Recapturing The Dream

Three months ago I started a new job. 

I’ve always worked in boring publishing. Fresh out of uni, many of my classmates wrangled their way into the big names: Random House, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury, and so on. They jumped headfirst into the dream we’d all wanted. 

Me? I met a guy on a night bus and ended up in legal publishing.

I told myself it didn’t matter. I was paid more than my classmates, given more responsibility, and had my writing to satisfy my personal interests.

Eventually I needed a new challenge, and moved into financial publishing. (I did warn you: boring.) My career progressed even more as I ultimately ran all print operations. 

But something wasn’t right. 

I didn’t believe in the work I was delivering. I didn’t care. I didn’t want to read it. 

So I started job hunting again, determined to recapture the dream. 

The problem was that now all the traditional publishers took one look at my CV and said no. I hadn’t worked in fiction or books before, hadn’t slogged my way up the chain. Some publishers offered me an entry-level salary as if my last six years’ experience counted for nothing. 

I started to question what I was worth, whether I’d been deluded all along. I started to wonder whether I’d be stuck in boring publishing forever, because I couldn’t afford to take a cut. 

And you know what that feeling reminded me of? That sliver of doubt whenever a negative review hits too close to home. When I start wondering why I bother writing, when I’m never going to be good enough anyway. When I’ll never reach my dreams. 

It’s so hard to remain enthused about writing when so many other commitments have to come first. It’s even harder when those other commitments – like my job – aren’t going the way I want. 

If I can’t get the job I want despite years of hard work, how can I succeed at anything else? 

Then, one morning six months ago, I had an email in my inbox. A job alert from a more modern publishing house. The role was right. The salary was good. 

First thought: I’m never going to get it. 

Second thought: What do I have to lose? 

Two months and several interviews later, I was in. A part of me still can’t believe it. It’s been a whirlwind (hence my silence on the blog front), but each night I come home energised. At last I’m working in fiction. 

And you know what? 

Now that I’m working so closely with books and editors, the dream of being a full time author has never seemed closer. 

I’ve just got to keep working.

Why Change Is A Good Thing

I dyed my hair yesterday.

For an hour the bathroom was transformed: the L’Oreal do-it-yourself kit spread out over every available surface, the contours of my face greased with vaseline, purple dye splattering the sink as I contorted to reach every strand.

When I finally emerged from the shower in a haze of chemicals like a butterfly lifting out of its cocoon, my other half took one look and said, “I don’t know why you do it.”

I shrugged and said, “Because.”

But inside my mind was whirring. Why do I dye my hair? Is it boredom, something else? I turned to my trustworthy friend Google but found no answers to explain my behaviour.

Dyeing my hair is an unintentional quasi-annual tradition. A switch goes off inside my head and it’s all I can think about: the transformation, the change.

Who cares if the process is tedious? For a few pounds and an hour of my time, I’ve explored the frontiers of mahogany, chestnut, and yesterday’s experiment: dark cherry. (The verdict’s out so far — I’ll let you know how it settles after a couple washes.)

But why?

We are primed to think about our physical appearance in terms of how others perceive us. Any alterations to our looks – make up, clothes, hair dye – are therefore assumed to be for other people’s benefit. Yet I’m not seeking male attention, nor believe that a new hair colour will make me more beautiful/desirable/noticeable.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that there’s only one possible reason for dyeing my hair: for a change.

Change is a good thing.

I’m a creature of comfort. But every so often I force myself to change, to jolt out of the normal routine to discover other parts of myself. To push myself into reading a new genre, or visiting a new place.

More recently, I’ve broken through my writing block by starting a paranormal romance novel. I’ve never written or even imagined myself writing romance before. But faced with the longest dry spell ever, I wondered: what if I need to write something different?

So maybe dark cherry is the wrong hair colour for me. And maybe this new romance novel will be a complete pile of poo.

But unless I try, how will I know?

A Lesson from Crete

I was halfway through my lunch when the beetle arrived.

At least I think it was a beetle. The length of my palm and the width of two fingers, black and shiny and so very loud as it hovered behind me on tiny wings. 

HOVERED. BEHIND ME. WITH WINGS.

(Some context: I was recently on holiday in Crete. We landed into the chaos of Chania airport late at night, and had a stomach-churning drive across winding, mountainous roads to Rethymno. The locals drove recklessly, overtaking on single lanes, speeding into the night as our car clung to the hard shoulder.

Within a few sun-kissed days I realised everyone was warm and welcoming. Their hosting prowess extended to food: at our first restaurant we were stuffed after the starters. As it turns out, you get free desserts in most places. And raki. Amazing.)

Back to the winged monstrosity…

We’d stopped at a taverna overlooking Lake Kournas for lunch. It was a hot day – as it had been every day of our holiday – the sheen of sweat coating my skin like a personal wetsuit. The occasional hot gusts of breeze provided little relief.

LakeKournas

The view of Lake Kournas from the taverna, Crete

We’d ordered the usual starters, and grilled lamb and moussaka as mains.

Then the beetle arrived.

I shrieked, hunched my shoulders, leaning as far away as I could without actually leaving my chair. A lone middle-aged Greek man at a table nearby chuckled into his beer as the waitress scurried over. 

When she saw the gigantic insect that was definitely about to land on me, she laughed.

“Just a beetle,” she said reassuringly.

“Just?!” I spluttered.

“A special beetle,” she added. “See its tiny wings? How can such a big beetle fly with such small wings?”

It veered closer and I flinched. The waitress gently wafted a menu at the beetle, and it finally droned off. I slowly straightened, alert for the next attack.

“Do you know the answer?” she prompted. When I shook my head, she beamed. “It can fly because it doesn’t know it’s big.”

I forced a smile to hide my confusion, and caught the Greek man nodding at me wisely.

As I picked through the rest of my lamb, I turned her sentence over and over in my head, struggling to make sense of it.

But now that I’ve been thinking about the expectation barrier, I understand.

The beetle flies because it thinks it can fly. It doesn’t stop to worry about its grotesque body size or simple matters like physics. It doesn’t worry about failing. It just flies.

And me?

Lately I’ve been so worried about failing, that I haven’t even tried to write. But who cares if I have tiny wings, and may never attain the heights of Philip Pullman? I need to put that out of my mind, and just write.

What Should I Post On My Blog?

Cassie’s recent vlog about showing more of her true self has got me thinking.

I’ve long debated what to post on this blog.

When I shut down quillsandzebras, I wondered whether to transfer my book reviews over. I didn’t because some of my reviews are negative; an author (politely) bashing other authors’ work wasn’t the image I wanted to portray.

I’ve wondered whether to post about food and recipes (I’m a huge foodie). But I haven’t, because I figured it was irrelevant and it might dilute my brand.

The point is that I’m constantly worrying about what’s right to post on an author’s website.

There’s so much conflicting advice. Some say every single post should tie back to writing or reading (without tooting your own horn). Others say you should write about everything BUT writing, to give people a sense of who you are. Other others say it depends on your genre.

I opted for the simplest approach: write the content I read.

I read a lot of writing advice, which is why I often ramble about writing here. But Cassie’s post made me suddenly think: is that what YOU want to read from me?

I struggle to name the blogs whose writing advice I’ve read. I Google search and skip through sites, sifting for content. I build no personal connection with the author of that advice.

The blogs I can name off the top of my head — Cassie, Meryl Stenhouse, John Wiswell — are the ones to which I feel a personal connection. I like the people behind them. Wouldn’t I rather people feel that for me?

The issue is that I’m by nature a private person, and that, as much as I like reading about other people’s lives, it feels self-indulgent to witter on about my own.

Perhaps I’m merely having a pre-lunch existential crisis.

What do you reckon?

The Future Of Society

I’ve been binge-reading the Divergent trilogy.

This YA science fiction series has been on my to-do list for a while, and finally, last week, I found time to devour the first two books (no book 3 spoilers, please!).

Since then, I’ve been thinking about how social structure is depicted in science fiction.

Today’s social inequalities aside, the consensus seems to be that — in the future — society will be divided. But how remains up for debate.

Will stratification be:

  • Socioeconomic
    Upper class, middle class and lower class — where money and standing makes the difference. In Above Ground, the richest humans live deeper underground, the poor live closer to danger.

  • Geographic
    Think Hunger Games: your lot is determined by which District you’re born into. Those born in The Capitol never have to take part in the games; those born in Districts 10-12 are bound to be poor.

  • Emotional
    In Divergent, sixteen-year-olds must decide what social group to join based on their strongest personality trait (bravery, selflessness, truthfulness, etc). Exhibiting more than one trait is a no-no.

  • Racial
    Whether this is black vs white, or human vs inhuman. (I’m sure there are examples of this, but I’m drawing a blank! Help?)

  • Gender
    Matriarchal or patriarchal societies as in The Handmaid’s Tale, or more extreme cases like Halfway Human, in which gender is assigned by the government, and the ungendered are slaves.

Needless to say, fiction is drawn towards social stratification. A divided society quickly introduces large-scale conflict into a novel — and conflict is a fundamental element for any story.

But reading science fiction does make me wonder: what will society be like in the future? And how would stratification work in a digital world?

Let me know your predictions (or sci-fi recommendations).