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Guest Post: Rebecca Sowden asks ‘Am I a Writer Yet?’

Today on the blog, we have guest Rebecca Sowden asking herself a question that many writers face regularly. When I read Rebecca’s work, I totally identified with it and I’m sure many other writers will too. 

You’re not alone! And the advice I give members of my writing groups is: ‘You write, therefore you’re a writer.’ Remember that. 

Vic x

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Am I a Writer yet?
By Rebecca Sowden.

I love the physical process of scrawling my thoughts on a piece of paper. Angry swirls of slanted, cursive writing provide me with a wonderful, freeing feeling. I have written great swathes of impassioned, frantic prose in order to express a range of emotions – most notably, anger and frustration. Writing anonymous letters that I don’t intend to send is my forte. In researching this piece of writing, I scrambled through drawers and cabinets to find hastily stashed letters to former bosses, family members and even my husband! I realised, I should have a Masters in angry indignation.

For someone like me, who lacks assertiveness, takes some time to process thoughts, recognise feelings and identify my own opinions, it is vital that I continue to use writing to express myself honestly and thoughtfully. I don’t think I am unique. It seems that this feeling is quite common, as I am discovering on my tentative venture into the land of blogging/writing.

When is it acceptable to think of yourself as a writer, let alone, describe yourself as such?

Writing my first blog post was an outpouring of authentic feelings, written at the end of a fabulous, restful holiday. That post practically fell out of me and into the notepad on my phone. The difficult thing was putting it out there for all to read – with my actual name on it! Doing so had a profound effect on my endlessly shaky self-esteem. So perhaps it isn’t just the process of writing which is cathartic, maybe sharing these feelings and any recognition received is the therapy?

Why am I now feeling the desire to share my writing with an audience? I have never experienced the compulsion for recognition from others. I’ve always been happy scrawling then hiding the results in a drawer! I consider any social media posts very carefully and usually use Facebook as a way of documenting some of the interesting milestones in life. However, it is clear that many people do enjoy sharing the minutiae of their existences with a social media audience – one of whom is me, since I read said posts! I wonder what drives people to do this and I’m not the only one. ‘Psychologists at Brunel University London surveyed Facebook users to examine the personality traits and motives that influence the topics they choose to write about in their status updates.’ They found that ‘Facebook status updates reveal low self-esteem and narcissism.’ Science Daily, 21st May 2015. Oh no! Does this mean that I am now a narcissist?

If social media posters are writing for a purpose and with an audience in mind, does that mean everyone is a writer? Or is there a difference between those of us posting and those who are blogging? In a time when we all seem to be writing more than ever, is quality more important than quantity and frequency?

Most importantly (and narcissistically), after sharing three blog pieces and starting to write regularly, can I do what I’ve always wanted since I was a little girl and think of myself as a ‘Writer?’

Coming soon

Getting to Know You: Victoria Griffin on the ‘Flooded’ anthology.

As a special treat to readers of this blog, I present to you our second guest of the day. I know, I spoil you!
Victoria Griffin is the creator of ‘Flooded: A Creative Anthology of Brain Injuries‘ and she’s here today to talk to us about this brilliant project and why everyone should donate to this brilliant Kickstarter campaign.
Thanks to Victoria to taking the time to chat to us today.

Vic x

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Welcome to the blog, Victoria, what is ‘Flooded‘?
Flooded‘ will be a creative anthology of fiction and creative nonfiction devoted to brain injuries. It will be approximately 80,000 words and will include work of all styles and genres. The anthology is not merely meant to showcase memoirs or personal stories—though they will undoubtedly play a role. Brain injuries take many forms and are often difficult to describe. That’s why the anthology will use multiple genres to explore the experience of brain injuries and concussions, ultimately unifying to create an expansive, truthful representation of brain injuries.

What inspired the anthology?
In January of this year, I took a hit to the head during softball practice. I immediately felt drunk, but the next morning I had difficulty speaking and walking. My trainer assured me the symptoms would be gone within two weeks, after which the doctor assured me they would be gone within three. After four months, two ER visits, a drug overdose (caused by a neurologist who was supposed to help me), and a desperate struggle to graduate without being able to read or perform basic, everyday functions, I finally recovered.

On the surface, the concussion cost me my senior season of softball and four months of my life. But in reality, it left scars so deep, they are difficult to describe—which is what prompted me to write about the experience. When I realized there was no publication solely dedicated to brain injuries, I began to truly consider how concussion awareness is approached—with facts and statistics—and how inadequate that is.

That sounds awful, I’m so sorry you had to go through that. What was it like to be concussed?
A brain injury is difficult to describe. I feel like I could write a thousand pages and never capture the experience. I can tell you that my mom said I sounded like a four-year-old, and my dad said my eyes were always dull and lifeless. I don’t remember the first two weeks at all, and after that I would “lose” gradually decreasing sections of time—a few days at first, then a day, then hours, and eventually minutes. When I finally gained enough strength to walk around the apartment, I would get stuck on the stairs and have to call for help. A sound as small as footsteps would send me into sensory overload attacks—which I came to call flooding—during which I would involuntarily curl into a ball and be unable to move, speak, or breathe.

Have you ever been near to drowning? Each time an attack happened, I felt like I was drowning. Getting air was more difficult than pressing through the heaviest back squat I’ve ever attempted. And each attack lasted hours.

Still, all I’ve really described is the physical. Can I explain to you what it feels like to lose your mental capabilities? To lose your language? To not be able to understand words spoken to you? To feel paranoia so strong you can’t look anyone in the eye? To lose your emotions, so that all you feel are the artificial sadness and fear induced by the injury and medication?

What made you decide to combine fiction and creative non-fiction?
As I said, I can’t explain to you what it was like to have a concussion, not like this. I can’t tell you what it was like, but I can show you. I can write a story that makes you feel the fear of being alone when a flooding attack happens and wondering if you’ll get help before you stop breathing. I can write a story that makes you feel the overwhelming depression of losing the entirety of your identity. I can write a story that makes you laugh at the silliness of staring at a light for ten minutes because you believed it wasn’t there.

By compiling an anthology of fiction and creative non-fiction, we can use multiple genres, styles, and tones to truly convey the experience of a brain injury. Because it’s not what it looks like or how many people it happens to that matters. It’s how it feels and how it impacts the lives of human beings.

Anton Chekhov is attributed with saying, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” Simply telling people about concussions and brain injuries is not sufficient to nurture awareness and understanding. We need to show them.

What could someone who has never experienced a brain injury gain from reading ‘Flooded‘?
The anthology is not simply for survivors. While it will certainly be an outlet for them to express their personal realities, they are actually the group of people who (as readers) need the anthology the least. This anthology is about educating and informing those who aren’t knowledgeable about the issue.

When I realized I was concussed, my first reaction was to try to hide it because I knew I would be benched. What if I had read an anthology like ‘Flooded‘? What if I had known what could happen to me? I was lucky. I walked away from my brain injury with no permanent damage, and my poor decision early on did not negatively affect the outcome. But it could have. And for many, it does. Reading an anthology like ‘Flooded‘ may help others to make better decisions in such a situation.

If you have not experienced a brain injury, you might in the future. Or a family member or close friend might, and they will not be able to tell you what they’re going through, not until it’s over. What if you had the opportunity to gain insight into their struggles? I know my friends and family would have leapt at the thought of learning anything about what was happening inside my body and mind.

Concussions don’t just happen to athletes. They happen after a fall or a car accident. They are a part of life that needs to be addressed. At the very least, gaining empathy for another’s pain and struggles makes you a better, more understanding person. Who doesn’t need that in their life?

How did your concussion change your life?
The concussion completely altered the course of my life, directly and indirectly. Because of it, I wound up discovering a new passion—freelance editing. But the most significant result of the injury is its impact on my perspective and my worldview. I now have a much deeper understanding of the sorts of challenges some people face every single day—those who struggle with depression, anxiety, and learning disorders.

I also have an incredibly deep-rooted appreciation for the people in my life. We all know that extreme situations bring out the best and the worst in people. I saw people behave in ways I never would have expected. I saw true cruelty, to a degree I didn’t believe people to be capable of, not from strangers but from people who had been in my life for years.

But I also saw extreme compassion and sacrifice. I saw friends and family members put their lives on hold to make sure I made it. From driving across the country to staying with me when I was afraid of what might happen during the night, I can never repay those people, but I will spend the rest of my life trying. And now, I consider of every person in my life, would they be the one to make sure I kept breathing when an attack hit? Or would they be the one to step over me and leave me alone?

When and how can writers submit pieces for inclusion?
Submissions will be accepted via Submittable beginning November 15. The submission window will close February 28. Following the Kickstarter, detailed submission instructions will be available at victoriagriffin.net. All submissions will be read blind—without any identifying information—so that race, gender, and background play no part in the selection process.

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Who can submit?
Absolutely anyone can submit. There is no requirement to have experienced – in any way – a brain injury. If a writer takes the time to research brain injuries and concussion in order to write a piece that accurately represents the experience, we have already educated one person on the realities of brain injuries. As previously mentioned, all submissions will be read blind so publication history is not a factor. Seasoned veterans and unpublished writers are both welcome to submit and will receive the same consideration. The work speaks for itself!

How does Kickstarter work?
Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform, which means we set a budget, and if we are a dollar short of that goal, we get nothing. For that reason, the budget I have set is the bare minimum we need to create the anthology. I have also set a target budget, which is the amount it would take to give the anthology the treatment I believe it deserves and, most importantly, to pay contributors an amount that is fair to their work and their talent. Keep in mind that the actual project budget is only 74% of the total budget. The other 26% goes to Kickstarter fees and rewards fulfilment.

What do backers receive in return for supporting ‘Flooded‘?
Rewards! By supporting ‘Flooded, you become a part of our family, and that does not come without its perks. Your reward will depend on your pledge amount. Examples of rewards are inclusion in thank-you sections on victoriagriffin.net and in the print anthology, a special “behind the scenes” eBook, 25% off editing services, a custom journal, and of course, the ‘Flooded anthology itself. Dedicated contributors even have an opportunity to receive a “perfect copy,” delivered three months before regular distribution and signed by every single U.S. contributor—an offer that will never be available again. The rest of the rewards are below.

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That’s a lot of money! Where is it going?
Other than Kickstarter fees and rewards fulfillment, the budget will cover cover art and design, interior layout, Submittable fees, editing and proofreading, promotion, and of course, contributor payments and copies. A breakdown of the minimum and target budgets are below.

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How can I help?
Spread the word! Share a link to the Kickstarter page on social media. Tell your friends and family. Help us to turn this project into a movement. And of course, you can visit the Kickstarter page yourself, and pledge to support the project! We would love to have you as part of the ‘Flooded‘ family.

 

So whether you’d like to submit your work to the anthology or donate to the Kickstarter campaign (better yet, both), please do support this fantastic campaign. Well done to Victoria for turning her injury into something positive. 

Coming soon…

Jesmond Library Short Story Competition

Thanks to Jennifer for hosting me on her blog today!

Jennifer C. Wilson

Last year, I took part in the launch day for the Jesmond Library Short Story Competition, and it was a really fun day, hearing stories on the theme of ‘Bedtime Stories’. This year, the competition is running again, so here’s a Q&A with Victoria Watson, who is organising and judging the competition (with a little help… info below!).

Vic-bwWhat are the ‘headlines’ for the competition? What is the theme, deadline, length of entry etc.?

Following the success of the inaugural short story competition last year, Jesmond Library have chosen a theme close to their hearts – Jesmond! So no matter what genre you write in, you can enter your story or poem as long as it features Jesmond.

The word limit for adults (entrants aged 18 and over) is 1,500 words. For the two under eighteen categories, the maximum number of words per entry is 500. And for the poets among…

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What have I got myself into?

Noir at the Bar Harrogate Continue reading

Review: ‘Not Working’ by Lisa Owens

Not Working

Claire is in her late 20s, she’s quit her “creative communications” (i.e. marketing) job in search of fulfilment. Her boyfriend, the supportive but frustrated Luke, is a brain surgeon. Can you imagine feeling unfulfilled and living with someone as important and single-minded as a brain surgeon?!

As a millennial, I identify with Claire. I may be a wee bit older than her but I understand this early adulthood crisis well.

Through a series of vignettes and thoughts, Lisa Owens manages to touch on scenarios that every woman my age will identify with. When Claire isn’t falling out with Luke over sexy colleagues or marriage and/or babies, she’s lying to her gym instructor about how much alcohol she consumes. Claire, in my opinion, is every woman. OK, so she’s not the ones who’ve got their life together – or seem to, at least – but she is every woman I know in one way or another. So you may be married but perhaps your mum isn’t speaking to you. Maybe you’ve got a great job but your friends think you drink too much. Claire is a composite of all our neuroses in one. And as much as there are scenes in this book where I despair for Claire, I love her. I care about her. I see myself in her.

Don’t get me wrong, this review probably makes Not Working sound rather depressing. The scenarios can be sad, particularly if you identify with them, but Owens manages to make them bittersweet. There’s a lot of humour in this book and much of it comes in the form of recognition. How many of us have gone to hand our notice in at the gym and walked out with an appointment for a personal trainer?

Not Working is a must-read. It truly is the Bridget Jones for millennials.

Vic x