Hopewell Shadows – the story so far, kinda.

I started writing a novel back in 2017. I was at the end of my Creative Writing MA, and for our dissertation we were required to submit the first 20-40,000 words of a novel.

A Dreamer’s Life was a short story I wrote during the first term.

It was popular amongst my classmates and I was encouraged to develop it into something bigger. So that’s what I did. I took A Dreamer’s Life, made huge changes and additions and ended up submitting Hopewell Shadows at a little over 20,000 words.

It was far more difficult that I could have imagined – beginnings usually are.

I remember being mentally entangled in the most trivial things, and feeling extremely frustrated when I just couldn’t write.

At times, it felt like I was trying to squeeze water from a dry sponge. I learnt that you can’t force creativity and trying to do so will only cause you more stress. You may have a month-long dry patch but when the rain comes, it could pour for days and you’ll back on track in no time. Another thing I realised I was doing with my writing was something that I can on occasion do elsewhere in life, and that’s the tendency to make things harder for myself.

I was wrapped up in trying to make the pieces of the puzzle fit, adding more in to make something in particular work, and then realised (far later than I should have) that I didn’t need that something in particular at all. So out it would go, along with its complicated baggage, excessive fluff and my unnecessary writer’s stress!

Once I got past the initial humps, things began to fall into place.

I was happy with what I submitted, but having worked on its development over the last two-three years since finishing the degree, I can confidently say that I’d be embarrassed to read my dissertation. It has come a LONG way and things continue to change, which means answering the question, “What’s your novel about?” isn’t as simple as you’d think! With that in mind, I took a few moments to mull it over and have come up with the following…

Hopewell Shadows: the most current elevator pitch.

Hopewell Shadows is an emotional thriller with an element of science fiction and a sprinkling of the supernatural. It’s set in 1980s New England and follows the journey of Charlotte Summers, a young woman betrayed by her loved ones and struggling to uncover the truth about her childhood following traumatic events and an experimental treatment gone wrong. With the help of a shady neuroscientist and his dream recording device, what Charlotte seeks could be within reach, but at what cost?

As I post this blog, I’ve just written Chapter 22 and am almost at 50,000 words.

I sometimes feel like I should have finished writing by now – it’s been almost three years! But then I remind myself that I haven’t just been writing, because I’ve spent countless hours editing and researching, I have a day job and books to read (because all good writers must read), and a whole life outside of writing.

We were given plenty of advice/suggestions during our course some of which included, “You must be selfish with your time!” and “Get up at 6am if you have to…”

Well, that approach may work for some, but it’s not for me. If I was to get up and start typing at 6am every day not only would I be miserable, but the quality of my work would be poor and I’d be exhausted. My day job is 90% computer based and tends to leave me feeling drained, so writing after work isn’t ideal either… instead, I usually get my best writing done at the weekends and sometimes I’ll take annual leave to stay home and write!

For me, writing is not the number one priority – finding a good balance is.

So I’m okay with the time it’s taking, and you should be too. If you’ve been thinking of your progress as ‘slow’ or you’ve had an idea in the works for years but haven’t yet started, try not to beat yourself up about it (easier said than done, I know). The thing is, you can’t force these things because they’ll only happen when you’re truly ready for them.

The advice about being selfish with your time, is true in a way though. If you’re ready to write, then that’s what you should do – the housework can wait, those texts don’t need an immediate response, and the dog can be walked later on. Whilst you can’t force it, you shouldn’t deny it either!

In the Face of Adversity

I usually enjoy writing an end of year blog post, but I found it difficult this year.

The last twelve months have been some of the most stressful, trying times of my life for reasons I can’t really share on my blog. (Although I am directly affected by the problem, it isn’t mine to discuss publicly). I will just say that ‘it’ has had a terrible impact and has soured almost every part of the year, which is partly why writing this felt difficult – because it seems dishonest to talk about all the good things whilst avoiding the metaphorical elephant in the room.

Regardless of the elephant, I have still managed to put myself out there and attempt to live my best life. And that is something worth sharing.

My 2019 calendar was filled with things to look forward to and enjoy, so despite the pitfalls that I can’t discuss, I still hold a real sense of accomplishment when thinking about the last twelve months.

20191225_074905.jpg

I have been to Paris, completed an escape room, seen three shows at the theatre, attended two weddings, visited Bournemouth for an evening out, enjoyed FOUR nostalgia-rich concerts and a local music festival, attended an LDUK conference with one the world’s top Lyme-treating physicians and the day after that conference I drove back into London to meet friends for lunch – that’s two trips to London in one weekend! Something I would never have done last year.

I had an absolute blast at London Film and Comic Con in July, and there was an abundance of time spent with family and friends throughout the year. We welcomed Rupert to the family in May and I cannot imagine my life without this cheeky and loving poochon pup.

20191230_171233.jpg

I spent a week in New Hampshire, which was both wonderful and a real test of strength… 💪

Other travel mishaps include an attempt to visit Prague, but I guess that trip just wasn’t meant to be.

My last big outing of the year was to Winter Wonderland with Royan and we managed to have a really great day out even if we did accidently walk the long way round to Hyde Park and then have zero sleep at a very expensive hotel!

So what else did I get up to?

I stepped down from managing LDUK’s public Facebook page, freeing up some much needed headspace and spare time. I finally swapped my car for an automatic to lessen the strain on my sciatica, and I completed a course of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for OCD which reared its ugly head towards the end of 2018. I live with it daily of course, but sometimes it flares up and takes over. I’m pleased to say the CBT worked and the OCD is firmly back in its place. I own it, it does not own me.

If you’re in the Bucks area and struggling with mental health I highly recommend self-referring through Healthy Minds.

DSC_1655.jpg

I managed another term of choir, doing something good for my physical and mental health that I really enjoy. I wasn’t able to keep up with the last term of the year, but I do plan on going back in January.

I’ve spent countless hours reading, and watching film and TV. I signed up for a writer’s magazine subscription and I had a heavy edit of my novel-in-progress. I signed up to the Curable app to help manage symptoms and have found the science really interesting to listen to. If the idea that the mind can heal the body intrigues you then I recommend taking a look at the Curable app.

I made lots of progress at work and have never felt so professionally fulfilled.

On top of my normal duties, I have also taken on the role of leading the company’s Corporate and Social Responsibility Team which amongst other things, means planning lots of fundraising initiatives and organising activities for staff to take part in.

20190917_143710.jpg

The aforementioned elephant was the reason behind several health setbacks, and when coupled with the loss of Royan’s granddad in May and his dad in November, we’ve understandably had our work cut out for us. We have a handle on it now though and with a bit of luck, 2020 will be a smoother ride. We won’t be getting married next year as was the original plan, and we won’t be moving house anytime soon, but we can now address the elephant with the correct support and work out a way to move forward.

With everything going on, it’s not surprising that I wasn’t able to keep up with the gym, choir or actually writing my novel.

But that’s all in the plan for 2020.

Keeping active whilst living with the impact of late-stage Lyme disease is no easy feat. It takes a lot of meticulous planning and organising to ensure I’m pacing myself and keeping my head above water. Some things will slide, but prioritising is key. Learning when to say ‘no’ is also key.

I actually consider the fact that I am still managing a 30-hour work week to be a small miracle, so how I have also managed to enjoy so much of my spare time (whilst living with the elephant) is almost unfathomable. Especially when I think about how much time I have also spent in bed barely able to leave the house.

This year has taught me that I am capable of more than I thought.

It has made me believe in myself, it has opened my eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead and there’s no turning back now.

September Travels

Travelling is stressful at the best of times, but how do you manage when you have a chronic illness? I did everything I could to ensure a smooth experience, but you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Back in 2006 I went on a big adventure across the pond to work at a summer camp in New Hampshire. It was a transformative experience that helped shape the adult I was becoming and I built several friendships that have stood the test of both time and (mega) distance – shout out to Katie in Australia!

My last trip to Camp was in 2011, a full eight years ago. Since then many a thing has happened, including the worsening of health challenges, and as a result my confidence with travel has taken a blow… so much so that I turned down a trip to New York last April.

But an old friend passed away this year and his memorial was being held at Camp over a weekend in September. It was time for a visit.

Continue reading “September Travels”

E of F week eleven: Parasitic Pain

Ughhh this was by far my worst short story. So bad that I haven’t opened it since and don’t plan to either! We had read American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis, and Haunted: a novel of stories by Chuck Palahniuk. The theme was horror but our brief was to write with an unreliable narrator as Bret Easton Ellis did with American Psycho. FYI I do not recommend Haunted to anyone who considers themselves ‘easily disturbed’. It’s intrusive-thoughts central up in there.

Our unreliable narrator pieces were discussed during week twelve, the last class of the module. My piece was called Parasitic Pain and was overly complicated, bouncing around characters and time way too much. Such a shame it was our last written piece of the term and I didn’t ‘go out’ on a high but I learnt a valued lesson – don’t try to be too clever and don’t fuss over the particulars too much. It’s called fiction for a reason!

The books for that week were Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges, and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. I started Catch-22 but didn’t get very far at all. I must have been too busy making a mess of my short story!

That’s the end of my Elements of Fiction journey, thank you for keeping up with me! You can read a summary of the module and what I learnt in this blog post from December 2016. Where does the time go??

Rachel xx

giphy3

E of F week ten: The Fridge of Adventure

The theme of week ten was point of view and we had been asked to read Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, and Vertigo by WG Sebald. So our brief was simply to produce something ‘uncanny’ for discussion the following week.

I had fun with this and wrote a children’s story about a girl called Hollie who takes a risk and joins Princess Ella on a quest to slay a beast. It’s had a few changes as Princess Ella was originally also named Hollie (it’ll make sense when you gets to the reading) and at one point the title was actually The Land of Animayshun.

I really like this one, there’s a big Once Upon a Time feel to it. Usually, re-reading past work is cringe-a-f but now it’s had the necessary grammar and spelling edits, I can actually read through The Fridge of Adventure (PDF) and feel like I’m enjoying it.

giphy2

E of F week nine: Girl Talk

By the end of November 2016 we were nine weeks into E of F. We had a Wednesday morning lecture on writing for children, led by Benjamin Zephaniah and had been asked to read two of his novels. By this point I was seriously struggling to keep up with the reading and couldn’t locate either of the books in the local libraries so skipped them all together. They’re still on my ‘want to read’ list.

The novels from the previous week were both around 3/400 pages long and I only managed to read one of those – The Destructives, by Matthew De Abaitua who just happened to be our tutor (it was a very good read)! The second sci-fi novel was All The Birds In The Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, and I didn’t get round to reading that till June 2017!

Any way back to writing for children… we were asked to write something within the genre that captured an element of fairy/folk tales. I started thinking about The Ugly Duckling and that’s how Girl Talk came about. There’s a sprinkling of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and a little Fight Club too… never thought those two things would be seen in the same sentence! Here it is – Girl Talk (PDF).

_20180304_163925.jpg

E of F week eight: A Dreamer’s Life

Our fifth assignment was given during global fiction week. We were tasked with reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Dâiaz and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga.

Writing global fiction wasn’t a practical option given our word count and limited resources, so that week we were tasked with producing a short story with a time lapse. I wrote a slightly dark piece about neglected children told from the angle of one of the characters, flash back/forward style.

We skipped assignments in week six and seven as we had mock submissions and tutorials. But we picked the short stories back up again with science fiction in week eight.

Our assignment was to write something with an element of science fiction and to ask ourselves – ‘what if?’

Continue reading “E of F week eight: A Dreamer’s Life”

E of F week four: Megan

Our fourth writing assignment for Elements of Fiction was about relationships. We had read and discussed On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, and Summertime by JM Coetzee, and were tasked with writing a short story that involved a love story taking place over a one year period of time.

On Chesil Beach was a very interesting read. There’s much to say about this novel but in summary, it’s set in the 1960s and written with intense depth and psychological insight that threatens to make you embarrassed-by-proxy. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes complicated characters filled with anxiety, detailed locations and cultural nuances of the time. The movie adaptation has just been released but I’m yet to see it.

My short story was originally called Teenage Dreams and has undergone several drafts. It started out at 1200 words with a boat load of cringe that then slightly worsened when I rewrote and submitted it for mock-marking in the middle of the term, at 1800 words.

giphy

Cringe.Cringe.Cringe.

I’ve since had another crack at Teenage Dreams so here it is, now called Megan (PDF). It’s written from the perspective of a man who wishes he had treated his first love differently. I took a little inspiration from On Chesil Beach and it’s roughly 1400 words long. Enjoy!

_20180304_161330.jpg

E of F week three: The Little Room

Week three of Elements of Fiction had us discussing two novels with a heavy focus on location (Death in Venice by Thomas Mann and Hot Milk by Deborah Levy) which prompted the following assignment:

  • You are standing on a train platform. There is a board displaying trains. They are all going to different places. Each of those places is somewhere you have been, or lived, somewhere you remember.
  • List these places. And the people associated with them, that you remember. And the incidents.
  • Describe it from overhead, and from on the ground, in summary, across seasons until you reach the moment of time in which the story is set.
  • Asterix half a dozen. Write a page or two in response to each.

I wrote about a young woman called Rose who is visiting her grandmother’s house but has been asked to stay in the ‘creepy’ room – you know, the one that all elderly relatives have!

Continue reading “E of F week three: The Little Room”

E of F week two: Don’t Forget Me

Week two of our Elements of Fiction module involved a lecture on creating characters and discussing two novels, Dexter is Dead by Jeff Lindsay, and Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell. Both deal with character identity and involve killing them off.

We gave/received feedback on submitted work from the previous week and were then presented with the below brief:

Write a single paragraph that conveys the appearance and essential nature of a character. Then follow it up with a character sketch that includes a present day frame and flashback to five years before the action. Anywhere between 1000-1200 words.

I wrote a piece of fiction about Jake, a young man with a longstanding health problem who receives a letter from his past self.

Continue reading “E of F week two: Don’t Forget Me”