Why I’m wrestling with an elevator pitch

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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’

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Nine ways to procrastinate more efficiently

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I am an incredibly motivated individual, unless my novel needs re-drafting, then I drag my feet around the house, whining like an excited whippet. The literary beast that is my novel, doesn’t just need taming, it needs to be slaughtered and resurrected. Hence my reluctance to engage. I can’t be the only person putting off something painful, so I thought I would share nine proven procrastination techniques in hope that it helps others on their way to becoming more efficient procrastinators.

  1. Read Facebook arguments.

I’m not just talking about pages that you follow and topics that interest you. Click on some random, sponsored pages, that are advertising products you would never buy, discussing celebrities you have never heard of, or pushing political views you could not care less about. Then all you need to do is expand the comments with the most spelling mistakes and read away until you are depleted of all intelligent thoughts.

  1. Plan a holiday that you can’t afford and won’t take.

Is Hawaii on sale again? Click on the link, select some dates, think about how much baggage allowance you would need and which pram you would take for those long hikes up to the open mouths of volcanos. Check the weather information for that time of year. Calculate the age your children will be by then. Imagine wearing leis, drinking pineapple cocktails, and reading entire books in one sitting. Then close every window so that you can start afresh next time.

  1. Write down a list of tasks in order of importance.

Writing them in order is essential. That way, when you start doing random jobs that are not on the list, you will still have a well-thought-out strategy for the following day. Or the next day. You can extend this technique by rewriting the list into a daily planner that you never check.

  1. Open the cupboards in your child’s room.

Stand with one door handle in each hand and take in the sight of chaos before you. Observe every unused item, messy pile of bassinet linen from the bassinet you no longer own, toy part, instruction manual, and random collection of hand-me-down clothes that you have forgotten about. Then just let your instincts take over.

  1. Stand in front of a wall with a wet wall-eraser.

You’ll soon spot a dirty mark. And then another. Once you start you will not stop until every wall in the house is spotless. This technique is perfect for long days.

  1. Call your partner and tell them how you don’t have enough time to get everything done.

Make sure you have your list on hand. This technique works best if you talk them through every small, painful detail. Don’t be afraid to use a sore-throat-sick-voice to better communicate your stress.

  1. Tell your kids that you want to do something that doesn’t centre around them.

If you are stupid enough to try and work with kids at home, then this one is a must. You won’t even need a big announcement. Simply divert your gaze to an electronic device/book/important document, and they will arrive with a suspicious liquid/leaky pen/sticky hands.

  1. Allow yourself ONE video on YouTube and then don’t touch the keyboard.

According to YouTube, the autoplay feature ‘makes it easier to decide what to watch next. After you watch a YouTube video, we’ll automatically play another related video based on your viewing history’. Hours of procrastination without lifting a finger.

  1. Pretend you are fifteen-years-old and get on Snapchat.

When the walls are clean and I am struggling to find a reason to not write. I engage Snapchat. Hubby is the main victim of my musings (and my niece – we’re both gen Y which makes us basically the same age). If you are wondering how one goes about implementing this tool for procrastination purposes, take a look at some of the ‘messages’ my adult husband, the one with the grown-up job and responsibility of staying employed so that we can eat, receives at his place of employment…

A children’s book review for grown-ups: Tabby McTat

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Tabby McTat

Written by Julia Donaldson

Illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Published in 2009 by Alison Green Books

Tabby McTat is a busker’s cat who lives in a city where people stop to watch street performers, instead of casting their eyes to the ground and giving them a wide-birth. It is a place where gargoyles abound and cats have claws like Wolverine. McTat’s owner, Fred, a guitar extraordinaire and lyrical genius, lives the simple life of a struggling artist, surviving on bacon, bread, and the exploitation of his pet.

One day the pair’s world is turned upside down when a smiling criminal, wearing a hot-pink jacket, steals the old checked hat that is filled with their bacon-sandwich money. While giving chase, Fred trips on an undone lace and disappears in an ambulance that is too small for the stretcher he is on. McTat, who had been off having a cat-to-cat chat with Sock, a glossy, green-eyed cat, returns to find the busker gone. He roams the streets in search of Fred until one-day Sock convinces him to abandon his life on the streets and come and live with her tartan wearing spinsters who let stray cats lick their feet.

The next morning Fred is released from hospital. Covered in bandages and with only one crutch, he returns to their spot beneath the gargoyle. He is surprised to discover that his cat, an animal renowned for its loyal and selfless nature, has not remained there waiting for him. McTat, who has also had trouble letting go of the bachelor life, finds himself returning the square in search of Fred. All he finds is a brass band, a singing dog, and lots of men wearing pinstripe.

Sensing McTat’s restlessness, Sock conveniently falls pregnant. She chooses to tell McTat about their Wolverine kittens after the birth, casually breaking the news with ‘look under the bed…’. Luckily for Sock, one of the kittens looks exactly like McTat. However, this works against them, as when it comes time for the happy couple to give their offspring away, no one wants the ugly tabby with the deafening miaow. McTat, unable to cope with the disappointment of family life, sets off in search of Fred once again. Spoiler alert – McTat finds Fred and hands over his unwanted son to live on the streets with the busker who now sings about his depression. The pair work on some new material, wait, no they don’t. The enthralled audience doesn’t care.

I highly recommend Tabby McTat. It’s a story you can re-read in one sitting without fantasizing about setting it alight the third time through. It offers important life lessons about tying your shoe laces, hospital cover, spaying your pets, and dealing with kids who disappoint you. It is written in a style that will appeal to young children and simple-minded adults who are not ready for poetry.

I give it five stars.

Welcome

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A big welcome to my readers! Let’s be honest, at this stage that group includes my mum, bestie, husband, and a few loyal aunts. Please be assured that I have a plan to grow my readership which will greatly reduce your obligation each week.

I have given a good deal of thought to the kind of blog I wanted to create. When I consider blogs that I enjoy reading, it’s not necessarily the subject matter that holds me, but the voice. I love an authentic voice as much as I love to laugh. I hope to afford you both.

For years now I have been writing in the shadows, waiting to be initiated into an imagined community of writers who had ‘made it’. It turns out that many of those writers feel as fraudulent as I do, but they took their words and stepped out into the light anyway. I read recently about a writer who compares the emerging process to being seated at the kids table at a party. She waited a long time to join the grown-ups. Eventually she got sick of waiting for her invitation, so she took her tiny chair, dragged it, scraping the entire way, up to the big table, and sat down. And guess what? No one asked her to leave. So here I am, chair in hand. It’s time to get to work.

This blog will share my creative journey. Any person who has tried to ‘create’ in a house full of young boys and an accountant husband who does not like to read (oddly specific), might relate. Personal musings will be balanced out by some quirky writing. Next week I will be posting a children’s book review. Just don’t expect it to be useful or inoffensive – that’s not really my style.

Tan x