Languid


I’m from California. I learned how to rollerskate at Venice Beach. I camped out beside beachside bonfires with friends. I played in the sand as a child, and wave jumped with friends as a teenager. I learned how to scrape the Santa Monica tar from my soles the way only a local can.

The ocean is part of me in a way I’d never really thought about until it was no longer just a short drive away (in California standards. Here, that kind of drive would be ludicrous).

So the trip to Lesvos, Greece was exciting. Not just because we were there to talk writing and books (check out my Brey blog tomorrow for more on that), but because it was an island in the Aegean. A hot island, no less, which is a departure from usually grey and chilly England, where I actually have a ‘summer fleece’.

And it didn’t disappoint. We were lucky enough to stay with a friend who lives there, and her guest cottage was lovely. The balcony overlooked desert dry hills and the tiny, welcoming village of Eressos. It was utter simplicity, and the pace we’d been living at slowed to a near standstill among the quiet cafes and mallow flowers. Soon, our host had us heading back down the hill to Skala Eressos, the beach village. A long line of cafes, restaurants and tavernas line the beach, with the water only a few feet from the shaded decks. Crystal clear jade waters lapped gently at the shore, showing the rocks and coral beneath as though they’re just waiting to be touched.

It was a quiet, beautiful, haven. It reminded me of the connection I feel to the ocean, of the simple beauty of knowing your neighbors and having conversations that don’t revolve around work or social networking. We nearly hit sheep three different times. We had to watch the wing mirrors in case they scraped the houses along the incredibly narrow roads. Nic got stitches for a deep cut on her finger; the lights at the local urgent care were dimmed and there was no one there but the nurses.

We bought bread from the bakery, veg from the local farmer. We got the most amazing pistachio fro-yo, which, while it looked like something out of a poorly bird, tasted glorious.

And we wrote. We talked writing with people who had lots of different viewpoints. We talked favourite books, not-favourite books, and plans. We sat in the sun and warmed our bones as the swallows played above us.

On our final day I put my feet in the Aegean once more and reconnected with that part of me that ebbs and flows. I felt renewed, relaxed, and ready to go back to real life, which is also pretty damn amazing.

On my birthday, I’m feeling particularly grateful to still be here, experiencing what life has to offer.

Pre-event pondering

I’m sitting in a Costa with an enormous mug of coffee:


And I’m just kind of being. The people beside me are discussing psychology type things. The kids across the way are talking about how great it will be to get to Junior school. The place is alive with conversations. 

I am alone, listening. 

This weekend I will be surrounded by people. Many I’ve known for almost a decade now. Hopefully there will be many I’ve never met, too. It’s only over the last few years I’ve come to realise how I need to gear myself up to be so social. I love the BSB weekend; it’s a wonderful feeling, to be among fellow word/story enthusiasts who love talking about the various elements of book things. I’ve met some truly lovely people through my involvement with this world (including my partner) and I always feel really lucky to be among them. 

But in the lead up to the event, I need to center myself. I need to breathe past the anxiety of looking foolish, past the worry that no one will show up, beyond the doubt that I can pull this off again…8 years after the first. These same issues assail me every year beforehand. 

This year, I’m also on panels discussing books I’ve actually written, rather than just other people’s books, and that raises the anxiety level exponentially. I’m writing niche stuff that may not have a place in a lot of people’s libraries, and it’s scary thinking of all the nasty things folks could say. Or worse, maybe, that no one says anything at all–is being never-read worse than getting lambasted? 

I’m not sure. I told/tell myself that I just want to write, and I’m glad it’s out in the world; what people think of it and whether or not it sells isn’t my concern. Thinking about that as we head into the book festival, it seems rather naïve. I’m not sure where I stand with it now. 

What I do know is that this weekend I’ll hug old friends, I’ll laugh, and we’ll celebrate LGBTQ books in a safe space. 

And that’s pretty damn cool.  

A Blog Under Any Other Name…

 

Blog

Would sound similar?

I have no idea where I was going with that title.

But if you’re interested, I’m blogging under my pen name, Brey Willows, over on the Bold Strokes UK blog site. It would be super awesome if you’d check it out. And maybe have a gander at some of the other blogs while you’re there.

And, you know, if you want to come along this weekend to the most awesome book festival held in the UK ever (in my opinion), it would be very cool to see you there.

 

Are you following?

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Every year it seems to sneak up on me. I’m trundling along, thinking I have everything under control, and then…

WHAM!

There it is, right under my rather bewildered self.

The 8th Annual Bold Strokes Book Festival, UK is upon us. It’s next weekend, in fact. Ten authors will descend on Waterstones in Nottingham on June 3rd-4th, and a weekend of laughter, literature, and general word-play will ensue. Over on the Bold Strokes UK blog, every attending author is blogging about something personal to them. Check it out here.  Follow along and don’t miss a word.

This weekend is special to me. I get to represent a company I truly believe in; Bold Strokes gave me a chance when I was finding my feet, and I’m incredibly lucky to be associated with them. But it’s also about the books and what this weekend represents. Over the last few years, there’s been conversation about whether or not we still need Pride events, whether or not we need the LGBTQ label on books, whether or not we still need queer spaces.

And then we got new political leaders in place, and hard won rights suddenly began to disappear. We started seeing reports from other countries of gay people being thrown from the tops of buildings or put into ‘camps’.

Suddenly, the answer to the questions we’d been asking has become terribly clear; yes. We do need these spaces. We need them so we feel safe. We need them so we know we’re not alone. We need them so we’re not forced back into darkness and hiding. We need them so we know there are others who will stand with us, others with whom we can stand and support.

When I came out, hate crimes against gay people were rife. Two of the women I dated at University were beaten badly, one of them by men with baseball bats. There was a law in place saying gays could be denied housing or jobs based on the assumption of their sexual orientation (no proof needed). It was a scary time. Over the decades, things had gradually gotten better. Laws protecting our rights, hate crime legislation, marriage equality in some places; better.

All of those things are under attack, and this coming weekend, I hope you’ll come to Nottingham and join us at the book festival, where you can be yourself in a safe, fun space. We’ve got books with characters all along the LGBTQ spectrum, in just about every genre. Books that show gay people living real lives, having real adventures, finding their happily ever after.

See you there.

 

She Warned Me…


She knows the publishing business. And before the book came out, she said, “Don’t read the reviews.” And then she wrote, “DON’T READ THE REVIEWS.” 

It’s strange. Out of the twenty or so short stories I’ve published, I’ve never had the desire to look for reviews. I was just happy my story was out there. But when my own novel came out, it was a different kettle of opinions altogether. Did people like it? Did they hate it? Part of me wanted to know. Part of me really didn’t. 

Why did my friend tell me not to read the reviews? 

Because you can’t please everyone. Because sometimes people want to be mean because they think it makes them look like reviewers to take seriously. Because sometimes people are simply cruel. Because sometimes they aren’t cruel, but they’re terribly honest, and that can still hurt. Because many seem to forget there’s a real person behind that book, who is devastated by a one star review that tears apart their work. Because for all the good ones, there’s a bad one that sticks to you like old gum.

Because you must have thick skin, and mine is like wet tracing paper. 

But still…I knew a particular writing magazine had reviewed it. So I promised myself I would only look at that one…

They shredded my book. They got some things so wrong I’m not actually sure they read it, or if they thought it was a different book entirely. 

I didn’t write again for over a month. I know it’s one person’s opinion, as all reviews are. And three months later I’m writing again, though it shook my confidence and humbled me to my alphabetic roots. My friend was right. 

Don’t read the reviews. Write because you love to write and want your story out in the world. Get better with every book. Work at it. Leave the opinions of your book to the other folks who want to read their opinions. 

She warned me. 

What do you know? 


“She’s written two books, and now she thinks she knows everything.” 

I saw this comment on FB the other day. I have no idea who it was about, nor, really, does it matter. It made me think about writing and at what point you do know…well, not everything, because that’s impossible. But you know stuff. Maybe it only took that other author two books to figure it all out. I’m writing my third and want to tear my hair out. 

Writing well is hard. It takes time, sometimes a lot of it, and dedication. It means not watching that great program because you need to plonk your ass down and write. Or edit. Or research. It means your loved one staring at you like a puppy who desperately wants you to come out and play. It means too much coffee, too many nibbles, and rarely enough gym to offset them.

And then your first book comes out, and it’s terrifying and wonderful. Then you ride the review roller-coaster, which alternately makes you want to throw up and sing with joy. And on it goes. 

I hope to hell my first book isn’t my best. I hope I learn and grow with every book I sweat out. With time, maybe I’ll know more than I do now, which might just cover the bottom of an espresso cup. 

I’ve taught and played with words for over a decade now, and I’ve had the pleasure of talking writing with a lot of authors. I’ve also done a little writing of my own, and these are the main lessons I’ve learned: 

1. Rules are good. Break them when you understand them fully. Do it well. 

2. You write what you want to write because you want to write it, critics be damned. Still, do it well. 

3. Humility is sexy. 

4. You must earn your stripes. You should earn them. Expecting the world to drop at your literary feet after your first book is like expecting breakfast in bed with a winning lotto ticket on your birthday, delivered by Angelina Jolie.  Possible, but rather unlikely. 

5. Remember how much you love words. They are pliable and textured. Play. Mold them into such beautiful sentences people mull over them well after they’ve put down your book. 

That’s the sum of what I know so far. How about you? 

The meaning of life 


There’s nothing like writing about religion to make you ask the big questions; what would Jesus like to eat? If God exists, what would he/she/they wear? Does blue skin burn in the sun? Who makes the clothing for the gods with lots of limbs? Are there godly tailors? 

And then, you know, there are the less interesting questions; why are we here, what does it all mean, etc. 

Right now, I’m writing about a lot about death. I’m looking at what makes life so worth living that we do what we can to avoid leaving it, as much as we can. If we looked at death differently, with less fear, would we treat life as less valuable? 

So here is my question for you: what makes life meaningful for you? 

Is it family? Love? Friends? Doing good deeds? The afterlife? Leaving a legacy? 

When this crazy, relatively short, adventure ends, what is it that will have made your personal journey meaningful?