt-history (or so we who know what happens hope most fervently!), then by taking a gamble and welcoming me aboard despite my rather astonishing ability to render a summary of any story as boring and lifeless as a clump of forgotten hair in the shower drain.

Oh, and he’s responsible for my following Open Casket Press who have published a short story I had lying around in their Horror Carnival anthology (American link here).

And now, since Richard was short on time, I volunteered to do some interviewing on his behalf for the series of World’s Collider interviews.

Life is sweet, you guys.

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