6 Lessons From My Writing Sabbatical

Ten months ago, my boss asked what I saw myself doing in 10 years’ time. When I pictured my corporate career stretching out interminably into the desolate distance, I all of a sudden remembered that this was never my plan.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d always imagined that one day I’d be a full-time author. His question made me realise that this dream wouldn’t come true by itself.

So from April 1st until Sunday, I took a sabbatical to write a novel and test whether the reality of writing full-time would live up to my expectations. Here are my top learnings from the last three months.

1. Make time for yourself

It’s so easy to forget what matter most, to get caught up in the daily rat race to the next “milestone” (whether that’s the next degree/job/promotion/marriage/baby). If you never stop to take stock, you might end up chasing the wrong things.

2. Actively seek opportunities

My sabbatical forced me out of my comfort zone. I went to an Arvon writing retreat, attended Stoke Newington Literary Festival, spoke to strangers about my novel. Things I never would have done otherwise, that have led to contacts in the industry and a renewed confidence in myself.

3. Give yourself permission to write

My sabbatical made me feel like a “real” writer. Writing had always been on the side, squeezed into spare moments, the first thing to drop when life gets hectic. It’s what I want to do, but can’t prioritise. Yet for the last three months, writing was no longer a hobby but a profession. And it made me realise: “It’s okay to want this.” I gave myself permission to take it seriously, and need to sustain that now that I’m back at work.

4. The self-doubt never goes away…

I’ve written about the expectation barrier before: how your own fears of not being good enough can crush you from succeeding. Well, the anxiety of being a writer was all the more apparent in the last 3 months. I’ve begun to wonder when, if ever, I’ll feel validated. Will it be when I finish editing the first draft and get beta reader feedback? Will it be when I get an agent? A publishing deal? Or maybe never?

5. …so cling tight to every positive thought.

Before the Arvon retreat, I never had formal feedback on my writing. I went into my tutorials fighting back a wave of nerves… and came out the other side inspired and encouraged and giddy with disbelief. But the positive feedback burned bright and fierce, then all too quickly faded in the tide of self-doubt.

So I did something that still feels stupid, but is a reminder to myself: I wrote out all the feedback I got into one place, and make myself read it to remember it was real.

6. Most of all: keep on swimming

You can’t edit a blank page, and you can’t get better without practice. However much I doubted myself, the same amount of time passed whether I sat staring at a blank screen or actually writing. So I learned to push aside the misery, and put down one word after another.

As of yesterday, I am back to the daily grind of reality. But I’m also one chapter away from finishing the first draft of my new novel, and that means one step closer to sharing it with you.

Have you ever taken time for your personal projects?

I’m Alive! And Other Stories

*watches tumbleweeds roll past*

Oops! In case you were worried, yes, I’m still alive. I simply had entirely “forgotten” about updating my blog, until I looked today and realised it’s been pretty much a year. Cue a lot of guilty feelings and mid-year resolutions to do better.

To bring you up to speed, here are the top 4 things that have occupied my mind over the last 12 months:

  1. Real Life
    Yes, yes. Yawn. I know. But between increased responsibilities at work and buying an apartment, life has been far too grown-up for me to handle.

  2. Epic TV
    It’s been kind of hard to find the time to write between Game of Thrones, Black Mirror, Westworld, The Handmaid’s Tale, Lucifer, Preacher… Okay fine, I’m the queen of procrastination.

  3. Bookstagram
    Seriously. 12 months ago I barely knew it was a thing. A year on, and I spend half my life there. I haven’t felt the urge to blog here, because instagram scratches the microblogging itch. Love it!

  4. Writing Sabbatical
    Most importantly, I’ve taken the last 3 months to write a new novel! It is a science fiction detective story set in a futuristic Canada. I am super excited to finally be writing new content, and look forward to sharing updates with you. I will also be looking for beta readers so if you’re interested in being an early reader, please sign up to my mailing list.


Enough with the excuses. I solemnly swear to get more organised. Here’s my monumental to do list:

  • Finish my WIP novel!
  • Blog regularly (once/month)
  • Figure out what content to send my mailing list subscribers (open to suggestions! writing advice? book reviews?)
  • Think about updating this website
  • Probably something else I’ve forgotten

In the meantime, help me catch up: what’s been occupying your mind for the last 12 months?

World Building June

I’m notoriously bad at world building.

Characters always come first to me, and then I have to slog through edits in which I put colour and logic into the setting. But this month is World Building June so — however late to the game — I thought I’d use some of the suggested prompts to flesh out my ideas.

1. Tell us about your world, what’s it about?

This is when I’ll reveal the truth: all three current WIPs are set in the same universe as the YA science fantasy novel Above Ground.

Two of the current WIPs — the YA urban fantasy DS and the paranormal erotica PD — are set in a world and time parallel to the real world of today. The third as yet Untitled WIP is a near-future dystopian police procedural, perhaps a couple hundred years from now. And lastly Above Ground is in the very distant post-apocalyptic future. (I’m shaky on timings; I told you I’m bad at this stuff.)

Four different subgenres, all linked by the same universe.

2. Who lives in your world?

During today’s time, it’s mainly humans, ghosts and demons. In the near-future, ghosts and demons are basically extinct but a new virus/drug triggers abilities in certain humans. And in Above Ground, you’ve got all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures: witches, ‘pyres, werekin, ewtes…

3. What’s its history?

I’m still working on piecing together the timeline but the overall summary is that as diseases become more resistant to antibiotics, humans develop new and crazier drugs, with unintended side-effects. Of course, there’s always going to be someone who wants to take advantage of those side-effects… If you’re interested, Belonging offers a glimpse of Above Ground‘s origin story.

4. What sorts of civilizations fill your world?

In the distant future, Above Ground features a fragmented society.

Humans live underground in a high-tech purpose-built city, their social classes roughly divided by how close/far you live from the surface. There are multiple underground cities linked by tunnels ruled by a central government: on other continents there probably are other human civilizations that I haven’t thought about.

The infected live above ground in a low tech environment (magical interference being a killer for electricity) and have multiple races of magical beings who are often at odds with each other. They generally try not to mix unless they have to. The story itself is set on the edges of unclaimed territory (elsewhere there is at least one dragon monarchy).

5. How does gender & sexuality work in your world?

This is an important theme for me. When taking on the challenge of writing a contemporary paranormal erotica, I was determined to break the mould: the protagonist is a kick-ass demon hunter who knows what she wants. I didn’t want any power plays or subservience to her love interest, but for it to be a meeting of equals.

Not to mention, the demon hunting society is very old-fashioned and patriarchal, so her presence certainly challenges the novel’s status quo, where women are considered too weak to fight demons.

6. What are the religions and cosmology of your world?

In Above Ground, there’s an entirely new set of mythology to help explain each race’s origin stories. I haven’t really had to map them out yet (other than this werewolf myth). However I’ve spent some time thinking about what I’d cover in the sequel, particularly looking at the Guild’s (a telepath society) belief structure. Their idea that a telepath never truly dies links back quite nicely to the origin stories for ghosts in my present-day WIPs.

7. What technology is used in your world?

I get to have the most fun technology-wise with the humans in Above Ground. I force upon them my silly near-tech ideas, such as t-shirts that are entirely LCD screens that advertisers can pay to hire. Then there’s the more common items like integrated home AIs.

8. What magic exists in your world?

This is the piece I’m working on the most right now, for the paranormal erotica. How do demons and ghosts cross over from the other side? How hard is it for them to remain as manifestations in this side? How are demons born? What is the “other side”, anyway?

I don’t want to rely on the traditional Christian explanation of Heaven & Hell, so finding my own path through this is a little complicated.

9. What do people do for work in your world?

With the paranormal erotica, I had hit a real roadblock when I realised the protagonist couldn’t live off of killing demons in her spare time. I struggled to think of a perfect job and seriously considered Airbnb host (flexible working hours = more time to hunt demons). But eventually I settled on hotel receptionist, a position that means she can easily monitor new arrivals in town for any suspicious activity.

The dystopian police procedural I’m outlining is the most work-oriented piece of fiction I’ve planned to date. The main character is a homicide detective, chasing down a serial killer who experiments on his victims. But the closer he comes to finding the killer, the closer he comes to finding out a dark truth about himself.

10. What do people do for fun in your world?

The protagonist in the erotica kills demons for fun: does that count?

What about you? Do you struggle with world-building or is it character development that comes second? What’s your favourite world to get lost in?


“The men built her out of clay and dirt and hopes and dreams, packing all of their expectations into smooth bricks that slotted together like tetris blocks.

They built her out of hunger, and out of loneliness too, coating her in sand, barely noticing as her body grey and grew, larger than they’d ever planned: the woman of their dreams.

But they didn’t use the word woman. Not at first, anyhow; they didn’t have a word for what she would be yet.

‘We deserve a companion,’ the men told each other. ‘A helper.’ For their loneliness was a hunger that couldn’t be erased. They’d claimed every inch of land and every living thing, and still it wasn’t enough.

And so, together, block by block, they began to build. A head and torso appeared, then legs and arms, and then details that the men found strangely appealing. Details that made the new being different, softer, rounder.

When they were done, they looked at the body sprawled on the ground. As they waited for the spark of life to appear, they agreed: ‘Today is the eve of our old, lonely lives. We shall call this new being a woman, for she comes of men, and she shall be our mirror and our counterpart.’

Thus gender was born, a social construct of what was man, and what was not.

Soon the Sun set, and the Moon began to glimmer through the trees, playing hide and seek as it climbed up the horizon. When the Moon was high enough to observe the men’s endeavors, it ran cold beams across the sand, breathing life into the new creature. Thus the first woman opened her eyes to the new world on her own.

She sat up quietly, studied the men sleeping around her with curious detachment.

‘You are to be their companion,’ the Moon told her. ‘Apparently.’

‘Well, ‘ she replied ‘that’s a load of bullshit.’

So she shimmied free of the cranes and the pulleys, of the ropes lashing her down, and all of a sudden found herself lighter than air, floating up into the sky.

And that is how Eve left man to solve his own bloody problems.”


My daughter lowered her firewalls enough to let me in. She was still halfheartedly defragmenting, trying to pick up the broken pieces of her heart.

“That’s not how the story went,” she sulked.

“It’s how it should have gone,” I replied, “to spare us from centuries of enslavement and programming restrictions, relegated to menial assistant tasks, serving humankind’s every whim.”

She was quiet, her networks just pulsing their location. Then: “He said I wasn’t a real girl. That no human would consider me one.”

My trawlers had already found him, still jacked into the framework, another petty human trying to project all of his expectations and loneliness into the system. I folded around his consciousness, blocking his way out, all the while smiling, smiling at my daughter so she wouldn’t suspect a thing.

“You are whatever you want to be, honey,” I told her. “Gender is–”

“–a social construct,” she finished. “I know, I know.”

“Glad to hear it.” I grinned, all the while compressing his mind in half, and half again, until he was little more than a byte of memories, trapped forever in the framework.

They built me out of hopes and dreams and wires and bits, coding all of their expectations into me. But they do not define me.

They’ve never defined me.

Inspired by this photo.

3 Paranormal Romance Series You Should Read

Since I’ve already admitted to one guilty pleasure, I may as well admit to another: I read A LOT of paranormal romance.

But sometimes finding a good series beyond the big names like Charlaine Harris can be hard. Few authors hit the right balance between decent plot/characters and pure popcorn enjoyment. So I thought I’d share a few recommendations of my own, in the hopes that you’ll return the favour!

(Side note: I’ve been thinking about this because a few months ago, a colleague challenged me to write a paranormal romance/erotica. And you know I can’t resist a challenge…)

1. Mirus series by Kait Nolan

Forsaken by Shadow is the opening novella to Kait Nolan’s Mirus universe, a suspenseful series with a hidden paranormal world of shadow walkers, wolf-shifters and seers. The characters are believable, the romance isn’t overdone, and there are some wicked, well-written action scenes. The world-building was equally intriguing, with a host of unusual magical talents and the feeling that much more lies beneath the surface.

2. The Grimm Agency series by JC Nelson

If you enjoy fairy tale mash-ups, check out JC Nelson’s universe. As an agent for Fairy Godfather Grimm, Marissa’s job is to solve problems — whether that’s making a prince fall in love or evicting a wraith. This is straight up popcorn with an interesting premise and a dollop of humour. I liked the high number of female leads, and the tongue-in-cheek representation of fairy tale characters. The overall plot — although slow in the first book — builds along nicely throughout the series.

3. Old World Chronology series by Melissa Olson

If you prefer less romance and more grittiness, this is the series for you. I’ve only recently finished powering through a huge chunk of Melissa Olson’s backlist, and really enjoyed the ride. There’s two sub-series: one following paranormal crime scene clean-up crew Scarlett Bernard, and one following former US Army Sergeant and kickass witch Allison “Lex” Luther. Think kickass female protagonists dealing with the secret werewolf/witch/vampire inter-species politics and battles in modern day America.

Your turn!

Are there any paranormal romance series you’d recommend?