My top five radio interview tips for not sounding like a halfwit

A few weeks back I chatted with Samantha and Gordon Napier from Book, Stage & Screen about The Royal Companion and indie publishing. I was incredibly lucky to have such warm and funny hosts, because it turns out that I get nervous during interviews. Not just ‘ooh my heartbeat has increased’ kind of nervous, but the ‘I have forgotten what my book is about and sweat is pouring from my hands’ kind of nervous. I learned a few valuable lessons for next time which I thought I would share in hope that it might help someone else on their marketing journey.

  1. Take a copy of your book description with you. Yep, I probably would have felt ridiculous referring to a piece of paper when asked the question: ‘What is your book about?’ But I tell you, it felt much more ridiculous rabbiting on about an unnamed girl that was sold to some royal family in an alternate-world that I forgot to mention.
  2. Breathe. I think I took about three breaths in the twenty minutes I was there, which in hindsight was not ideal. I am fairly confident that had I oxygenated my brain, it would have improved my ability to produce coherent thoughts. This also caused me to swallow at awkward intervals – because I was literally gulping for air.
  3. Practice answering questions about yourself out loud. It never occurred to me to practice talking about myself out loud. In hindsight this probably would have helped a lot.
  4. Prepare for an abrupt start. Your hosts do not have time to coax you out of your blanket fort. When you hear, ‘Our next guest is…’, the first question will land shortly after – so find your tongue.
  5. Do not fill silences with verbal diarrhoea. Like when someone asks you how to spell you name, just spell it and then shut-up. Don’t go on to make bird noises. I realised as I listened to the interview that I often rambled through silences that were probably necessary for transitioning between questions and speakers. Next time I know to answer the question and then let the host fill the silences with intelligent input.

I’m sure I could pick the interview apart and find weeks worth of blog content, but I’m also aware that I tend to scrutinise myself rather harshly with these type of things, and it probably wasn’t as bad as I told myself.

If anyone wants to have a listen, here it is…

 

For any locals interested, Book, Stage and Screen airs Thursdays 12-2pm on 88.9 Wyn FM. Samantha and Gordon discuss the world of book, stage and screen in Melbourne’s west and beyond. Previously recorded shows can be found here.

For those that were playing ‘Count the Awkward Swallows’ at home, the correct answer is 7529 unnecessary gulpy-swallows.

Let’s talk about one-star reviews

This blog is a safe space for me to speak honestly about all aspects of writing, and this week I want to talk about something that many writers don’t – one-star reviews.

I understand why authors don’t want to talk about them. A one-star review feels a bit like being stabbed through the chest with a blunt object. That sounds uncomfortable, right? Unfortunately for authors, it’s a necessary part of the writing process. It would be weird if we all liked the same stuff, and reviews are an important tool in helping readers navigate the abundance of choice. I knew how it worked going into this – it’s one of the reasons I was so terrified of publishing. While I have been fortunate to have had only a few readers absolutely HATE my first effort, enough to leave a one-star rating, it certainly will not be the last time it happens.

Right now I am working on becoming more resilient. I’m growing a thicker skin. How does one do this? I can’t speak for other authors (the ones with good sense and self-control over their sugar and booze intake), but I’ve been reading all of the one-star reviews of my favourite authors, and its proving to be a helpful tactic. Seeing authors who I have on my bookshelf, being torn apart by their readers, and then getting on with the business of writing more books, is extraordinary.

So, I thought I would share a few quotes from some of the most scathing one-star reviews I have come across during my resilience training. These are pretty savage, so if you are offended by swearing, you should probably watch this video of cute puppies instead. My mouth no longer dries up with fear when I read these, which indicates progress. But in an attempt to tone it down, and hold onto my PG blog rating for a little while longer, I have exchanged the really offensive phrases with the word ‘chicken’.

If you’re still with me, good for you. Below are my top five one-star scathing review quotes.

Please note: I have not named the reviewers for fear that they will find me and review my books – I’m not that resilient yet.

5. Slammed by Colleen Hoover

This is a book about poetry
That doesn’t like to show us things
It tells us it’s speshul
It tells us it’s different
When really it’s just the same old ‘chicken’.

4. Fallen by Lauren Kate

‘[The characters] do nothing but wander around, angst, ‘chicken’ each other over passive-aggressively, whine, angst some more, ‘chicken’ each other over some more, whine again, kiss like something from a cheap Harlequin knock-off and then BAM! Get on a private plane and fly straight into the core of the sun.

Oh, if only I were so lucky.’

3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

‘This book was a ‘chicken’ing slog.

That probably sounds strange coming from someone who read the entirety of The Divine Comedy three times for sport, but damn; I’ll take biblical poetry any day over this ‘chicken’ wreck.’

2. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

‘WHAT THE ‘CHICKEN’ IS THIS RAPEY, ABUSE-APOLOGIST BULL’CHICKEN’ERY? I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M MORE UPSET ABOUT, THAT IT’S IN HERE, THAT I ACTUALLY LIKED THIS ‘CHICKEN’ING DOUCHECOPTER AT FIRST, OR THAT I’M SUPPOSED TO JUST “GET OVER IT” LIKE HIS WIFE DOES, VALIDATE HIS ABUSE, LIKE HIS WIFE DOES, AND IMMEDIATELY FORGIVE HIM, LIKE HIS WIFE DOES. ‘

 1. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

‘Jesus ‘chicken’ing rollerblading Christ.

You wanna read a book about two of the most self-centered ‘chickens’ in the history of literature? READ THIS BOOK.

Self-centered ‘chicken’ sadist with a hero complex meets self-centered ‘chicken’ masochist with princess syndrome. They fall in love and their theme song is ‘CHICKEN’ EVERYONE ELSE. They’ll probably dance to it at the wedding, wide smiles on their ‘chicken’ faces as they ‘chicken’ing tango across the graves of those they sacrificed on the altar of their love.’

*crickets chirping*

Not entirely sure what to follow that up with. Haters gonna hate, right? I really hope that when my turn comes, I remember that I’m not offended by swearing, and I find the courage to open my laptop and keep writing.

 

 

Why publishing a book is a lot like giving birth

I really thought I was prepared when I gave birth to my first son seven years ago. I had read the all of the books, listened to all of the advice, completed a two day calm-birth course, and mentally noted observations that I felt would give me some kind of advantage when it was my turn. I was ready for the breastfeeding, the lack of sleep, the nappies, the crying. Of course now I laugh. Nothing could have prepared me, because no two experiences are the same.

It might surprise some to know that publishing a book is a lot like giving birth. Prior to the big event there is lot of waiting, fear and self-doubt. You employ professionals to poke and prod and hold your hand. Afterwards you’re elated, exhausted, depleted, and incredibly grateful to the people supporting you. You are still trying to figure out which advice to take and which to ignore. Some people will tell you that you are doing a great job, and others will judge harshly. You want so desperately to govern every aspect of the process, but then you realise that some things are simply out of your control.

Many people don’t realise that The Royal Companion was written five years ago when I was heavily pregnant with my second son. I was prone to vivid dreams throughout that pregnancy. Many of them would remain with me for days. One particular dream remained with me for much longer. I was thirty-eight weeks pregnant when a man I had not met was pacing in my mind as I slept in my bed. His hands were in his hair, his expression unhinged by something. Fear? A girl stood nearby, crying. Her hands over her face, then over her ears. His words were breaking her. I knew they were both in pain, but I also knew they were in love. Their world was different, the rules unjust. I also knew she was his, but I didn’t know why.

I never set out to write a romance. What I wrote was a story about grief, but it also happened to be a story about love. This is the story I wrote. Their story, set in their world. And it poured out of me until it was done. Afterwards, I put it aside. Occasionally I would drag it out during study breaks and then bury it under text books a few weeks later. I kept going back to it though, revisiting the broken people that remained alive in my mind.

At some point I wondered whether it was good enough to publish. I looked at the publishing options in Australia and thought about where this hybrid might fit. Nowhere. The answer was nowhere. How would a publisher market a romance novel that is part regency, part medieval, part suspense, and contains fantasy elements? I was left with two choices; put it away again, or publish it myself. So I did the same thing I had done when I found out I was pregnant for the first time – I got to work learning.

I have three boys now. Each birth was unique and did not prepare me for the next. Each time I coped with some parts well, and other parts not so well. Nothing ever went to plan, it still doesn’t. Yet I am left with three amazing kids and a feeling that I am doing a pretty good job for someone with no clue. Some days I feel supported, others judged. I am still learning and I make mistakes all the time.

Birthing my first book was oddly similar. I underestimated the work involved, the energy it would consume, the care it would need. I was grateful for the support that family and friends showed when I finally worked up the courage to share the story. Courage you say? Yes, courage. The reality is that some people will love it, some will think its ok for a ‘first effort’, a few will hate it, and a handful will hate it and say so. So yes, it takes courage to share something that is born of your imagination and fleshed out from your observations and experiences. I already see its faults, pick at it, get down on myself for not being better at my craft. But in the same way I went back for more children, I will write more books. Next time I will go in a little braver, hold my head a little higher. I’ll be proud of the aspects I do well, and work at the parts that trip me.

I just hope my readers stick around in the meantime.

 

Why we need romance novels

I am in no way a closet romance reader; I have been out for some time. I know I’m not in an imagined minority because it’s one of the highest selling genres, with an estimated annual total sales value of $1.44 billion. Literary critics can balk all they want, as long as they acknowledge that romance is a major prop for the publishing industry.

If you are imagining romance readers as uneducated, cat-owning spinsters, then it might be time for a fresh perspective. According to research done by Romance Writers of America, 18% of readers are men, 59% live with a spouse or partner, and 60% consider themselves feminists. You only have to browse the list of romance sub-genres below to see that it is so much more than bodice ripping and mummy porn.

Romance sub-genres:

  • Adventure romance
  • African-American
  • Category romance (also known as “Series” titles)
  • Chick-lit
  • Christian
  • Contemporary
  • Dark fantasy
  • Erotic
  • Fantasy
  • Futuristic
  • Gothic
  • Historical (my fave)
  • Inspirational
  • Interracial/Multicultural
  • LGBT
  • Mainstream
  • Menage a trois (see – something for everyone)
  • Medical
  • Military
  • M/M
  • Mystery/Thriller
  • Paranormal
  • Regency
  • Rock ‘n Roll (why not?)
  • Science Fiction
  • Suspense
  • Sweet
  • Time-Travel
  • Urban fantasy
  • World War II
  • Yaoi (I admit – I had to google this one)
  • Young adult/Coming of age

So what do all these romance sub-genres have in common? Two things: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The latter means that the lovers overcome their struggle to be together and are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. These two elements are not negotiable.

I once read a Facebook post by a woman who had just finished reading a novel that ended with a tragic death. When she was done, she threw her iPad (it was an eBook) against the wall, wrote a scathing book review warning others off purchasing it, and boycotted all future titles from the author. Why? Because the book had been marketed as a romance novel, and the author had broken one of only two rules of romance fiction.

An emotionally satisfying ending translates to a “happy ending”, something that is frowned upon literary snobs who are wary of formulaic and predictable texts. So why do so many readers devour them? The official answer is ‘entertainment, escapism and relaxation’, but I think it goes a little deeper than that. Why do I read romance novels? Here are my top three reasons.

  1. I know what I’m getting

At the end of a day when I’m processing all of the horrible things happening in the world, I can pick up a romance book and know that I will feel good by the end of it. When I want to experience other human emotions, I change genres or read the news. Yes – romance readers are still allowed to consume and enjoy other genres.

  1. I don’t ever want to forget how good it feels to fall in love

I will never understand why people scoff at this idea. Falling in love, whether it be with your partner, lover, baby or pet, is the best feeling. The fact that we get to experience love via fiction is a gift. Good romance writers will deliver this with every book, so if this is missing from your reader experience, it’s time to explore new authors.

  1. To feed my optimism

Yes, a guaranteed happy ending every time is unbelievable, but it’s fiction – a safe, indulgent space. I don’t want real life constantly mirrored back to me, I read romance to imagine better possibilities.

So if you are a closet romance reader, it’s time to step out into the light. If you are yet to partake, get ready to fall in love.

Why I’m wrestling with an elevator pitch

elevator-pitch-image

Previously, if you had met me in an elevator and asked me what it is I do, you would have got a reply like this one:

‘I clean wee off the floor, cook food for the bin and cry in the pantry a lot.’

You see, I have spent the last few years as a stay-at-home mum to three young boys. While I’m grateful to have had those years at home with them, just me and them, every day, all day, all the time (just breathe), I now find myself emerging from the nightmare those precious baby years, ready to get to work.

Admittedly, I have a few more years of wee-laden floors and fussy eating ahead of me, but soon I will have two allocated child-free days, every week, to breathe and lay on the floor without threat of injury work and write. You know what that means right? I need a new answer for all of those times that I am in an elevator with people that I did not birth. Queue the elevator pitch.

For those that don’t know, an elevator pitch is a short overview of your business, products or services, that is used in business settings such as face-to-face networking. An elevator pitch is meant to be short, delivered in the time it takes to complete an elevator ride (hence the name). When I heard it described as one of the simplest but most powerful tools for small business owners, I decided that I wanted one. So one day while my youngest slept blissfully for not long enough, I used the time to research the best techniques for writing it. Here are the basic steps I discovered to creating a great pitch:

  • Create an attention grabbing hook
  • Tell them who you are
  • Describe what you do
  • Identify your ideal clients/customers
  • Explain what’s unique and different about you and your business (your USP)
  • State what you want to happen next
  • Put it all together
  • Practice

Sound easy? Here is a polished example that I got from a reputable small business site that I am waaaay too scared to cite in case they find about this blog post:

“Have you ever felt held back by lack of time and wished you could clone yourself so you could get everything done, when you want to get it done, the way you want it done?

Well, I work with busy and driven small business owners who struggle to accomplish everything they want to accomplish. The clients I work with generally understand the value of a team and are ready to learn how to delegate, but find it challenging to let go of their quest for perfection, find quality team members and commit to creating a team that can thrive, even without them being hands-on.

I consult these time-challenged business owners on how to build teams, delegate effectively and ultimately become more productive and profitable. I’m in a unique position to help my clients because I’ve faced the same struggle of not having enough time and feeling held back from true success. I have figured out a formula that can help just about any entrepreneur build a team and delegate effectively, giving them the time they need to grow their businesses, explore new endeavors and take time off, knowing their businesses will continue to prosper in their absence.

I’d love to schedule a time to talk more about some of your delegation and team challenges, and explore how we may be able to work together.”

Wow, imagine copping that? Now, I don’t want to be a Debbie Downer here, but if I met someone in an elevator at a networking event, and I asked them what they did for a crust, and they proceeded to introduce themselves with a question that sounds as though it were plagiarised from an infomercial, they would probably not get the enthusiastic ‘yes’ that they were expecting. More than likely, there would be a really uncomfortable silence, or a timid ‘ummm’, which would leave the rest of their pitch hanging uncomfortably between us until the ‘ding’ of the elevator finally sounded. What about the last line? Is it just me or does that that seem a bit keen, like someone discussing marriage on a first date?

Because I’m not one to hate on a process before trying it, I decided to give it a go. Admittedly, I dropped the attention grabbing hook – I just couldn’t do it. It didn’t matter what I wrote, I sounded like a cheap ad. I also left off the ‘I’d love to schedule a time to talk more…’ line at the end. I would like to think that people intelligent enough to operate lifts, are also capable of speaking up if they need something from me.

So this is what I ended up with:

When I’m not cleaning wee off the floor, I’m a freelance writer. I write fiction, features and essays, as well as copy for small businesses. I help clients clarify their key messages, articulate their skills and strengths, and tailor communication to their target audience. Small business owners often feel overwhelmed by the thought of using an agency and appreciate being supported through the process. The brief comes to me, and stays with me.’

I feel like this reads fine on paper, but I’m a writer, it was always going to be better on paper. Would I say this aloud to a stranger in an elevator? You will be the first to know if I do.

Anyone have a good elevator pitch they want to share?

The 9 stages of ‘writer-rejection’

rejection-post-image

Many writers have been there. You have poured your entire self into a piece of writing, only to be told ‘no thanks’, or worse, nothing at all. The rejection process is similar to that of grieving, but because writers have signed up for a lifetime of struggle, there are four more stages, and it takes much longer because you use it as writing material along the way.

If you are wondering why successful authors are always banging on about growing a thick skin, it’s because they know that a writer cannot survive without one. So if you are new to writing, here’s what to expect:

Stage 1 – Denial

This is when you tell yourself that the submission ended up in the wrong pile, that it went missing in the mail and was never received by the intended recipient, or that your cover page fell onto someone else’s manuscript. That they meant to say yes. You tell yourself anything that will keep the truth at arms distance.

Stage 2 – Sugar

You will start to notice pacing to and from the food cupboard. You will not be hungry, but you will have an unimaginable desire to gnaw. This instinct, combined with the mental energy consumed by your recent rejection, will drive you to sugary foods. Think of yourself as a suburban border collie who hasn’t been walked in a long time. A bag of lollies is the human equivalent of a Kong filled with Schmackos. It will minimise destructive behaviours while you are processing what has happened. Don’t fight it, but do brush well.

Stage 3 – Anger

After cutting open your own chest and baring its content to the very people who should care to see it, you have been rejected. An unsatisfactory response from a publisher will have you ranting away at unsuspecting friends and strangers for some time. There will be no muzzling you during this stage because the dangerous amounts of sugar you are consuming will fuel the crazy.

Stage 4 – Toast for dinner

At this point you are going to be completely burned-out by your anger (and probably insulin resistant from all the sugar). Your self-care regime will be kicked into the gutter with the manuscript that you will later reprint and apologise to. Accept that there will be a few nights weeks of poor-quality meals while you come to terms with how shit all people are.

Stage 5 – Bargaining

Maybe the manuscript was not a good fit for that publisher. Perhaps the timing wasn’t right for that genre. It’s possible that the editor was dealing with a personal issue and rejected everyone that day. These are some of the reasonable thoughts that may consume you while spreading vegemite on your dinner.

Stage 6 – Booze

Writers have enough voices in their heads. Rejection adds more dialogue than most writers’ mental health can handle. This is when you will likely hit the cheap vodka expensive merlot. Initially, it will bring some relief, nothing but the sound of the air buzzing in your ear. And then comes stage seven.

Stage 7 – Depression

The booze will eventually tip you over. You’ll start to question your place within the writing community. You’ll google things like, ‘the average salary of a writer’, ‘what percentage of books are published’, and ‘what will happen to my cat if I die’. Hold tight, you’re almost there.

Stage 8 – Rejection projection

This is the stage where you project your feelings of rejection onto all of your relationships. Friends who don’t immediately text you back will likely send you into a howling mess of even they don’t like me. Watch for other triggers too, like partners with ‘other plans’, babies crying when you hold them, and bartenders who serve you last. Eventually, those closest to you will call you out for being egotistical. They will deliver a much-needed ‘at least you have clean water and a roof over your head’ sermon which will enable you to move forward.

Stage 9 – Acceptance

This is the stage of withdrawal and calm. It is also a great time to write. As Robert Frost once said, ‘no tears in the writer, no tears in the reader’. So pick at those fresh scabs and get something onto paper. Before you know it, you’ll be a bestselling author advising struggling writers to grow a thick skin.

There you have it. Time to get those manuscripts polished and start bleeding.

Five reasons why I’m a bad feminist

bad-feminist-image

I’m a feminist, but if I’m honest, I’m not particularly good at it. While I would love to blame my failings on my religious upbringing or lack of feminist role models, the bottom line is that I now know better.

Here are five reasons why I am a bad feminist:

  1. I read (and love) romance novels.

I don’t just read stories about love, but stories about gender stereotypes; manly men who save women in need of physical or emotional rescuing. To make matters worse, I prefer endings in which the protagonist and love interest end up together. Single and happy does not work for me in this space. Ouch.

  1. I will go and watch Fifty Shades Darker.

Do I agree with feminist claims that Christian Grey is an abusive sociopath? Sure. Would I warn a friend off him? Absolutely. Would I date him? No way (wait, how rich is he?). Did I crush on him while watching Fifty Shades of Grey? Little bit. I can’t explain it, and ashamed to admit it, but I will go and see the sequel the day it opens in the cinemas. I feel ill knowing that in some small way I will be reinforcing to men that women secretly want to be dominated and controlled. I can only promise to take a long, cleansing shower afterwards.

  1. I’m capable of intelligent feminist debate, yet generally resort to ‘men are shit’ type comments

A good feminist does not lose their shit during a feminist debate. If you lose your cool and call someone out for being a misogynist arsehole, your opinions are immediately devalued by your audience. People may even laugh at you. You will be labelled as something that ultimately translates to ‘hysterical’. It’s not fair, but this is how it is for now. So a massive hats-off to all the amazing feminists in the media who give well-thought-out, calm responses under difficult circumstances. I will continue to swear openly at all the chauvinists so that you don’t have to.

  1. I like a man who offers to pay for dinner

I know, I know. I blame this one on all of the romance novels I read that keep me badly trained. But until women are paid the same as men, I’m allowed to hold on to this one. Consider it the price of patriarchy.

  1. Chores in our house are gendered

Sharpen your pitchforks because it’s 1950 in the Bird house. Each morning hubby traipses off to work while I tend to the children and commit myself to cooking and chores. We have got ourselves good and stuck this way. And unfortunately I am a huge part of the problem. You see, watching my husband attempt to multitask in the kitchen is a bit like listening to a stutterer read. Eventually, I’m going to jump in there and help. As an accountant, I thought he would easily grasp varying cooking times in order to get to one agreed eating time. But despite an elaborate mess of chalky sums on the pantry door blackboard, he usually finishes with burnt sausages and a sweaty forehead. To be fair, I think his fear of me inhibits his abilities. On the mornings he prepares breakfast for the boys, I stand at the edge of the kitchen like a tethered Rottweiler. Every few minutes he glances cautiously over at me because he has no idea how long the tether is that day.

Before you feed me to the social media trolls, I want to reassure all the ‘good feminists’ reading this that I am a work in progress. I have no doubt that in a few months years you will be reading all about the Five ways I became a rockstar feminist.

Experimental fiction: This Is The Story I Tell Them

caged-pig-2

They tell me I am displaying neurotic behaviours. The intense boredom and frustration make me do strange things. They tell me to stop, lay-down. But I have seen the sores that are born from defeat, so I remain on my feet, chewing at the air and the bars that confine me. They say, stop. Tell us the story. This is the story I tell them.

My grandmother was born on a farm in Gippsland. Not a farm like this, one with a dirt floor and no roof. There were vibrant, grassy lawns, and water troughs so clear that you could see your reflection in them. She spent her days sprawled in sun-kissed paddocks beneath painted skies. When the heat became too much she would cool off in the wallowing pit and forage for food in the shade of tall gums. In the evenings, when the farm stilled and the air cooled, she would huddle with her sisters in a nest made of straw. This is the story I tell them.

Last year, in the grip of winter, she was moved beneath a noisy tin roof where the straw was thick and warm under her labouring body. My mother arrived during the night, amid pounding rain and crackling black skies. She was one of eleven, fighting for warmth and nourishment, determined to survive. In the morning heavy frost and eerie light stained the landscape. My mother lay content in a cocoon of siblings, gazing through the wooden fence. As each shadow lifted, a new world was revealed to her. But this world was not hers. This is the story I tell them.

I came into the world thrashing and terrified. My mother wanted to turn and comfort me, but the metal bars held her in place. She tried to calm us with stories of vivid skies, green pastures and cleansing air. It was the only form of comfort she could offer from her soiled prison. There were nine of us standing on icy slats, squealing and shivering. Then there were seven, the dead left to decompose among us. We took what warmth we could from our mother as we absorbed the horrors around us. Crates as far as we could see, stagnant with infection, pain and grief. I turned away from the suffering and listened to my mother’s story, a story that would die with the lucky ones in slaughterhouses, and remain with the unlucky ones who lived to tell it to their young. This is the story I tell them.

Our stories are all that we have. We tell them to our young before they are taken from us too soon. We tell them to ourselves when their tails are cut off without anaesthetic, their violent shrills piercing the dank air. I tell the story of a place with painted skies and sun-kissed paddocks. A place where we are social, where we touch and play, and where we build nests for our young. This is the story of pigs. This is the story I tell them.

The things we really want for Christmas

what-we-really-want-for-christmas

One of the perks of being someone who loves creating lists, is that when people ask me in December for present ideas, I already have a completed list ready to offer up. This year’s list was a year in the making. It was extensive, varied, and had something for every budget.

If I’m honest, I feel really disappointed when I ask people what they want for Christmas and they pull that I don’t know, it’s so hard to think of something face. Are we that spoiled that it has become a chore to think of something that we need or want? Then it occurred to me. It’s possible that our material needs are being met, and people don’t know how to ask for the other things – the things they really want. The things that cannot be bought.

When I revisited my own Christmas list, I realised that my wish-list was actually a page of clues that required translating. They were lies in a tidy format that wouldn’t challenge the modern notion of ‘gift’. To explain, here are seven things from this year’s list, translated.

  1. An above ground vegetable garden.

What I actually want is to get what I need for dinner from the backyard without dragging three kids to the shops. I want to feel less guilty about not feeding my kids organic food because it’s crazy expensive and hard to source where we live. I want to catch my children eating snow peas straight from the vine, so that when they refuse the vegetables on their dinner plate that night, I don’t have to fret about their health.

  1. A Kill Your Darlings subscription

This translates to ‘I want to be in the same league of writer as Hannah Kent and Rebecca Starford’. Here’s hoping that by reading a journal born of their brilliance, my IQ climbs, and their talent sticks.

  1. An electric bread knife.

I really just want my kids to not eat so much bread. Their bread consumption triggers a gluten-guilt response. I then decide to go gluten-free for a while. Then I feel guilty about giving them gluten-free products from the supermarket which are full of nasties. This triggers a processed-foods-guilt response, which leads to gluten-free bread making binges that ease the guilt but consume way too much of my time. And what happens when I spend too much time in the kitchen? It triggers a you’re-not-spending-enough-time-with-the-children-guilt response. Somehow an electric bread knife will help.

  1. A planner.

I spend my entire day planning in my head. And I have enough lists. I don’t need a planner – I need time to execute my plans. Someone take the kids out of the house for a few hours to do something fun, that does not involve an iPad, and return them to me fed. You can call it a combined Christmas/Birthday present. Call it whatever you like – just take the kids.

  1. An additional Thermomix bowl.

I acknowledge how lucky I am to have a Thermomix at all, I do. But I am a chronic multitasker, so doing one thing at a time in the kitchen is a slow death for me. Having two recipes on the go means less time spent in the kitchen with a whining two-year-old on my hip, which means less time and money spent at the chiropractor, and a higher chance of my sanity being intact at the end of the day. Translation: I want to cook from scratch without it leeching my soul.

  1. Yet another writing course.

What I actually want is to finish my novel. Give me time to write. Give me a deadline. Give me confidence. Remind me that a two percent chance of publication is reason enough to continue. Give me a kick up the arse – because I’ve got this.

  1. A clothes voucher.

I don’t need a clothes voucher. What I actually need is to be able to try clothes on – alone. For those that haven’t been clothes shopping with a six-year-old, four-year-old and two-year-old in tow, be warned – nothing looks good on you when you are crying.

What did you really want for Christmas?

Me: On being a ‘serious’ writer

serious-writer-blog

My hubby is not just my number one fan – he is also my only fan. It’s natural then that he wants me to succeed at this writing caper. After last week’s blog post (which you can read here), he turned his pensive face to me and said, ‘you know I love your blog, and your Snapchats, but (uh-oh), do you worry about people taking you seriously as a writer?’

It’s a valid question. Can someone who publicly shares Snapchat videos of themselves, wearing virtual cat ears and talking about their experience of taking a poo in a litter tray, be trusted with a client brief? I hope there is a resounding ‘yes’ right now, because I am also entrusted with the care of three children while hubby is at work, and I don’t want people thinking that I am not serious about keeping them alive.

Today’s mums are expected to fulfil many roles on any given day (stay with me – there is a point coming). A typical day for me begins somewhere between five and six am. I wake cranky from lack of sleep, which is why the kids are all daddy’s boys in the morning. Hubby will stroll into the bedroom, light-footed, after a one-hour workout at the gym. He’ll glance over at me, half-dead against the pillow, with either one or three children piled around me. The kids flee from me then, to the safety of their father who can answer their unnecessary questions and fulfil their immediate needs. After a shower I return to human form and actually tolerate the presence of others quite well. By school drop off time I am rocking the ‘capable mum’ look. Other parents would have no idea that a few hours earlier I was mustering the strength to begin.

Now I’m not one to toot my own horn, but from 8:40am I am extraordinary (toot-toot). I clean, bake, wash, fold, build Lego, find Lego, re-build Lego, play Lego, mediate fights over Lego, make playdough from scratch, cook, dress-up, wrestle children in and out of cars, carry them around when they lose the ability to use their legs, dance to music I hate, and sing in a range of voices belonging to various personalities. At 2:50pm I pack up the crazy and slip into something a little more socially appropriate, just in time for school pick up. In the evenings, when the kids are finally tucked up in bed, and the sane mums are drinking wine, I work/study/write.

Remember the old saying, there is a time and a place for everything? I’m all over it. During the six years that I worked in media/advertising, not once did I break into song during a meeting. I never challenged a client to a dance-off. I didn’t rap the advertising strategy during presentations (though a few clients would have loved that). Nowadays, I don’t do school drop offs dressed as Darth Vader, swinging my son’s lightsaber at unsuspecting parents. I don’t rush up to other mums and ask if they want to hear me beatbox (can’t promise I never will). Time and place, right?

Writing is the same. Sometimes I write romance and experimental pieces, other times I write hard news, web copy, and essays from a critical political economy perspective. True story. My blog is a safe space for creative output – and sometimes it isn’t pretty. But you can be assured that my lame attempts at snapchat humour, and my ability to write convincing romance, do not inhibit my skills as a copywriter.

To emphasise this point to hubby, this week I used Snapchat to demonstrate my versatility. I wanted to reassure him that I am serious about being taken seriously as a serious writer. He was thrilled.