Posted in Writing

My Butterfly Mind

Following my recent appearance on BBC Radio Gloucestershire to chat to presenter Anna King about the notion of a butterfly mind, I’ve been asked to post the gist of my views about the notion here, for anyone who was unable to catch the broadcast.

Paper butterfly
Spotted in a craft shop a couple of weeks ago (it followed me home)

The term butterfly mind is usually applied to people whose thoughts flit about all over the place, never stopping in any place for very long.

It’s often used as a derogatory term, but I think it is better described as the pessimist’s description of a lateral thinker. It’s a bit like the old glass half-empty/half-full analogy. Butterfly minds are not necessarily the sign of a scatty dimwit, but of someone who is interested in everything. The butterfly isn’t moving around because it’s got a low attention span – it keeps going because it gains a little bit of nourishment wherever it alights.

With a natural butterfly mind, I’m always shooting off at tangents in conversations, drawing parallels and connections with other things, as the diversity of posts on this blog testifies. Here’s a list of the most popular recent posts:

Why Do We Eat Turkey at Christmas?
New Respect for Old Fishwives
Why Doing A Jigsaw Puzzle Is A Bit Like Writing A Book
Why I Named My Daughter Laura (For Lauras Everywhere)
Let It Snow: My Best Childhood Christmas Memories
The Sixpence That Changed Into a Swimming Pool
Meeting Our (Rugby) Match Provides A Family Outing
The Ceremony of the (Bubble) Bath – Ancient and Modern
My Book Launch Speech at the London Book Fair

The Laterally Thinking Butterfly

Butterfly hairclip
My daughter gave me this hairclip

Having a butterfly mind makes me a very good lateral thinker and, if you’ll forgive what might sound like boasting, a great ideas person. In my long career spent in the hard commercial world, before I became a full-time writer, I had two key strengths – my way with words and my propensity to come up with new and original ideas.

These were offset by an awful lot of things I was very bad at, such as financial planning, wearing a suit without feeling imprisoned, and not falling asleep in meetings.

The Best Career for the Butterfly Minded

PR consultancy, which accounts for the bulk of my career, was a great niche for someone with a butterfly mind, because it actually requires you to delve into lots of different businesses and activities, applying the same set of skills in very different scenarios. When I was in PR, my clients ranged from public sector (NHS trusts) to retailing  (retail pharmacy, grocery superstores), from food manufacturing (frozen food) to consumer goods (cat litter!)

Journalism can be much the same, whether in print or broadcast on radio or television. The anchors of magazine programmes must to flit about on lots of subjects every day and find links between disparate subjects when segueing from one topic to another. Whenever I go on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, I’m always bowled over the their consummate skill and deceptive ease with which the show hosts ply their trade.

Where Do Butterflies Go On Holiday?

Butterfly necklace
Acquired on St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

Our main family holidays are taken by camper van, which enables us to flit about from one place to the next whenever we like, rather than stopping in one place. We seldom spend more than one night in the same place. We don’t use campsites but opportunistically find free places to stay without troubling anyone. When I get a moment, I’ll be writing a book about that too called Travels with my Camper Van.)

The Butterfly Minded Matchmaker

Butterfly pattern bag
A gift from my daughter

Another benefit of having a butterfly mind is that it makes you a good matchmaker – not necessarily in the romantic sense, but in terms of networking. Often when I meet someone new, I immediately think “Ah, I must put you in touch with such-and-such”. Examples:

  • I met the cameraman David James on Chris Baxter’s show recently and when realised his service would be just right for Read for Good’s purposes and also for the authors who use SilverWood Book’s publishing services in Bristol (who commissioned one of my books). I’ve since sent introductions to the directors of both companies.
  • Meeting Katie Fforde last year when we were both on a panel for Chris Baxter’s radio show segued into a gig at the Romantic Novelists Association’s annual conference, of which Katie’s president, to talk about self-publishing.

Having access to the internet makes it easier than ever to capitalise on the powers of a butterfly mind. It’s quick and easy to ping off emails and social media updates to connect people. But the internet can also easily sap the time of any networking butterfly: there are too many honey-traps, such as trending topics and intriguing hashtags on Twitter. Before you know it, you’ve got umpteen tabs open on your computer and you’ve wasted an afternoon.

Having a butterfly mind also makes you an opportunist. Butterflies spot opportunities more easily and seize them, making their own luck. I’ve done that a lot during my employment, both in formal jobs and in freelance work.

Having a butterfly mind is part and parcel of being a short-form writer, as I am, churning out short stories, flash fiction, blog posts and  journalism, never dwelling on any one project for long. When I’m writing a book, the only way I can get it done is to break it down into chapters and tackle each one as if it is a short project. Before I tackle my first novel, which I’m hoping to do next year, I’m going to have to build up my stamina.

What Makes a Butterfly Mind Happy?

Constant stimulation of interesting things, new experiences, changes of scene – and that magic moment when disparate things in my life all come together:

  • Butterfly patterned bag
    My daughter’s new bag

    For example, I discovered recently that my the flash fiction author Calum Kerr, whom I befriended via his National Flash Fiction Day event, and who comes from Manchester and lives in Southampton, has an aunt and uncle who live round the corner from me in my tiny Cotswold village.

  • Discovering that when I was in Fraserburgh, on the far north west corner of Scotland this summer, not only my brother-in-law and my nephew, were, separately, in town the same day and only metres away from us, but the next day when I was a few miles further down the coast in Aberdeen, my friend Cherry from ReadWell in Nailsworth was too. None of us saw each other, but we were all there!
  • I also get very excited when friends from different parts of my life become friends with each other in their own right – something that happens more easily because of the advent of social media, such as when Katherine, an old friend from my London primary school who now lives in Spain, got chatting on my Facebook page with my Gloucestershire friend Jacky, who lives in Cheltenham. Last year we ended up getting together in person and spent a lovely day together!

The Disadvantage of Having a Butterfly Mind

It can be hard to get things finished when you’re constantly getting distracted. I often find myself inadvertently overpromising and underdelivering, because I find it very hard to say no to things that sound interesting. For example, I’ve just got involved with the new roof appeal for our local church roof at St Mary’s Hawkesbury, even though I’m not religious, hardly ever go to church and know nothing about church rooves. But t’s a beautiful building with a fascinating past and it’s an important part of our heritage. What’s not to love?

Perfect Reading for the Fiction-Loving Butterfly

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
My latest book of very short stories is perfect for the butterfly-minded reader

So now you know the real reason behind the beautiful butterfly on the cover of my new collection of short stories, Quick Change. With some stories as short as just 100 words, and none longer than 1,000, this has to be recommended reading for any literary butterfly. Mostly humorous, tempered with the odd poignant moments, it’s been gathering some fabulous reviews, and I hope you’ll want to read it too. It’s currently available only in ebook form, but there’ll be a paperback coming out shortly – just as soon as I can settle down long enough to make it happen! To find out more about the book and to see what others have had to say about it, flit over to its Amazon page via this link: Quick Change . And if you’ve read it and enjoyed it, you’ll make this butterfly’s day if you take a moment to leave a brief review of it on Amazon!

Do you have a butterfly mind? Do you love them or hate them? Feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment!


Posted in Writing

My New Philosophy of Flower Arranging

This weekend, my lovely friend Susanne, whom I’ve known since I was 11, presented me with a beautiful bunch of spring flowers – anemones and tulips (my favourite). As I stuffed them unceremoniously into the first vases that came to hand, (well, we were in the middle of my husband’s birthday party), I inadvertently conducted a floral  experiment that’s brought out the philosopher in me. Or should that be the flowerosopher? I think I’ve just invented a whole new school of thought. Florists, philosophers – you decide….

Sometimes it’s good to be in solitary splendour, regardless of what anyone else is doing – but it can get a bit lonely.

Single anemone in a green IKEA vase
1) Standing, strong, alone.

Other times, there’s safety in numbers, all standing together, disciplined and firm.

Tulips and anemones stuffed tightly into a glass vase
2) Looking pretty but with no room for manoeuvre.

Best of all is when you can be together, but enjoy the freedom to be who you want to be and to go where you want to go in life.

Tulips and anemones loosely placed in a glass vase, arrange themselves
3) With room for manoeuvre, these flowers arranged themselves to perfection.

I know which I prefer.

Thank you, Susanne – you and I definitely belong in vase number 3!

Posted in Personal life

My Year In Status

Facebook logo
Image via Wikipedia

When I logged into Facebook early in December, I was invited to create “My Year in Status”.  At the press of a button, there appeared a single page showing a selection of the posts that I’d made during the whole of 2010.  (For those who aren’t familiar with Facebook, a “post” is a message that you type into your Facebook page to update your friends about what you are doing or thinking.)

The result was surprising.   Some things I remembered as if they were yesterday, but others I’d completely forgotten. Parts of my year I barely recognised. I wasn’t the only one taken aback.  Some friends were startled to find that Facebook appeared to think they’d spent the whole year watching telly or boozing.

My Year in Status experience made me realise (a) how quickly a year goes (b) how short life is (c) that to achieve a more favourable Year in Status for 2011, I’d better start planning it now.  So here is how I hope it might read, if all goes according to plan.

“Debbie Young  ….has finally eradicated dandelions and couch grass from her my garden, making way for a bumper crop of home-grown vegetables  …has just completed her first half-marathon within her target time (so the very thorough training paid off)  ….feels calm and refreshed after her daughter’s 8th birthday party ….has renewed her acquaintance with the bottom of the ironing basket  ….earned a fine collection of rosettes in this year’s Village Show  …has a house so clean and tidy that there’s absolutely no more housework she can do  …has completed her Christmas shopping before the end of August  ….feels younger and fresher with every passing year ….is very pleased with her new pet: a flying pig”

Happy New Year, everyone – may 2011 bring you your heart’s desire.

(This post originally appeared in Hawkesbury Parish News, January 2011.)

Posted in Writing

The Freelance Philosopher

What do freelance philosophers think about on their day off?

The Thinker, Rodin (post-process)
Image by radiospike photography via Flickrat

Until I heard one introduced on a radio discussion programme recently, I didn’t even know there was such a thing.   Unable to hear the rest of the broadcast, I’ve been wondering ever since what the job entailed.

I picture the philosopher on the programme in full flow, his meter running, taxi-like, as he expounds.  Then, as the end credits roll, he flips up the flag to turn his yellow “for hire” light back on.  Till someone hails him for another trip, he’ll be switching off his mind.

When not in receipt of a paycheck, does his overdeveloped mind transforms from wily processor to passive receiver?  Does he sit expressionless, refusing to extrapolate philosophical theories from his experiences? Next time I meet a philosopher, I’ll be watching and taking notes.

Actually, I refuse to accept that there can be such a thing as a freelance philosopher.  Surely, if your mind is of philosophical bent, you just can’t help yourself.  It’s the same with being a writer.

Admittedly, when I ditched my full-time job in February, I did initially bill myself as a freelance writer to celebrate escaping the yoke of a salaried employee. But I quickly realised two important truths.

Firstly, freelance should not be confused with freedom.  The freelance may no longer be enslaved to a single employer, but that doesn’t make him free.  (And slavery has its advantages – security, for starters).

Secondly, a writer is a writer is a writer.  I will always write, whether or not someone is paying me a fee. All artistic or creative types should surely be entitled to describe themselves by their vocation regardless of their income.  If you write poetry, you’re a poet; if you paint pictures you’re an artist.  It’s immaterial whether the meter is running (or should that be metre, for the poet?)  Payment is desirable, of course – but lack of it won’t dry up my pen.  Selling only a single painting in his lifetime did not, I am sure, prevent Van Gogh from calling himself an artist.

It’s not as if there are specific qualifications for such occupations. It’s not like the medical profession, where you need years of training and official registration before you can use the associated title.  I for one would have to be desparate to accept treatment from a freelance doctor or itinerant dentist.

This tag “freelance” also has a certain implied sadness about it.  Like the label “single” these days, there are overtones of failure, of waiting for someone to come along and snap you up.

In the end, I felt a little sorry for my mystery freelance philosopher.  I just hope he eventually found someone willing to pay him to come to terms with his situation.