Posted in Family, Personal life, Travel, Writing

The Best Time to Travel

cover of the September issue of the Tetbury Advertiser
Click the image to read the whole of the September edition of the Tetbury Advertiser online

Due to the fortnight’s lead-time for publication, I filed my column for the September issue of the Tetbury Advertiser from the wilds of Glencoe while on holiday in Scotland last month. (Only last month? Seems a lot longer now!)

 

If, like me, you are restricted to taking family holidays outside of term time, here’s a handy tip: you can gain a psychological advantage by spending August in Scotland.  The academic year is different north of the border, with the autumn term starting around the Glorious Twelfth. Local children returning to school add a frisson of guilty pleasure to our Scottish summer holiday. It feels as if we are bunking off.

This year, as ever, when we arrive in Scotland in early August, we make a pit-stop at a supermarket to provision our camper van. Here we find ourselves rubbing elbows in the aisles with brisk Scots mothers and stony-faced children bracing themselves for the imminent start of their new school year.

Gleefully my daughter calculates that even though we’re staying in Scotland for a fortnight, when she gets home, she will still have nearly three weeks of holiday left before the start of her new term. By then, these poor Scottish children will have been stuck into their studies for a month.

Suddenly our holiday feels much longer, as if we’ve stepped through a time-slip, albeit one from which we can return at will.

Travelling in Time

I can’t help wishing that real time travel was available as a holiday option.

My favourite tourist destinations are those that offer a sense of connection with the past. Some of these places are ancient, older than mankind itself, such as the Munro mountains that I can see from my window as I type this column. Others are much more recent. A highlight of this trip so far has been an afternoon at a traditional weaver’s cottage that pre-dates the Industrial Revolution. The cottage has been so sympathetically conserved to suggest that the occupant has just stepped away from his loom for a moment and will be back at any minute. By chance, one of his descendants was visiting that afternoon from Canada, adding to the feeling that this was indeed living history.

I’m sure I’m not the only tourist who hankers after time travel. A few days ago, my brother texted me from his family holiday in Rhodes to tell me about the tourist in front of him at the tourist information office. “Please can you give me directions to the Colossos?” the man asked. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Colossos –  the same size as the Statue of Liberty and a similar symbol of freedom that once graced Rhodes harbour – was destroyed by earthquake over two thousand years ago. But if the tourist information officer had been able to provide effective directions – “Just step through this portal, sir, and stop when you get to 226BC” – I suspect my brother would have gone along for the ride.


Cover of Young by Name
The cover of this essay collection features one of my father’s watercolours
  • Read the whole of the September issue of the Tetbury Advertiser here (and you’ll also see the fab picture of the Colossus that the wonderful editor, Richard Smith, used to illustrate it)
  • Read some of my previous columns from the Tetbury Advertiser in paperback or ebook here
Posted in Personal life, Writing

Why Every Author Needs to Take a Break Now and Again

In my role as Advice Centre Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, I commission and sub-editing a daily blog post about all aspects of writing and publishing. I also write occasional opinion pieces for them . Not all of these posts will be of interest to non-authors, but I thought I’d share my latest post here, because the principles apply to other kinds of professions too. Whatever work you do, it provides the best excuses for taking a holiday – plus some lovely pics from my summer vacation!

(Here’s a link to where the post originally appeared.)


picture of Debbie on Glencoe in rainhat
Following my own advice to take a break in Glencoe, Scotland, last month

Do you find it hard to make yourself take a break from your writing life? Here’s the justification you need to take some time out and recharge your creative batteries!

In today’s post, Debbie Young, indie author, litfest director and ALLi’s Author Advice Center Manager, makes the case for the importance of rest for writers, not only for physical recovery, but also to reinvigorate creative intention and gain perspective.

Whether you’re nearing the end of the summer holiday season in the northern hemisphere, or enjoying the first signs of spring in the southern hemisphere, her personal account will give you the excuses you need to start planning your next vacation now!

 

Indie authors, as their own publishers, are their own bosses.

Most of us are ambitious to write great books and get them into the hands of readers. However much we do, there is always more to do: more writing, more marketing, more admin. A writer’s work is never done.

If ever a writer was able to check off every item on their to-do list, I’d question whether they’re really a writer at all.

Too Busy to Take a Break?

Whether or not we have a day job, family commitments or other pressures, we pile the work on ourselves, multi-tasking and straining the last drop of creativity out of each day:

  • We keep notebooks by our beds for those middle-of-the-night story ideas
  • We dictate copy in our cars and on walks
  • We get up early/stay up late to squeeze those extra writing hours out of the day
  • We eat and drink at our desks (oh, those crumbs in the keyboard!)
  • We may even exercise while writing – though so far I’ve resisted the lure of the treadmill desk!

If we saw a loved one working that hard in their chosen career, would we applaud them, or would we be imploring them to cut themselves some slack? Treat yourself the same way – you deserve it!

Too Old to Take a Break?

Once you reach a certain age, as I have, you may also start to feel additional pressure of “time’s winged chariot” (though Andrew Marvell’s poem is about a rather different activity), and worry about running out of time altogether (“When I have fears that I may cease to be Before my pen had gleaned my teeming brain…” – John Keats.)

Theories abound as to how to make the most of each day, how to divide up your time into the most productive chunks, how often to take breaks etc etc.

But I hold that nothing boosts your productivity more than completely downing tools for a week or two, counter-intuitive though that may seem.

Too Broke to Take a Break?

I’m lucky – I’m at that time of life when I can afford family holidays away from home, but you can still take a holiday at home, or rather, based at home, if your budget doesn’t run to fancy trips.

The important thing is to STOP – and pause – and rest – and return, revitalised to your writing life, stronger for having left it for a while.

This is how Orna Ross, director of ALLi and author of the Go Creative! series, describes the importance of rest in the indie author’s life.

Headshot of Orna Ross
ALLi director Orna Ross prescribes creative rest and play for all creatives

Creative rest and play are not breaks from the process of writing, publishing or business building. They ARE the process.

It happens at two levels. One is the obvious refreshment and restoration we get from taking a break away from the desk. All efforts to to perform, to make, to do draw on a pool of creative energy. Once that energy source is depleted, we become less effective. It’s like drawing water from a well, we need to give it time to fill back up again. But also the subconscious mind is core to the creative process itself, immensely more powerful than our surface, conscious minds. We have our best ideas, our aha moments, our insights and inspirations when we are relaxed, rested, playful.

Orna recommends a mini creative vacation each week, in the form of a “createdate” with yourself – something that I’ve found to be a really powerful and invigorating tool, even though I don’t always manage to fit one in each week. (Here’s an account of one I went on earlier this year.)

Practising What I Preach

Easy for me to say, you might be thinking, so here are some examples of what I gained from the two-week break I took earlier this month with my family.

  • New perspective on my writing schedule
    After an exhausting thirteen months publishing four novels, I decided to slow up, now that I have a strong start to my catalog of novels. I felt it was important to get the first three in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series out quickly, but that’s not a sustainable or reasonable pace long-term.
  • Revelation about my writing ambitions
    Having established myself as a lighthearted, humorous writer, I realised I do also have within me an ambition to write something more serious that won’t be described by reviewers as “a chuckle on every page” or “Miss Marple meets Bridget Jones”, much as I love those accolades.
  • Desire to research
    Having dismissed myself tongue-in-cheek as a lazy writer because I’m writing about what I know – English village life – I began to hanker after researching some meaty topics that I could then fictionalise, either within my village mystery series or outside of it.
  • New system of time management
    I’ve designed a new method for managing my varied workload: allocating a name to each day to do with a specific subset of tasks (e.g. Festive Friday for planning festivals and events), and saving up the related work for that day only. However, every day with a “y” in it, I will allow myself to write fiction!
  • Stimulating new sights and experiences
    From catching interesting radio programmes on the journey, to finding seaglass on the beach, the fortnight was full of new stimuli for new story ideas, as outlined in the photos below.
photo of woodland stream near Ben Nevis
Waiting for my family to finish a treetop walk near Ben Nevis (I’m not great with heights!), I realised I need to spend more time in the tranquility of woodlands – great for future createdate ideas
photo of vaguely butterfly-shaped granite
At the Cruachan Visitor Centre, where you can take a trip INSIDE a mountain, we were given a piece of granite as a souvenir – I chose mine for its shape, immediately thinking “The Granite Butterfly – what a great story title!” (Click image for more about Cruachan)
photo of two vintage teddy bears
This vintage bear (left), which I’ve named Galloway, called to me from the window of a charity shop in Dumfries, last home of the poet Robert Burns – I couldn’t help but start wondering about his back-story. Small teddy on right is my own since early childhood. Click image for more about the Scottish region of Dumfries and Galloway.
photo of heart-shaped necklace filled with real forget-me-not flowers
Spotted in the Glencoe Visitor Centre shop, this necklace filled with forget-me-not flowers will serve as a real talisman for when I’m writing about my character Sophie Sayers, who is described as “the girl with forget-me-not eyes”. (Click image for more about Glencoe Visitor Centre).
five pieces of seaglass arranged like the petals of a flower
Whenever we go to a beach, I look out for seaglass. These five different pieces were collected by me and my daughter on the shores of sealochs. Back story ideas again… where did they all come from?

How will your next vacation transform your writing life? You’ll never know unless you take it!

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Travel

Thank You, Matthew Paris – Now I Don’t Have To Go To Peru

A post about holiday reading, discussed after my holiday on the BBC Radio Gloucestershire Book Club this week

Photo of Debbie in hat and coat at northernmost point of mainland Britain
Fending off the most northerly midges of mainland Scotland this summer

Although I love travelling, and rarely turn down an opportunity to travel anywhere, I do love putting in extra miles via the pages of a good travel book, whether to places I know well, to places I plan to go, or places I know will always be off my agenda. Continue reading “Thank You, Matthew Paris – Now I Don’t Have To Go To Peru”

Posted in Personal life, Reading, Travel, Writing

A Holiday from Housework

cat sitting on cushion
“Don’t you dare pack my favourite cushion!”

You can tell a holiday is looming in our household when the place starts to look unusually tidy. As if the effort of planning and packing for a trip away is not enough, I pile on the pressure by insisting that the house is spick and span before we go. It never looks tidier than the day we go away.

“Who are you tidying it for, burglars?” asked a friend, curious as to why I was in such a frenzy one morning.

Actually, it’s for me – so that when I walk back into the house on our return, I think “Ooh, how lovely – I’d forgotten how nice our house is!” rather than “Oh god, what a mess”.

Until now, I’d always assumed that when our cat Dorothy regards us with suspicion as we prepare for our holidays, it is because she equates the act of packing with being abandoned her for a fortnight, and she’s anxious as to whether she’ll get her daily biscuit ration. But as I cleared a longstanding collection of my husband’s shoes from the bottom of the stairs this afternoon, it occurred to me that she’s probably just bewildered by so much sudden change to her territory.

I also hit upon a simple way to keep a tidy house all year round: I just need to go on holiday more often.

(This post was originally written for the August issue of Hawkesbury Parish News.)

Cover of the paperback showing blurb
Need some light reading for your own summer holiday? My collection of very short stories is perfect for whiling away time in airports and on the beach. Available to order from all good bookshops, and from the usual online stores.

 

Posted in Family, Personal life

Where Do Cats Go For Their Summer Holidays?

The calico cat and its new bed
The calico cat and the lesser-spotted girl

Like most parents of school-age children, I’m counting down the days till the end of term. I can’t wait to ditch the school-run/clubs/homework routine in favour of the anarchy that is the school summer holiday. But planning for the holidays this summer will be more complicated, because we now have a cat.

Dorothy Purrkins, as my daughter christened her, moved in on the snowiest day in January. An adaptable, sociable animal, she’d go with the flow, whatever our chaotic household threw at her. So quickly did she adjust to our routines that I wondered whether she’d previously had us under surveillance.

When other cats entered “her” garden, she’d chase them off her territory with gusto. When we had human visitors, she’d greet them on equal terms, confident that they would be pleased to see her (which they always were).

The Mona Lisa.
Like Mona Lisa’s, Dorothy’s eyes follow us around the room. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After six months in residence, she’s calling the shots. When her food bowl is empty, she sits next to it, politely but firmly pinning me with a laser-like look until we replenish it. After an outing to the garden, she stands on the window-ledge staring with the intensity only a cat can muster until we open the window to let her in. Seated companionably in the sitting room of an evening, her eyes follow us proprietorially around the room. We should have called her Mona Lisa.

But what will happen when we go away to Scotland in the summer? I worry that, thinking we’ve abandoned her, she’ll move on in search of a more dependable home. I could send her to a cattery for the duration, but a cat with a huge rural territory would not enjoy a fortnight penned indoors. Even with a kind friend happy to feed her while we’re away, it’s a tough call.

Monarch of the Glen, Edwin Landseer, 1851
It’s a pity Landseer didn’t have a cat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Or so I thought until this morning. After despatching husband and daughter on the school run, I was standing quietly in the utility room, enjoying a calming cup of tea before work. Dorothy Purrkins sauntered confidently past my feet, heading for the cat flap. Strolling leisurely up the garden path, she chose the best vantage point before settling down on the lawn, surveying her territory. She was a tortoiseshell Monarch of the Glen. Spoiled for choice by the many pleasurable opportunities that the garden held in store, she lay quietly considering her options. Snooze in the hammock in the shade? Warm up with a sunbathe in the greenhouse? Gaze at bits of blossom falling from the fruit trees? Chase butterflies fluttering around the gooseberry bush? Sprawl on the patio, absorbing the sun’s heat stored in the stone paving slabs?

Whatever was on her agenda, Dorothy Purrkins looked utterly contented with the prospect. And so my decision was made: for her it will be a holiday at home. In fact, I might even join her. Who needs travel anyway?

The calico cat on a cushion
As Dorothy always says, there’s no place like home

This post was originally published in the Tetbury Advertiser, July 2013

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