Archive for December, 2012

the saddest snowman in the world

the saddest snowman in the world

Other people’s misery. It sucks, right? There is nothing duller than a casual acquaintance whinging to you about why they are so fed up, especially if they’re not really sure. Then they’ll have to list every little grievance and slight, just to make sure they’ve covered everything.

And you’ll feel beholden to try and cheer them up, and point out where and how their misery is misplaced, and all the good things they have going on in their lives… It’s exhausting! And the stupid thing is they don’t even believe you. All your best efforts will not alter their mood in the slightest. They will continue to wallow in their misery until they somehow eventually hoick themselves out of it…

And that’s why you haven’t heard from me recently. If there’s anything worse than being miserable, it’s sharing it with the world. So I’ve kept my head down. I’ve resisted the urge to blog miserable, self-indulgent posts, fishing for compliments and encouragement. I’ve kept a low profile until I began to claw my way out of the wretchedness and restore my equilibrium.

But for the past week I have been going around like a bear with a sore head, inwardly growling and grumbling about every little thing. Other people’s happiness annoyed me. Facebook friends celebrating their wonderful happy families infuriated me. Indie author friends’ successes and optimism irritated me.

The nadir came yesterday when I suffered a wonderful dream in which my hopelessly stiff, painful, still-undiagnosed-after-ten-years back was suddenly cured. I could tip my head back and look at the ceiling! I could turn it to the side and look at people beside me without turning my entire torso! Amazing! I woke to a bleak, rain-swept morning, the usual pain twisting down my side, and thought, Fuck this. Fuck it all.

There is such pressure to be happy at New Year; to celebrate; to toast your successes and look forward to greater achievements to come. And there is pressure when you’re out in public – as you are as the author of a blog (however modest its readership) – to always find the positive spin. As I noted in one of my earliest posts, you can’t over-estimate the importance of perceived success. No matter what set-backs you encounter, how much indifference and hostility; how much effort is simply wasted – you always have to find a way to make it sound good. It can be exhausting, both mentally and emotionally.

I have done no social networking or any author related stuff over Christmas – not because I’m on holiday, but because I felt I had nothing left to give. No encouragement, no optimism, no interest in other people’s achievements. All I felt was bitterness. I considered faking it, just to keep up relationships. But I couldn’t be bothered. And after a while I didn’t even see the point.

I can see my misery in a more objective light now that I’ve turned the corner. There really wasn’t any good reason for it. No crisis; to trolling, no one star review, no slapped wrist or mean encounter. It was more an accumulation of little set-backs and disappointments, both in my personal life and as an author.

But in fact, in the run up to christmas I had quite a few positive encounters. Online friends became real world friends. I enjoyed a cup of tea and a natter with promoter of all things lovely and local, @LongEatonLife. I met up with Amanda Penman, and will be the featured author in the first edition of Artsbeat, her new Derby based arts magazine, hitting the shelves mid-January.

I have irons in the fire. I have plots thickening.

I took a stall at a craft fair in Derby selling Darklands the saturday before Christmas. I didn’t really know what to expect. My biggest fear was that my stall would be empty, the crowds giving it a wide and suspicious berth.

As it happens, there were no crowds. The event was a complete wash out. Barely 200 people came through the doors all day. That’s the official figure, so bound to be inflated. I and my stall companion trotted in and out of the venue several times, and no doubt got counted each time.

I sold five books. That barely covered my stall cost, never mind the all day parking, or the table cloth and fire-retardent spray I’d had to buy at the last minute because the organisers changed their bloody minds about what they were supplying (grr).

So, financially a disaster. And yet… I sold five books to an audience of less than 200 people. That’s actually pretty good. The stall beside me had ONE customer all day. The stall holder on the other side said she had just covered her costs. Every stall holder I spoke to was bitterly disappointed by the turn out, and not making any money. Those who do it regularly assured me it was not at all a typical event, and I shouldn’t let it discourage me.

I set out writing this post in a slightly grudging manner. My mood had lifted enough to think it was worth writing a bah-humbug, it’s-okay-to-be-miserable-occasionally piece. But the process of writing it has actually altered my mood. I’m feeling… okay again. Back to normal. Ready to get back on that horse, knowing it will throw me again, and ready for all its devious horse tricks.

It is okay to be miserable now and then. It’s okay to fail. Of course it is! If you never fail you are obviously not trying anything challenging enough. Maybe it’s even okay to harbour the odd uncharitable thought about those who are doing better than you, or those whose success you can’t understand.

It’s okay to lick your wounds and feel sorry for yourself – just for a little while. Just to get it out of your system – like having a good cry occasionally. Only once you’ve acknowledged whatever crisis is chewing at you, given up trying to keep it buttoned down, given up trying to be strong for everyone else – then you can begin to see past it, and start dragging yourself out from under its shadow.

I’m no expert, but I know this is one of the busiest times of year for the Samaritans. I know a lot of people are trying really hard to keep it together for the sake of their friends and families. I know some people are preparing to go to parties tonight, because they think they have to – but they are dreading it; dreading having to be cheerful and friendly and gregarious all night.

If you feel that your supplies of bon-homie are running low, then my advice to you would be not to broadcast your misery to an indifferent crowd of online acquaintances, but to find those true and trusted friends who can actually help.

The way I eventually turned my corner was painfully, embarrassingly simple. I talked to my boyfriend about how I was feeling. That’s it. Everything began to get better immediately. It’s not even about someone else having the answers. It’s about them listening to you and caring.

I hope you have someone – or some many! – in your life who can fulfil that role.

Wishing the world a peaceful and sane New Year.

I have another guest post this week, writing about a weekend break in the Lake District for the Independent Hostels Guide. As well as hiking and taking in the sights, we made sure to visit as many pubs as possible, sampling lots of real ales (I’ve included details of pubs, beers and some prices in the blog. All the outdoorsy people I know appreciate that sort of thing!)

It was a beautiful (freezing cold) weekend in early December. We had bright blue skies, sunshine, snow capped mountains – and treacherous ice-rink paths :-S

Although there are plenty of pictures on the Hostels Guide blog, I’m going to add a few more here, because there are so many nice ones 🙂

[all photos by @uncutid, except the last two, by me]

North Edge of Lake Windermere

North Edge of Lake Windermere

Snow-capped mountains north of Ambleside

Snow-capped mountains north of Ambleside

The view across Lake Windermere

The view across Lake Windermere

Vibrant autumn colours in the woods close to Ambleside

Vibrant autumn colours in the woods close to Ambleside

Bridge near Ambleside

Bridge near Ambleside.

The author grinning, on Loughrigg Fell

The author grinning, on Loughrigg Fell

view across Loughrigg Tarn

The view across Loughrigg Tarn.

Looking across to Grasmere from Loughrigg Fell

Looking across to Grasmere from Loughrigg Fell

Icicles in the vaults of Kendal Castle.

Icicles in the vaults of Kendal Castle.

Kendal Church.

Kendal Church.

I have a guest post up today on the Speculative Salon about the often close relationship between music and magic.

Music seems a kind of magic to me. It has the power to mesmerise; to alter moods; to bring exultation or despair, or unlock hidden memories. It is wreathed in a strange coded language that I don’t understand. Allegro con molto means as much to me as Abracadabra.

Music Pink and Blue by Georgia O'Keeffe

Music: Pink and Blue by Georgia O’Keeffe, picture courtesy of,

Below is an additional thought on the wholeness, the completeness of music, which I didn’t manage to fit into the piece.

One of my favourite fantasy series growing up was Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake. I love the strangeness, the grotesqueness of the characters and settings. I love that it was all very recognisable, but at the same time indefinably other.

Gormenghast is the name of a castle and its immediate environs; forest, mountain, river. As well as the noble family – the delightfully named Groans – it houses a school, a museum/art gallery, a library, a doctor, a poet, various funcionaries and an encampment of serfs. It is an utterly self-contained and fully realised little world – but there is one important omission.

In three books, spanning 17 years or so, I don’t recall a single mention of music. Ever*. Not even a trumpet fanfare during one of the interminable, pointless ceremonies Lord Groan is forced to enact daily.

I find that astonishing. And the world of Gormenghast is slightly reduced in my eyes due to its lack. I can believe in a castle where a hideous but charismatic kitchen boy scales his tower prison, and seduces the daughter of the house in her secret attic; that he sees a horse bathing in a rooftop pool on the way; that a silent waif floats through the forest, as light as air; that a strange Countess prefers to spend time with a white rook than her own newborn baby. But a world without music? I find that hard to conceive of.

World building is hard. There is so much to think of, so many details to consider, so many relationships and histories to get right. It’s hardly surprising that sometimes a piece of the world gets completely forgotten. I’d be interested to hear if anyone else has read fantasy books and thought, “But what about the —- ?”

* Disclaimer: Although I have read the Gormenghast series three or four times, the last time was over 14 years ago. It is possible I have forgotten some musical interlude tucked away in there somewhere. I think the Doctor does sing a song about a frivolous cake one time while soaking in the bath, but that hardly makes up for an entire castle devoid of music and musical instruments!