Thursday, 31 March 2016

A difficult decision...

So it's the eve of the A to Z Challenge 2016, and normally (well, based on what happened last year) I'd be writing my last few posts, double checking everything is scheduled correctly and just generally getting excited for the coming month.

But I'm not.

I know during my theme reveal that I said that I had 1001 things to do in April, but that I was planning on completing the challenge anyway because I absolutely loved taking part last year. My enthusiasm and passion for this challenge hasn't changed, but over the past few days I've had to come to a very diffcult decision. I have decided that I won't be taking part in the A to Z Challenge this year.

It breaks my heart to write it - I feel like I'm letting my fellow bloggers down, I'm letting my readers down, but most of all, I'm letting myself down. I so so badly wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I wanted to show myself that actually, I was capable of juggling 100 different things while also completing the challenge, but the fact is, I've come to know myself a lot better over the past few years and I know deep down, I wouldn't have been able to do everything that needs to be done this month - something would have to give. And although it's unfortunate, I've decided that the challenge is the thing that has to go.

In brief: life sometimes just gets in the way of the things we really want to do. But I'm willing to sacrifice my blogging and my writing for a little while because of all the other exciting things that are happening right now i.e....

I'm getting married in July, and I have things to organise for the wedding that I can no longer put off; my and my fiance are currently in the process of moving up to Cumbria - which is incredibly exciting and I can't wait - but equally, that means that we have to sort out our house in Norfolk, we need to find somewhere to live in Cumbria because my parents don't want us to live with them forever (understandably) and, in turn, that means that I need to find a job ASAP. The Engineer has already found a job, which is fantastic, but that also means that now everything is starting to feel very real - I can no longer just dream about moving back up to Cumbria, because we're actually doing it - and that means that the most important thing on my ever-growing to-do list right now is to find a job.

So for the rest of the holidays, that's going to be my absolute priority - job hunting and booking all the last minute things for the wedding that need to be done. Am I sad that I'm giving up the challenge? Well, yes, but equally no - because I've finally admitted my choice to myself, I actually feel a lot better than I have been the last few days. I no longer feel quite such a crushing weight of pressure to get everything done by tomorrow, and that's such a huge relief.

I'll still be around, and I'll definitely be keeping up with the A to Z Challenge on other blogs - who knows, maybe later in the year I'll do my own little challenge and pop up all the posts I was going to do in April, so you guys can still read them :). But for now, I'm getting my head down and facing up to my responsibilites (for once).

So best of luck to everyone who's taking part in the challenge tomorrow - I hope you all have a fantastic time and, even though I won't be posting, I'll be right here cheering you all on from the sidelines :).

Are you taking part in the A to Z Challenge this year? Have you ever had to pull out/stop your hobby to do other things? How did you feel about it?

Monday, 21 March 2016

A to Z Challenge Theme Reveal

Where has this year gone?? In just under two weeks, it'll be April which means, yup, it's that time of year again - it's time for the A to Z blogging challenge! And then after April it'll be May...and then before you know it, it'll be July and it'll be my wedding, and then it'll be Christmas again, and then - okay, I'm going to stop now before I freak myself out anymore.

So today, everyone who's taking part in this year's A to Z Challenge can choose to reveal the theme they've chosen for this year. Last year I had a theme - it was all to do with writing, and I thought it was a great idea seeing as how the 1st April coincided with the release of my first novel (looking back, I feel like I probably wasn't the best person to dispense writing advice, given I'd only written one book, but oh well). I wrote about three quarters of my posts ahead of time, and I felt ridiculously organised for once. This year, I'm trying not to have a nervous breakdown. I did seriously consider pulling out, but then I thought - no. I've been looking forward to this challenge all year - I had so much fun last year, that I knew I just had to take part again. I have 1001 things to do in April (I'll go into more detail later in the week), but the fact is, I just can't pass up the opportunity to get out there and meet more awesome bloggers - I had such a blast last year and I can't wait to do it again.

So without further ado, my theme for this year's challenge is....

Heroes and Villains

I was planning on doing a huge fancy graphic to announce that, but then I ran out of time, so sorry folks, that's the best you're going to get for now.

I know it has very little to do with writing and that this is primarily a writing blog, but the fact is, characters fascinate me. I love a good character, no matter if they're good or bad - in fact, I've always been drawn more to villains/anti-heroes than to regular old don't be surprised if it turns into more of a 'Villains' theme. I'm planning on exploring heroes/anti-heroes and villains from across the board - from books, films, comics etc. I'm currently toying with the idea of writing both a hero and a villain for each post, but I don't know if that will just be a whole load of extra stress...but let me know what you think! I know this is probably quite a generic topic, and that it's probably been done a thousand times before, but like I said, I adore characters and finding out what makes them tick, so this is the theme I'm sticking with for now.

And now, to go and write 26 posts before the 1st April...wish me luck!

What do you think of the 'heroes and villains' theme - is it overdone, or is there still room for little old me? How else do you think I could put a twist on this theme? What's your theme for this year's challenge?

Monday, 7 March 2016

When the cows come home...

I've been wondering how to write this post for a while, or indeed, wondering if I should even bother writing it at all. But here's the thing: I've learnt over the past few years that I don't cope well if I bottle things up. So, here it goes.

By the way, if you've just stumbled onto my blog, this post is going to be all about dairy farming - if that's not your thing, by all means, feel free to stop reading and rejoin us later in the week when I'll be talking about slightly more normal things (well, normal for me) like writing and whatnot. But if I haven't lost your interest yet, grab a cup of tea and read on :).

The view from the fields: bringing the cows in for milking

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll have probably heard me mention that I grew up on a dairy farm. I return there every holiday to see my parents and to help them out on the farm. I love it  - it's what I've grown up with after all. In fact, until I turned 18 and moved away to university, it was the only life I knew.

This life as I know it will come to an end on Wednesday. My dad has taken the extremely difficult decision of selling up his dairy herd. Why? Because, quite simply, there's no point in carrying on.

If you live in the UK, you'll probably have heard over the past few years about all the blockades and protests and boycotts that farmers have been staging across the country. If you're not from the UK, here's a brief explanation: essentially, farmers are no longer paid enough to cover their production costs and, as a result, are being forced out of business. Here's a fun fact for you: it costs around 30p to produce a litre of milk - on average, dairy farmers are now being paid below 20p a litre. Supermarkets deliberately sell milk as a loss-leader in order to get consumers through their doors, which means they pay their suppliers less, which in turns means farmers don't even earn enough to cover their production costs.

It's insane.

It's actually quite fascinating in some respects - how will supermarkets cope when there are no more UK dairy farmers to supply their milk? What will happen when we're forced to import the very product that we could've quite easily have made at home? It genuinely fascinates me and enrages me in equal measure.

I could rant all day about the unfairness of the dairy industry, and the lack of safeguarding for farmers by both the industry and the government, but that's not what this post is for. Instead, I'm just reaching out to try and share a tiny part of my grief with you. Does it seem to strong to refer to what I'm feeling as 'grief'? Yes, and no.

I know that I am incredibly lucky - both my parents are alive and well. My dad is not being forced off his farm, in the sense that he owes the bank money (unlike a lot of farmers that we do know and are in that awful situation right now) - he's the one who made the decision to retire now, while he still can.

But what do you do when you feel like a huge chunk of your childhood - your life - has simply...gone? There is this tremendous sense of loss when you realise that the things that you've done every day for the past ten years or so (I'm counting from when I first starting helping out on the farm by the way, not from when I was born) simply won't be there anymore. Farming isn't just a job - it's a whole way of life. And that way of life is rapidly disappearing all over the country. And that breaks my heart.

A few of our cows enjoying the spring sun

If you haven't grown up on a farm or around animals, you may not completely understand why I'm so upset, and that's okay. I'm normally the same. If I read in the newspaper about a certain industry failing (e.g. steelworks, coal mines etc), I tend to either think, 'oh that's sad', or I think that the media is blowing things completely out of proportion. But speaking from the other side of the whole dairy farm debate, I can assure you that the media isn't blowing things up - it's real, and it's happening every day. One livestock auction near us currently has 15,000 dairy cows to try and sell because so many famers have been pushed out. Fifteen thousand. And who's going to buy them, if no one wants to be a dairy farmer anymore?

My dad's sale is happening on Wednesday. Luckily, I have a very understanding boss, who's allowed me the day off to go up north and support him and my family. I know I'm going to be a complete wreck at the auction - I've been to farm dispersal sales before and they always break my heart. To sit there and watch someone's life work in front of you, knowing that they probably didn't choose to sell up, and seeing the farmer's face fall when they can't sell their cows, or when their stock goes for a much lower price than you know it's worth - it's a whole new level of heartache. As silly as it sounds, when you've grown up with these animals, to see them being sold, knowing that you won't see them again in the milking parlour that's just heartbreaking. I don't know how else to describe it to you. It's like losing a part of yourself.

Our bull, Alf

So, if you don't see me around for a few days, I'll just be taking a short break - after making a twelve hour round trip within the space of 24 hours (I'm back in work on Thursday), going through all the emotions of seeing my dad's cows being loaded up, and then sold at the auction - I'm probably going to be a tad emotionally unstable for a while. It's going to take some adjusting, but like I said, I know I am still incredibly lucky - my family is still here, they're all (reasonably) happy and healthy, and I'll be there to support them every step of the way. In many ways, it's not just an ending - it's the start of a new beginning too. Who knows what the future will bring?

A late evening summer's walk with the cows

If you want to do any further reading, here's an article from The Telegraph I read a few weeks ago that gives you a good picture of the state of dairy farming

Have you or your family ever gone through the heartbreak of losing or selling a family business? How did you cope? What do you think about the state of UK dairy farming? 

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

March IWSG: When does a 'break' become 'procrastination'?

Welcome back to the Insecure Writer's Support Group - a monthly blog hop where writers across the internet get together to share their insecurities and encourage each other to keep going. The IWSG was set up by the fantastic Alex. J. Cavanaugh, and you can check out the official website/sign-up list here!

If you've been following my blog for a while, you've probably guessed that I've been taking somewhat of an extended vacation from any serious writing. Yes, I've been working on a new fantasy project, but it has nothing to do with the sequel for the book that I've actually published (Synthetica).

I went to Oxford to meet up with my uni friends last weekend, and they all wanted to know if I'd finished book two, when it would be out, how the writing was going etc etc. And although it was lovely to know that they were rooting for me, I was kind of embarrassed to admit that, well, there isn't a book two - yet.

It made me realise that I can't keep putting it off forever. And although I keep telling myself that I 'deserve a break' and that 'writing something new will keep my writing fresh', the fact is, is that I'm just having a very very long procrastination period. Synthetica came out nearly a year ago - it's high time the sequel came out too.

But then that decision comes with it's own set of insecurities and issues: what if this book is awful? What if it makes no sense? What if I can't write another book?

All my life I've had a serious issue with starting things, losing interest and then dropping them before moving onto the next shiny thing that catches my attention. I told myself that if I published Synthetica, that that wouldn't happen, but I have a horrible feeling that it might. How do you get back into the rhythm of writing a book/series that you haven't even looked at for about six months? How do you recapture that passion and enthusiasm you had the first time around? I genuinely don't know if I can do it....but I'm going to give it my damn best all the same.

How do you start to write a series/book that you've left for a long time? How do you 'recapture the magic'? Or is there no magic? What are your insecurities this month?