A writer’s life is never linear or that simple - things spring up all over the place; like dandelions. Each book or project comes with its own issues and certainly in lockdown, having my kids at home has proved to be a struggle to get my writing work done. Before, I wrote or edited when the kids were at school. That precious time between 9am and 3.10pm (or even earlier if you include the time walking to school to pick them up) was a ‘golden time’ if you will. Our home would be quiet I would be in my own energy and now it’s all changed. I haven't been sleeping well or regularly because one of my children has struggled with anxiety at night times.
To write, it helps to have the other aspects of my life working fairly well. If something is off then I find it difficult to concentrate or to be creative. I’ve been reminded about last year when I was on a panel at the National Writers Conference. I was talking about "overcoming obstacles" such as depression and anxiety which I had had not long before. Other members of the panels were talking about chronic illness and disability and how sometimes we had a toolbox that allowed us to write during challenging times, but also sometimes we just didn’t write and that was ok.
I work in cycles, I have spurts of energy where I can work, and then I need down time. Time to recoup. I have found myself being particularly harsh on myself for not being able to get much writing work done over the past few weeks. And I have to tell myself, we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, my kids haven’t been sleeping well which in turn has made me not sleep so well, which then leads to me being tired and grumpy some days; I’m constantly worrying about them and putting my own needs last. One of the things I wanted from the fellowship was time away to write and I hope that might still be a possibility. It might not be this year. Perhaps next?
What things can I do that are writing related that are not actual writing? I can keep in touch with other writers, I can read about writing, I can watch films or shows that perhaps I can analyse as a writer, I can read old notes from writing seminars and workshops, I can read my editor’s notes, I can think. The very wise Kit de Waal once told me that writing is not always the act of writing down things - it’s the thinking, the day-dreaming, the visualisation of characters or scenes. So even if I am not writing or editing – I am still a writer.
Despite berating myself, I haven’t done NOTHING. I’ve read a brilliant book called A Stranger’s Journey by David Mura. The first half begins examining race and the assumed ‘white reader’ – now this is not something many people think about. But it’s important. I wrote a story about a teenage British Chinese girl who lived with her grandfather in urban Britain once, and someone in my former crit group thought it was set in Hong Kong despite there being clues to the location such as the vernacular of working class Britain and a Vauxhall Corsa. When people see my author name or my face they expect very ‘Chinese’ stories but I do feel like I am a citizen of the world as well as a Brummie. The second half of Mura's book is about memoir and narrative structure. I would highly recommend his book.
A contact from BEATS put me in touch with director Paul Sng who was looking for scripts for a competition, he liked one of my short film ideas and we entered Short Circuit, a Scottish short film scheme. Paul totally understood what my film was about and was happy to fill in the application for us - so fingers crossed. The meeting with Paul was very serendipitous and unexpected. In my writing career, I’ve had other commissions and collaborations come out of unexpected opportunities and sometimes you get the work and sometimes you don’t. It’s quite exciting seeing what will come from it and hopefully will be an extension of the screenwriting development that I did with Write4Film (Scottish Film Talent Network).
I’ve also been growing plants at home for the first time ever! I know this period in our lives has seen many people doing things they would not normally do and so I have proud to say I have three French beans! A kind neighbour bought over a pot of germinated seedlings, a sunflower, a bean plant and a flower. The sunflowers are growing and we actually had another neighbour give us some sunflower seeds and we have two that have grown. I feel that the desire to grow plants and vegetables is a call to nurture and to affirm aliveness. There has been and will continue to be so much death happening in the world that the act of growing plants and tending to gardens has become important for many people. With death comes renewal.
I’ve also spent time in the Children’s Wood in Glasgow these past two weeks when the sun has been out. It’s been wonderful being able to sit and see friends, watch the kids run around and feel the heat on your face. For a while you forget that things are not quite as they were in the world. Even though I have yet to go there, I believe the Neverland Discovery Garden will be a place where you can go to forget what has been happening or conversely to remember. To remember that we are alive and that rebirth and growth is still possible.
My mum passed away in 2003, my brother in 2009 and my dad in 2017 – I didn’t have a place for them all to be remembered but in 2017 we got places for them in the Birmingham Botanical Gardens – my parent’s names are in the Garden of Memory and my brother has a tree where a plaque remembers his life. I wanted to them to be in a garden because for me gardens are places of possibility and growth. And we humans have to tend to ourselves and nurture ourselves in life. Like a dandelion, which is considered to be a weed by some, if you change your thinking then it can also been seen a lovely yellow flower too! I am determined to nurture myself in the coming weeks and hopefully the writing work will flow too.
If you want to hear more about my writing life then I was interviewed by John from Peter Pan Moat Brae. 101 George Street is the NEW and weekly podcast and I am honoured to be the first person they asked to speak.