Bitten again.


The so-called writing bug found me again last night and bit deep so that this morning I woke with an unquenchable desire to have another crack at writing my own stuff.

A few years ago, when I was keen on it, I had some limited success. I went through the stage that many who aspire to write go through and penned story after story, in countless different genres and sent them all into the aether. I lived through the waiting as though it were torture, the waiting to hear if a submission had been accepted. Eventually, I learned that hearing nothing is normal and, to get a response, particularly a personal response, was the next best thing to an acceptance. After what felt like years, the responses started to appear in my inbox. Not too long after that, they became more frequent. At the height of my “success”, I was receiving as many as two personalised rejections a month. If you’ve never tried to get your stories out there, for someone else to like your stuff and want to publish it, you just won’t understand what joy even a personalised “no” can bring.

“Thank you for your submission, Mark. We enjoyed the story but we don’t feel that now is the right time for this particular story. Why not try again in a few months?”

“Thank you for entering the competition, Mark. Your story, Dogs with swords for tales was very well written. Your style is very accessible and we are sure that in time you will find success. Please consider us again for future submissions. We’d very much like you to consider our upcoming competition in September.”

Close but no cigar.

However, not long after that, I started to receive the odd acceptance. The editors were often with online magazines rather than actual print, but an acceptance, wherever it comes from is like heroin to a writer. Within a very short space of time, I had three of my stories accepted for publication. I think they all came in the same month if I recall.

So what happened? Life happened. Like everyone else in this world who has commitments, namely family, work, pets, social life etc., it all takes its toll. My firstborn son tipped the balance for me. He has brought immense joy, but the cost is paid for in time. To a writer, time is currency. After family, it is the single most precious thing in the world.

With that thought in mind, this morning I had read through the bits and pieces I was writing just before life intervened. I had hoped to be able to pick up where I left off but sadly I don’t think that will be possible. Writing is a craft and needs working at. There are things I’ve produced in the past that now, reading them, I can’t fathom how my mind was working or how I made the connections I did. I like a lot of what I wrote before. I like where it was going and feeling in those words. Man, finding that again is going to be hard.

There is a submission window opening in a few days for a horror anthology. I’m going to try and submit something into it. Who knows, if I bag myself another personal rejection then I’ll know I’m onto a winner.

M.

Time to Grow Up…


Well, it’s been a while but what better reason is there to come back to blogging than the birth of a son?

On August 27th, 2014 at 0324am my son, Arthur Atticus Thompson, was born by emergency caesarean section. I remember the moment vividly.

My wife had been in labour for thirty-one hours and although she had her heart set on a natural birth, it was the consultant’s decision that enough was enough and our baby was to come out whether he wanted to or not.

The wife had struggled through every minute of those thirty-one hours. Contractions began at 2am on the Monday morning. By 2pm she was in so much pain we contacted the hospital to discuss coming in. Naturally, as contractions were only about eight minutes apart at this time, the hospital staff were not keen on having us turn up. Come, they said, but if you’re not ready then we’ll send you straight home.

We live an hour’s drive from the hospital so we were always planning to start travelling in the direction of the hospital early, although we had hoped to wait until contractions got down to about 6 minutes apart. An interesting thing about the timing of contractions – I didn’t know this but the apps that you can download for your phone, the ones (and we used several) that the wife and I were using, time your contractions from the beginning of one contraction until the beginning of the next. This is not how out hospital does it. Instead, they count from the end of one contraction to beginning of the next. The wife and I were twenty hours in to her labour and we never saw her contractions get closer than eight minute apart until we discovered that little gem. As it turns out, her contractions were actually four minutes apart and had been for some time.

The midwives knew I was recording the contractions and so took my word (or the apps word) for it every time I updated them as to our progress. It was only when a student midwife walked in and commented that she thought the contractions were closer to three minutes apart that things started to get a bit exciting.

Enter the Registrar – the senior doctor on shift. The wife was assessed again and found to be only two centimetres dilated. Ideally, they like for the mother to be ten centimetres dilated and to be having three to four contractions every ten minutes. It was suggested at this time that we should go home.

I took a short break at this point and telephoned my mother-in-law to update her on the wife’s progress. My ear grew hot as her threats to murder me should we be discharged blistered my eardrum. I actually had to hold the phone away and I could still hear her. Caesarean sections, it would appear, run in the family and both mother-in-law and sister-in-law had already been through exactly what I was now seeing with my wife.

I walked back in to see the Registrar begin her discharge speech, saying how it would be beneficial and promote more rest for mother if she was at home and not taking up a bed in hospital.

The wife became frantic at this point. Whilst under the care of the hospital staff she had been on Entonox (or gas and air) constantly and the thought of being discharged without any pain relief was terrifying for her.

Now I can understand both sides of this argument. The wife is not progressing; therefore the hospital staff can do nothing. Yet, we have no pain relief out side of hospital and we live an hour away. That’s a two hour round trip if we are ejected. I did the only thing I could do which was to look stern and say nothing. I did not want to get into an argument with the staff, as doing so would mark us as ‘difficult’ and likely improve the odds of being discharged. Instead, I said nothing, looked at the registrar with my sternest ‘I disagree yet won’t voice this,’ face, and allowed my wife to seal the deal with a well-timed howl of pain. The midwives attended at once and remarked that a two hour round trip with no pain relief might be a bit harsh. Credit due, the Registrar considered her underlings opinions and then offered an epidural. This, I knew, was good news. An epidural, once given, must be monitored; hence I knew we would be staying.

An epidural is a truly horrific thing to watch. I observed the kindly anaesthetist insert a foot of metal (okay, slight exaggeration) into my wife’s spine, with a smile. To say I felt light on my feet would not do that feeling justice. I definitely swayed, not because I am unfamiliar with the procedure (I am a paramedic and see some pretty gruesome stuff), but because the wife had no say in the matter. She was either so intoxicated on gas or blinded by pain that making a decision for herself was simply not possible. The anaesthetist explained the possible side effects and risks (one of which included spinal cord damage) and asked me to sign on the dotted line. A howl of pain from my wife produced the most frantic and unintelligible signatures I have ever produced.

My God, what a drug! The pain virtually vanished after about twenty minutes and my wife was returned to me once more as one who is able to hold a conversation and is, more over, recognisable one more as my wife. Watching her cling to an Entonox cylinder, half in half out of bed, dribbling and screaming is not something I ever want to see again.

Part of having an epidural is that the patient must be monitored, or more specifically, the baby must be monitored. The wife was hooked up to a machine called a CTG, or Cardiotocogram, which allowed the staff to monitor both foetal heart rate and also the length, duration and frequency of the wife’s contractions.

It quickly became apparent that something was not quite right. The duration of my wife’s contractions were lasting up to ten minutes and rolling straight from one into another. A normal contraction might last up to a minute, sometimes two and you would normally have a little gap in between which would allow both mother and baby and chance to recover before the next assault. Small wonder then that my wife had been in so much pain for so long.

Once more the registrar was called and once more it was discovered that, despite the intense contraction activity, the wife had not dilated further than 4cm. It was some improvement but the Registrar was not happy and made the obvious decision to pass the case up the chain of brains.

Enter the Consultant, who as I said, was not messing around. Baby will be delivered tonight, she said, by c-section. Enough is enough, she said with finality and that was that. She scribbled some notes on our care record and handed over to the registrar. I go now to prep theatre, she said as she left.

It was something of a relief to be honest. We could have struggled on in the hope that my wife would dilate a little more but I think it would have been in vain and potentially dangerous for both wife and child.

Furthermore, Arthur is a big boy. I cannot imagine that my wife would have pushed him out without causing some serious undercarriage damage. Sometimes I wonder if she would have survived at all. My wife is quite petite. Perhaps then, this is nature’s way of saying that children should not have been an option for us. Arthur is an IVF baby. I wonder if the reason we were not blessed with a natural conception is because my wife would not have survived to deliver without the intervention of modern medicine. I guess we’ll never know.

To say I’m proud of my wife is not enough. I was by her side every minute and although I can never understand what she really went through, she will never understand what I went through either. To see someone you love in so much pain, to worry if they will even live, is a most sobering and terrifying experience. I may be over playing things a bit but at the time, during those long hours of listening to her cry, I can only say how it felt to me.

The wife and I have discussed our time in hospital and agree that although it was hard, we received excellent care and there will be more than a few thank you cards leaving here in the morning. The bottom line however is that we are pleased with the end result.

Arthur is worth it.

For her he is worth the three days of pain. For me he is worth the intense feelings of uncertainty and fear as she laboured so hard, struggled for so long for a natural birth that ultimately did not happen.

We love our boy very much. I may well remember every detail of the struggle to bring him into this world, from the initial IVF consultation to wanking in a cupboard, the anxiety of waiting for the test to show positive, the initial three months of hormonal imbalance, the labour, the birth, and now sleepless nights, shitty nappies and dodging projectile bowel movements but I would not change a thing.

He’s here and it’s great.

Perspective


April! That was the last time I posted about anything and you know what? I’m really not surprised.

I hold a full time job as a paramedic (Although I work as an on-call police medic), I live on a working farm and my wife is thirty weeks pregnant with our first born. Oh, and we have a fourteen week old puppy.

That’s a lot isn’t it? I read that all back to myself and I think it’s bloody loads. Too much maybe for one person to deal with but you just have to suck it up and soldier on. My wife and I always busy. Always. It never used to be this way. It used to be that she was always busy. I was never busy. My free time used to involve playing xbox or PC games. I may have watched the odd movie or perhaps even had an odd afternoon to spend doing nothing more than abusing myself in which ever way I saw fit. Not now. I don’t blame the wife. She’s just a worker, a hard worker… and she she makes me feel lazy if I’m not working too.

Oh, one more thing. Being as I live on a working farm, there is one more little thing I forgot that may actually take up a little of my time…

Harvest is coming.

 

Image

 

I small disclaimer. I don’t grow pumpkins, but I thought this was funny and illustrated my point nicely.

Okay, so we’ve established that life is busy. That’s fine. I’m not miserable. No bloody time to be! So what do I actually do with my spare time? Well, I write. I have a few pieces I’m working on that I hope will impress a few editors but you know what, that’s no easy task. Neither is typing while drinking whiskey. I do hope you’ll forgive my grammar and any other mistakes. If not, have a whiskey and you’ll understand my drivel fine.

You know what? I digress a lot. I meant to explain something insightful and in truth, I’ve completely forgotten what I meant to say. It was probably something unimportant like how things change when a baby is on the way. Something about how before I’d waste my days playing games and abusing myself but now… well things have changed. I have to prepare for First Born’s arrival. I must work, set an example, provide.

Okay, enough’s enough. I’ve often found that long posts discourage readers. Something about attention span I think, I can’t really remember because I wasn’t paying attention that day at school.

Right then, cheerio!

M 🙂

Fat Count


Another 4500 words today which would normally be cause for celebration. However there will be no such thing today. 

One of the problems with being glued to a desk all day in an effort to hit targets is that you snack. You get the munchies all the bloody time. Get a bored and there’s a bag of Smarties that will cure that. Stuck for something to say? No problem, why not have a few bags of crisps while you think about it. Celebrating because you’ve hit your word count for the day? Why not have a bottle of wine?

I’ve been steadily expanding for some time now, particularly since I broke my collarbone. Being unable to drive has meant I can’t go to the gym which as kind of bigger excuse for me to be able to say I can’t do any exercise whatsoever. 

This is not good. I can feel my lack of energy dragging me down everyday now. I’m constantly lethargic. Everything is too much effort unless it involves sitting on my fat arse and typing into a keyboard.

This will change. Starting tomorrow I’m going to try and go for a run. I’ll start small again, like I did last time and start off with a 2 kilometre run. A few months ago I had built up to 5km. I could run that every night and you know what? It felt great. 

So, tomorrow this emphasis switches from Word Count, to Fat Count. 

Wish me luck.

M 🙂

Word Count (Part 2)


Word Count, hmm, I like that. I should have called my blog that. Short, straight to the point. Like me.

Anyway this is just a very brief update. I said yesterday that i was hoping to have a 7000 word day. Well I managed 3000 which is not too bad. I’m on target anyway. Total word count now stands a little over 20K which is just lovely to look at. Lovely? I mean awesome. Come on Mark, man up. 

Right, as I said, quick update and that was it. Lets see if I can get another 3000 out today.

M.

The Sphincter of Pain


I’ve had a truly awful few days. The wife caught a sickness bug thats been doing the rounds and brought it home to share.

The problem with my wife is that when she gets ill, she really gets ill. A normal blood pressure for her, when she’s healthy, is something like 95/50 so anything that lowers that makes her hit the deck faster than a footballer in the penalty box. Something like diahorrea that literally turns your arse hole into a fountain and smells, well evil, will drop that blood pressure five points in no time. Add in vomiting and I soon have a wife who faints every time she takes a shit.

Oh you think thats bad? As it progresses she no longer has to be standing or sitting upright for her to faint. She’s the only person I’ve met who will pass out laying down. Don’t think thats bad? Well what if she’s vomiting when she passes out?

I stayed up the entire night with her, catching her when she fainted, turning her when she vomited and swapping buckets and bowls where needed.

All this with a broken arm!

I know, I know I’m a hero. But now I’ve got the bug and my ring is as raw as if I’d rolled up a sheet of sand paper and… well you get the picture.

So as Im unlikely to get anything else done, today will be another writing day. I wonder if I can have a 7000 word day?

The challenge is set. I’ll report back later with an update.

M.

A Good Day’s Work


Just a quick one to say I reached today’s target quite comfortably. I put down 4000 words which might not sound terribly much but it is. I find any distraction difficult to deal with when I’m writing and today I had the nieces over for tea and my wife was in all day. Breaks are important though and so we entertained the children with a BBQ, then went on a walk around the local area and even managed to fit in an episode of Game of Thrones. So, 4000 words is really pretty good.

Tomorrow I’ll be hoping to achieve even more. The wife will be at work leaving me on my own so there will be no excuse. Hmmm, except perhaps that I re-discovered Civilisation this morning. If you’ve never played that game then I advise you not to start. There is not better way to lose countless hours than by playing that game. If only it wasn’t so damn awesome.

Right then, a glass of wine to finish and then bed.

M 🙂

 

Word Count


3,500 words per day.

That is the bare minimum I have to lay down to stay on target. 

In my previous post I described how my beloved Bonneville met its end and how I broke my collarbone. As a result of this I have six weeks off work to recover. There is much you can do with six weeks but I have decided to use the time to complete my novel.

You should note that I spent my first week outlining and planning but I’m confident that will end up being time well spent in the long run. I like the idea of sitting down and just writing with no plan but from experience I know that this will result in thousands of words going no where. I know some people who wok this way and good luck to them. I can only think that they must already have a deep understanding of where they want their story to go before they begin.

Right, I best get back to it. This post was intended solely to get me off my arse and typing and its done that. 

I’ll update in future with a brief synopsis of what my story is about. 

M 🙂

Coming out…


… of hiding.

No, no, no. Not in that sense. Happily married ta very much.

It struck me yesterday that I’ve pretty much hidden my web presence from a great many people for too long. Yes I have a blog, a Twitter account and a Goodreads profile, but I don’t really make it very easy for people to find me. Furthermore, I don’t think I’ve really wanted to be found anyway.

You see, when I decided to embark upon this perilous writer’s journey, I did so behind closed doors. I was very much afraid that anything I wrote would be laughed at. Yet, with time, I have come to realise that I’m not half bad and in fact, I’ve had a few things published. Coincidently, if you’re interested you can find links to those pieces above. Why then should I hide?

Precisely the question I found myself wondering last night and so this morning I have linked everything to my blog. Now if I write anything at all, it will be cast far and wide for all to see. Doesn’t mean any bugger will read it but still, its a rite of passage for those who choose to tread the path of the writer. It’s an awakening, a beginning of the next chapter – a mother f*!king “Level-Up”.

So, here I sit. Level 2 – apprentice – still wannabe – writer.

Best I get to work penning something interesting then.

M 🙂

Submit and Forget


Submit and forget. Two words I have come to love this year, although it hasn’t been easy.

Way back in January I had only ever submitted my stories to the Black Library. I think I’ve sent two pieces their way and both simply disappeared. I’ve often wondered if publishers around the world are in on some vast joke whereby they and the people who make email programs have teamed up to make the ‘send’ button cast your work off into some ethereal void, never to be seen again.

Yet, this is one of those hugely important lessons an aspiring writer must learn. Hit send, and move on. Fire and forget. The story will get to its intended destination (unless you got the email address wrong) and so the only way you’re going to hear back is if you’ve been successful or that they liked it enough to say ‘thanks, but no thanks.’ Believe me, even hearing ‘no thanks,’ is a victory in itself.

You can try and contact the editor if you want and I personally would actively encourage this if you have not heard anything after a period of time has elapsed. You’ve slaved over that piece. Do you really want it sitting in a ‘pending’ pile for months on end when you could re-write it and send it to a different market? That said, there are rules to doing this though and they all basically revolve around doffing your cap in a vaguely submissive way and being nice. You have to remember that editors, who want the best stories for their market, are also people. And what do people hate more than anything else? People. Especially that particular breed of people known as arseholes.

The arsehole will contact an editor and demand an update. They will not ask politely, just demand. This is bad form and will likely get your piece not only rejected but quite possibly shredded.

Arseholes also have a tendency to publically insult pieces of work by other authors who are in the employ of the very editor/publishing house they themselves are courting. I know! Common sense does not apply to this particular type of a-hole.

Hmm, then there are stalkers. This is difficult as many editors also have public profiles on Twitter or Facebook on which they must appear friendly and pleased that you’ve taken the time to find them. Do not be under the illusion that because your tweet was replied to that you are now ‘mates’. You sent a tweet, he/she replied. End of. You will not be sharing a pizza and watching the football together come next week and you certainly won’t be seeing your name appear on any publications they may work for. Ever get that feeling that someone is only being nice because they want something? Well, I would imagine that this is how an editor feels most of the day and it must be exhausting.

I’m preaching here. I can feel it in my fingers, hammering my own frustrations into the keyboard and that’s because I have no right to preach. I am guilty of one of the all time great blunders that will haunt me for a long time to come yet. In my defence, I was just starting out, but hindsight likes to remind me what a valuable opportunity I missed and what an utter plank I was. A while back I had the opportunity to sit down with an editor and talk about one of my stories. What I should have done was to ensure I knew the house style and intellectual property inside out before I sat down for that meeting. Instead, when asked ‘where in our worlds do you see this story fitting in?’ I panicked and blurted out something cringe worthy like, ‘I’ve written it as blank canvas. All you need to do is tell me which characters you would like and which part of the world they would be in and I’ll do that!’ If I’m honest, I can still see that editor’s shoulders sag. Oh, and it probably didn’t help that I was really quite drunk too. Nerves will do that.

screw up

So, there you have it. Eternal shame and regret balanced against the knowledge that things can only get better if I stick to the rules, doff my cap, and try and help others who may be considering being an arsehole for the day.

I’ve not been idle though. I’ve not drowned my sorrows since that unfortunate moment in time. No, I’ve been busy. I’ve sent off no less than twelve stories this year and have seen three acceptances, two ‘nice but no thanks’ and five rejections, so far. I’ll keep plugging away because at the end of the day that’s all you can do. I’ll always remember that fateful meeting though, not only because of how I played the arsehole for a day, but because I did come away with some very good advice without which I doubt I would have had the success I’ve had this year.